Chapters: Digestive Wellness for Children
I have long been greatly concerned about all the parents out there who feel helpless when their children have health problems. They feel alone and inadequate in dealing with problems that impact their children’s health and well-being. The truth is that every day, parents make choices that affect their family’s ability to be healthy. Each choice is like a droplet of water in an upward or downward stream of health. When added together, these choices have an enormous collective effect, taking us either towards or away from health. In terms of diet, we are often guided by what’s convenient, fast, and affordable. Computers, electronic games, and television have replaced playing outdoors, sports, and family conversation. We treat our children with antibiotics and medications that help in the short run, but depress our children’s overall ability to bounce back on their own. So what’s a parent to do?
Thankfully, the complex issues related to our children’s health are made simpler in Digestive Wellness for Children by Elizabeth Lipski, Ph.D., C.C.N. As both Dr. Lipski and I have been aware for nearly two decades, digestion plays a key role in the overall health of our children. Dr. Lipski offers many important concepts and break-throughs that lead us to rethink common children’s health issues. Such far-reaching issues as asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic abdominal pain, attention deficit disorder, headaches, juvenile arthritis, and many more health concerns can be resolved by changes in lifestyle and diet. When digestion is improved, immune function improves and comes back into balance. Your child’s energy, behavior, and sense of well-being improve on all levels.
This book is a must-read for every parent who is interested in being proactive about their child’s health and wellness. Dr. Lipski artfully weaves the scientific information into an easy-to-read and extremely usable guide for parents. Digestive Wellness for Children will give you the confidence to try new options, because they are based upon current scientific research.
You will become more fully informed about the increase in children’s illnesses in our country and how our busy lifestyles contribute to the problem. You’ll find practical ideas about creating healthy family meals, making the transition to a healthier diet, and shopping. You’ll also find specific information about how digestion works and why probiotic bacteria are so critical to gut health. You’ll begin to understand why your child is so sensitive to his/her environment and what you can do to reduce food and environmental sensitivities. Finally, you’ll find specific information and recommendations on more than thirty-five specific health conditions— from infancy through adolescence.
For many years, I have been impressed by the way that Elizabeth Lipski has kept abreast of the latest knowledge and information in the nutritional sciences, and how it applies to health conditions that can challenge your children. Her first book, Digestive Wellness, has become a classic in the field. Digestive Wellness for Children is a companion to that earlier work. We now recognize that the digestive tract plays an important role in determining our health. We are not “what we eat” but rather “what we absorb from what we eat,” “what wastes we can eliminate,” and “how well our gut ecology is balanced.” Many of our children have longstanding health issues that can be resolved when these issues are addressed.
This book makes an important contribution to people’s understanding of the important relationships between gastrointestinal physiology, diet, and health. For parents who are not familiar with this exciting and important topic, this book will provide an introduction and a guide to how they can gain better control over digestive function and its relationship to their children’s health.
Dr. Lipski’s book helps the reader to understand how to approach this objective with precision.Enjoy.
- Ann Louise Gittleman, Ph.D., C.N.S. New York Times award-winning author of more than twenty-five books including The Fat Flush Plan, Before the Change, and The Fast Track ONE-DAY Detox Diet
"All ancient systems of healing, however much they differ among themselves, share with one another a common skein that divides them from modern clinical medicine. They all approach sickness as a problem of balance and relationship, the result of disharmony between the sick person and his environment rather than the product of specific diseases. To the traditional healer, disease itself has no reality independent of the person who is sick and the web of relationships of which he is part. By understanding how this universal wisdom was displaced from the conceptual basis of modern Western medicine, we can learn how to restore it."
OUR CHILDREN ARE NOT WELLOur kids are in trouble. Consider the following statistics on childhood disease in the United States:
• About 300,000 of our children have arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis, the most devastating type, affects 70,000–75,000 children.
• According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma prevalence among children and teenagers increased approximately 5 percent each year during the period of 1980–1995. Asthma now afflicts 4.8 million of our children (15 percent of boys and 10 percent of girls) under the age of eighteen, and 600 die from the disease each year.
• 12 percent of our children suffer from respiratory allergies or hay fever.
• Over 8 million of our children get migraine headaches, resulting in over a million lost days of school each year.
• Approximately 10 percent of our infants and young children develop eczema, and 60 percent of these children will continue to have problems with eczema into their adult years.
• It is estimated that irritable bowel syndrome affects 17 percent of our high school students and 8 percent of our middle-school students.
Learning, behavioral, developmental, and mental health challenges have increased as well, afflicting an estimated 17 percent of our children—that’s 12 million kids:• Eight percent of our children (10 percent of boys and 5 percent of girls) have a learning disability.
• Three to 6 percent have an attention deficit disorder.
• The diagnosis of autism and pervasive developmental disorder is skyrocketing, with at least a tenfold increase in the United States in the last twenty years.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 10 percent of our children and adolescents suffer from mental illness that is severe enough to warrant medical attention. For example:• Between 2 and 6 percent of our children and adolescents are depressed.
