As reported in Science News: “The new study, published online… (in the) August 2013 print issue of the Journal of Investigative Medicine, found a 65 percent increase in IBD hospital discharges from 2000 to 2009. The number increased from 11,928 discharges in 2000 to 19,568 discharges in 2009.” That is a lot of children hospitalized for significant bowel distress! How many more are suffering who are not hospitalized? Why are so many children experiencing these problems significant enough to need medical intervention and even hospitalization?
The authors of this study state they do not know why this is happening. I am going to speculate about some causes.
We could begin with the average American diet: processed foods, lots of simple carbs, lots of sugar, and then frequent antibiotics to treat the ensuing infections because of the diet. The antibiotics, as the knowledgeable reader is aware of, damage the ecology of the gastrointestinal tract by destroying the beneficial bacteria thus allowing opportunistic organisms, like Candida, to overgrow. Unfortunately, doctors are only beginning to recommend probiotics after a course of antibiotics. Yogurt is not enough. Besides, most of the yogurt the children are eating is flavored which means it is full of sugar. Additionally, the children are not getting the proper nutrients to support the growth of the beneficial bacteria.
Next: genetically-modified (GM) foods. Now add to the above scenario the effects of eating these foods which are engineered to be resist pesticides and herbicides. An increasing number of scientific studies are suggesting that they also are damaging the beneficial bacteria in our gut. The organisms (bacteria altered to make Bt toxin) seem to be passing their genes to the bacteria in our gut such that even some of our good bacteria have damaged detoxification pathways. Other studies suggest that GM foods can increase the incidence of food allergies. Additional studies in animals suggest that GM feed is associated with IBD symptoms in animals. These symptoms go away when the animals are no longer fed GM feed. It seems to me we should also stop feeding our own children GM “feed,” ie ensure that the corn and soy and canola, etc. that they are eating is GM free.
Wheat: have you read “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis? Dr. Davis is a cardiologist who describes in a very reader-friendly fashion the hybridization and changes in wheat that have occurred over the past 3000 years. He suggests wheat has become much too complex for us to digest properly. When Dr. Davis’s cardiac patients eliminate wheat from their diet, many of them also eliminate their cardiac symptoms! Think of all the wheat we eat, all the advertising for all the foods that have wheat, and all of the hidden wheat (even in french fries)! What would happen if we stopped feeding our children the wheat, even organic versions, and gave them other grains that were whole and organic?
Speaking of other grains, then there is the gluten issue. Why are so many people, including children, becoming gluten sensitive? The majority of my patients who come in complaining of irritable bowel disease show gluten sensitivity. When they eliminate the gluten, their symptoms go away. Of increasing concern is the fact that many of these people, and children, have become sensitive to many other grains, if not all grains. When they eliminate all grains, their symptoms go away. This sounds drastic. Yet, pain and discomfort are tremendous motivators and can make such a change in one’s diet worthwhile.
I still wonder about vaccinations and their effects on our gut. Despite the criticisms of Andrew Wakefield’s study suggesting that the MMR vaccination can induce major inflammation in the gut, I have had many patients who chronologically seem to show that vaccination as a precipitator of their GI distress. What complicates the picture is that most of these children did not receive just the MMR. They received multiple vaccinations on the same day. Unfortunately there is so much tension and name-calling about the vaccination issue that proper studies are not being done to determine the causative factors here.
Lastly, I think the IBD situation is just one result of these provocations. I believe they are influencing attention deficit disorder, autism, learning difficulties, frequent infections, and tic disorders which are frequent complaints that I see. Repeatedly, when we address these issues, the majority of the time, the symptoms diminish significantly or even go away entirely. Yes, this might be occurring in children who are genetically predisposed. Knowing what we do about epigenetics, ie the influence of the environment on gene expression, these factors are likely contributors to the expression of genes that make us “weaker” and more liable to suffer from disease. More and more studies are associating pollution in the environment with major illness. That is why I speak so strongly about how our life style is affecting our health and well-being and reminding the public that we can change. By establishing healthy habits for ourselves and our children, we can prevent and/or modify suffering from major illness. The choice is ours. For all of our sakes, please make the choice for health.