This is Part 3 of the Brain Gut Connection series. It is my understanding of the impact of nutrition and genetics in children with special needs as explained to me in conversation with Elinor Silverstein.
The Wheat Story – 1978
I don’t think many know this story about gluten. In 1978 and 1979, Elinor was working in the lab at Cal Poly as she studied towards her degrees. Representatives from Monsanto came in with a special request.
Elinor explained that plants have a strong idea of personal space. When they start to encroach on each other they stop bearing fruit in that direction. They need a certain amount of spacing in order for each plant to have the highest possible yield.
So if there is a huge demand for wheat – and you want to increase production on the land – what do you do? Monsanto asked the scientists to make it possible to grow more wheat on each acre of land. The researchers were able to do this by altering the genetics of the wheat enough that it no longer had personal space issues. Plants could intertwine and snuggle up to each other and they would still produce like mad.
The scientist warned Monsanto that there were side affects of this alteration. The amount of gluten in each grain was increased 4 fold. (my apologies this was previously reported as to the 4th power. Corrected 6/15/2013) This is a HUGE increase in the amount of gluten in each grain. Monsanto was told that there was no way of knowing what the impact of this change would be on the consumer. The whole digestive tract evolved over many, many generations, certainly not in just a couple of generations. It would take 1,000 yrs or waaay more than that for change to happen. Human’s would not be able to adapt quickly for this huge change in their food source. Monsanto wasn’t concerned. Elinor was. Elinor said “Monsanto went from producing 5,000 loaves of bread per acre to 50,000 loaves of bread per acre! With our help! Uch!”.
Chromosome changes and Gluten Sensitivity
Elinor explained that there used to be a small percentage of people with gluten sensitivity. Now we are seeing the results of this genetic change in wheat. Gluten sensitivity causes inflammation and that can lead to leaky gut. The immune system responds, white blood cells are elevated, the whole system begins crashing with white blood cells attacking everything including the self. Allergies are triggered due to this cascade of events in the overreacting immune system.
In our latest conversation Elinor told me about a baby she has just diagnosed. The family had fraternal twins, now 7 months old, who were not developing equally. One twin, a little girl’s development caused her parents enough concern that they contacted Elinor for her special touch. Could this be the normal variation in development in babies or was it something else? What Elinor saw within 45 seconds of her arrival was a baby with a gluten sensitivity issue which had impacted her development.
When Elinor first met her the little girl was held by her parent and her back was rounded. Could this posture be because of the way the adult was holding her? Next, the baby turned to look at Elinor, but she did not grow tall and use her back to turn and look. It was another clue. Her dad, who is knowledgeable about fitness, said “She does not have great tone, and when she sits she is curved and going to her left. When she lifts her arms they tremble until she has them lifted.” At this point Elinor was 85% sure she was seeing a nutritional deficiency. Elinor did notice that the baby had beautiful skin, a good indicator of a good quality nervous system.
The baby had eaten 15 minutes before Elinor arrived so Elinor should be able to feel digestion happening. With her knowledge of specific organs Elinor can feel movement when she puts her hands on someone’s belly. She felt the little girl’s viscera and discovered there was zero movement in the stomach. She moved to the small intestine to see if that was working and felt nothing. On questioning the parents, Elinor was told this baby only pooped every other day instead of the many diaper changes her sibling had. Her feet also smelled “yeasty”, an indication to Elinor that the flora in the intestinal tract had already shifted to “bad” bacteria and yeast.
Elinor explained that lack of motility in the intestinal tract will cause the contents to become stagnant. Gluten isn’t the only cause of lack of motility but it’s a strong suspect. Good bacteria need a flowing environment that is constantly receiving fresh nutrients and oxygen. Bad bacteria grow in stagnant conditions much like we see in standing water vs. flowing water. When bad bacteria increase, yeast increases, good bacteria die off and enzyme action is impaired. This is called small intestinal bowel overgrowth (SIBO) Without movement the intestinal lining is not as permeable and micronutrients cannot pass in or out of the intestine.
Within 5 minutes of arriving Elinor was 99.9% sure this baby was vitamin B deficient due to gluten sensitivity. The inability to be upright and the tremor before finding balance are not normal and directly relate to lack of B vitamin. The mother asked how could this be when the other twin was fine?
Elinor explained this case is not a genetic DNA issue, she suspected a chromosome cause. Chromosomes can be altered in utero and after birth from external elements. The mom could have been exposed to some chemical, used windex for cleaning, or any number of things we consider normal in our households. For some reason one twin had damage to chromosomes and the other did not. This breastfeeding mom loved wheat products and they had recently started both babies on cereal made with grain. Allergies can be inherited, but with no history of allergies it indicates that this baby probably had chromosomal damage which was causing her to be gluten sensitive. These chromosome changes can happen any time during a person’s life. A developing baby cannot tolerate the deficiencies that an adult might be able to, but with an adult will eventually exhibit signs of deficiency as well.