• Suicide is the third leading cause of death in children aged ten to nineteen years old.
• In 2002, 11 million prescriptions for antidepressants were written for children— but recent studies indicate that the use of antidepressants in children doubles their risk of suicide.
• In the past twenty years, the average age of onset of bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) has fallen from the early thirties to the late teens.
Overall, between 5 and 30 percent of American children have a chronic illness. And “adult” illnesses such as type II diabetes and heart disease, formerly rare in childhood, are now appearing in children at alarming rates.Baby Blues
Despite all of the advantages of the American lifestyle, many of our children get off to a rough start. How many of us have spent long nights pacing with an unhappy baby? Sixteen to 26 percent of infants experience colic in their first few months, and as many as 10 percent of infants experience eczema, diaper rash, and/or cradle cap.
Food allergies affect 2 to 8 percent of infants, and allergy to milk is the most common; in infants, cow’s milk intake is also strongly associated with spitting up and vomiting. Spitting up and an unusual amount of vomiting occurs in half of all newborns and two-thirds of infants aged up to four months old. It’s normal for babies to spit up from time to time, but 0.3 to 8 percent of infants have more serious gastroesophageal reflux disease that may be associated with poor weight gain, fussiness, hiatal hernia, cystic fibrosis, or other health problems.Bigger Children, Bigger Problems
Simple, natural strategies can solve some of the health problems of infancy, and many others are quickly outgrown. But as our children grow, they can develop other digestive health issues. Constipation, for example, accounts for 3 percent of all visits to pediatricians and 25 percent of children’s visits to gastroenterologists. Encopresis (fecal soiling or unplanned bowel movements in children older than four years) affects 1 to 3 percent of our children. Celiac disease, which limits the body’s tolerance of gluten-containing grains, affects 1 in 300 American children.
Our Kids Are Fat
Young people in our culture have unhealthful eating patterns, and television, computers, and video games contribute to their lack of physical activity. Forty-three percent of adolescents, for example, watch more than two hours of TV daily. (Author’s note: As one of my sons commented, “You don’t break bones while playing Nintendo.”) Obesity in our children has become a grave concern. In 1999, 13 percent of children aged six to eleven years, and 14 percent of adolescents and teenagers, were overweight. According to the Surgeon General’s 2003 report, the percentage of overweight children and adolescents has more than tripled in the last twenty years!
CHRONIC ILLNESS IN CHILDREN: THE DIGESTION CONNECTIONWhat is the common denominator here? If your child’s digestion isn’t working well, his/her overall health will suffer. The purpose of eating is to provide healthful nutrients to each cell of the body; if this is interrupted, or if proper nutrients aren’t taken in, children begin to show mental, behavioral, and medical symptoms.
Many children’s health problems actually stem from poor food choices, unhealthful lifestyles, and faulty digestion. It may also surprise you to learn that digestive problems are directly linked to a slew of seemingly unrelated juvenile illnesses including arthritis, attention deficit disorders, autism, migraines, asthma, depression, diabetes, and more. And much of this illness is preventable, controllable, or curable! You can learn to recognize the digestive factors in your child’s health and behavioral issues, how to find solutions, and how to encourage a healthier diet for your entire family. There is something you can do.
Digestive Wellness for Children provides parents with a step-by-step plan for making healthful changes in their family’s lifestyle. The approach is from a biological rather than a medical viewpoint. The standard medical approach is to diagnose and provide “appropriate” treatment, either drugs or surgery. The biological approach involves cleansing, feeding, and nurturing the child’s entire being— using simple but effective tools to improve the way he/she feels. By understanding the functions of the gastrointestinal tract and looking for the underlying causes of disease rather than settling for mere treatment of symptoms, we can begin to correct our children’s problems in a lasting way.
It is recommended that you start by reading the first two sections of this book. Then, in the second two sections, you can go directly to the specific chapters that apply to your child’s health needs.
The first chapters of the book explore the causes of digestive illness that are related to the American lifestyle. Then we take a trip through the digestive tract, where we find a beautifully orchestrated system of integrated harmony. We look at the microbes that populate our internal world, and at the effects we feel when they are out of balance. We move on to discuss dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome, which often underlie digestive illness and many other health problems. These chapters provide the groundwork to really understand the causes and effects of poor lifestyle choices and medical therapies on your child.
Then we focus on health improvement and problem solving, with information and practical tips on how to develop a wellness lifestyle. The biological approach is based on the concept of “biochemical individuality”; just as each of us has a unique face, body, and personality, so too do we each have a unique biochemistry and unique needs. One child’s need for a specific nutrient can be thirtyfold higher or lower than another’s. When it comes to food, one person’s pleasure is another’s poison. Although you may believe that it’s important to eat certain foods like bread, eggs, meat, milk, oranges, and tomatoes, these may or may not be healthful for your child (or for you). It depends on how well that specific person can use them.
