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If you have a personal question about LI or any related topic you can send me an email at I will try to respond.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Caution Needed When Changing Child's Diet

Here's the kind of anecdotal story I run across or have emailed to me on a regular basis.

Everyone kept reassuring Nikki Sharp that her daughter had merely entered the terrible 2s a bit early.

Kylee was Sharp's first baby, but Sharp had been around toddlers before, and the fits she was seeing from the 18-month-old were out of the normal range.

"She'd wake up from naps and scream uncontrollably for an hour," said Sharp, 29.

And that's not all. "She couldn't focus," Sharp said. "Other toddlers could sit and watch at least half of 'Sesame Street,' but she was all over the place. I couldn't even sit her down to teach her anything."

That's when her husband, Ian, told her about some reading he'd done that indicated diet might affect children's behavior.

They pulled all things dairy. No milk, no yogurt, no cheese. They read labels to make sure they didn't give Kylee anything with casein, a milk protein commonly used in the food industry.

"Within 24 hours, we had a brand-new kid," Sharp said.

Now 23 months old, Kylee can focus. She's now able to concentrate, her learning abilities increased dramatically and her speech improved. The tantrums ended.

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?

And it may be the cure for your child as well. But as the rest of that Associated Press story shows, it may not be quite that simple. At the very least you have to approach the change in a knowing and thoughtful manner.

On the positive side is a pediatrician who has long advocated for dietary change.
Doris Rapp, a pediatric allergist based in Scottsdale and an author of eight books exploring hidden allergies and environmental toxicity, recommends that parents try a diet to eliminate foods that commonly cause sensitivities, as well as buy an air purifier to reduce toxic airborne chemicals, dust, mold and pollen.

"The pity is that they've put kids on drugs when in many cases, there's a fast, simple, easy and inexpensive answer," Rapp said.

Rapp, whose 1989 appearance on Phil Donahue's show is posted on YouTube, wrote about these issues in her 1992 book, Is This Your Child? The first customer review of the book on tells the story of a woman who read the book, eliminated dairy products from her son's diet, and reported that within 48 hours, the boy's increasingly evident symptoms of listlessness and depression lifted.

Rapp's book is available on the Kids & Parenting page in my Milk-Free Bookstore.

Is this good science or merely anecdotal evidence? Hard to say for sure.
[S]tudies are conflicting and varied. For each that indicates a link, another detects nothing. And critics argue that focusing on diet could prevent kids from getting the medication and other therapies they may legitimately need.

Michael Daines, a pediatric allergist at University Medical Center [in Tuscon], whose practice is skewed heavily toward food allergies, acknowledged that blaming diet for behavior remains controversial because there is little research to back it up.


"My standard advice for families who want to do diet modification is that it's OK as long as they're avoiding one or two things," he said. "If they start avoiding more than one or two things, the problem is that they can put their child at risk for nutritional deficiencies."

Secondly, he encourages families to get input from developmental pediatricians, who can have a more detached analysis of behavioral changes, and get comments from teachers and school officials who frequently interact with their child.

"Parents of children with autism and behavioral problems are desperate to find ways to help their children out, so they're easily convinced," Daines said. "Parents need to make sure what they think they're seeing is what they're actually seeing."

That last paragraph is crucial. Parents need to find someone who is objective enough to look past their desperation and ensure that any "help" given to their children is truly help. A succession of false "cures" can make a bad situation worse.

The number of children who cannot properly be diagnosed with milk protein allergies yet can benefit from the removal of dairy in the diet is small. Yet the difference for those few children can be dramatic. All I can hope is that the right children find this right solution.

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