ADHD and Living Milk-Free

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In a Milk Mood

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In August 1990, I had my first child, a daughter, Miri. She was a bright,  cheerful baby who wanted lots of attention and preferred constant stimulation to quiet. She walked before she crawled, she gained a big vocabulary fast, and, in general, she was a delight to be around. However, at about 18 months age, she started showing some serious signs of moodiness. She'd go through what I called "transition sickness" every time we went from one situation to another (leaving the house in the morning; going from outside play to inside; leaving a friend's house): she'd get very upset and cranky and be miserable for about 20 minutes at a time. Early warnings that change was coming wouldn't help; the things she'd claim upset her seemed unreasonable, almost made up, as though she had to find something to focus some feeling of misery upon. Reason was no use at all.

Because she was then (is now) an extremely social person, always seeking friends, when faced with the choice of putting her into the school system early (four just about to turn five), or keep her back, we put her in. In retrospect I can see that this was a mistake, especially given the teacher she got saddled with. Miri did not have the emotional maturity she needed to handle the discipline of school (being a babe-at-home instead of a babe-in-daycare was also a handicap, since the whole conforming-to-schedules thing was not ingrained in her already). The teacher was not at all sympathetic to her situation, and had no patience -- or understanding -- with the moodiness throughout the day. When frustrated, Miri cried. When Miri cried, the teacher called her a baby and humiliated her in front of the class. At parent conferences, I was as much as told that I spoiled my daughter by giving in to her crying (we did comfort Miri, but did not let her crying change the outcome of the situation; she certainly wasn't being spoiled). When I talked about taking her out of class and letting her come back a year older, my suggestion was dismissed. It was clear that Miri was quite bright -- she ought to be able to handle the school work, right?

First grade was not much better, but as time wore on, a pattern began to emerge. Miri had trouble remembering to bring her homework with her when she left for the day. She had difficulty staying focused on the task at hand; she was easily distracted by her classmates -- at first I thought this was just the social aspect of her personality, but then I began to realize that she was as easily distracted by the class troublemakers as she was by her friends; she was just distractible. At home, she hated homework. Some days she could buzz right through the work and seemed to have a good grasp of what she was studying; but it seemed as though the very next day, she couldn't understand it at all. That was my first clue that there was something more troubling than immaturity going on -- how could she know one thing, easily, one day, and be totally puzzled by it the next? It was as if something was interfering with  her brain.

I did lots of research ("attention deficit disorder", "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder" came up during sessions with Internet search engines). Because my son and I are celiacs, I am aware that food sensitivity can cause behavioral problems. I'd followed the stories of many parents whose children were major challenges until they started on the gluten-free diet celiacs need, and then they saw much improvement. Since celiac disease is inherited, I had Miri tested for it, but the tests came back negative. What else could it be? I talked to every parent of a troubled child, asked everyone who knew anything about kids what they thought, but I got no help until one day on an online chat with a friend in Australia, who works for a child psychologist, I was told, "I know what my employer would say. He'd say, first thing you should try is taking her completely off of milk and all milk products." That sounded pretty weird to me, but I started poking around on the Net and began finding a few articles implicating milk in all kinds of odd things. The more I looked around, the more it seemed worth a try.

By now it was spring, and Miri's grades in school were so bad that I was not sure she'd get out of first grade (if schools were not so pushed to graduate kids, I'm sure she would have failed; she certainly did not come out of the year knowing what she ought to, and her grades were awful). I felt I should wait until summer to try experimenting with a milk-free diet, because I'd have better control over what she ate than when she was eating at school. But as the days wore on, seeing how miserable she was, and how frustrating school was, and especially because I could see that diagnosis of ADD or ADHD and a prescription for Ritalin coming toward us, I just couldn't stand to wait. I had been talking all this over with my husband all along and we both agreed we should just do it. A little research on what ingredients milk hides under (the celiac diet had given us lots of practice reading labels), and we told Miri that we would start her on a milk-free diet. She was as anxious as we were to find a cure to her short attention span and fits of sorrow. The next day, we took her off of milk.

The day after that, she was a new girl. Or maybe I should say, she was my old girl, back again. She didn't cry all day; she was happy. During the next weeks, we noticed big improvements everywhere. She remembered her homework. She could do her homework. When she got upset, it was about the ordinary things anyone gets upset about. It really wasn't until she stopped having those manic moods that we realized how much her emotional rollercoaster had ruled our lives: how much stress the whole family had been under, until it blessedly, almost magically, just stopped. The change from happy baby to whiny toddler must have occurred slowly, over months, so that we didn't notice. We put each event down to her being tired, or hungry, or just a little out of sorts, but in fact, there was a pattern there that we hadn't seen because we were in the middle of it. But once the change came -- dramatically, from one day to the next -- it was very clear that the whole moodiness/short attention span thing had had some outside trigger.

And it was milk.

Unbelievably, it was "does a body good," basic comfort food, "the perfect food" -- milk! How could it be?! Even with the evidence of our lives, and my daughter's experience of the world, right there in front of me, I still walked around just feeling the whole thing was incredible. It just couldn't be that something we all believe is so good for you could actually do so much harm. Even now, three years later, I still have a hard time accepting it.

