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Chewing on Peach Pits

I have a friend who has learned a lot about nutrition and how it affects health. I have been conversing with her because I am chasing down yet another connection between diet and health. (See previous postings [1 2 3] about the articles I wrote on this for Growing Up in Santa Cruz [article 1, 2].) I found a reference to a study that showed a link between iron levels in kids’ blood and diagnoses of ADHD. They found that supplementing iron caused the kids’ symptoms to decrease.

“More strikingly, the lower the serum ferritin was in this study, the worse the ADHD symptoms – worse hyperactivity, worse oppositional behavior, and worse cognitive scores. But none of the children had anemia from their iron deficiency. They all tested normal on the hemoglobin or hematocrit blood tests used in doctors’ offices to screen for iron problems!”

This is the sort of thing that makes my blood boil. Not because they did the study, but because this study isn’t at the front of every doctor’s mind when a child comes in with behavioral problems. As I’ve probably mentioned in my blog before, in my (rather too extensive) interactions with child health providers of various kinds — physical health, mental health, traditional, alternative — not ONE of the providers gave me a questionnaire related to a child’s diet. And this is in enlightened Santa Cruz County. Can you imagine that it’s better anywhere else?

So I e-mailed my friend about this and she said that she feels stigmatized in general about how deep she feels the connection is between diet and health. She says that people think that she’s a bit nutty in thinking that there’s a direct causal effect. But then you have that iron study. And the omega-3 studies. And so many others that I haven’t gotten to yet.

When I was still nursing my first child, I was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease. This is a thyroid-based auto-immune disorder. I didn’t know this at the time, but any doctor who doesn’t look at “auto-immune” and wonder “diet” is doing a great disservice to their patients. I am lucky to have a mom who’s a medical researcher, so she pulled a bunch of studies, and here’s the chain of information I found: Women with copper IUDs often come up with low thyroid levels. Women often get Grave’s Disease (high thyroid) after they give birth. Breastmilk contains large amounts of copper. Hm.

I had a very reasonable doctor, who didn’t tell me to go get my thyroid zapped with radiation, which is the advice of many a doctor. But she did give me a medication to suppress the effect of the thyroid hormone on my heart, which was pounding like I’d been running uphill to her office. But I also thought, well, it can’t hurt. I took a daily supplement of copper, just the RDA. When I went back to be retested my doctor was shocked. She had never seen a Grave’s patient turn around so quickly! I am one person. The link between copper and Grave’s doesn’t get proven by one example. But the hints are there, so where’s the research? While all these people are getting their thyroids zapped with radiation, their doctors are ignoring one possible thing to try FIRST.

That’s my attitude about dietary changes. It just can’t hurt to do something that’s not completely radical. I read a nutty website that suggested that I take something like 50 times the RDA of copper. Although I do like my hair to be copper-colored, I think I’ll keep my skin pale! But it’s completely reasonable to see if a dietary change helps, if the person’s life isn’t being threatened.

And then there’s the “on the other hand”… There was a fabulous article today in the Chronicle by Marion Nestle, a very interesting nutrition expert. It seems that health food stores are selling apricot pits as…nutrition? As anyone who went through a basic elementary school health class should know, stone fruit pits are poisonous. This is not something that we need to test. Cyanide has been tested by many a murder mystery villain and it’s terribly effective in ending human life.

So I’ll have to continue this thought, given that my space is running out, but getting back to my friend’s feeling of stigmatization: Yes, there are connections, and many of them are important. But then again, when the same person who’s telling you that you should eat more red meat is telling you to chew on apricot pits, does that give you any sense of security about their approach?

It definitely gives me pause.

Posted in Parenting.

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