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Help For Parents Of Hard To Raise Kids

By Pathways Magazine

As he examined a new patient with a terrible case of hives, Ben F. Feingold, md, had no idea that in a few years his work would shake up fundamental beliefs about food, behavior, and learning, and help shape new ones.

The year was 1965. Dr. Feingold, who was both a pediatrician and allergist, was considered by his peers to be a pioneer in the fields of allergy and immunology. He had accepted the challenge to establish allergy clinics for the Kaiser Permanente health care system in Northern California, and now served as chief of allergy in Kaiser’s San Francisco Medical Center.

Suspecting that the hives could be caused by a sensitivity to aspirin and aspirin-like compounds, he placed the patient on an elimination diet. In addition to removing aspirin, the regimen excluded other items that allergists were reporting to be problematic for aspirin-sensitive people: synthetic food dyes, artificial flavorings, and a group of foods containing “natural salicylates,” which include many common fruits, a few vegetables, plus several other substances.

Less than two weeks later, Dr. Feingold received a call from a psychiatrist at Kaiser, wanting to know what he had done for this patient. It turned out that she been in therapy for several years because of her belligerent behavior. On the elimination diet her behavior quickly became normal. This perplexed Dr. Feingold, who had never heard of food affecting behavior. He came to realize that the worst offenders were not the foods but rather certain synthetic food additives being used in ever-increasing amounts.

In 1973, after eight years of clinical research, he presented his findings at the annual conference of the American Medical Association. This marked the first time a traditional physician linked children’s learning and behavior problems with foods and food additives. The AMA embraced his findings with an enthusiasm that took Feingold by surprise. They set up press conferences and sent him around the country to share this new information.

However, within a matter of months there was an abrupt change: with no apparent reason, the AMA dropped the whole thing. We can only surmise the role that the food, chemical, and pharmaceutical industry lobbies may have played. They had been working hard at damage control ever since the public first got wind of the work going on at the San Francisco clinic. Dr. Feingold published articles in various medical journals. When Random House asked him to write a book directed to parents, he agreed. The book (Why Your Child is Hyperactive) received widespread publicity. As parents tried this new diet, many of those who were successful began to work together. The media dubbed his program the “Feingold Diet” and grateful parents formed a national support group they named the “Feingold Association of the US”. Dr. Feingold worked with the association and continued to help thousands of children until his death in 1982.

Dr. Feingold’s charge to the parent volunteers in the Feingold Association was to be a resource for families, especially as they began and tested out the program. The association has carried out this mission to this day. It also conducts in-depth research with food companies to identify those brands that are free of the unwanted additives. This is essential since food labels are often incomplete and may be inaccurate. In addition to locating suitable foods, the association researches non-food items such as cleaning supplies, toothpaste, cosmetics and personal care products. It publishes books listing thousands of acceptable brand name products, and updates this information ten times yearly through its newsletter, Pure Facts.

A typical phone call that Feingold Association volunteers receive is from a mother who is feeling overwhelmed by the problems her child is having, plus the stress, frustration, anger, and guilt that comes with it. If her diet is typical of the average American, she is not ready to hear about cutting out sugar, refined flour, or convenience foods. Her immediate challenge is making it through another day.

Experienced parent volunteers show new members how to switch from foods with additives like Yellow 5 and 6 to dye-free versions. For example, members quickly learn they can buy the brand name chocolate cake mix without the fake vanilla, the aspartame-free cola, and the name brand potato chips without BHT. If their families are accustomed to having candy, cookies, and soft drinks, volunteers can guide them to the ones that are free of the unwanted additives. They will learn how other parents deal with school lunches, birthday parties, Easter and Halloween candy, restaurant food, indulgent grandparents, and all of the other day-to-day challenges they will encounter. Many families are surprised that they can continue to shop at their local supermarket and eat most of their favorite foods while on the Feingold program.

Just taking the troublesome additives out of a family’s diet will usually make a huge difference. Once parents see that food really matters, they will begin to look at health in a new way, and once their children see the difference in how they feel and behave, compliance is seldom a problem.

As a family gains experience with the Feingold Program they fine-tune it. Most people go on to upgrade the quality of the food they eat and open their minds to the wealth of alternative therapies available. Others find that this program is a vital first step toward eliminating additional additives or may even test out a gluten-free, casein-free regimen. They also begin to see ways to eliminate harmful chemicals in their environment.

As with any volunteer organization, the essential element is success. With time and experience, the Feingold Association has been able to refine its materials. Over 90% of the members polled report that they have seen success. Grateful parents write to the association about the changes they have seen and many of these stories are published in the newsletter, Pure Facts. Because the whole family eats healthier food it is not unusual to learn that other family members benefit. Not only is little Johnny no longer the terror of the neighborhood, but Mom’s hives are gone, Dad’s headaches are a thing of the past, and big sister’s school grades have shot up.

Dr. Feingold often explained that the additives he eliminated can affect any system of the body, and when a sensitive individual is exposed to them, the additives trigger an adverse reaction. Many things can contribute to such a heightened sensitivity, including genetic predisposition, prenatal exposure to toxins, and traumatic delivery, among others. The food additives don’t “cause” the reaction, but are the trigger that precipitates them.