The last two sections of the book discuss strategies for dealing with digestive and digestion-related health problems, including information about the latest research on nutritional and herbal therapies. Certain digestive issues characteristically occur at various stages of childhood, from infancy through the teen years. Other health issues like arthritic conditions, migraine headaches, and skin problems may actually be the consequence of faulty digestion. The goal is to help your child’s body reach its own natural balance, which will allow it to heal. Day in and day out, cell by cell, the body continually replenishes itself. With the correct balance of nutrients and activity, your child can become healthier and more resilient each year.
The book contains some exercises and questionnaires designed to help you shop and cook more wisely, and to increase your awareness of your child’s body and mind so you can help him/her breathe more deeply, relax more fully, and live more freely. Finally, the Resources section lists professional organizations that can refer you to nutritionally oriented physicians and health professionals, and the Appendices provide detailed information on laboratory tests and natural treatments.
Functional medicine, which is concerned with early intervention in health problems and improving the chances of a return to full health, is an integral part of the biological approach. Much of the information in the field of functional medicine is new, and most physicians will be unfamiliar with many of the laboratory tests recommended herein. Take this book to your pediatrician’s office, and ask the doctor to work with you in this new way.
Although we may not be aware of it, we all practice medical self-care. When we get a headache, we take an aspirin or go for a walk. If we have indigestion, we take an antacid or drink ginger tea. We know when we’re too sick to go to work. Most of the time, we make our own assessment and treatment plan, expecting that the problem will pass with time; when these plans fail, we seek professional help. This book will expose you to new plans, ideas, and tools so you can be your own family’s health expert. Just as one tool won’t work for every job, not all of these tools will work for you, but some will, and even your failures may yield information that you can apply toward the goal of your child’s best health.
Our Kids: Overfed and Undernourished
"It’s appalling that here in this land of plenty, with access to a wide variety of foods, that we still have a significant proportion of the population selecting foods that lead to inadequate intakes of critical nutrients."
- JANET KING, CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL OAKLAND RESEARCH INSTITUTE, CHAIRPERSON OF DIETARY GUIDELINES, SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Grocery store shelves are filled with high-profit, tasty foods that ultimately make us sick. Packaged foods can be healthful, or not; there are some highquality packaged foods, but the vast majority are stripped of most nutrients and loaded with anti-nutrient chemicals. Fresh is always best—and yet despite the abundance of fresh produce available to us all year, we turn to frozen vegetables and canned fruits. We eat microwaved and/or genetically modified foods. We feed our children processed Lunchables because it’s convenient. The producers of all of these “foods” reap the profits, while our overall health as a nation declines.
THE NEW “NORMAL”Our culture offers an enormous amount of choice and options—but much of what we consider “normal” is killing us. We think it’s normal to eat packaged foods on the run or to skip meals entirely, to immunize our children with chemical-laden vaccines, to stare at computer screens all day, to eat dinner in front of the television, and to drive around a parking lot looking for the “perfect space” rather than walking half a block. We think it’s normal for our kids to spend their days hooked into an electronic lifestyle and snacking on sweets and junk foods.
We are, essentially, three or four generations into an enormous, uncontrolled experiment, and we are already seeing the problems that can result. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the foods we eat, the cleaning products we use, and the personal-care products we use expose us to chemicals that simply weren’t present in our environment a hundred years ago. Each day, for example, the average person is exposed to over 100 different chemicals. If we get enough antioxidants (substances like vitamins C and E that protect cells against oxidative damage) from our foods, we can easily slough off most chemical toxins. But what happens when we eat poorly or are exposed to more chemicals than our bodies can handle? What will occur as generation after generation of Americans grows up on highly processed, nutrient-depleted foods that are filled with pesticide residues, colorings, man-made fats, and fake sugars?
The purpose of this chapter is to look at some of what our culture overlooks as normal and to confront some of the lifestyle challenges that we face as parents today. Our children’s world is vastly different from when we were children. If we simply accept the normal, we will surely do ourselves and our families a huge disservice.
MODERN-DAY EATING: TOO MUCH, AND YET TOO LITTLEWe are the most overfed and undernourished people in the world. Nearly half of our daily caloric intake comes from high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods. Although current studies report that we are consuming more nutrients than ever before, this is due to an alarming increase in our total daily calories. And it is clear that not only what we eat but also the way we eat has changed—for the worse. We often eat the same way we put gas in our cars: stop, fuel, and go. Forty-five percent of our meals are eaten away from home (that’s up from 39 percent in 1980). Many of us skip breakfast, and others skip both breakfast and lunch.
The Standard American Diet Is “SAD”
Even if you are trying to feed your children well, foods just aren’t what they used to be. According to the food tables published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) over the past fifty years, we’ve lost half of the calcium in broccoli, 88 percent of the iron in watercress, and 40 percent of the vitamin C in cauliflower. Partly because of such nutritional changes in food and mainly due to poor food choices, we are eating more calories but not getting the nutrients we need. Today, 20 percent of women and children do not meet the recommended daily allowances for vitamin E and zinc. A study of high-school runners found that 45 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys were deficient in iron; 31 percent of female college athletes were also found to be iron-deficient.
