Her social skills (which had always been a struggle) took a nose dive, she had a sudden spike in horrific temper tantrums, she had trouble at school and needed constant discipline at home. She had a lot of stomach aches. Nine months later she began to be plagued by joint pain and headaches. In September of 2010 Naomi was diagnosed with Celiac disease and we pulled all gluten from her diet. We also pulled dairy in the hopes that it would help as well. Naomi improved in many ways after these changes: the stomach aches lessened and her energy rebounded. But in many ways she grew worse.
The tantrums grew so severe that dealing with the hour-long fits of rage multiple times a day nearly consumed us. She would scream with such force that she burst tiny blood vessels in her face, she would spit and foam at the mouth, she would break items--all this even though we had never, ever, given into a tantrum in her life. We consistently and firmly disciplined the behavior, but it did no good. Her first grade teacher was at a loss. Naomi was brilliantly smart and enrolled in their high-achievment classes, but she refused to participate. She caused disruptions in the classroom by constantly kicking her legs into desks while she worked, not cooperating with transitions between subjects, and even physically fighting with other kids. Matt and I were told that we might have to sign a release for Naomi to be physically restrained if she posed a danger to herself or others.
I felt like we were losing her. She had two completely opposite sides to her: the very sweet, very bright, very eager to please side--which we were seeing less and less of; and the other scary girl who would suddenly take over her body and seemingly cause behaviors beyond her control. When the scary child would finally fade away I would find myself staring into the face of a six year old girl with dark circles under her eyes, bright reds specks from burst blood vessels all over her face, and eyes full of weariness and remorse. She never could remember much of what had happened, only that she hated it as much as we did, but she was powerless to stop it.
In January of 2011 when we moved into our own house, we pulled Naomi from public school and began to homeschool her. This was an incredible relief to Naomi and brought much behavior improvement, but the joint pains and headaches became nearly debilitating. She cried daily in pain, avoided the stairs, avoided active play, and buried herself in books. In May 2011 her formerly benign heart murmur worsened and her mitral valve began leaking. What I didn't know then was that Naomi showed many signs of chronic inflammation. But I did finally draw the connection between birthday parties and an intense worsening of all of Naomi's symptoms. The cakes were already gluten and dairy free, so I pinpointed the culprit as the huge amounts of food dyes in the frosting. When we pulled all food dyes from Naomi's diet (strawberry Nesquick and "fruit" snacks were two big sources) the headaches and joint pain disappeared almost completely within two days. It felt like a miracle. But even more miraculously the temper tantrums vanished as well.
Within two days of pulling food dyes our daughter returned to us: attentive, affectionate, eager to please. Two years later I can still affirm: if we keep her diet free of gluten, dairy, food dyes (and other foods with high phenol content), and most preservatives, she remains a "healthy" eight-year-old girl. And if she accidentally gets a dose of any of these things, we can tell almost immediately.
Now here is more wonderful news for Naomi, just in from the cardiologist this morning: remember that heart valve that had begun leaking? It's not leaking anymore! He can't say why it started leaking. "The leaflets of the valves look normal," he had told me. And he can't say why it stopped leaking, just that it's good news and we don't need to see him anymore. I think I can tell you why though: chronic inflammation can cause heart valve damage, and resolving that inflammation can allow the valve to heal. Here's a link to a Wall Street Journal article that is a great read on this subject.
Do you know other parents who are struggling with children who have chronic pain and wild tantrums? Tell them that diet changes can help. Many parents of children with ADHD, Autism, and other psychiatric diagnoses swear that diet changes resolve symptoms. Lastly, if you see a child throwing wild, out of control tantrums in public, who is far beyond the normal age for tantrums, please don't assume you are witnessing the results of bad parenting. Sadly, it is more and more common now for children to have physiological, neurological breakdowns due to food toxicity, and it is safest for you to assume you are witnessing this kind of meltdown. Be informed, be part of the solution. Kids are what they eat. Some just show us in a more obvious way.