This past week was Halloween and I cringe every year. Now, don't get me wrong...I love dressing up and hanging with friends. But I hate all of the colored candy/food. It is in everything. Things that don't need it at all (like rice crispy treats). The reason that I cringe is because my kids aren't allowed ANY food colored items. I know, it seems harsh. But let me back up a bit.
It is 2002 and my oldest son started having MAJOR behavioral problems. Now, here was a kid who the year prior was making straight A's, in gifted/talented classes, and loved going to school. Suddenly, he could barely make it through the school day without melting down, knocking his work off of his desk, or being absolutely uncontrollable. He was suspended numerous times. To the point that, the school refused to take him back unless we medicated him.
We took him to one pediatrician, and she prescribed Adderal. Then, we added in a behaviorist, a psychologist, and a counselor. The medication started increasing too: adderal, risperdal, trileptal, clonidin, ritalin, back to adderal, adavan. It was a nightmare.
We tried sports as an outlet, but he was tiny for his age and didn't enjoy soccer or basketball. Someone suggested gymnastics. We tried it. He loved it! But we still had an issue with medications and school. He was expelled from the first school and so we drove him to a school for gifted/talented. He was still having trouble. We even had him hospitalized because the medications were making him so unbalanced. We were desperate and didn't know how else to help him.
Just when I felt like neither he nor I could take anymore, we met a family at gymnastics that had severe food allergies. They were seeing a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and were having positive results for their children. We went to see Sylvie, the DOM, and spent hours with her on our first visit. We left feeling hopeful.
That hopeful feeling was soon dashed because trying to get our pediatrician and psychologist to work with her was impossible.
So, we changed to a different pediatrician and stopped going to the psychologist. The new pediatrician did full blood work. (No one had done that before). There was something really wrong with Damian's liver function. The levels were so high that he was closer to being put on the liver transplant list than he was to having normal ALT levels. Our new pediatrician, Dr.G, said that we would never no if his liver functions were already to high and if that was causing some of his behavioral problems or if it was caused by the medication.
Sylvie and Dr. G worked great together. Dr. G handled all of Damian's physical care and lab work. Sylvie would mix up herbs and slowly started replacing all of the western medication with it. With both of their help and support and along with the new school, we kept a strict food diary. Anything he ate was written down and then we would record his behavior a few hours later. After a couple of months, we all sat down and went over the journals. There was a definite pattern. He would eat breakfast at school and melt down before lunch. He would have the school lunch and a snack and would melt down before or shortly after school ended. Through all of us working as a team, we narrowed the food allergies to sulphites and food coloring. We pulled both of these out of his diet and continued to work with the behaviorist to correct some of the old habits. It took us a year and a half to get Damian completely off of both western medication and the herbs.
Fast forward to today. Damian is now 16 years old and a level 10 gymnast. He is a senior, an A student, and is taking honors classes. We know the signs to look for if he accidentally eats/drinks something that is colored. (For Damian, he has a chemical reaction. His eyes can dilate, skin becomes blotchy, and he is extremely angry or weepy sad.) He will tell us that he doesn't feel like himself and will go take quiet time to himself.
Recently, I also starting noticing that when my 7 year old daughter was coming home from school, she would cry, knock her homework off the table, and cry/whine some more. A quick talk to the teacher, we learned that they were eating colored snacks as a class in the afternoon. We now send in her own snacks and made a box of replacement foods (natural jelly beans, naturally colored m&m, fruit juice popsicles, etc.) for her to keep in class. If there is a class party, I send in snacks for my kids.
But, when I went and volunteered at the Halloween parties at school this year. I stood there filled with horror and sadness. Even though my kids had their own treats, all of the treats brought in by other families were colored (even the carrots and celery). All I could think was 'how many kids may be suffering like my son and daughter'? How many are having trouble with behavior or focus because of the food that they are eating? How many parents feel that they have no other choice but to medicate their kids?
Maybe, there is something cheaper and simpler than medication. Maybe, more people need to hear our story so that they know that there is an alternative. Maybe, it is just simply not eating food coloring!