The average American gets 18.6 percent of his/her calories each day from sugar, 21.4 percent from fats and oils, and 5 percent from sweetened soft drinks, versus only 4.5 percent from vegetables and 3 percent from fruits. It’s worse for the average teenager, who gets 20 percent of his/her daily calories from refined sugar: an average of 34 teaspoons (544 calories) for boys and 24 teaspoons (384 calories) for girls. Such calories are called “empty calories” because their utilization by the body requires magnesium, B-complex vitamins, and chromium—all essential to energy production, bone health, nerve and muscle functions, and mood regulation—but the refined sugar itself contains none of these nutrients.
In the 1950s, Coca-Cola sold only a 6.5-ounce bottle, but today, some stores market a 64-ounce, 600-calorie version! Soft drinks are our biggest dietary source of refined sugar, accounting for about a third of our sugar intake. We’re now consuming twice as many soft drinks as in 1974, and children consume a disproportionate amount; they drink more soft drinks than fruit juice by the age of five years, and more soft drinks than milk, fruit juices, or fruit drinks by the age of thirteen.
The teen years are a prime time to build bone and help prevent future osteoporosis. Instead, teenagers put themselves at greater risk of broken bones because soft drinks deplete bones of strengthening minerals without contributing any. A boy aged twelve to nineteen years drinks an average of 24 ounces of soda per day (that’s 868 cans per year), and a girl in that age range drinks 18 ounces daily (651 cans annually). Unfortunately, girls get only about 60 percent of their recommended calcium on average, and girls who drink soft drinks get only about 48 percent. Calcium is critical to healthy bones, teeth, and proper nerve, brain, and muscle function. We also use it in nearly every cell in the body.
The Real Cost of Eating Out
• Only 34 percent of dinner entrées are completely “homemade,” and nearly 7 percent of those are sandwiches.
Given the facts above, it is perhaps not surprising that 16 percent of children aged six to eleven years, and 14 percent of teenagers, are overweight or obese— rates that have tripled in the past twenty years. Our thinness-oriented culture, however, encourages our young people to combat this excess weight with a variety of methods. When surveyed, 43 percent of students reported trying to lose weight, most through exercise, and many combining exercise with eating less food or less fat, which are all healthful ways to shed unwanted pounds. But 13 percent of the students who had tried to lose weight said that they fasted for twenty-four hours or more; 8 percent said they took diet pills, powders, or liquids; and 7 percent of girls and 2 percent of boys reported using laxatives or vomiting to assist with weight loss. Obviously, we have a serious problem here!
THE WILL TO CHANGEOur physical bodies are composed of the foods we eat, and if we don’t get the nutrients we need, our bodies first begin to show the deficiencies as irritability, lack of attention, and other mood changes. Is it a coincidence, then, that 20 percent of our children have learning and behavior problems?
It’s time to focus on health rather than convenience and to develop better habits. Instead of asking, “Does this look and taste good?” we should ask, “Is this healthful, will it contribute to my biochemical balance and help me feel better, and will it taste good?” We need to exercise regularly and think positive thoughts. We need to relax by ourselves and with friends. We need to create balance in our lives. And we need to impart this lifestyle to our children by modeling healthful behavior for them.
Take breakfast, for example: Studies show that eating breakfast enhances school-aged children’s ability to learn and behave in a classroom setting, and that’s why many public schools offer breakfast to students. Although school breakfast and lunch programs may not offer the most exciting foods, children who partake of them have higher nutrient status than children who don’t. Small, frequent meals keep children’s energy levels even and their minds alert. Snacking also reduces the incidence of children’s tantrums!
Think of the body as a woodstove: You light the stove in the morning so it will warm the house while you work; throughout the day, you put in small amounts of wood; and at night, you fuel the stove and then let it die down before you go to sleep. Similarly, if we give our children small meals and nutritious snacks throughout the day, they are utilized and burned efficiently. Although we eat primarily to nourish our bodies, we mustn’t forget that meals are also a time for relaxation, rest, and renewal. Numerous studies show that we digest food better if we are relaxed, and many people seem to know this intuitively, as indicated by the global customs of saying grace or taking a couple of moments to “center ourselves” before a meal.
Today, not a single child is born free of synthetic chemicals.
- BILL MOYERS, PBS DOCUMENTARY TRADE SECRETS
Research now confirms what many parents and teachers have long suspected: that some children experience behavior, learning, or respiratory problems when they eat foods containing petroleum-based additives like dyes, synthetic flavorings, and certain preservatives.
- JANE HERSEY, DIRECTOR, FEINGOLD ASSOCIATION
Eighty-nine (89) percent of 10,500 ingredients used in personal-care products have not been evaluated for safety by the CIR, the FDA, nor any other publicly accountable institution.
