New Mama Musings

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Let Food Be Thy Medicine..."

When I started this blog I fully intended to someday write an entry about why I was raising my child vegan. I had been a vegetarian for over ten years and a vegan (with occasional lapses) for about three and I was convinced that it was the best way to eat. My prime motivation was health, though the "no-animals-were-harmed-during-the-making-of-this-meal" aspect was a nice bonus.

I won't go into the details of why I felt this way. Suffice it to say that I had done a lot of reading on the subject and felt fairly confident in my choice: nothing but whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruit for my baby. And then...

For the first few months of Henry's life he was very fussy. He was up most of the night, every night, crying and pumping his little legs. Clearly he was in pain. We tried the "I Love You" massage, The Miracle Blanket, The Five S's System and the Hotsling. We took him to his pediatrician, a chiropractor, a homeopath and a cranio-sacral therapist. We tried Hyland's Colic Tablets, Cocyntal (for colic) by Boiron and Gripe Water.

And since Henry was exclusively breastfed, I went on an elimination diet, thinking he might be sensitive to something I was eating. At one point I had cut out wheat, soy, dairy (falling off the vegan wagon really did a number on him) and tomatoes. Since I was already not eating meat or eggs this severely limited my diet. I was stressed out, hungry all the time and the skinniest I've ever been in my life.

But still Henry cried. He also started spitting up.

Henry's doctor assured us that some babies just cry a lot, that spitting up was normal and that Henry would grow out of it. Not to worry. (He was a little more concerned with Henry's occasional violent, strangling cough, but since it happened only every so often he didn't think we needed to take any action.)

But I didn't accept that any of this was normal or healthy. I'm a big believer that there's a reason for everything, and Henry's discomfort was an indication that something was not agreeing with him: his body was unable to completely handle something he was eating, breathing or absorbing through his skin. The fact that I couldn't figure out what it was meant that I was failing him.

At six months or so the spitting up stopped. He stopped crying in the nighttime, too, for the most part, but he still nursed all night long and slept fitfully.

At around nine months -- about the same time he started eating his first solid food -- Henry developed bumps on his cheeks and upper arms. The bumps on his arms were mostly flesh-colored, so not really noticeable, but the ones on his cheeks frequently became red and inflamed for no obvious reason.

Again I sought the pediatrician's advice and again he told me there was nothing to worry about. The bumps were keratosis pilaris, he said, and very common. The ones on Henry's arms would probably be there for life, but the ones on his cheeks would eventually go away by themselves.

I was not satisfied with this prognosis, but my internet research failed to turn up a cause or a cure.

It was about this time that I started lurking at the "Healing the Gut" thread on MotheringDotCommune. The mamas there were all trying to solve their children's health problems, and they bandied about terms like leaky gut, probiotics, digestive enzymes, lectins and peptides. I still don't understand a lot of what they're talking about. But reading their posts made me think that I was on to something when I suspected Henry's initial discomfort, and now skin issues, were not nothing to worry about but a mystery to be solved.

It was "Healing the Gut" that made me re-think my vegan diet. A big part of the discussion was food as medicine, and bone broths, organ meats, cod liver oil and egg yolks were said to be healing. I was seriously grossed out. And confused. So on another mama's recommendation I started reading up on Weston A. Price and the book he wrote, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

Price was a dentist in Ohio in the early 1900's who began noticing poor dentition and chronic disease in his patients. He traveled all over the world in search of native peoples in robust health (and with straight, well-formed teeth) in order to figure out what it was they ate that made them so healthy. One of the common denominators in the healthy tribes' diets was fat from animals -- from insects, eggs, fish, game animals or domesticated herds.

Price's discoveries made a lot of sense to me. I began to wonder: Does eating meat and dairy products seem so detrimental merely because of how atrociously most animals are raised and most food is processed? What if the animals were treated right -- allowed to graze freely and live healthy lives?

I found a farm about an hour's drive away that is committed to Price's ideals. I signed up for a "raw" (unpasteurized) milk subscription and started using the milk in smoothies. I was feeling pretty good, mentally at least, about getting back to a more natural way of eating. And I was excited to make trips to the farm with Henry to show him exactly where our food was coming from.

