Thursday, October 18, 2012

Athlete, Author Cammi Granato Says Food Sensitivities Can Be Behind Chronic Health Problems

From the Vancouver Sun
By: Erin Ellis


Little Cammi Granato used to get headaches after she ate a ham sandwich and canned soup for lunch.

A headache? From soup? That’s doesn’t make sense, her mother told her.

That was the ’70s, but now a lot of people know that sulphite and nitrite preservatives in processed foods and prepared meats — that innocent ham sandwich — can make them feel sick.

The grown-up Cammi Granato, now 41, became an elite athlete, leading the U.S. women’s hockey team in the 1998 and 2002 Olympics. She wonders how she would have felt if she’d known more about what’s in her food years ago.

“The differences are mind-boggling how much food can really affect a little person. And I think back to when I was younger and how it affected me because I didn’t change my diet until I was much older.”

It wasn’t just the headaches, she had eczema, sores in her mouth and felt tired. She credits giving up all milk-based food, including yogurt, with clearing the symptoms and giving her more energy.

“I had no idea that the fatigue I was feeling for so long was due to the milk. It was crazy. It was an underlying fatigue that was always there, but as soon as I went off the yogurt. It just went away,” says Granato who now lives in North Vancouver with her B.C.-born husband Ray Ferraro, a broadcaster and 18-season NHL veteran.

“I wish I had all this information when I was still playing ... It was like the last piece of the puzzle.”

The picture of how food played into her life didn’t come into focus until Granato had her first son, Riley, who is now five. He had digestive trouble from the beginning, then recurring ear aches, restlessness and, as he grew older, nervous habits like incessant nail-biting and fitful sleep. Her friend Johanna Sedin, wife of Canucks team captain Henrik Sedin, recommended that she see a Vancouver nurse who’s made a career out of helping people find out what foods are hurting them.

Margaret Evans, author of a book released this spring called Could It Really be Something They Ate?, says it’s an area that’s grudgingly gaining support from some scientists, but is readily accepted by parents who sometimes see a revolutionary change in their children.

Researchers around the world have confirmed a growth in the number of people with clinically proven allergies – that is, their immune systems produce antibodies after contact with an allergen like food or pollen. The result is an allergic reaction: tight throat, swollen lips and tongue, rashes and difficulty breathing. Between four and six per cent of young children and three to four per cent of adults have a proven allergy, Health Canada reports.

But up to 38-per-cent of the population will say they have a food allergy, according to an extensive European review of the evidence funded by the EU.

The difference may be explained by a food intolerance or sensitivity that’s severe enough to cause symptoms, but does not create antibodies in the blood or produce a skin reaction commonly used to diagnose an allergy,

“These are the ones that are most tremendously on the rise,” says Evans, who blames processed foods and the over-use of antibiotics for many of the health problems she sees in clients who consult her about their diets.

She delved into the topic after years of coping with her own her digestive problems and those of her children. First, she had a screaming infant with green bowel movements who could not be settled. Then other babies who developed infections, diarrhea, stomach pain and irritability as they grew — all signs she now recognizes as food intolerance. Evans eventually took the whole family off all dairy products — no milk or cheese — then stopped her daughter from eating eggs and took wheat out of her youngest son’s diet.

“Within two weeks, the changes were nothing short of miraculous,” she writes in her book. “No more diarrhea. No more tummy aches. No more ear infections. No more fatigue and confusion.” All of her children are now adults, some with children of their own.

Evans says she has seen similar results in hundreds of clients after she conducts an exhaustive consultation listing their health history back to infancy, family health history and antibiotic use. She contends that the food at the root of the problem is generally something that the person eats everyday and probably craves as a comfort food in times of stress.

An example she sites is a nine-year-old boy who would only eat plain pasta and pizza crust with the sauce scraped off. He was diagnosed with autism, withdrew from playing with other children and had limited means of communication. As a last resort, his mother switched the pasta to rice pasta and changed the pizza crust to a gluten-free one. Within weeks, the boy began to speak in full sentences and expanded his diet to include fruits and vegetables.

Too good to be true? The trend toward a gluten-free, dairy-free diet to treat autism is such a big movement in Europe and North America that numerous researchers have tried to test its effectiveness. It’s usually called a gluten-free, casein-free diet, casein being the protein found in milk. A 2009 review of existing studies published in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders found no solid support for the diet and added that it can lead to poor nutrition and isolation because of its restrictiveness. (No pizza parties, for instance. No ice cream cones with friends.) But the authors also recommend using the diet for children with autism if their behaviour changed significantly because of it.

Then a study published in 2010 in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience found test scores improved enough in 26 autistic children in Denmark placed on a gluten-free, casein-free diet, that researchers switched over 29 other children in a control group who were not previously on the regimen.

The science behind the diet has been called the “opioid-excess theory” which says some people’s intestines are more permeable than others, allowing incompletely digested proteins which mimic natural opiates, endorphins, for instance, to enter the blood stream and disrupt normal behaviour of the nervous system. Also known as “leaky-gut syndrome” this theory has gained a wide popular following, but scientific research in the area is contradictory. A UK study published in 2008 found no elevated levels of opioids in the urine of 65 boys with autism.

For the general population, eggs, milk, soy and gluten ­— a protein found in wheat, rye and barley ­— are common causes of food sensitivities, says Evans, any food could be the culprit. She’s seen clients who had to stop eating chicken, tomatoes, potatoes, sugar, corn, raspberry jam and artificial colours.

In Granato’s case, she took eggs out of Riley’s diet and got rid of all dairy and wheat from family meals. They eat lots of fruits and vegetables, fewer processed food, more organic foods, especially meat. It had an unexpected side-effect of clearing up an intestinal inflammation that her husband had been treating with prescription medication for years.

“It’s hard (to change your diet),” says Granato, “but it’s harder to see them suffer.... Why would I want (my son) to have double ear infections, why would I want him to have anxiety, biting his nails, his nervous system in overdrive?

There’s just no reason to eat those things that trigger that.”