Mommy, I’m scared…

Mommy, I’m scared…

About a month ago our 5 year-old came into our room in the middle of the night.  As a parent of three I know these nights are not uncommon. Thunderstorms, nightmares, and the occasional fevers and tummy aches are going to happen.  So half asleep, I arose and wearily walked her back to her bedroom.  I turned on her light and a surge of adrenaline filled my body when I saw the look of panic on her face.  I quickly realized she was in the throes of an asthma attack.   The horror in those sweet little eyes is something I will never forget.   We ended up in the local emergency room, but we were soon taken to Children’s Hospital via ambulance.  There was no question about whether we were staying, we just didn’t know if we would be admitted to a general floor or the pediatric intensive care unit.   Thankfully, she stabilized and we got a bed on a general floor where she improved quickly.  We were released about 36 hours later, thanks to the help and attention of some pretty amazing people.   But it brings me to tears to thinking about the, “what-if’s,” because some kids aren’t so lucky.

The average number of deaths a year from asthma is between 3,000-4,000. And while it doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s innumerable if your child is one of its casualties. Along with lung cancer and COPD, asthma falls under the umbrella of lung disease, which is the second leading cause of death in the US after heart disease.  But for this week’s post we are going to talk specifically about asthma.

Approximately 1.7 million people like my daughter are taken to the emergency room every year because of asthma.  Usually beginning in childhood, asthma affects over 7 million kids, and the number of little ones diagnosed every year is growing.  In his book “How Not To Die,” Dr. Michael Greger defines asthma as “an inflammatory disease characterized by recurring attacks of narrowed, swollen airways, causing shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.”  And it turns out that the prevalence and the increase of asthma is strongly correlated with where you live and what you eat.   Greger cites a groundbreaking study by the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood which followed more than a million children in nearly one hundred countries around the world.  Researchers discovered a striking “twentyfold to sixty fold difference in the prevalence of asthma, allergies, and eczema” depending on where a person lived and what they ate.   Greger said that “while air pollution and smoking rates may play a role, the most significant associations were not what was going into their lungs as much as what was going into their stomachs.”[1]

Researchers in Sweden tested out a strictly plant-based diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants on a group of severe asthmatics that were not getting better despite the best and most advanced medical treatments.  Of the twenty-four patients who stuck with the plant-based diet, 70% improved after four months, and 90% improved within one year. [2]  Within just one year of eating healthier, all but two patients were able to drop their dose of asthma medication or get off their steroids or other drugs, all together. [3]  Greger goes on to cite other large-scale studies showing the effects of diet on asthma and says, “The restorative powers of the human body are remarkable, but your body needs your help.  By including foods that contain cancer-fighting compounds and loading up on antioxidant rich fruits and veggies, you may be able to strengthen your respiratory defenses and breathe easier.” [4]   However, in a study of over 100,000 people in India, those who ate meat, dairy and eggs showed a significant increase in asthmatic symptoms.  “Eggs, (along with soda) have been strongly associated with asthma in children.” Removing eggs and dairy from a child’s diet has shown significant improvements in lung function in as little as 8 weeks.  [5]

But what about taking a pill loaded with vitamins?  Isn’t that just as good as eating vitamin rich foods?  No. A Harvard nurses study found that women who obtained high levels of vitamin E through eating whole foods (not supplements) like nuts appeared to have nearly half the risk of asthma of those who didn’t. But those who took the vitamin E supplement showed no improvement at all.

Food has always been a trigger for my daughter.  When she was a baby she had severe eczema.  For two years her doctor prescribed creams and other medications that helped, but it never went away until we removed dairy, eggs, and wheat.  A few weeks before her attack I thought I could be a little less restrictive about her diet and give her “just a little cheese, or just a little bread” and it turned out to be a really bad idea.  However, since this last attack I have been very mindful of what she eats.  Because if I don’t, the inflammation that begins in her nose will eventually move to her lungs and then the cough begins.  It’s tough and she gets really sad when she can’t have a slice of cheese pizza.  But I hope some day, at some point, she will understand why she needs to eat her fruits and veggies and that certain foods are not worth a trip to the emergency room.

 

 

 

[1]How Not to Die, Pgs. 38-39

[2]How Not to Die, Pgs. 40

[3]How Not to Die, Pgs. 40-41

[4]How Not to Die, Pg. 41

[5]How Not to Die Pg. 39

Maybe I’m Just Crazy?

kamut_grains.jpg.838x0_q80Did you know that less than 1% of the population meets the diagnostic criteria to be labeled as a Celiac? But what about those individuals who don’t make the cut, yet still have most, if not all of the same symptoms? Well, for many years, doctors commonly referred patients who claimed to be having Celiac/gluten-like sensitivities to psychiatrists. It’s true. They were believed to be, and were often told they had an underlying mental illness. My mother became a perfect case study for me in my early 30’s, when I too began having health concerns. After suffering from many (and I mean many) recurrent chronic health issues, my mom finally went to see a gastroenterologist. It was to be her last stop in a long line of medical offices. But not for the reasons you’d think.

After listening to her litany of symptoms, the doctor looked at her and said, “I know you think you’re allergic to gluten. But you are not a Celiac, because people with Celiac’s Disease are skinny. However, I think you might benefit from seeing a Psychiatrist.” Nice. Even after she explained how much better she felt after staying away from gluten, the doctor still dismissed her as a hypochondriac, (as most of them had). Opting not to take it personally, she stayed away from gluten. And guess what? Most of her symptoms went away. Gluten is simply a protein found in wheat and many other grains such as barley and rye, and is only one of 27 different potential wheat allergens.

So what if it was a case of mistaken identity? What if the culprit wasn’t gluten, but it was actually the wheat itself? An English study in 1980 found that women suffering from chronic diarrhea were cured by a gluten free diet, yet none of those women had evidence of Celiac disease, a gastrointestinal autoimmune disorder. The notorious protein gluten is one potential allergen, but there are more than two-dozen others in the wheat plant itself that have either been implicated in allergic reactions, or have been identified as potential causes of allergic reactions.

When you have a true wheat allergy, you suffer near-immediate or slightly delayed (by no more than a few hours) symptoms following a meal that includes wheat products. Symptoms are often seen as respiratory in nature (stuffy nose, wheezing). However, people with wheat allergies and Celiac’s do suffer from many of the same things:

Celiac’s

  • Pain in the abdomen or joints
  • Burning in the chest
  • Belching, diarrhea, fat in stool, indigestion, nausea,vomiting, or flatulence
  • Bone loss, fatigue, or malnutrition
  • Delayed puberty, or slow growth
  • Cramping, lactose intolerance, itchy rash,hives, or weight loss

Wheat Allergy

  • Swelling, itching, or irritation of the mouth or throat
  • Hives,itchy rash, or swelling of the skin
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cramping, nausea, or vomiting
  • Diarrhea