But it's been proven to me again and again. It's not psychological, I know, because when Miri accidentally gets some dairy into her -- say as an ingredient in a cookie, where the "milk" isn't obvious -- about four hours later she'll get into what my husband calls "a milk mood" -- life is just too hard; everything's impossible; everyone's out to get her. If there's nothing to be miserable about, she'll make something up ("I can't take a bath...what if I can't find any clothes to wear afterward?"). This mood lasts about eight hours, slowly sliding away.

The other proof is in Miri's performance at school. After a summer of being milk-free, she returned to the same school, second grade. At the end of the year she got the certificate for "most improved." This year, at the end of fourth grade, she's an A-student in almost every subject. She still has bad moods and sad moments, but they tend to be reasonable ones.

In the meantime, I've continued to study milk and its effects on humans, and in a nut-shell, this is what I've learned. The offending part of almost all foods people react to is the protein. In Ted's and my case, as celiacs, it's what's popularly known as "gluten" -- the wheat protein. In Miri's case, as someone who is unable to handle milk, it's casein, the milk protein. It's nothing to do with lactose intolerance (though Miri suffered from that, too, it caused belly-aching of a different sort). Instead, it's something to do with the way casein is handled in the body.

Casein is in all forms of milk: goat's milk, cow's milk, mother's milk. It is also often found in "milk-free" products, so if you want to try a milk-free diet, you need to read labels carefully. It's in "non-dairy" creamers and whipped cream, "lactose-free" cheese substitutes, and some margarines. Most margarines have some milk products in them anyway: "whey" is something to avoid, along with "butter" and "milk" in any form including lactose-free, dry, powdered, and skim). Three things we find useful in sticking to a milk-free diet are: Fleishman's Unsalted Margarine, Mocha Mix (truly-) non-dairy creamer, and Tofutti Ice Cream.

What is it about milk? Perhaps it's that mammals -- including humans -- just aren't designed to consume milk past infancy and toddlerhood. 


Please also read our Letters Page for others' stories about the effects of milk in the diet.

If you know of others on the net who talk about ADD/ADHD and dietary intervention, please let me know. I'd like to put links from this page to theirs (and I'd like to explore their sites and talk to them).


Books

A book about the impact of milk protein (and other foods) on problems traditionally solved with chiropractic care. If you have recurring headaches, neck and/or back pain, even arthritis or continuing pain from sports injuries, you owe it to yourself to check this out. You can buy  How To Rid Your Body of Pain or his first book No Milk through our association with Amazon.com.
If your child, or a child you know, displays any of the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder, however mild, however extreme, I encourage you to explore food allergies as a possible source of the problem -- and as a possible cure -- before you resort to mind-altering drugs like Ritalin. Milk is not the only culprit; wheat is another; but there are many many possibilities. A good source of information on food allergies and their diagnosis is a book called, "Is This Your Child?" (You can buy Is This Your Child? : Discovering and Treating Unrecognized Allergies in Children and Adults through our association with Amazon.com)

Food Allergy
Field Guide
A Lifestyle Manual For Families

A strategy guide for parents of food sensitive children, covering more than just milk allergy; it includes eggs, soy, wheat and gluten, eggs, corn, peanuts and more. Abundant stories from both parents and kids add insight and enjoyment to an already pleasantly readable book. This book covers dealing with others who have to deal with your child's diet, helping children fit in, eating out, and cooking (it even includes a few recipies). Appendices are included to help you learn what to avoid and what's safe for each allergen, plus lots of information on basic nutritional needs for special diets. You can buy the Food Allergy Field Guide by Theresa Willingham through our association with Amazon.com.

 

 

Links

The No Milk Pages are the best resource to find lots of links to information on the effect of milk on individuals, both the pros and the cons, as well as more pages with information on following the diet.

No Milk Listserv: There is a free email list you can join to chat with other people who are following or deal with a milk-free diet for a variety of reasons. This list is not only a great resource but a real eye-opener. The website contains both the archives and information on how to subscribe to the listserv.

Eating Without Casein: A Practical Primer For People With Milk Allergy. An excellent starting point for figuring out the milk-free diet.

Born To Explore: The other side of ADHD. If food allergies can cause ADD/ADHD-type symptoms, why aren't the scientists warning us? Visit this site for the answer to that and many other questions about how allergies can affect behavior.

Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet: Here's a web with lots of good information on a diet that helps many autistic children (here again it's behavior affected by certain proteins). The information is useful even if you're not dealing with autism, however, as it tells you what you need to know about following the diet, including lists of safe foods.

Application of the Exorphin Hypothesis to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Theoretical Framework by Ron Hoggan. Yes, it's heavy on scientific terms, but it deals directly with how casein and gluten may affect brain function. If you want something to print out to show a professional that you're not just making this up (or maybe it's just proof to them that you're not the only one that's crazy!) print this out and bring it along with you.

The UK site for the milk allergic and lactose intolerant has lots and lots of information, including even "where to buy" milk-free items if you are traveling in the United Kingdom.

Dr. Mom's Home is a site by a mom who has five children, four of them with food allergies. She mentions avoiding milk in a couple of places but there's a "missing link" on the phrase "Other milk-related problems" and "Why do I have to take my child off milk?" I am hoping she'll put up that information eventually.

Here's one good page about non-Ritalin alternatives to helping ADHD kids.

Looking for the old page that was in this place? If you want to read how I told Miri's story two years ago, you can still find that page by clicking here.

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Copyright 1998 Linda Blanchard All Rights Reserved. Date Added: February 8, 1998. Last Update: January 07, 2009