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In Sickness and In Health: 10 Lessons Learned

February 26, 2012 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Robyn O’Brien

Have you ever looked into the eyes of a father who has lost his child to a food allergic reaction? Read an autopsy report? Or held the hand of a mother who lost her toddler to cancer? I hadn’t either until I began this journey six years ago.

But in the last several years, I have done these things. Too many times over. Cancer is now the leading cause of death by disease in kids under the age of fifteen, reports the Centers for Disease Control. And while the CDC doesn’t track food allergy deaths, it does track the hospitalization rates related to food allergic reactions, which have increased 265% in recent years.

So last week’s revelation of yet another food allergy death, an 8 year old in Maryland, brought so many memories flooding back, including the memory of a child whose death and story inspired courage in the early years of the work of AllergyKids.

And as I reflected on the impact that these experiences have had on families, friends and communities around the country, I also reflected on the continued impact that conditions like allergies, cancer, diabetes and obesity are having on our children (who have earned the title “Generation Rx“), our country and our economy.

And there are powerful lessons that have been learned in all of it. Here are just a few:

  1. Hope is the knowledge that change is possible, even when it seems hard to imagine.
  2. Hug your loved ones like there is no tomorrow.
  3. Eat like there is one.
  4. Asking for help is a sign of strength and will help build a stronger future.
  5. Listen to and then let go of criticism.
  6. Hold onto and nourish family and friends.
  7. None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something.
  8. Believe in your unique abilities to help create change.
  9. Love is a rocket fuel that can make the seemingly impossible possible.

And perhaps, the most important lesson is one that was shared by the author of Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne:

“Promise me, you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe,
and stronger than you seem,
and smarter than you think.”

Because together, we can restore the health of our children and loved ones for the sake of our country.

Food Heroes

February 19, 2012 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, News

At AllergyKids, we are all about celebrating the amazing accomplishments that happen every day. Nothing is too big or too small. Some accomplishments exceed anything that anyone could have imagined, and others are every day acts of love that are taken to help protect a child with allergies, asthma, ADHD and autism.

We believe that there is a hero in everyone. And sometimes, you might need a nudge or a little bit of permission to unleash yours. Which is why we share the stories of those who inspire us. Everyday heroes and those who have gone to extraordinary lengths for the health of our families and our food supply.

On our Food Heroes page, we’ve just added a new one. You can check it out here. She is a mom who believed that a quick, easy and healthy mac and cheese should be available to moms everywhere. A bowl of noodles that isn’t loaded down with artificial colors and growth hormones. Her name is Annie. Maybe you’ve heard of her company, Annie’s Homegrown.

And maybe there is a food hero in you or a food hero story you want to share. Let us know. Share your story and the love, inspiration and special talents that inspired it Because it is together that we will create a food system that will make our country proud.

Should We Be Concerned About Chemicals in Our Food – A Chemist’s View

February 13, 2012 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Ken Osborn, Retired Laboratory Scientist, for the AllergyKids Foundation February 12, 2012

As a chemist I sometimes get asked about “chemicals in our food” and should we be concerned. We hear about antibiotics used to control bacterial outbreaks in chickens, growth hormone used in milk production, and pesticides used for keeping produce insect free. And now there are genetically modified organisms (GMO) added to the list.

Yes, I believe that we should be concerned about chemicals in the foods we eat and that we have some level of confidence that we can safely consume them. However, as a chemist I have some difficulty with the phrase “chemical free” as in “I want to eat produce that is chemical free.” These words undermine the message. The use of the term “chemical free” makes it easy for others to discount the arguments for alternatives to achieving a healthier life by changing the food industry business model.

I base this on my understanding as a chemist, retired from the laboratory community, who knows that water is a chemical, you are made up of chemicals, and that it is impossible to make any environment, substance, or food chemical free.

All chemicals (even water) are toxic at some level; some chemicals (proteins) can be the source of allergies; some chemicals (arsenic) are very toxic at low levels and should not be consumed; and some chemicals are necessary for life but can be toxic at high doses (vitamin A).

Genetically modified food production should be regulated to an extent that it is proved safe for consumption prior to being allowed into the market place. It doesn’t matter that it is not “chemical-free”; it matters that it hasn’t been proven safe.

