I’m back!

I have taken a long break from writing posts for my blog or actually replying to comments. I apologize for the long delay for some of you on your questions/comments. As you know, even the strongest warrior moms need a break…so I took one. I’m replying to comments each day and hope to be caught up by the end of the week. Next week I hope to start writing again. Stay tuned to hear about our experience with yeast and leaky gut issues (yet again!).  I’m really into whole foods and diet changes, so look for posts about that and how to incorporate it into your child’s diet.

Cheers!

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GI Distress and Autism

http://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/immune-cells-linked-regression-gi-distress-repetitive-behaviors

Autism Speaks Trailblazer scientists link increases in dendritic cells with autistic regression, brain changes, repetitive behaviors and GI distress. Image courtesy of Elaine Hsiao/CalTech.

Finally some credible research that proves autism is linked to gut dysfunction. It’s the gut-brain-immune system triad that I keep going back to every time I research anything to do with treating autism bio-medically.  We’ve got to heal our children’s gut in order to get the immune system and brain to function normally.  They are interconnected.

ADHD: Prescription Drugs or Not?!

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I’ve been listening to so many stories from friends, acquaintances, and strangers that have experienced their child’s school teacher/psychologist/administrators either hint at or outright suggest their child be put on prescribed meds for their ADHD/autistic behaviors. I personally have felt the constant pressure that I should do more for my kids and the “he just doesn’t focus and that is his main problem” statements during IEP meetings or parent/teacher conferences.

Over the years I have presented my natural approach to my sons’ school and have also received tremendous support. But it seems lately with the school budget cuts, and teachers/staff stress over increased classroom sizes that the “quick fix” of ADHD drugs seems to be the popular method of controlling the kids in the classroom. I have always said that the decision to put any child on prescription medications is a personal family choice. One that should not be made without careful consideration as to the ramifications, side affects, and health and well being of the child. This is not something that others should put upon parents whether guilting them into it, or painting a scenario that “he just isn’t working at his full potential”.

One approach that helps kids with ADHD and autism (all kids for that matter) is physical exercise EVERY day. Good, aerobic, physical activity. School budget cuts have forced schools to eliminate regular P.E. classes at the elementary school level, and team sports in middle school at a time when children and adolescents need daily physical activity to help them grow and learn. Thanks to the advances in technology, kids now have more electronic devices to occupy their free time instead of going outside to run, bike, skateboard, and play. Parents seem to be at a loss for what to do for their child and prescription meds are a seemingly sensible solution.

What prompted me to write about this is an article I read today about how low-income kids are being prescribed ADHD meds to boost academic performance. I know this sound like an outrage and “how can anyone do that?!” To me it’s really no different than kids given this for ADHD or autism. Unless a family has fully tried all methods of helping their child with natural approaches like a healthy, organic diet, addressing food allergies, supplements, getting the right amount of sleep and enough daily exercise, just to name a few, then perhaps researching how prescription meds can help the child is in order. More often than not, the natural approach is not taken. Most of the time I see this because the parents don’t even know they had other options available to them besides prescription drugs. Thanks to their doctor and the pharmaceutical industry capitalizing on today’s fast-paced, quick fix mindset of overworked, overextended, stressed out families, prescription medication for ADHD is the go to solution.

http://news.yahoo.com/medication-prescribed-low-income-kids-boost-academic-performance-133319856.html

The goal of my blog is to help educate parents that turn to their computer’s search engine for answers or ways to help their child. The results I’ve seen in helping my own children merits sharing and the extensive research I’ve done can help others to know that there are alternatives to prescription drugs for their child. I am humbled each and every day by the comments of parents and individuals that I’ve helped through this blog. Please spread the word. Biomedical approach works, heals, and offers a lifetime of health!

Sugar. Oh how I (heart) thee!