- COSMETIC INGREDIENT REVIEW PANEL, FDA OFFICE OF COSMETICS AND COLORS
Thousands of years ago, nomadic people foraged and hunted for food. When populations increased, farming and animal husbandry enabled more people to be fed with regularity. Foods were grown nearby and eaten fresh and primarily in season. Nowadays, however, a global economy supplies our food, and it seems perfectly normal to buy Granny Smith apples imported from New Zealand, apricots from Turkey, salmon from Norway, and mineral water and wine from France. We have grown accustomed to nectarines in winter and oranges in summer.
Are foods shipped from far away just as nutritious as foods grown locally? A ripe, juicy tomato from your backyard has about the same measurable nutritional value as those pale hothouse tomatoes sold in winter. But even though these foods share some of the same scientific measurements, our intuitive measurement tells us they are different in some important ways. This chapter will give you a “heads up” on what lurks in your foods and personal-care items. You’ll also get some insight into microwaved, irradiated, and genetically modified foods.
FOOD ADDITIVES—AND SUBTRACTIONSAmericans love the convenience of frozen foods—but most frozen foods contain additives that make them less perishable. Aseptic packaging to lengthen food’s shelf-life kills much of the bacteria that cause spoilage and food poisoning—but simultaneously kills the beneficial bacteria that actually help maintain our health. Today’s food production, transportation, and processing methods destroy or extract valuable nutrients, add preservatives and other chemicals, and even change the very genetic makeup of foods to “enhance” them.
Preservatives and Other Problems
From earliest times, meats and other foods were salted and “cured” to preserve them. Later, foods were jarred and canned with sugar, salt, and vinegar to keep them from perishing. Pickling foods like cabbages and cucumbers is a way to preserve them while retaining their original character and much of their nutrient value; pickling actually adds enzymes and beneficial bacteria that support health. But because so much of today’s food is shipped from afar and packaged to last months or years, chemicals are added to stabilize and preserve it. In the United States alone, more than 3,000 food additives (dyes, artificial flavorings, dough conditioners, texturing agents, anti-caking agents, and so on) are used to extend shelf-life and enhance flavor, appearance, and consistency. The average American eats an alarming 14 pounds of additives each year!
It is well documented that a class of common preservatives called sulfites causes asthma and respiratory problems in certain individuals. (Author’s note: Current research indicates that only a tiny percentage of the population is sensitive to preservatives and other food additives, but in my practice as a clinical nutritionist, I have seen many people with these sensitivities. One fifteen-year-old told me that eating a single drop of food coloring would put her in anaphylactic shock, a severe, possibly life-threatening allergic reaction, within ten minutes. Another client can no longer eat in restaurants because of her severe reactions to monosodium glutamate.)
Children consume more of these potentially harmful substances per body weight than adults do. Ben Feingold, M.D., a pioneer in the field of food sensitivity and child behavior, found that many food additives caused significant behavior and learning problems. The long-term effects of additives on developing children are of special concern—but no one really knows what those effects are. And although additives have been tested singly, they have never been tested in combi- nations, so we have no idea of their synergistic effects either. (Author’s note: This ongoing dietary experiment reminds me of my favorite experiment with a childhood chemistry set; I used to mix two chemicals together and then watch the testtube explode.)“Just Like Sugar”
Splenda, also called sucralose, is one of our newest eating experiments. This sweetener is manufactured from real but nutritionally depleted sugar through a five-step process in which three hydroxyl groups in each molecule are replaced by three chlorine atoms, converting the sugar (which, by the way, never had any chlorine in it before) to a chemical called 1,6-dichloro-1,6-dideoxy-BETA-D-fructofuranosyl- 4-chloro-4-deoxy-alpha-D-galactopyranoside. This chemical is 600 times sweeter than sugar by weight.
Marketers, focusing on the fact that we eat too much sugar and running with the current low-carbohydrate craze, advertise Splenda as “just like sugar but without the calories,” and the sweetener has already found its way into hundreds of food products. In response to consumer interest, General Mills is creating lowsugar versions of its three most popular cereals by reducing the amount of sugar by 75 percent and replacing it with small amounts of Splenda. This will potentially affect a huge number of children.
We want to believe that this chemical will let us eat our cake (or cereal) and still be thin, but we are letting ourselves be duped, as no scientific findings indicate that Splenda will help us lose weight or be healthier in any way. Surely long-term research has shown it to be harmless? No: there have been few studies at all, none in children, and no long-term studies in humans—except for the one we are now conducting by eating it! (See the inset “Splenda Symptoms?” on page 16.)