I do understand that when folks use the term “chemical free” they are usually referring to substances not generally found in nature and having lots of carbon bonds. Perhaps the conceptual problem originates from the ad campaigns of previous decades that gave us “chemistry for a better life.” Chemicals have always been with us and will always be with us. But we shouldn’t have to accept that a manufactured food is safe until proven dangerous: it should be considered unmarketable until it’s proven safe.

I hope this helps a little in understanding the difference between chemicals in food and safety in food production.

© Ken Osborn

About Ken Osborn:
Retired laboratory scientist after 33 years as a laboratory supervisor and quality assurance manager in an environmental testing laboratory and six years teaching science and math at high school and community college level. In addition to the usual publications and conference presentations, Ken has been actively involved in professional activities related to laboratory sciences with an appointment to an EPA Federal Advisory Committee Technical Group, chairing a Technical Advisory Committee to the State of California Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program, and editorial advisory board member of the journal Water Environment Federation Solutions. His passions in retirement include photography, gardening, and maintaining a blog on the intersection of photography and mathematics. His blog is at http://misterkenblog.blogspot.com/ .

Safe to Eat? Insights into the Controversy of Genetically Engineered Foods

February 9, 2012 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Bonnie Y. Modugno, MS, RD, a speaker, writer and clinician for AllergyKids

Food safety is inherently a controversial and emotionally charged topic. Genetically engineered (GE) foods garner a good amount of attention for good reason. Scientists and advocates for genetically modified organisms (GMO) and GE foods would like all of us to believe that we know enough to determine these foods are safe. We don’t.

Proponents of genetically engineered foods are quick to point to a scientific void regarding foods we generally regard as safe. Over thousands of years, cultural norms and traditions taught future generations what to eat. Not science.

Cultures include a wide variety of foods, mostly influenced by climate and geology. These conditions influenced what a people considered safe to eat. Over thousands of years, trading and migration increased the variety and range of foods for many cultures.

In the last 100 years, science has introduced ingredients and foodstuffs that are not found in nature. More conventional chemistry produced trans fat (partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). These ingredients are extremely controversial, and many question their FDA GRAS status (Generally Regarded as Safe). It is no wonder that the world looks at genetically engineered foods with a great deal of skepticism, even fear.

DETERMINING WHAT IS SAFE

In 1906 Congress passed the original Safe Food and Drug Act. In 1958, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. These laws gave grandfather status to many foods and additives that were generally regarded as safe. The thinking among many scientists underscored the value of traditional foods.

During the past 60 years much has changed in our food supply. There are ever more sophisticated means of cross breeding and creating new cultivars with a basic premise supporting the science known as substantial equivalence. The thinking is that if the new concoction is basically the same as something we already eat, it is probably ok. Even in the wake of genetic modification, scientists rely heavily on the notion of substantial equivalence.

Substantial equivalence is a relative test of safety. Even strong proponents of genetic engineering recognize that determining substantial equivalence is a starting point—not the end point of determining what is safe to eat. How much scientific discourse regarding the safety of GMO and GE foods is limited to the issue of substantial equivalence?

WHAT ARE THEY TESTING?

The challenge in all of this is that testing food for safety is basically impossible. There has never been a way to prove a food is 100% safe. Food safety information gathered via a scientific method can only tell us when a product is not safe. Scientists and spokespersons abuse this truth so regularly, that the general public may easily presume our food supply is 100% safe.

In the arena of genetically engineered food, substantial equivalence often relies on a 90 day rodent test. There are scientists who believe the tests are adequate. Authors of a review published in 2011 vehemently disagree. I tend to agree with the later. A ninety day test is inadequate. This time table is inadequate to determine risk of chronic disease (including allergies), as well as reproductive health and the consequence for future generations.

In one report pest management scientists acknowledge that pests are becoming resistant to GE crops. Internationally farmers are using multiple times the amount of conventional pesticides on pesticide resistant crops. With no attention to bioaccumulation and total body burden, a 90 day trial looking at the impact of feeding one GE food crop in isolation is exceedingly shortsighted.

Inherent in the argument for safety is a belief that as long as the GE practices can be determined to be safe for animals and humans, there is no harm. This is reductionist thinking at its worst. A preoccupation with risk to animals and man means there is little attention to biodiversity, soil ecology and the entire ecosystem. Social and economic consequences are utterly ignored.

A CONSUMER’S RIGHT TO KNOW

I am disturbed by reports of growing pesticide resistance, farmer dependence on GMO seeds, as well as lawsuits and bankruptcies associated with use of patented seeds. The science used to support the safety of GE and GMO foods seems inadequate.