Lemon Shortbread Heart Cookies

Lemon Shortbread Cookies photo by Craig Cutler

This Valentine’s Day I must confess my secret love affair. Yes, you guessed correct…it’s with sugar.  I love sugar! All foods taste yummier with sugar.  Whether it’s sugar in my coffee, sugar in my pastries, sugar in my yogurt, sugar in my, well, candy…I crave sugar! Sugar is delightful and never fails to lift my spirits. It gives me that extra energy at the end of a long day. When I’m bored it entertains me with its sweet kiss on my lips. When I’m sad it consoles me better than any therapist. When I’m PMSing it saves me and others around me! (sigh) But my love affair with sugar is coming to an end.

I have finally decided that I must give up this addiction and only taste sugar’s sweet delight occasionally. Not every day. How in the world and I am going to do this? Better yet, why?!

Well, I have always known that sugar is bad for my health. But aren’t all addictions bad for you in some way? I know that in order to get fit and healthy, I must conquer my addiction to sugar. I know it can be done. I have friends that actually don’t eat it at all. I know! Sounds insane, but apparently it can be done and you do survive. So they’ve told me.

In the process of convincing others how sugar affects our health, perhaps I’ll see the benefit in going through my (painful) sugar withdrawals and know that better health awaits me.  First let’s begin with how ubiquitous sugar is in our diet. It’s not going to be easy to give it up, unless I eat mostly freshly prepared meals and snacks. I’ll have to be strong when I bake chocolate chip cookies for my sons and not have any. (groan)

Sugar is in ketchup, yogurt, cereals, breads, brownies (seriously?! I thought it was just chocolate), instant oatmeal, pancake mix, and most conventionally package good foods/snacks. I’m talking about sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS does not exist in my diet. But the sad thing is you can’t completely avoid all sugars because they are in fruit in the form of fructose. So I will have to get my sugar high from my fruits. (I wonder if anyone ever struggles with strawberry addiction.)

And then to top it all off, your body converts carbohydrates to sugar! What’s up with that?!  Whole wheat bread, potatoes, white rice…all gets converted to glucose and stored as FAT. Not fair! All the yummy things to eat in life are bad for you…unless you eat them in MODERATION. That’s the key.

You may wonder just how is sugar addicting. Well, when you eat sugar it triggers dopamine, (a neurotransmitter and neurohoromone in the brain) which is our “pleasure” hormone. What brain wouldn’t like that feeling? So of course you crave it more. I was horrified to learn that heroine, morphine and sugar all trigger the same pleasure centers in the brain! This is when I learned I was an addict. And one of the first steps in conquering any addiction is knowledge, then acceptance. So is depression the next step because all the pleasure sensors in my brain will wither up and die without sugar giving them that instant gratification on a regular basis?!

Where do I begin? Well, I’ve already started by not putting sugar in my morning coffee (latte). I use Organic Blue Agave Nectar. It has a much lower glycemic index. And that’s the key in keeping your blood sugar level and staving off diabetes and other chronic diseases. If you’re not familiar with the glycemic indices of foods, check out http://www.glycemicindex.com and learn more. Here’s a quote directly from their website.

The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low-GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health. Low GI diets have been shown to improve both glucose and lipid levels in people with diabetes (type 1 and type 2). They have benefits for weight control because they help control appetite and delay hunger. Low GI diets also reduce insulin levels and insulin resistance.

Next, I’m going to have to give up ice-cream…oh the horror! I know there is not one redeeming health quality of ice-cream, but it’s just so, um, delicious. Better yet, I’m going to have to replace my craving with something that will satisfy me and help my body get through “detox”. Yes, when you eliminate sugar from your diet, your body goes through detox. I’m told that I might experience feeling lightheaded, headaches, lack of energy (duh!), skin itching/rash/pimples, mood disorders (another duh!) and intense cravings. But apparently this should only last 3-4 weeks. That makes me feel better. (note sarcasm) I have to have incredible self-control for a month. Then it gets easier.