WAVES OF THE FUTURE
Modern food processing and preparation seriously deplete the average American diet of many nutrients. In making white flour from whole-wheat kernels, twenty-two vitamins and minerals are removed; when the bran and germ go, so do 98 percent of the vitamin B6, 91 percent of the manganese, 84 percent of the magnesium, and 87 percent of the fiber. In making breakfast cereals (even many health-food brands) by extruding a slurry of grains through nozzles to create shapes, the high temperatures and pressures destroy vitamins, antioxidants, and essential fats. And now that 90 percent of American homes have a microwave oven, even the health benefits of a home-cooked meal are suspect. Microwave Cooking
The researchers also found structural changes in the microwaved food that were not seen in the conventionally cooked food. Dr. Hertel stated,
Another study showed that when breast milk was microwaved to 98.6ºF, almost all its protective antibodies and lysozymes were destroyed and its vitamin C level was reduced. But a different study reported that if breast milk was heated to only 140ºF, there was no damage to its vitamin B1, vitamin E, or essential fatty acids. Microwaving is too recent an innovation for us to know what the long-term effects are.
Given the possible health concerns, does it really take that much longer to cook in a conventional oven or on the stovetop?
IrradiationAnother questionable modern technology used on our food supply is irradiation. Irradiation is a clever way of utilizing nuclear waste materials to keep food fresh longer and reduce the risk of food poisoning. It kills all bacteria (like Salmonella, a major problem in poultry, meat, and egg production) and leaves no radiation in the food itself, but the process may destroy more than we want it to; irradiated milk, for example, loses 70 percent of its vitamin A, thiamin, and riboflavin.
Irradiated foods contain molecules found nowhere in nature. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) groups these “radiolytic by-products” in two categories: “known radiolytic products” such as formaldehyde and benzene, which are proven carcinogens, and “unique radiolytic products,” which are new molecules that haven’t been characterized. What’s frightening is that no one knows the long-term effects of these “unique” molecules on our health. Studies in the 1950s, however, showed that animals eating irradiated foods had a wide variety of health problems including premature death, reproductive dysfunction, a rare form of cancer, chromosomal abnormalities, liver damage, low weight gain, and vitamin deficiencies.
The FDA has approved irradiation for use in beef, pork, chicken, other poultry, eggs in the shell, fruits and vegetables, wheat, wheat flour, juice, spices, dried-vegetable seasonings, and sprouting seeds. Seventy-five percent of our beef producers and 50 percent of our poultry producers have signed agreements to use this technology. Due to lingering health and safety concerns, however, the European Parliament limits the use of food irradiation to spices, dried herbs, and seasonings. Many researchers are opposed to such massive experimentation done at our risk, and worry about all the environmental problems associated with handling radioactive materials at small irradiating facilities throughout the country.Irradiation Identification
Irradiated foods are labeled as such only when sold to the first buyer. The standard wording is “treated with radiation,” “treated with irradiation,” or “electronically pasteurized” and is allowed to be as small as the other smallest labeling on the package. Consumers are supposed to see irradiation labeling, if applicable, on the following foods:
• Plant foods sold in whole form in a package (for example, a label on a bag of beans or oranges)
• Fresh, whole fruits and vegetables (a label on a fruit or vegetable, box, or display)
• Whole meat and poultry in a package (a label on a package of chicken breasts)
• Unpackaged meat and poultry (a label on the butcher’s display)
• Irradiated meat and poultry that are part of another packaged food (a label on a frozen chicken pot-pie showing that it contains irradiated chicken)
You won’t see any such labeling, however, when irradiated ingredients are provided at salad bars or deli counters; served in school lunches, restaurants, hospitals, or nursing homes; or used in processed foods like soups or applesauce. There is also no labeling on irradiated spices or seeds. Whole cases of irradiated fruits and vegetables are marked with a symbol on the crates (see Figure 2.1), but consumers typically see only the unpacked contents
Genetic EngineeringFor more than a hundred years, most of our produce has been hybridized, meaning that two or more varieties of a particular plant have been cross-pollinated to create a new variety. Many hybridized foods often look or taste better than their “old” counterparts, but their nutritional value is often sacrificed for ease of transportation or resistance to pests, drought, heat, or cold. Corn, for instance, contains 14 percent less protein now than it did forty years ago. Today’s technologists are taking hybridization a step further by splicing genes into dozens of foods to make foods bigger, sweeter, juicier, longer lasting, and more plentiful. Most of us eat genetically modified foods (GMFs)—also called genetically engineered (GE) foods—on a regular basis, and yet many people are completely unaware of the issues involved in their creation.
Agricultural genetic engineering generally involves changes to seeds. Many soy and corn varieties, for example, have been modified to be resistant to an herbicide called Round-Up so that a field can be sprayed with the herbicide and only the weeds, not the crop, will be killed. Other varieties have been given genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which makes the resulting “Bt” plant resistant to insects that go through a larval stage. Proponents of this biotechnology assert that it will reduce pesticide and herbicide use, make crops more resistant to frost damage and drought, increase food’s nutritional value, and even help clean up environmental contaminants. Opposition, however, is based on the fact that little long-term testing has been performed on GMFs prior to their release into the food supply.