DNA is also involved in a non-genetic way, Elinor explained. Humans are born with an incredible length of DNA to direct their growth, development and function. In addition to our bodies being regulated by our OWN DNA we have a symbiosis with the bacteria in our intestinal tract that helps to digest food, and THEIR DNA influences our function. There are at least a few million cells of DNA in the normal gut flora. They might have more influence on our function than our own DNA does. When the intestinal tract is inflamed these bacteria can’t survive and the influence disappears. Instead the bad bacteria an yeast are influencing our systems.
Elinor stated that without good bacterial DNA, without the digestive enzymes, with disrupted absorption, a state of deficiency is created. Essential fatty acids, the B vitamins, the minerals, and other nutrients are essential for processing in all of our body but, most significantly to a child with special needs, processing in the nervous system and brain. Read more about this in the next article.
Elinor used the Feldenkrais way of touching and quiet listening to work with the baby’s viscera – such a light touch it almost looks like you are not doing anything. The mother reported that within 1 hour of Elinor’s 15 minutes interaction with the baby she passed lots of stool. Elinor’s recommendation was that this mom go completely off gluten while nursing, that she use potatoes and non-grains for her starch, and that the baby stop cereal. She predicts that in 1 week the intestinal tract will turn around and that in 2 to 3 weeks this little girl will begin normal development. She will have back the gift of her genetic inheritance from her healthy mom and dad and can grow to her full potential by making these changes.
A combined way that gluten sensitivity and chromosome changes can get progressively worse from one generation to the next is explained with epigenetics. Epigenetics refers to heritable traits (over rounds of cell division and sometimes transgenerationally) that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence. Mechanisms can enable the effects of parents’ experiences to be passed down to subsequent generations. These changes may remain through cell divisions for the remainder of the cell’s life and may also last for multiple generations. wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics
Many genes are not active and methyl groups silence the genes that are not needed. Elinor explains that environmental issues such as pesticides can change chromosomes and turn these genes on. It is believed that these genes activated in a mother can be passed down to the next generation. If each generation is being impacted by the environmental trigger such as an endocrine disruptor that affects hormones, then more and more chromosome changes may be passed on to each generation. Without a DNA change there can be worsening of conditions that are hereditable.
Permanent villi damage from gluten sensitivity
Ellnor explained that once the intestinal tract has healed and SIBO is replaced by healthy bacteria people with as many as 70 allergies can go back to having the one or two that it is usual to have. So, first, you need to remove the offending agents, then replace with good flora and start the healing. Now, that’s reliable! says Elinor. You can also add probiotics to replace the flora and Elinor recommends the 500 mg of L-Glutamine for healing intestinal walls. Unfortunately, the villi, the finger like projections lining the intestine which absorb nutrients and send them to the blood stream, cannot regrow. Once they die there is reduced ability to absorb. Elinor stressed that it is important to respond to signs of gluten sensitivity to avoid the condition worsening.
If gluten sensitivity is suspected Elinor suggests taking gluten out of the diet for awhile. Those with gluten sensitivity may be able to tolerate small amounts in time. People with Celiac’s disease can never have gluten without further villi damage. Elinor’s son was able to eat small amounts of gluten and test negative for gluten sensitivity in his blood tests in his teens. College years brought more pizza and other things with gluten and his blood tests came back positive for gluten sensitivity. He was able to revert to a healthy blood test by controlling his intake again. Each person’s system can change based on what they are being exposed to.
Both constipation and diarrhea are indicators of an intestinal tract in distress. Elinor said, an occasional episode might have a simple trigger but chronic constipation indicates a metabolic cause. The first step is to eliminate gluten from the diet. 500 mg of L-glutamine given daily will help to heal the gut. Within 3 to 4 days it will stop the diarrhea. It comes in powder form and can be easily added to food. That dose can be given to anyone from 50 lbs to adult. If your child is less than 50 lb experiment with less and increase the amount until diarrhea stops. When the gut calms the immune system can stop being so active and there will be a huge increase in the absorption of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
There is a strong connection here for children with special needs. Immune system activity and intestinal absorption is directly tied to the nervous system and brain.
Future articles willI be about the prevalence of MTHFR mutation and it’s impact on children with special needs, spasticity in the gut and visceral work, constipation and seizures, and Elinor’s recommendations for nutrient supplementation.