Time to kick these Kids Health Myths to the Curb?
Updated: Jun 4
Over the last eight years of running my holistic family wellness community on Facebook, I've come across so many interesting concepts that members were presented as facts and believed, until they had the chance to more deeply investigate them, that I thought it may be interesting to finally collate a few in a blog post to discuss them!
What ones could you add?
It's normal for preschoolers to get sick all the time.
This depends on what you consider normal. Maybe it is just now common but does that mean the same thing? My (partially vaccinated) daughter attended preschool twice a week and was rarely unwell, despite being exposed to the same 'bugs' that others blamed for their child being constantly unwell, yet this seemed to be the exception rather than the norm. If you seem to always be dealing with coughs, colds, runny noses, fevers and routinely giving Panadol, antibiotics etc etc then I'd say this could benefit from being investigated further and it's not always only nutrition or lifestyle - mould is a significant issue in many kiwi homes that can decrease immune resilience.
"I've tried everything".
This can get tricky. I'm obviously not a doctor, so I'm not entirely sure what medical training looks like but from what my own experience in talking with many GP's throughout the years, lifestyle related issues are often not well explored in terms of dealing with the root causes or triggers. We're often just directed to scripts for creams or steroids etc, which of course have their place however that could be seen as rather a limiting approach as typically they're only band-aids to help reduce the appearance of symptoms, rather than acknowledge why they may have presented in the first place. And if we do ask for more ideas? When I did that, I was told to stop being silly in wanting to explore nutrition or gut healing - that my daughter's eczema was just bad luck and there was nothing we could do but wait. In reality, often that's just exhausting one particular approach that was never designed to help find resolution in the first place. Some also do try alternative approaches and see a range of holistic practitioners but don't get real success until they find someone who has extensive experience in their particular symptom and can help see the bigger picture and troubleshoot.
Picky eating, willful behaviour and refusal to sleep is a choice that kids make to play up.
What we don't often realise is that many symptoms are not actually a conscious choice and why they may look behavioural, they aren't. Mineral status (especially zinc levels), starch excess, methylation status, conditions such as pyroluria, sensory disorders, histamine excess, high lectins, heavy metals, bacterial infections and a disordered microbiome can play havoc with just about any part of their body. Some parents think their kids just aren't listening or are behaving a certain way on purpose, but don't understand that hyperactivity or inability to focus isn't them "being difficult" but rather battling their own chemistry in the face of certain triggers in a dysregulated internal environment. Interestingly while some allergens become foods that the child craves intensely (foods like wheat and dairy are thought to become almost addictive in those scenarios), sometimes their bodies intuitively resist foods that have triggered an adverse response in the past even when the child isn't able to articulate that. Obviously children do seek connection and attention in a variety of behaviours which means it's not always easy for us parents to identify and manage what's actually happening, but if we can also look at other clues as to what may be happening with their immunity or energy levels, we can sometimes see challenging responses aren't always something they can control very well, and could help explain why punishments don't tend to work.
Gut healing is just probiotics and bone broth.
Probiotics and bone broth are often helpful elements of a gut healing program so if you're doing those things, great! However gut healing isn't just about adding things and waiting for them to work their magic, it's also what we remove and a few other active steps. Plus to keep us on our eyes, gut healing isn't just about the gut. Every organ and system in our bodies is connected so we still need to consider other variables that influence digestion and immunity - from our central nervous system, to our liver and even to emotions and stress. Plus there seems to be the myth that all probiotics are pretty much the same however just like all bodies are different, so are probiotics. Finding the right product depends on symptoms and even a specific bacterial profile so some probiotics can actually worsen symptoms if not a good match or contains strains that release histamine and yet some people remain committed even when it's not actually working for them because they think it's the best one on the market. I understand humans are designed for efficiency - getting the best results for the least effort and we're conditioned to look for the products and shortcuts to get us there - but to me, gut healing is a more long-term approach based around consistency and awareness that the body works as a whole that looks at nutrition, environment, lifestyle and so much more.
Fevers are "bad" and must be stopped quickly.