After a few months, as we were getting ready to sell our old house and move to the new one, I got lazy. Although I had read that drinking pasteurized milk was not advised, I just didn't have time to drive out to the farm, nor did I want to move gallons of frozen milk to the new house. So I started buying whole but pasteurized milk from our health food store as a temporary measure.

And then Henry, who had had small, red raised patches of skin here and there on his body for several months, began to get the patches all over his back.

I didn't at first consider milk, which now seems like the obvious culprit. Instead I made an appointment with a naturopath who I'd heard did food sensitivity testing. Henry's lab work came back indicating a problem with wheat and cow's milk and the naturopath suggested we cut both things out of his diet for six months and then have him re-tested.

I had stopped using milk in our morning smoothie right after the blood draw and Henry's skin had cleared up, so I already knew that dairy was a problem. The naturopath said that the milk sensitivity would show up on his skin, but that the wheat intolerance would do unseen damage to his body. Gluten, she said, did not appear to be a problem.

For some reason, though, I couldn't stop thinking about the possibility that gluten was a problem. My husband's half-sister had been diagnosed with celiac disease about four years ago and even before that I had researched gluten intolerance, though I can't now remember why.

I started to read up on it again and found out that while most doctors in the U.S. think celiac disease is only marked by gastrointestinal distress, the disorder can actually cause all kinds of seemingly unrelated symptoms. Things like migraine headaches. Canker sores. Allergies. Skin rashes.

Also, interestingly, amenorrhea. Remember how I didn't get a period from adolescence on? And how no doctor could tell me why?

I could relate to other symptoms of celiac disease, too: fatigue, light-headedness, post-nasal drip, achy joints and sore muscles. I've always had low blood pressure with bouts of dizziness, particularly so since Henry was born. And lately my joints had been getting sore and stiff. In fact, I had recently insisted my doctor test me for thyroid dysfunction, but the tests had come out normal.

If you're rolling your eyes at this point, thinking I'm reaching, look at it this way: People with celiac disease who continue to eat gluten are not absorbing the nutrients their bodies need to function. So it makes sense that the result would be any number of conditions according to what their bodies are not getting enough of.

I also found out that celiac disease runs in families and that autoimmune disorders are more prevalent in celiacs . My family is lousy with auto-immune disorders -- rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, gout, phlebitis, food allergies, seasonal allergies. (Honestly? I kind of thought that was normal.)

Finally, although most doctors in the U.S. still don't consider celiac disease when confronted with any of the above symptoms and conditions, it is estimated that 1 in 133 Americans have it -- and the majority don't even know it.

I started thinking I was on to something...not just for Henry but for me, too.

*To Be Continued*


  • Keep talkin'! I've heard you mention the gut thing before, but not known exactly what you mean.

    By Blogger bfmomma, at 8:30 AM  

  • I am fascinated to hear what else you have to say. I've read WAP's book, and also parts of Nourishing Traditions. Good lord, is it overwhelming! I totally agree that eating the way our ancestors ate (which probably didn't include wheat OR dairy) is the way to go. But damn, it's hard. I've been buying eggs from the farmer's market (holy moly, do they taste good!), but it's so hard to get pastured meat (at least around here). And frankly, when I do manage to get it, pastured beef often tastes a little wonky (I've found it at Trader Joe's lately, of all places). And I think dairy probably isn't good for us, but we keep eating it (in the form of yogurt and cheese, mostly). MI has the strictest laws on the books when it comes to raw dairy, so that's pretty much a no-go for us. Anyway ... I'm waiting with baited breath for the rest of this post!

    By Anonymous gearhead mama, at 7:07 PM  

  • Oh my gosh, baited much pressure! :)

    By Blogger New Mama, at 9:57 PM  

  • Very interesting, I've done a lot of reading with MY Henry's food sensitivities, and am glad to learn about this book and your experiences.

    Thank you!

    By Anonymous Anna, at 4:43 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home