Is Your Child’s Brain Starving?

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This post is long overdue.

A story I’ve been wanting to share, but just haven’t had the courage to sit down and write.

A story about my son, Piper, a speech disorder, a starving brain, and how real food and a key nutrient played a key role in his rehabilitation.

This is Piper’s story…

In 2009 I found out I was pregnant. The thought of carrying life inside my belly for nine months seemed to be a daunting task.  I, like most mothers, wanted to provide my child with the very best start in life. One area of life that wasn’t ideal was food. I ate a Standard American Diet (SAD) of heavily processed foods, low-fat everything and lots of take-out. After spending many nights watching documentaries (like Food Inc.) and reading countless Micheal Pollan books, I was convinced a dietary change had to be made. I cut all the processed food from our life. I also went a step further, a huge step, I eliminated all animal products from my diet. The only animal product I consumed was honey.

I’m talking strict!

My pregnant body, now very close to delivering a new baby, was being nourished solely off plant-based foods and juicing.

March 5, 2010 was the big day. A day I remember very well. Thirty-six hours of natural labor and one eight and half pound baby later, I was a mom!

That first year was a blur. Sleepless nights, new learning curves, hours of baby snuggles, lots of nursing, lots of ear infections, and the sweet scent of a baby.

I had continued with my vegan lifestyle during Piper’s first year. I was proud to have a child who would never be tainted by animal products. A child that would only live off fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Shortly after Piper turned one, I started to observe that his little friends were flourishing verbally. Slowly his friends switched over from baby-talk to understandable words. Piper continued to say that same /mmmm/ and /bbbbb/ sounds. No words, just sounds.  Not wanting to compare, I assured myself he was a late bloomer. Words would come soon enough.

When Piper turned two I weaned him from nursing. He seemed to be the ideal eater, a plant-based child. Despite his healthy and growing body, I became concerned about his speech. He continued to only use two sounds to communicate. His vocabulary consisted of around three real words, but even those were hard to decipher. “He’s a late bloomer!” I listened to the other moms share all the cute new phrases and words their children were developing daily.

My heart sank.

He’s gotta be a late bloomer.

I waited.

I finally voiced my concern to Piper’s pediatrician.  A very gentle doctor open to alternative people like our family. I expressed my concerns over his limited vocabulary of now five words. I was desperate and discouraged. I wanted so badly to communicate with my son. I wanted to hear him say his name and “I love you.”  Anything! Just words. It seemed as though he was trapped. Longing to communicate, but unable to do so. The doctor checked his records and noticed a trend: ear infections.

Several months later, we sat in the waiting room of an ENT who advised ear tubes. We were told Piper’s ears were blocked with fluid and the tubes were our answer to communicating with our son. Within weeks we were to expect talking.

Hope.

That’s what I experienced at that moment!

Lots of Hope.

We went through the surgery a week later.  I couldn’t wait to hear my son talk! I waited a couple of weeks. Nothing. Another week. Still nothing.

It was at this time that Piper was evaluated by a speech pathologist. The speech pathologist said she believed Piper had something called Apraxia.

Apraxia of speech, also known as verbal apraxia or dyspraxia, is a speech disorder in which a person has trouble saying what he or she wants to say correctly and consistently. The disorder may result from a stroke, head injury, tumor, or other illness affecting the brain. Source

I left with a heavy heart.  The prognosis wasn’t good. The speech pathologist recommended speech therapy with as many sessions in a week as possible. We were told the journey of apraxia was long and one that would take many years of therapy to see positive results.

A month after the diagnosis, we found a fantastic speech teacher who was willing to work with Piper in her home a few times a week. A friend also recommended seeking a nutritional counselor as an alternative treatment.

After intense meat cravings during my second pregnancy, I had recently started incorporating pastured meat into our family’s diet; however, we still followed for the most part a plant-based diet. I personally laughed at the idea of my child needing a nutritional counselor. The idea that my child needed counseling on how to eat seemed absurd. I didn’t want to appear proud, so I agreed to get the opinions of the counselor.

During the first meeting, the counselor immediately questioned the fat intake in Piper’s diet. Piper being raised a vegan for the first two years of his life, didn’t care for any animal products and lived off bread and produce. The counselor wasn’t very pleased with that diet.

What?

What could be missing?

We were told to put Piper on fish oil (omega 3’s), doses of vitamin D, and increase his fat content. Apraxia is believed to stem from a neurological disconnect between the brain and the mouth, and the counselor seemed convinced that the omega 3’s and fat were critical links. 

