FEATURE - August 2016 - Kansas City
Let Food be Thy Medicine
What is the Gut and Brain Connection?
by Fabiola Hart
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates 460 – 370 BC
What do you do when you receive a diagnosis for which there is no cure? A diagnosis that shatters any notion of your hopes and dreams for the future? That is what I was faced with in January 2011, when my son was diagnosis with Autism. That day the world I knew completely fell apart. I had been wondering what happened to my baby. He was born with a near perfect Apgar score. He was giggly, happy and used to respond to his name. His first word was “Elephant” but by then, his words and the sparkle in his eyes were gone. Where had he gone? Our psychologist explained what happened to my son as Regressive Autism. She compared it to what occurs with Alzheimer patients. What she couldn’t explain is why it happened. No wonder the symbol for Autism is a puzzle. Early intervention was our best bet. Our son needed to be taught how to relate to the world around him. He would never be able to do that on his own. Maybe he would talk some day, but there were no guarantees. He would need to be stretched with 40 hours of behavior therapy a week. I was told that was all we could do for him but that didn’t resonate with me. Early on I made the decision to look beyond my child’s Autism. My goal wasn’t to change or fix him; my goal was to help him function in the world to the best of his ability.
In her book, The Autistic Brain Dr. Temple Grandin discusses the danger of “Label-Locked” thinking. She describes and instance when a mother of an Autistic little boy complained to his doctor about his GI distress just to hear him say: “Oh, he has autism. That’s the problem”. Children with Autism more often than not have GI distress; a lot of them are also non-verbal. Since they can’t express themselves through words, they do it through behavior. Imagine the following scenario: A child refuses to eat, spitting up their food and throwing the plate on the floor. That’s what happened in my kitchen, every single day. A behavior therapist said: “That is unacceptable behavior and we need to stop it”. That is the danger with “Label-Locked thinking”. Dismissing a physiological problem due to a behavior or a symptom attached to a label. The truth was; my son didn’t only have Autism. His GI was in distress. He was an extremely picky eater, suffering from severe diarrhea. He didn’t sleep well, waking up and pressing his tummy repeatedly with his little hands. He would also completely disconnect himself from the world around him when he ate certain foods. Back then I didn’t know what was happening to him, but now I understand that my son didn’t just have autism and maybe the answer to this puzzle was in his gut.
In Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent
Killers Dr. David Perlmutter,says “Brain disorders reflect poor nutrition.”
In her book, Gut Psychology Syndrome, Dr. McBride, the developer of the GAPS diet, describes what is going on a patient’s gut when they present neurological symptoms. She explains there is a delicate balance of microorganisms that exist in our bodies. They have a symbiotic relationship where neither group can live without the other. They perform a number of vital functions and we can’t live without them. The largest colonies live in our digestive tract in a very diverse and organized micro-world. A healthy adult carries around 4 pounds of them in their gut. One of their key functions is digestion and absorption of nutrients. But they also serve as a protective barrier to our intestinal wall, making sure only nutrients can be absorbed. Ironically, our culture fears these very organisms that are so vital to our health. Today, the Standard American Diet (S.A.D) offers foods that are poor in nutrition and very difficult to digest. The use of chemicals in our soils, water and food supply, household cleaning products, and pharmaceutical drugs (such as antibiotics) are common in our modern world. Unfortunately they are also to blame for disrupting the balance of gut’s delicate ecosystem. This causes an over-permeability of the intestinal wall; a condition referred as Leaky Gut Syndrome. There are many studies today that link leaky gut to neurological disorders.
Reflecting over how we were given our diagnosis, it’s evident why parents or patients suffering from neurological disorders are not given the big picture. We are not told that the way we live in the modern world is destroying our health. I found that most medical doctors don’t know how the gut and the brain are connected in very intrinsic ways. We know nutrients are the building blocks of our bodies, but at the end of the day good nutrition doesn’t sell medicine. Our family embarked on the GAPS diet with a mission of healing our gut and completely changed our life-style. Today we avoid foods with ingredients we can’t read; we cook our meals daily and eat local and organic as much as possible. We changed the way we clean our home and tend our garden by avoiding toxic chemicals. The healing wasn’t instantaneous for us but it came over time.
Today, my little boy is happy, he is talking; he has friends that care for him. He is in school and works independently in a mainstream classroom. The more we worked on healing his gut, the more we saw gains in his language, attention span and cognition. A coincidence? I don’t believe in those. A miracle? Some would say so. I say it was a blessing. We learned that the way were live in the modern was not working for our bodies. Our recipe for success: heal the gut and the brain will follow.
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Fabiola Hart is Software Engineer and Blogger of the website DelicateBelly.com, which features information on health and strategies on how to heal the gut one meal at a time. She is also a mother, researcher and Energy Healing practitioners in the Kansas City area.