The MOF&G Online
The Rise in Neurological Disorders: Are Diet and the Environment to Blame?
by Jean English
© 2004 by the author. For information on reproducing this article, please contact the author through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is a dietary deficiency of vitamin A or B6 linked to autism? Can nutrient deficiencies cause some cases of bipolar disorder? Can Tourette syndrome symptoms be triggered by mold in homes and schools, by offgassing of formaldehyde from building materials, or by flashing lights?
These are some of the questions that editor Sheila Rogers addresses in the quarterly publication Latitudes, which covers "new and complementary approaches to attention disorders/hyperactivity, autism, behavior disorders, learning disabilities, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Tourette syndrome." The answer to all of the above questions appears to be, "Yes; at least in some cases." Remedies for many of the disorders are rooted in the types of lifestyles that MOF&G readers adopt: lifestyles that emphasize healthful, nutrient-dense, minimally processed, organic foods; that minimize many of the trappings of today’s technological "advancements"; and that minimize stress.
Sharing Testimonials and Medical Expertise
Rogers worked as a school psychologist in Florida for 11 years and now is a consultant for a program that identifies causes of and resources for adjustment difficulties of young children in Palm Beach County schools. She became interested in complementary medicine for treating neuropsychiatric disorders when a relative was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome (TS)--a disorder characterized by vocal or motor "tics": sounds or movements made involuntarily by those with the disorder. Around the same time, Rogers heard from the mother of a son with TS that drugs had not worked for her boy--in fact, they had serious side effects--but that some nondrug approaches did work. That mother had started an informal network to share similar success stories, and Rogers’ relative was soon one of them.
When the mother became frustrated because national organizations and doctors refused to listen to the case reports, Rogers told her that she would take over the network. She started Latitudes and the Association for Comprehensive NeuroTherapy to share information about alternative treatments for TS and ADHD, soon adding autism and learning problems, "because there is some overlap in the symptoms, and in helpful, holistic approaches to treatment," she says. Every issue of the magazine has something about each of these topics, and other movement disorders may be added over time.
Latitudes has an impressive advisory board of 21 M.D.s, Ph.D.s, D.O.s and O.D.s who review and write articles and whom Rogers describes as "loyal and supportive." The board has remained almost unchanged for 10 years, with just a few additions when new treatment regimes dictated adding an expert in that area. "These doctors believe in what they’re doing. They put their careers on the line when they go up against the medical establishment, but they want to share what they have learned," says Rogers.
Rogers herself writes many articles for Latitudes, managing to balance detailed information with articles "for beginners who are just starting to look for the causes of these disorders."
Part of that balance comes from testimonials of people who have the conditions themselves or have family members with the disorders. In a recent issue, for instance, one wrote that tics had been triggered by carbon monoxide emitted by faulty household appliances. Another’s tics were aggravated by corn products; still another’s by flashing lights of a police car and flickering fluorescent light bulbs. Some TS patients and an increasing number of doctors are identifying a previous Strep infection as the trigger for subsequent years of tics.
The potential involvement of immunizations in neurological disorders is often addressed in Latitudes, as are allergies and sensitivities to foods and other environmental stimuli. "As a school psychologist," Rogers states, "I was shocked to find that obsessive-compulsive disorder can be an allergic reaction, with the brain as the target organ."
Recently she has added cell phone use to her list of concerns. Her relative, who had his TS symptoms under good control, found that he developed a brief eye tic when he held a cell phone to his ear. A recent Latitudes article discussed the harmful effects of a cell phone tower on a herd of dairy cows and their farmers. "Much more research needs to be done in this area," maintains Rogers. She recently went into a FedEx office where she saw a sign asking customers to turn off their cell phones because they interfered with FedEx’s computers. "So what are cell phones doing to our brains?" Rogers asks.
In addition to the identification and avoidance of environmental factors and foods that can affect the nervous system, Latitudes discusses treatments that can help to reduce or, sometimes, eliminate symptoms of select neuropsychiatric disorders. Minerals, vitamins and amino acids are sometimes useful; neurofeedback helps some ADHD patients; herbs, homeopathy, chiropractic and other approaches are discussed. Eating pesticide-free, organic foods can be important, Rogers stresses. "Some pesticides are neurotoxins. Obviously, they can affect a child’s nervous system."
