Healing Our Children – “FAILSAFE” Eating

Today I am making a new shopping list.  After three years of trying various behavioral and medical therapies to help my daughter, it’s time to get serious about discovering her food intolerances and healing her gut.  We had a nice visit with a nurse practitioner specializing in pediatric gastro-enterology.  She listened to our list of symptoms and things that seemed to help or hurt the issue.  She even offered to test for celiac disease – after we introduce gluten for six weeks.  Ultimately, however, she could only offer the same diagnosis and treatment that was offered previously.  This “diagnosis” is really only a description of the symptom and the “treatment” is one that also only addresses the symptom rather than healing the underlying cause.

It’s probably not even necessary to tell you what my daughter’s diagnosis might be.  I’m sure that many parents can relate to my experience.  Childhood is full of these diagnoses that have no known medical cause.  From colic to eczema to ADHD, doctors are excellent at giving names to our chidren’s unexplained symptoms.  Unfortunately, if we want true healing for our children, we have to not only be advocates for their well-being but detectives as well.  We can keep food diaries, behavioral logs and calendars.  We can join online support groups.  We can read and research late into the night.  Sometimes I wish that we could be paid like doctors for all the extra research we have to do.

Often I wish that more studies could be funded and doctors be informed of the various natural options and the power of eating good food and avoiding chemicals on the health of our children.  These options are not as well researched as pharmaceuticals simply because there is no big money to be made in having people cure themselves with food.  I stumbled upon a good blog post here that compares some different healing diets that are available and laments the lack of research.  The author makes the brilliant point that a combination of therapies may actually be most effective for healing, as each child is unique in his or her food or chemical sensitivities.

I’m pondering the idea of combining some diets as I notice through parental detective work that fruit (especially apples and watermelon), almonds, chlorinated pools and eating out seem to exacerbate my daughter’s health problems.  In fact, researching the “failsafe” diet brings up a list that closely matches my daughter’s symptoms, including those that are more emotional or behavioral.   The failsafe diet limits chemicals in food, including some that occur naturally.  The diet is free of additives, salicylates, amines and flavor enhancers.  Sensitivities to these chemicals are linked to several chronic childhood conditions, including ADHD, headaches, stomach aches, bowel troubles and more.  In fact, the list of symptoms is a pretty good description of not only my daughter but myself as well.

What does this mean for us?  First, it means that we may actually be more sensitive to chemicals than the average person.  I already knew from my own allergy elimination trials that I am sensitive to food coloring.  But am I also sensitive to chemicals found in healthy foods like apples, sharp cheddar cheese and chicken stock?  Is my daughter even more sensitive to these foods than I am?  It appears that the only way to find out is to try the failsafe diet for four weeks.  Before my husband stumbled upon the Food Intolerance Network website, I was leaning toward the GAPS diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) or SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) to try to heal my girl’s tummy troubles and behavioral issues.  If she has chemical intolerances, however, the high content of long-cooked broth (natural msg), fruit (salicylates) and almond flour baked goods (salicylates) could actually exacerbate her condition.  A quick search showed that there is an online support group for parents who are doing a combination of GAPS and Failsafe.  Still, would it be too restrictive for our family to eliminate so many foods?

Research often seems to bring up even more questions than it answers.  The name Failsafe implies that you really can’t go wrong by trying the diet.  The name itself is actually an acronym that stands for Free of Additives, Low in Salicylates, Amines and Flavor Enhancers.  If the diet does help her symptoms (or mine), are we doomed to a restrictive diet forever or can we eventually add in small amounts of foods that aren’t on the diet?  According to the blog The Failsafe Diet Explained, desensitization may occur when small amounts are introduced after six months on the diet, but some continue to be sensitive.  One of the nice things about the GAPS diet is that it promises to “heal and seal” the gut so that we can break down all of the components in our food.  This will prevent many food allergy and food intolerance symptoms because the food chemicals are no longer “leaking” into our bloodstream.  Will two years of GAPS help with chemical sensitivities?  I have much more reading to do.
As an avid lover and promoter of slow-cooked broth and fermented foods, the idea of the failsafe diet is going to take some adjustment.  Still, I can try just about anything for four weeks.   Behavioral therapies and medicines can only go so far when chemicals in our food and body care products are making us sick.  Perhaps if we try the diet, we will be able to pinpoint specific chemicals so that we don’t have to limit as many foods.  Is it amines or salicylates or even sulphur?  Does she react to cured meats?  Maybe it is the amines?   Did her symptoms improve when we switched from almond milk to rice milk?  It could be the salicylates?  Is she sensitive to oats or merely reacting to the amines or glutamates that are formed from soaking/fermenting the oats?  Honestly, any diet that actually helps my daughter’s health would be a dream come true.  I think we are up for the challenge.

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