At least consumers should be able to vote with their dollars. GE and GMO foods are required to be labeled in Europe. They are not labeled in the US, although currently many states, including California are mounting efforts to demand GE and GMO foods be labeled.

Food is not inherently safe to eat. The challenge of eating safe food is left in the hands of everyone who touches it, from the farmer and rancher to every person or piece of equipment that handles food on its journey from farm to plate. For highly processed foods many people and places are involved. At my local farmer’s market I get to talk to the person growing, harvesting and selling me what I eat. The huge disparity between a local and more mechanized food system highlights an ever-widening disparity in the food supply. The presence of GE and GMO foods significantly increases the divide.

Bonnie Y. Modugno, MS, RD, is a speaker, writer and clinician. Bonnie sees private clients at her nutrition consulting practice in Santa Monica, California. As a grateful consumer and mother, she celebrates food’s rightful place.

Website www.muchmorethanfood.com Blog http://muchmorethanfood.com/wordpress/

Twitter http://twitter.com/morethanfoodinc Facebook http://www.facebook.com/bonniemodugno

Going Against the Grain: When the Solution is in the Pantry

February 5, 2012 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, News

At AllergyKids, we are big fans of those that make lemonade out of the lemons that life can hand us. So when Kelley Suggs, author of Going Against the Grain, first reached out to share her story, we were inspired. We hope that you will be, too.

My baby was sick. He wasn’t sick in way that was terminal, but it was terrifying and frustrating and exhausting. Being sick was normal to my baby. As he neared a year old, the doctors, all of those doctors, told us that he needed more antibiotics. And chest x-rays. And Ranitidine to soothe his reflux. He ended up taking 12 doses of antibiotics, and some were painfully injected into his tiny little muscles. He had an unnecessary surgery and his growth fell off of the charts. We were worried and sleepless listening to him cough and choke through the night and his pillow case was worn from so much use as a tissue. Eventually, he had to be tested for C Diff, that ugly, life threatening condition that generally effects much older, much more geriatric populations. Before his first birthday, first haircut and first Christmas, he had his first hospital gown, first surgery and his first anesthesia.

This picture was taken when he was at Children’s Hospital with a sinus infection. I took him to the hospital that time because I was so worried about him. I needed help and I wasn’t getting it from any of the doctors we had seen or the referrals they were giving us. Before things got better, they got worse. We brought home a second baby who suffered even worse reflux, who couldn’t sleep for more than 45 minutes and who couldn’t even grasp my finger or pat my face because he was in such a constant state of pain.

We needed to be done with this. Our babies needed to be done with this. We searched everywhere for solutions and started treating ear infections with chiropractic care and avoiding antibiotics. We began looking to our food for solutions, eliminating this and adding that. We were hopeful when we found that eliminating dairy eased so many of the symptoms. Unfortunately, not all of the symptoms were relieved, so we searched even more unconventional places. Through our family network, we found a naturopath who finally set our feet on the right road.

The solution wasn’t in the Gastroenterologists’ office or the ENT’s office, the antibiotic or Ranitidine bottle.

It was in our pantry.

We learned that our kids cannot tolerate grain. Not corn or corn syrup, not wheat or wheat flour, not oatmeal or rice. That meant these two little people cannot eat crackers, cookies, spaghetti noodles, mac n’ cheese or Cheerios. Not any of the things we had been feeding them. Because knowing better means doing better, and we were so tired of watching our kids struggle, we made the changes the naturopath recommended, really hard changes. And our boys got better. Brayden, our first baby began to grow. Jack, our second baby, stopped puking, could sleep and even snuggle with us. It was a long journey. It terrified us, but we made it. Our kids are so much better for our efforts. We are grateful every day that they are such healthy, rambunctious boys now (even when they are rambunctious at the grocery store!).

If your kids are struggling like ours were, don’t be afraid to get help. One easy way is to buy Going Against the Grain; Food for an Uncommon Life. It is a cookbook and nutrition guide that I wrote based on the meals, snacks and birthday cakes that we eat now on a regular basis. The recipes are far from the dangerous American Standard Diet, are delicious for hungry kids, meat lovers and the gluten and time challenged. There are also several money saving tips, photos and general kitchen information that will help make it easier to change the way you eat.

And the first person to comment on this post will receive a free copy!

Healthy and well wishes,

Kelley Suggs, CHES