Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Brain food for kids
This is a guest post from Kate, mom to Gavin, the cutie pie you see here. Kate keeps a journal over at CaringBridge. I love her spirit and sense of humor! I was intrigued by the dietary changes she made with Gavin, who has cerebral palsy, so I asked her to share her experiences. The advice she got seems like it applies to any kid, special needs or not, though you should check with your pediatrician before you try anything. FYI, the doctor she mentions here is willing to answer questions, so ask away and I'll run the doctor's answers in the near future.
I’ve been a daily reader of To the Max for several months now and love following the adventures of the amazing Ellen and her inspiring family. I was so flattered when she asked me to guest blog about Gavin’s diet and the extraordinary progress he has made.
Our son, Gavin, is 17 months old. When we got the diagnosis of cerebral palsy a week before his first birthday, I didn’t quite believe it. To be honest, I’m still not convinced. Regardless, I knew that he’d suffered some type of insult to his brain. I think a lot of focus is put on the physical therapy aspect of treating CP, which I don’t always understand. The damage is in his brain, not his legs or his arms or his trunk. I wanted to find a way to somehow start the healing process in his brain. I searched and searched the Internet, or as I like to say, attended “Google University.”
I discovered that there were centers in my area that specialized in treating brain-injured children: The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential and The Family Hope Center. We couldn’t afford to attend their seminars at the time, but I found a common thread between the two: Both had a doctor working for them at the time named Coralee Thompson, M.D., who specializes in treating brain injured children through nutrition. One day, I sent her an e-mail; she wrote back and let us do a phone consultation with her, for a fee. Her philosophy is that eating good-quality food can improve the quality of brain function. It's really simple, but too often good food is the last priority when it comes to "therapy." Dr. Thompson has a book due out soon, Healthy Brains, Healthy Children.
Our goals with Gavin, besides to help improve his brain function, were to gain weight and wean him off his reflux and motility medications. Here are the changes we've made:
• We've eliminated all dairy products, except for butter, to help with reflux.
• We give him a half teaspoon of cod liver oil once a day. The fatty acid found in fish oil, DHA, is critical for brain and eye development.
• We feed him protein at every meal—chicken, lentils or salmon.
• We minimize starches and we don’t combine them with animal proteins, since that can result in stomach problems like constipation and reflux. Dr. Thompson gave us a list of the best starches, some of which are brown rice, lentils, quinoa and yams.
• We give Gavin six types of vegetables daily, which I accomplish by making a vegetable stew. Every stew is different! His most recent stew has celery, leeks, carrots, parsnips, spinach, scallions and peas. Believe it or not, they’re delicious and combine well with anything.
• We add a teaspoon of coconut oil to his bottles. This saturated fat is easy to digest and also improves immune function. We also put olive oil in foods; in general, healthy fats like olive oil (rich in unsaturated fats) are critical for energy and brain development.
• Another thing we do to boost his caloric intake is adding two teaspoons of agave nectar to foods. It’s mostly fructose and doesn't need digesting.
About a month after I made all these changes, Gavin had weaned off one medication completely. He is still on two, but the dosages are dramatically reduced. We rarely see him suffering from reflux symptoms at all these days. His bowel movements, which can be an issue with kids who have CP, are normal.
About a month after we changed his diet, I also started having a craniosacral therapist work on Gavin once a week. I started the diet four months ago and the craniosacral therapist three months ago. I believe these two things combined have given us amazing results (here's a video of Gavin). Gavin started turning pages in books, purposefully activating his toys, drinking from a straw, vocalizing more, trying to scoot, sitting up assisted and holding his head a lot better, holding onto objects, and opening his hands (which used to remain fisted) a lot more. To us, these accomplishments are nothing short of a miracle…and the progress continues every single day.