Mainstream Resistance Persists
Given all of the environmental factors that may influence neurological disorders, and the number of nondrug treatments that may help alleviate them, Rogers is astonished that the national organizations for Tourette syndrome and ADHD have put so much of their time and members’ monetary donations into researching genetics and drugs. Less myopic organizations, on the other hand, have managed to also focus on environmental and nutritional factors in diseases such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, and that broader focus is paying off.
"Incredible progress has been made in the area of autism. Autism is actually being reversed in some cases," says Rogers. "Parents have led the charge, because they saw a normal child who regressed in weeks to an unexplainable state. The Autism Research Institute holds conferences and keeps a registry of doctors who understand how to treat the disorder from a biological standpoint. There have been remarkable, dramatic recoveries in some cases." Despite these successes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is unsupportive of nutritional treatments for autism (and ADHD), recently targeting nutrient manufacturers who claim that their products can help.
Rogers believes that neuropsychiatric disorders should be studied more creatively, beyond genetics, especially given their apparent increasing incidence. "A recent journal article says that Tourette syndrome (TS) is a 'common' disorder and that other tic conditions are 'very common,' more than 20% in some studies. Hyperactivity is now so commonplace that Ritalin is a household word. Teachers who never knew someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) now have students with it. Statistics in California show that autism has doubled there in the last four years. When conditions that are presumed to be genetic in origin are rapidly increasing in incidence, one has to look to the environment for causes.
"Documentation shows that such metals as mercury, lead and cadmium are neurotoxic, immunotoxic, and reproductive and developmental toxins," Rogers continues. "We also know that exposure to toxic metals is widespread and is increasing in some areas of the United States. Shouldn’t a neurologist be interested in toxic exposures and levels of these and other metals in the body when assessing and hoping to treat neuropsychiatric conditions?"
The fact that tics and OCD symptoms come and go for days, weeks or months at a time also points to environmental, immune or nutritional factors. "No one is taught to question why symptoms are fluctuating," Rogers notes. "Families are disempowered. They’re told that there’s nothing they can personally do other than administer a drug or discipline a child or reduce stress. Doctors don’t say, ‘These are some nutrients that reduce stress,’ and they don’t look at biological processes that improve the immune response." And as far as nutrition is concerned, Rogers is adamant: "Any doctor who tells a patient that diet does not affect the central nervous system should look for another job."
Coaching Sorts Through Causes, Treatments
Because one or more of numerous causes can aggravate symptoms, people can have difficulty taking the first step in identifying environmental triggers or finding the professional help that they need. For that reason, Rogers has started a coaching service, comprised of a team of people like herself, with specialty areas: environmental issues, pursuing dietary changes, working with schools, behavior management and finding professional help.
Rogers recently coached a family that discovered that their son was less hyperactive when they finally made the dietary changes they had been planning to make for years. Another mother learned that her young boy’s panic disorder was associated with outgassing of formaldehyde from school renovations. (Formaldehyde is a carcinogen as well.) One family she recently coached found that mold in the home was triggering hyperactivity and tics. "It’s shocking what a mold exposure can do," says Rogers. "Toxic mold strains can affect the brain and emotions." For others, dietary and nutritional issues can be a significant key. "Sometimes a behavior management chart can help encourage compliance with special diets or completion of homework—we offer them free on our Web site. It helps to have a focused approach to finding what works best for your case. There’s so much information available these days that it can be overwhelming."
Also, one can be tested for candidiasis. Candida albicans is a fungus that exists naturally with other microorganisms in the intestines, genital tract, mouth, esophagus and throat but can multiply out of balance and spread through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, causing a multitude of problems, including abdominal pain, itching, fatigue, arthritis, depression, hyperactivity and more. Moldy conditions, consuming sugary or yeasty foods, and frequent or long-term use of antibiotics can exacerbate candidiasis. Rogers reports that candidiasis can be a significant factor in central nervous system disorders, though this is not widely recognized. "Sugars of all types can be a problem," Rogers emphasizes. Sometimes mold sensitivity and candidiasis work together, aggravating one another.
