After discussing the dietary changes with the medical team last week taking care of Adelle and me , I came home wondering what I was to do with Adelle, my 3-year-old, the one who's the sickest in the family. She has suffered from a low white blood cell count for several months now. We have decided to treat her with a non-traditional approach through integrative medicine and also through the traditional sense with an immunologist at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis. At the office of integrative medicine, they ran some tests which determined that Adelle has an over-growth of yeast in her digestive tract which can lead to all sorts of autoimmune problems. This is actually good news for us, because if yeast can truly cause immune system dysfunctions, then curing the problem and becoming healthy again is a relatively easy process (and is much better news than the word I've been almost too afraid to mention -- leukemia). What's the treatment for a crazy amount of yeast in the gut? First, an anti-fungal medication twice a day for about 5 weeks. Second, a yeast-free, low-sugar diet for the duration of the medication (no honey, syrup, agave nectar, juice, etc). And third, since Adelle's labs came back questionable for a gluten sensitivity, our final step in treatment is going gluten free. Also, we're supplementing with some probiotics and vitamin D.
So for the last week, our family has been on a yeast-free, gluten-free, low-sugar adventure. And to be honest, it has been tough. I was sick with a terrible cold that turned into a horrendous sinus infection. Poor James, although seriously needing to get busy on his volunteer project, took care of the family, preparing appropriate meals for everyone, doing laundry, moderating skirmishes between the kids and listening to me whine about being sick.
And what in the world do you feed a 3-year-old with dietary restrictions that's been used to eating peanut butter and honey sandwiches every day for lunch for the past year? The bread has gluten and yeast and the honey, although natural, is a sugary sweetener. Well, so far we've been doing lots of fresh fruit with peanut butter, a little bit of cheese and a lot of praying. We've introduced new foods in order to provide some type of variety -- sliced deli ham (all-natural, no nitrates, gluten-free), rice cakes with peanut butter and gluten free crackers (although the one kind we got has yeast extract in it, so I've backed off of those just in case that would cause a problem).
You may ask why the whole family is basically going gluten free if just one person is recommended to do so. Well, at first I wasn't going to be gluten free just because Adelle needed to be. But then I realized how hard it would be for Adelle to see her old snacks and cereals being eaten by the rest of the family while she couldn't have any. It just didn't seem very fair, and I had a feeling it was going to cause a lot of heart ache for all involved.
The other reason we decided to switch is because being gluten free really is healthier. We don't think of it as a sugar, but the flours used to make breads (wheat) are ground down so much that our bodies convert them to sugar really fast. This causes a spike in our blood sugar, telling our pancreas to release lots of insulin to take care of all the sugar. As the insulin goes to town on the sugar, it brings our blood sugar levels back down too much or too fast, and our bodies tell us we need to eat more sugar to get balanced out. So what do we do? We eat another simple carbohydrate -- a sandwich, a cracker, a potato chip -- which brings our blood sugar back up. But this then causes another insulin spike and the cycle is repeated. Now, gluten isn't to blame for any of this, but gluten is found in a LOT of the foods we crave containing these simple carbs -- breads, pastas, crackers, etc. So by eliminating gluten, you can eliminate a lot (but not all, like white rice) of the simple carbohydrates in your diet and get out of this blood sugar spike/insulin spike cycle. (By the way, excess sugar not used is stored in the body as fat -- yuck.)
It's not going to be easy. But it's for the health of my daughter, and let's face it -- it's just food.
So, I invite you to follow our journey through this change, to see what the medical implications may mean for Adelle and the rest of our family and to perhaps learn something new about cooking and eating for a long, healthy life.