Although the outcry against GMFs has been large in Europe, Americans have been relatively quiet. Japan, the European Union, Russia, and many other countries require the labeling of GMFs. The FDA has refused thus far to require labeling of GMFs in the United States. In fact, up to 60 percent of the foods now on our supermarket shelves contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients. Many processed foods contain soy derivatives, corn syrup, or cornstarch, and if you eat foods containing soy or corn that has not been organically grown, you are probably consuming GMF products. This includes any food that contains corn syrup, soy oil, soy protein, tofu, corn chips, popcorn, tortillas, and more. Despite some consumer protest, farming of genetically modified crops is increasing steadily in the United States:• Soybean acreage was 17 percent GM in 1997, 68 percent by 2001, and 80 percent in 2003.
• Bt corn (introduced in 1996) was 8 percent of corn acreage in 1997, 26 percent in 1998, down to 19 percent in 2001, and then up to 30 percent by 2003.
• 10 percent of cotton was herbicide-resistant in 1997 versus 56 percent in 2001.
Because genetically engineered crops were first developed in the mid-1990s, their long-term costs and environmental consequences are yet to be determined. In an initial study of such issues, researchers at Cornell University dusted Bt corn pollen onto the leaves of milkweed plants, which are the sole food for the caterpillar stage of the endangered monarch butterfly. Nearly half of the monarch caterpillars that fed on those leaves died, and the remainder grew to only half their normal size. What other animal species may also be affected by genetically altered plants? Suffice it to say that more testing must be done before we can know the long-term effects that these crops may have on the environment—or, for that matter, on our health.
Environmental ExposuresExposure to environmental toxins is a serious public health issue. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 50,000 synthetic chemicals are dispersed into our environment, many of which are known to disrupt the normal functions of our body’s systems. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, beginning in utero, when fat-soluble metals and other toxins are pulled from the mother’s body to the baby’s during pregnancy. The Environ- mental Working Group and the Red Cross examined umbilical cords from ten newborns. They identified 287 industrial chemicals with an average of 200 per umbilical cord. Compared to adults, children breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food for their relative weight, and may also be less capable of eliminating some toxins; for example, children absorb about half of the lead they ingest, whereas adults absorb only one-tenth. Children also play close to the ground and have hand-to-mouth activity that increases their exposure to toxins.
Before Food is Food
Farmers used to grow many different foods, rotate their crops, and use “natural” fertilizers. Today, most food grown in America comes from corporate agrifarms that produce monocrops, and our soils are being depleted as a result. Chemical fertilizers add only the nutrients necessary for healthy plants, not nutrient-rich foods. Worse, chemical pesticides can damage our nervous and immune systems and are especially harmful to children, who are exposed to more pesticide per unit of weight than adults are. Nearly three-quarters of the produce consumed by small children contains pesticide residue.
In 2003, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) looked at 116 chemicals in the blood of ordinary citizens. Of the thirty-four pesticides tested, the average person had thirteen in his/her bloodstream, and blood levels of chlorpyrifos (an organophosphate pesticide banned for residential use in 2001 because of its negative effects) were found to be twice as high in children as in adults. The CDC report showed that children and women of child-bearing age carried the heaviest pesticide burdens—which is alarming, because pesticide exposure in the womb and during the first three years of postnatal life has been found to lower birth weight, increase the incidence of birth defects, and hinder normal neurological development and reproduction.
In 1993–1997, pesticide residues were found on 19 to 24 percent of all produce. Pesticide residues on imported foods have increased in the last decade, and we currently import many foods grown with DDT and other pesticides that have been banned for use in the United States. As of January 2006, however, all imported foods are required to meet current United States standards for allowable pesticide types and residue level. And fortunately, organic farming and integrated pest management (combining natural insect-control methods to reduce the use of pesticides) are gaining momentum.
An emerging concern is second-hand smoke or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), which is the smoke that drifts into a room from a cigarette plus the exhaled smoke from a smoker. About a quarter of American adults smoke, half to a third of all children under the age of five years live in a household with a smoker, and children who live with smokers have more respiratory problems and more health problems in general. A 1992 study by the EPA reported that ETS causes 150,000–300,000 respiratory tract infections in infants and toddlers under the age of 18 months, resulting in as many as 15,000 hospitalizations. Children with asthma are especially at risk from ETS. ETS affects between 200,000 and 1 million asthmatic children each year.
Your child’s risk of hospitalization from your smoke doubles with just half a pack a day. Mothers who smoke during pregnancy run a greater risk of having children with hyperactivity and/or lower intelligence. And of the over 4,000 chemicals that have been found in cigarette smoke, at least forty-three of them are known to cause cancer.