I was intrigued.

Over the next few weeks, I bought every book I could find on children and food. Was I depriving my son of critical nourishment which he needed? A missing link?

After scouring the pages of books, particularly Nourishing Traditions, I was convinced Piper needed a diet that nourished his brain.

His brain was starving.

Starving for fat!

In an effort to eat healthier, I had removed nearly all sources of fat, particularly animal fat, from our diets. During the most critical time of brain development I had starved Piper’s brain of a critical nutrient.

Recently it has been discovered that the Omega-3 fats are necessary for the complete development of the human brain during pregnancy and the first two years of life. The Omega-3 fat and its derivative, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), is so essential to a child’s development that if a mother and infant are deficient in it, the child’s nervous system and immune system may never fully develop, and it can cause a lifetime of unexplained emotional, learning, and immune system disorders. Source

The human brain is considered to be the most sensitive organ in the body to food, and is made up of near sixty percent fat.  During the first two years of a child’s life the brain triples in volume requiring nourishing foods with lots of good fat.  Nearly fifty percent of the food children consume is used for brain growth and fat is critical in this development. Without good fat, the neurotransmitters in the brain can’t properly transmit and a disconnect can easily occur affecting the entire body (emotional, behavioral, learning and language).  Good fat is critical in pregnancy and for growing children.

I believe this was a critical piece to Piper’s speech delay. Piper simply needed a diet of real food and essential fat which would nourish his brain.

After nine months of a diet rich in good, traditional fats and real food, Piper today talks and communicates like a mature three-and-a- half year-old. Sure, he says words here and there that are difficult to understand because he leaves off the end sound or has difficulty with the beginning, but he talks (all the time)! He communicates with words people understand. His vocabulary has blossomed from a mere three words and two basic sounds to hundreds upon hundreds of words!

The biggest change that I believe helped Piper was… fat! A diet rich in good fat for a growing brain. We began to see remarkable changes in Piper within just a couple of months of consuming good fat and real food.

Here are the foods that I believe played a critical role in nourishing Piper’s brain:

  • Raw, Pastured Whole Milk, Butter, Cream, and Cheese: Rich in fat-soluble vitamins A and D and other crucial nutrients. You can read more about why we consume raw milk, here.
  • Fermented Cod Liver Oil: Rich in Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docasahexaenoic Acid (DHA). FCLO supplies essential fatty-acids for the brain. I use Carlson brand.
  • Soaking and Sprouting Grains: This traditional practice breaks down the phytic acid and anti-nutrients allowing the body to more easily digest protein, fats, and essential amino acids from grains.
  • Fermented Foods: Yogurt (homemade recipe; Good Store-Bought Brands: StonyField Grass-Fed, Maple Hill Creamery, Organic Valley Grass Milk Yogurt, and Seven Stars), milk kefir (homemade recipe; Good Store-Bought Brand: Maple Hill Creamery) , water kefir, and kombucha, provide the body with good bacteria. This good bacteria produces essential vitamins the body needs, such as: Vitamin A, B vitamins, and essential fatty-acids.
  • Homemade Bone Broth: Provide essential vitamins, minerals, and essential amino-acids. Bone broths are rich in protein and healing properties. I make this broth and use it to cook Piper’s favorite rice and any sauces.
  • Pastured Meats: Rich in iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamins A, E, and B12. Pastured meat is a healthy source of good fats.
  • Egg Yolks from Pastured Eggs: Rich in omega-3 and protein. Most digestible amino-acids available to the body.

I truly believe with these small changes we have been blessed to witness the power of a healthy diet in a child’s life. I believe Hippocrates said it best, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.

 2015 Update:

I’m overwhelmed by the amazing response to Piper’s story. Thank you for commenting and sharing your stories with me over the past eighteen months. It’s truly been a blessing to read emails and comments about the difference real food is making in so many children.

Today, Piper is an energetic five year-old boy who loves to talk and share stories!! He loves playing soccer and Legos. He still consumes a nutrient-rich diet. Piper’s favorite foods are: steak, hard-boiled eggs, lentils, chicken, broccoli, and the Hulkbuster Smoothie.

Sources: The NDD Book, William Sears//http://www.autismfile.com/diet-nutrition/the-power-of-fermented-foods//http://www.realmilk.com/health/health-benefits-of-raw-milk-from-grass-fed-animals///http://www.mercola.com/beef/omega3.htm

If you make this recipe, be sure to snap a photo and hashtag it #LIVESIMPLYBLOG. I'd love to see what you make!

 

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