There are two major health reasons that I want to eliminate sugar from my diet. The first is that sugar feeds yeast in the gut.  When yeast takes over your gastrointestinal tract, it creates immune dysfunction and gastrointestinal distress. Yeast lives and feed off of sugar and foods that convert to sugar. Yeast is a huge biomedical factor in autism and ADHD and its related behaviors in children. The second health reason is cancer. Sugar feeds cancer cells and helps them grow and proliferate in your body. Cancer cells thrive on cell inflammation and sugar/glucose promotes inflammation. This is the one step that I’ve failed miserably at when following the recommendations of “The Anti-Cancer Diet” book by David Servan-Schreiber. I know, I’m an addict and I need to acknowledge that fact. But still.

So I’m going to keep reminding myself that I am giving up sugar for my health and my children. Next step is to stock up on healthy snacking alternatives like veggies, fruit and nuts. I’m going to package them up in my BPA-free snack bags and take them with me wherever I go. When I’m feeling low-energy, they will give me that lift I usually seek from sugar. If anyone has any tips on how to overcome sugar addiction, I welcome them! Oh, and Happy (sugar-free) Valentine’s Day.

What do you think the ramifications will be? I wonder.

http://news.yahoo.com/experts-weigh-changes-definition-autism-170206958.html

So mental health experts are messing with the definition of autism and the diagnostic criteria. My mind boggles with what that will mean to the future children being diagnosed, and the children already diagnosed today. How will we be able to accurately track the rise in autism rates and apply research on a potential environmental contributing factor if we throw this monkey wrench into the mix?! And down the road in a few years,  the news reports will  say that autism is on the decline and some government agency will take credit for it. Not because of changes made to our environment or perhaps improved treatment options…but because the diagnostic criteria has changed.

What will this mean to children already diagnosed and receiving services that no longer qualify based on the new criteria? Does it mean they no longer need services because on paper, they don’t have autism, just Aspergers.  What would have happened if this new criteria was around when my son was diagnosed? His diagnosis was high-functioning autism. Would he have received a diagnosis of autism and qualified for the much-needed services he has received over the years? I credit biomedical intervention AND behavioral therapy for his huge gains since his diagnosis.

I’m sure there is some good news in all of this somewhere.  Maybe for the insurance companies that would have to provide services in the states that have adopted insurance reform. I don’t know about this one. I’d love to hear from you and what your take on it is.

Essential Fatty Acids and Why We Need Them

Omega-3 and omega-6 are considered “essential fatty acids” (EFA) because our bodies need them for building healthy cells, and maintaining nerve and brain function. Our bodies can’t produce EFAs, so our only source is from food. This is one area where your diet will greatly affect the balance of omega-3 vs. omega-6 and your overall health. Essential fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that can protect us from diseases likes type-2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and age-related brain decline.

Omega-6 fatty acids primarily comes in the form of linoleic acid from plant oils. The main source that the western diet provides these are in the form of corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil. But the healthier source of omega-6 should come from seeds and nuts. We really should only be getting 5%-10% of our food calories from omega-6 fatty acids in our diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids come from fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna. Unfortunately, with our polluted oceans, tuna and mackerel contain unsafe levels of mercury, and other contaminates, while salmon is only best as wild caught Alaskan salmon. There are other sources such as flaxseed, walnuts and green leafy vegetables. Flaxseed oil, for example, contains about 55% omega-3 fats. Canola oil has about 10%.

All of these foods are healthy choices, but there’s still some debate about whether they have all the benefits of fish oil. The reason: the omega-3 in flax, canola, walnuts, and other vegetable sources are in the form of alpha linoleic acid, or ALA. Although the body can convert some ALA to EPA and DHA, the two forms of omega-3 fats with proven heart protection benefits, it’s not clear how much is converted. Diets high in omega-6 fats interfere with the conversion of ALA to DHA in omega-3s.  As you age that conversion becomes even more inefficient, at a time when your brain and nerves really need the protective benefits from EPA and DHA.

Omega-6 fatty acids compete with omega-3 in the body, so the ratio of these two forms of polyunsaturated fats is very important. We need more omega-3 in a ratio of 1:1 to 1:4 (omega-6:omega-3).  With all the fast food, prepared convenient foods and packaged foods in the America diet, this ratio is way off since it’s flooded with omega-6 fatty acids in the form of vegetable oils such as corn and safflower oil.