Cotinine, an easily measured metabolite of nicotine, is used to determine the health risks of people who are around smoke. High cotinine levels, which correlate with cancer risk, are commonly found in nonsmokers. Between CDC statistics gathered in 1991–1994 and 1999–2000, cotinine levels decreased by 58 percent for children and 55 percent for teenagers, indicating that children’s exposure to cigarette smoke was dropping, but cotinine levels were still found to be twice as high in children as in adults. So if you smoke, it’s not just your own health that you affect, but also the lifelong health of your children and other family members.
A child’s nervous system begins forming long before birth, as embryonic neurons branch out and make the connections that transport information to and from the brain and body. The more branches and connections made, the larger the brain will be. The neural pathways formed in your child’s first three years of life are the basis for his/her ability to learn and develop; during this time, exposure to heavy metals can have significant, detrimental consequences.
A major effort has been made in the United States since the 1970s to reduce lead in the environment. In 1991, former U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan declared lead poisoning to be the most serious environmental disease of North American children. A recent CDC report shows that the number of American children with lead levels above 10 parts per million dropped from 4.4 percent in 1991–1994 to 2.2 percent in 1999–2000. This great improvement is due to an active public health campaign to remove lead from gasoline, paint, and other products, but lead toxicity continues to be a huge problem in America and worldwide.
Through regular vaccinations, our infants and children take in potentially toxic doses of mercury from the vaccine preservative thimerosol, which is 49 percent ethylmercury by weight. The number of recommended immunizations rose significantly in 1989, and until recently a typical child received a cumulative total of 237.5 milligrams of mercury from standard vaccinations. Parental outcry has resulted in the removal of thimerosol from many current vaccines, but not all. Although most children are able to rid their bodies of this toxin, at least 15 percent of children have poor detoxification capabilities. A controversial but growing body of evidence links increasing levels of mercury in immunizations to outcomes including autism, developmental delays, and other learning disabilities (visit the website www.vaccinesafety.edu/thi-table.htm). Immunization is of great personal and public benefit, but be sure to ask your physician to use only vaccines that do not contain thimerosol.
In 2001, the National Wildlife Federation documented that concentrations of mercury in New England rainfall were up to four times the safety limit established by the EPA. Sixty-three percent of this mercury comes from coal-fired power plants and from incinerated mercury-containing products. Each year, approxi- mately 160 tons of mercury is released into the atmosphere over the United States, with only about fifty tons collected by “scrubbers.” And China may seem far away, but its mercury emissions of about 1,000 tons per year drift and fall on our waters and land. Mercury from these sources pollutes our water, air, and land, and ultimately our food supply.
Fish consumption is the most common source of mercury exposure in the general population. Mercury from food is 90 percent absorbed and deposited into our tissues, with the highest concentrations residing in our kidneys, liver, red blood cells, bile, brains, testes, and nervous systems. The FDA and EPA advise pregnant, potentially pregnant, and lactating women, as well as children under the age of five years, not to eat swordfish, shark, king mackerel, or tilefish, and to limit intake of albacore tuna to once weekly. They also advise a 12-ounce weekly limit on intake of low-mercury fish such as light tuna, shrimp, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Although I’m no longer of childbearing age, I follow the same recommendations to be on the safe side.PERSONAL-CARE AND HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS
Personal-care items can be a source of many “hidden” chemicals and allergens. A 2004 report from a nongovernmental “watchdog” called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) states that 99.6 percent of the 7,500 products analyzed contained one or more ingredients never studied for safety by the Cosmetics Ingredient Review (CIR, the cosmetic industry’s self-regulating panel): “One of every 120 products on the market contains ingredients certified by government authorities as known or probable human carcinogens, including shampoos, lotions, make-up foundations, and lip balms manufactured by Almay, Neutrogena, Grecian Formula, and others. An astonishing one-third of all products contain one or more ingredients classified as possible human carcinogens.”
What Lurks in Your Toiletries and Household Cleaning Products?
It’s important to consider what’s in your house-cleaning products as well. An innocuous dishwashing detergent usually contains several dangerous chemicals such as naptha (a central nervous system depressant), diethanolamine (a possible liver poison), and chlorophenylphenol (considered a toxin). And this is only one of many household items! Just think: air freshener, window cleaner, scouring powder, bleach, laundry detergent, all-purpose spray cleaner, toilet cleaner, oven cleaner, tub and tile cleaner, furniture polish.... Luckily, many cleaning products without these harsh chemicals can be found at health food stores and even in regular supermarkets.
As consumers, we naively assume that somewhere, some regulatory agency is looking out for our best interests, but apparently that isn’t always the case; of the 75,000 chemicals registered with the EPA, only a fraction has undergone complete testing to determine its potential contribution to health problems. As with environmental toxins, children are more susceptible than adults are to the negative effects of household chemicals. Please take the time to examine the products you use in your home. For information on ingredients in common toiletries and cleaning products, visit the EWG’s website at www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep.
The Hygiene Hypothesis: Too Clean!
Whole foods are in balance with themselves and with nature. When we eat them, we benefit from their balance. Later chapters in this book will show you how to bring the health-supporting benefits of whole foods to your family.
Liz's Health Tips