It is unpleasant to watch your child not feel their best, and natural to want to end their discomfort as soon as possible, but we're beginning to understand more and more that fevers are an integral part of an appropriate immune response and even many doctors are increasingly turning away from intervening as long as the child is otherwise hydrated and lucid etc. Infections aren't inherently bad, but poor nutrition status and other factors that impair immunity is what tends to increase severity and risk of symptoms.
If it didn't come up on allergy testing, it must be safe.
Well, maybe. Allergy testing is not a perfect science - in reality, the blood tests just tell us whether the body is producing a certain type of antibody in response to a trigger, but that's it. It can help us determine a level of risk but what actually happens when we ingest that food is the gold standard, known generally as the elimination/provocation challenge.
Elimination diets are way too much work and will emotionally harm your child.
I actually read this the other day - that your child may attend a party and risk being the only child who can't eat the junk food (let's be honest) on offer could irreversibly scar them for life, since they will feel "different". Now we can't have that can we! Of course a sense of inclusion is important, food is about fuel but also about connecting with the people we share with, but also rather pleasant is not having itching and weeping skin, or a lifetime of irritable bowel syndrome just to tick the box of fitting in. While I can understand this may have been a lot tougher back in the 1970's, it's now 2020 and you can buy pretty much every allergy friendly substitute at the local supermarket so that your child can enjoy food with their friends, if not exactly the same - a very close approximation. Yes it's sometimes more expensive but the pay off is that adverse reactions can be avoided. This also can become a wonderful opportunity to talk with your child/ren about how food can affect us, how it connects us, what balance and intuitive eating looks like and that it's okay to make mistakes - all we have to do is listen to our bodies to start connecting the dots. While elimination diets aren't necessarily easy, they can be very worthwhile and the idea of gut healing is that it's a temporary measure to help the body increase tolerance going forward - the point is to successfully reintroduce foods down the line, or at least not become panicked if they are eaten.
It's just genetics.
Some disorders or dysfunctions are inherently genetic and no amount of interventions will reverse them - for the purpose of this discussion, we're not including those. I do question when I hear the words "my child has eczema but so did I, and so did my mum so there isn't point doing anything about it" because they have given up before even attempting to intervene, possibly because it all feels like too much risk for not enough reward. While there certainly may be a predisposition (or another argument is that many family members tend to eat the same foods, live in the same house, follow the same wellness practices etc), our nutrition and lifestyle choices do often still play a big role as how those genes can be expressed, and have significant influence over symptom development and resolution.
Children 'need' dairy.
When I sat across from a GP when my daughter's skin started to get worse, she told me that no matter what, I was NOT to stop drinking dairy. It didn't seem to matter I wanted to investigate my instincts that my daughter may be allergic to dairy - to her, that was irrelevant because apparently despite dairy being the most common food allergen in New Zealand, its appears almost sacrilege to suggest it may consequently be a significant trigger of allergic symptoms such as asthma, eczema, reflux or colic. While babies are designed to ingest breast-milk from their mothers, the case we also 'need' to pasteurize and homogenize another mammal's milk and then ingest it 3-5 times a day as though if we didn't our bones would not be strong enough seems rather curious indeed. In my research, bone health is not about focusing on a single food or micro-nutrient - it's looking at overall mineral status, food absorption, Vitamin D production and protein - which many wholefoods provide, and often in a less inflammatory and more bio-available way.
You're "just" the mum (or dad).
And yet as parents, we know our children better than anyone else in the world and can often sense subtle shifts that others would not be able to notice. We understand we don't have medical training and that's why we reach out to those who have so they can help us, but sadly are often refused testing that may help us get answers, gaslighted into submission, or taught to ignore our observations - despite being the ones that get up in the middle of the night with a distressed child who is itching so hard they've drawn blood and so on. There is a meme that says a worried mum does more research than the FBI and while probably not technically true, I don't think this viewpoint is celebrated enough. I'd love to see more medical professionals take the time to listen to parents and truly take their concerns and observations on board, and talk with them rather than at them.