So if you don’t eat fish, or want to limit the amount you eat due to exposure to toxins, a supplement is recommended in the form of omega-3 that is high in DHA.

BENEFITS OF EFAs

Essential Fatty Acids, particularly Omega-3s (high in DHA) supports brain function with focus, concentration and mood. About two-thirds of the brain is composed of fats. Myelin, the protective sheath that covers communicating neurons, is composed of 30% protein and 70% fat. DHA reduces oxidative stress, enhances learning and memory, and is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in cell membranes within the brain. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and the primary building material for cell membranes, which let nutrients in and toxins out.

  • Our bodies cannot produce Omega fatty acids, so we must get them through our diet and supplementation.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are utilized by our eyes, brain, heart, joints, digestive system and many other tissues and systems.
  • Omega-3 improves your ability to concentrate as well as your energy level.
  • Omega-3s in the form of DHA are beneficial to kids and adults with ADHD or autism.
  • Through it’s anti-inflammatory effects, cod liver oil is a promising treatment for arthritis sufferers.
  • The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils keep platelets in the blood from sticking together, which reduces blood clotting and lowers the risk for heart attacks. They may also provide protection by reducing inflammation in the blood vessels.
  • Omega-3s help with mood disorders, such as depression.
  • Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and omega-6s are pro-inflammatory. Diseases like heart disease, cancer, type-2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s thrive on cell inflammation. Diets rich in omega-3s reduce inflammation and disease risk.
  • Grass-fed cattle are higher in omega-3s vs. omega-6s.  Conventional beef is fed diets high in omega-6s with grains like corn and soybeans.  Organic beef doesn’t necessarily mean they are grass-fed, which is the type of beef we should be consuming. It just means the grains they are fed are organically grown.

Our family has reduced our intake of omega-6s and eat a diet richer in omega-3s, yet we still take a dietary supplement of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of DHA.  Remember, our bodies may not be efficient at converting enough of the ALA (from EFAs) to DHA.

An informative source with a great list of FAQs on this subject is the DHA/EPA Omega-3 Institute.

http://www.dhaomega3.org/

 

Social Skills and Autism

My son’s behavioral agency held a 12 week course for some of their clients on developing social skills with peers that are at the same level developmentally with a similar autism diagnosis. My son was a fortunate participant in this course on social thinking. It was based on the curriculum of Superflex and the Unthinkables created by Michelle Garcia Winner. Her website is www.socialthinking.com and it’s a great resource for parents, teachers, SLPs, therapists and family members.  The Superflex curriculum teaches children on the spectrum fun and motivating ways to develop strategies for better self-regulation across a range of behaviors. It teaches “social smarts” through the various comic book characters that depict behavioral challenges kids on the spectrum face. My son loved this curriculum and his social skills have soared since he attended these classes. Just having the ability to let him know when his behavior is “unexpected” in a social situation helps him tremendously. He identified with some of the Unthinkable characters in the book and understood how others would perceive him as one.

Another resource for teaching social skills is the book Crafting Connections by Autismpartnership.com contributors. Dr. Manny from Foxnews.com loves this book and I really like Dr. Manny. He has a teenage son with autism and features articles on this topic frequently. Watch the video by Dr. Manny on Boosting Social Skills to learn more about this book from its author.

http://video.foxnews.com/v/1163666673001/boosting-social-skills?playlist_id=86892

I have found that my 8 yr. old learns a lot through organized play dates with friends. He now initiates them and has applied his strategies he has learned on dealing with social cues and his behaviors that emerge during the one-on-one interaction with a friend. We are blessed to have some wonderful families involved in my son’s life and he has gained many friends through school, cub scouts, Taekwondo and church. If your child is high-functioning enough, get him/her involved in activities other than school to expand their social networking opportunities. You will need to meet parents of other kids, assess how their child interacts with yours and pursue those opportunities for your child. It has improved the quality of life for my son beyond measure.

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