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Q: My son has digestive issues, multiple food and environmental allergies, chronic sinus congestion, and behavioral problems. He was recently diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Is it normal to have so many health problems at just 10 years old, and is there anything that can be done to address these different conditions?
—Barbara M., Bridgeport, Conn.
A: Unfortunately, having sick kids is incredibly common today. Close to one out of two children now has a chronic disease—defined as a disease that lasts more than three months and isn’t considered curable by conventional doctors. Digestive problems, food allergies, asthma, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are all on the rise. According to the Allergy Kids Foundation, one in three American children has ADHD, allergies, autism, or asthma.
Pediatrician Michelle Perro, MD, and medical anthropologist Vincanne Adams, PhD, authors of What’s Making Our Children Sick?, believe that many of these issues can be blamed on an environment that has been made toxic by agrochemical industrialized food production. Kids are exposed to pesticides and other foreign chemical substances both internally, through what they eat and drink, and externally, by exposure to pesticides and other substances sprayed at schools, parks, and daycare centers. And we’re only beginning to understand some of the harmful effects of these toxic chemicals.
Did You Know?
Dangers with glyphosate pesticide
Take, for example, glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. Its use in the U.S. agricultural sector rose 300-fold from 1974 to 2014. It is also used liberally in landscaping and along roadways.
Glyphosate is a patented antibiotic. Because it kills bacteria, it is believed to contribute to the development of dysbiosis, or imbalances in the gut microbiome, the collection of microorganisms that live in our intestines. Research shows that a healthy microbiome plays a vital role in digestive health and immunity. Imbalances in the gut microbiome are linked to a wide range of digestive disorders, as well as conditions, such as autism, allergies, asthma, celiac disease, and ADHD.
Glyphosate is also a metal chelator: It binds minerals such as zinc and magnesium, making them less available. Perro believes that the saturation of metal-chelating glyphosate in our food is responsible for the mineral deficiencies seen commonly in children. Glyphosate in our foods and environment is also of great concern because the weed killer has been declared a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization.
Another chemical hidden in food is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), found in insecticide-producing, genetically modified foods. Bt breaks open pores and creates small holes in the insects’ guts, and researchers theorize that it may also be promoting intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, in humans.
Perro says that approximately 95 percent of the children she sees with chronic health issues have evidence of dysbiosis and leaky gut, conditions that have been implicated in everything from allergies to autism to mental health disorders. To combat these toxins, she employs a variety of different nutritional strategies to heal the gut and restore a healthy microbiome.
The Healing Power of an Organic Diet
While treatments differ depending on the specifics of each child’s condition, Perro says that the place to start in nearly all cases is a 100 percent organic diet. By law, foods labeled with the USDA Organic seal can’t use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or synthetic chemical pesticides (such as glyphosate), both of which have been linked to a range of health issues in independent studies conducted on animals. “A cornerstone of any treatment for food-focused medicine is eliminating foods that don’t support gut health; this always means getting rid of foods doused in glyphosate, other pesticides, and those made of Bt,” Perro and Adams write in their book.
Although many parents scoff at the idea of going totally organic, Perro recommends sticking with organics-only food for at least four weeks. Eating organic lightens the toxic load for all members of the family, and typically helps restore the body’s innate ability to heal itself.
In addition to benefitting sick kids, going organic can offer health benefits for all members of the family—some quite dramatically.
Read All About It
With chronic disorders among American children reaching epidemic levels, parents are desperately seeking solutions. In What’s Making Our Children Sick?, Michelle Perro, MD, an integrative pediatrician with 37 years of clinical experience, and medical anthropologist Vincanne Adams, PhD, offer a path forward to improve the health of our kids, and it begins with food. With pesticide use at an all-time high, and agrochemicals finding their way onto our plates, the authors offer insights on how to heal our kids and reverse the compromised health of our food supply.