Rogers relates a case in which a toddler developed such severe tics that he couldn’t walk unassisted, and his mother had to carry him everywhere. A health care practitioner had the boy tested and found that he had a toxic overload of arsenic, lead, cadmium and antimony in his body, traced to pressure treated wood and other factors in his home. He was detoxified nutritionally, the home environment was changed, and he is now doing well.
Sometimes solutions are that straightforward. "Many people with ADHD can adjust their diet and see dramatic improvement," says Rogers. "Other times, causes are complex and require professional help and significant effort. It can be challenging. What helps one person may not help another; people are biologically different. We don’t have the answers for everyone."
Not a Lifetime Label
Rogers would like to see a better educated physician and patient population so that families understand that when signs of OCD, attention problems, autism, hyperactivity or tics first surface, an immediate effort is made to look for possible causes. "Instead of getting a label and living with it, and/or routinely using medications, we should be looking to intervene and fix the problem."
Nutritional approaches are vital but often ignored, says Rogers. "Over 20 studies on the use of vitamin B6 for the treatment of autism show positive results with roughly half the youngsters. There is no effective drug for autism, so you would think that even if just a subset of autism patients could be helped to some degree [by vitamin B6]," that physicians would consider that treatment. Yet, "the medical community won’t listen" to those who suggest such nutritional approaches. "Once nutritional studies are done, they take so long to be accepted."
The same problem occurs with Tourette syndrome. "Over 20 years ago, the National Institutes of Health recommended that diet be studied for TS, because of reports they had received from doctors and patients. But it hasn’t been done." Instead, most TS researchers say that the cause of the disorder is a mystery, that it’s genetic-- "but how do they know?" asks Rogers. "We don’t have a leader in the field of TS who is passionate and open-minded enough to explore every possibility." That situation is not for lack of trying on Rogers’ part. She has cornered neurologists and researchers at national conventions and asked them to consider environmental and nutritional factors, but has had little luck in changing their attitude--yet. [The Tourette Syndrome Association recently did, however, fund one study on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on alleviating tics.]
Rogers keeps coming back to the mistaken mindset of most physicians about these disorders. "One doctor told the parents of a young girl who had had tics for a month and a half that she has a chronic tic disorder; that there’s nothing they can do, aside from giving her medications that have serious side effects, and sent them home. We don’t treat kids with OCD or tics as if they are physically ill. If they have diabetes or allergies, then lifestyle issues are addressed. But with OCD and Tourette syndrome, for example, the focus is drugs. This is so wrong." While these disorders may not present the same life-or-death scenario that diabetes can, Rogers points out that they can destroy people, nonetheless. "They are heartbreaking conditions that can destroy family life, job opportunities and self-esteem."
Rogers says that we need passionate, national leaders pushing for research into nutritional and environmental triggers for these neuropsychiatric disorders--yet she herself seems to be that leader, despite the shoestring budget on which Latitudes is produced. Her passion has already saved many whose lives would otherwise have been destroyed.
Sheila Rogers can be reached at PO Box 210848, Royal Palm Beach, FL 33421-0848; Phone (561) 798-0472; Fax (561) 798-9820; email email@example.com.
The Web site for ACN and Latitudes is www.Latitudes.org (ACN is the Association for Comprehensive NeuroTherapy, which publishes Latitudes) Subscriptions to Latitudes are $45/year; $22 student/hardship.
For free behavior management charts: go to the frog at the bottom of the ACN home page.
Doris J. Rapp, M.D., one of the first environmental physicians, has published books about environmental triggers for neurological disorders, including Allergies and the Hyperactive Child (Sovereign Books, 1979) and Is This Your Child’s World? (www.drrapp.com, 1997). Rapp tells how to do an elimination diet to detect food sensitivities.
Autism Research Institute: www.autism.com/ari/
James and Phyllis Balch’s book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, A Practical A-Z Reference to Drug-Free Remedies using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs, and Food Supplements (Avery Penguin Putnam, 2000), addresses some neurological disorders and has a readily understandable and usable guide for detecting hidden food sensitivities and allergies.
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