Did you know that one in 91 children have autism? Did you know that one in eight children have asthma? Did you know that one in six children have a learning or behavior disorder? Did you know that one in 10 children have ADHD?
These are alarming statistics by anyone’s standard. They’re even more alarming when these statistics apply to your child. And for many parents, it’s an all too grim reality.
No one is really sure of the root cause for autism and other illnesses like ADHD or even some severe food allergies. But what is very clear is that chronic illness in children is a nationwide epidemic.
We’re not talking about a singular group of children tucked away in a remote village with no running water and scant electricity, hours from the nearest town. We’re talking about your neighbors, your friends, kids you know at school.
Growing up, I can’t recall a single child that had a food-borne illness. Yet my own three girls each have at least one kid in their class that has a severe nut allergy. Then there are the kids who are lactose intolerant. Or can’t eat wheat. Or they have such a severe reaction to latex that such commonplace items like rubber erasers are not allowed in class.
What is happening to our children? Beth Lambert, who recently graduated from Fairfield University with a master’s degree in American Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, wanted to know.
“American children are, by far, affected in the greatest numbers,” she said in her valedictory speech at last Sunday’s graduation. “This is the sickest generation of children on record and that this health crisis was of our own making.”
Taking that angle and applying it to today’s American culture, she set out to find some answers. “It started with my own children,” said Lambert, who is the mother of three. “When my oldest daughter was two, she started showing autism spectrum symptoms and sensory issues. There was no one doctor who could help me.”
Visiting doctor after doctor, she still came up empty. Digging deeper into the topic, she realized that she wasn’t alone. There were other parents with their children who had questions and no answers. So with her advisor Dr. Leo O’Connor’s support, she researched the subject and came across Vicki Kobliner, a registered dietician who works with Dr. Nancy O’Hara at Optimal Health Initiatives in Wilton.
“A lot of my job is being detective,” said Kobliner. “When a child comes to me with a suspected illness, I have to find out the family history. Was mom on antibiotics? Does dad have a history of eczema? Was there exposure to toxic chemicals?”
Both Lambert and Kobliner said that many of these chronic illnesses can be traced back to the digestive system, or the gut. When the gut is out of whack, technically termed gut dysbiosis, whole systems in the body are also out of whack. Food allergies are caused by perforations in the stomach lining. Food particles enter the bloodstream through those perforations rather than being broken down within the stomach. So what might be a mild irritation in one person becomes a major inflammation for someone with that condition resulting in an allergic reaction.
Lambert said genetics certainly play a role in illnesses, but epidemics are not genetic. They are environmental. It’s what we eat and drink. It’s the chemicals we’re exposed to. It’s the medicine we take. And when it comes to antibiotics, it’s how often we overtake them. It’s not just one agent. It’s many. And, gut dysbiosis is at the core of it all. “It’s a lot more complicated than people think,” said Kobliner. “But the solutions are not necessarily complicated.”
Dr. O’Connor agreed. “There isn’t a single solution,” he said of what contributes to chronic illness. “It’s multiple things. It’s diet, the environment, pharmaceuticals.”
The solutions involve a checklist Kobliner refers to as the 4R’s: Remove, Restore, Repair, Reinoculate. When you remove something from the system, you are taking away whatever elements are bothersome. This comes from the detective work Kobliner referred to earlier so that you know what to eliminate. Once that takes place, you need to restore and replenish what’s missing. This segues into the body’s repair, which comes from nutrients that make it stronger. Reinoculating doesn’t necessarily refer to vaccines, which Kobliner said is a whole other issue. It means the body needs to have the “good” bacteria like the kind found in whole foods like yogurt.
Both Lambert and Kobliner support organic lifestyles: organic, whole, natural foods that are preservative and hormone-free; natural hair and skin care as well as environmentally friendly house cleaners; pesticide and chemical-free lawn care. All of those environmental factors have an impact on a child’s life. In fact, that environment can affect children while they are still in the womb. Today, babies are often born “pre-polluted.” Over 200 known toxic chemicals are found in the cord blood. Not a day old and already at a disadvantage.
Lambert dug so deep into the subject of chronic illness in children, one that was personal as well as professional, that she wrote a book and started a non-profit organization. She is the executive director of PEACE: Parents Ending America’s Childhood Epidemic. She also launched a web site last year entitled ANSWERS for an Epidemic. Her book was published this month by Sentient Publications. Lambert collaborated on the book with Kobliner who wrote one of the chapters.
“I have set my sights on something that is more meaningful to me,” said Lambert, “and something that I feel will have a greater impact on the future of our children.”
Image courtesy of Babble.com.