One of the most important things paediatrician Dr Michelle Perro can say to mums is ‘We didn’t know’. But we do know now.
What changes have you seen in the last thirty years in children?
‘Molly it’s been an interesting journey and the unfortunate part is I’ve seen a decline in children’s health with a profound increase in very alarming health issues, and they encompass all types of health issues – be they respiratory, endocrine disorders such as diabetes, allergy; or involve premature puberty – big problem in children kids going into puberty at 8 or 10 for girls, 12 for boys – you can imagine what is happening in middle schools, it’s a disaster; and health issues around neurodevelopment regarding ADHD disorder, as well as autistic spectrum, and on and on. It’s a profound change in what paediatricians are treating now in children.
‘My practice has evolved. I was a paediatric emergency physician, and over the years I have changed what I do to embrace what I am seeing now… My practice involves integrative health – paediatric medicine, functional medicine, homeopathic medicine – because what I have learned is the previous methods of healing children no longer apply now.’
Because children are sicker today, different types of health issues are challenging professionals, which is the reason why Dr Perro has changed the way she treats her patients. She suggests major factors in the reason health is declining – ‘our food and increased food toxicity, environmental toxins and the influence of drugs on children’s systems and how we practice health and give healthcare’.
Most of what we are seeing is toxic-related. I spend a lot of time talking about nutrition in my practice. Sometimes I feel all I do is talk about food.’
Dr Perro believes that good food, rich in nutrition – which has always been the cornerstone for children’s health – is compromised today.
‘There is no doubt in my mind that children should only be eating non-processed, organic food because here is no amount of pesticides in food that is safe for children. There is a lot of good research on that.’
This is despite, and here Dr Perro sighs, ‘an EPA report on pesticides, I was scanning 250 pages and they talk about the state of our kids health. They had one small paragraph in there about glyphosate. In a class of pesticides called aromatase inhibitor, there is a lot of toxicity, not just for children. Just one paragraph did say there was a link with glyphosate and reproduction… It’s clear, glyphosate has been widely published in European studies of the health risks on animals. This particular pesticides. But there are lots of pesticide. This is just one…’
For example in the Central Valley in California, a big growing area, lots of organophosphates and clear studies linking organophosphates and increased rates of ADHD in children. They’ve studied why is this happening? What types of enzymes these kids lack? Why are the children unable to break down the pesticides?
So you think this ties into the increase in illness and quantity and depth of illness our children have now? ‘I do.’
You see a direct correlation with the environmental toxins? ‘I do…. We’ve had to become toxicologists as paediatricians…. Kids are more exposed, no doubt. ’
‘There are no studies on the multi effects of children showing how multiple chemical exposures, the cumulative effect of the toxins in our diets, effect children. What happens when you have plastic, heavy metals, mercury and lead… what happens when they are together, with genetically modified foods?
These are some of the things we are trying to untangle. We see sick children and parents are coming to us saying help us – what do we do?’
When asked by Ms Arthur to cite an example, Dr Perro works with patients, Dr Perro described this scenario.:
‘You take a child with severe school disruption. The child is unable to focus in class, child’s disruptive in class, the mother’s getting called into school. The child is impulsive, aggressive, disruptive. Just ADHD issues. They often have gut issues as well, these kids. Many of them also have sleep issues. They come home and can’t get to sleep. They’re wired. So mothers are getting calls from constantly from school, they need all sorts of special school support, the kids are aggressive, often impulsive, you can imagine what that’s like, they can’t sleep so half the family is up all night, then you have a sleep deprived family, and many of these kids have secondary health issues. They have asthma, allergies, and you have a mum like that who is managing 1, 2 or 3 kids and I have families with three children or more and each child has a health issue.
So how do you clinically diagnose?
There are things now that are in my toolbag that I didn’t even have ten years ago. I wish I had these things, I have just been learning it as I have gone along. It depends on the child – but I look a lot at the gut. The gut is the largest immune organ – 70-90% of our immune system comes from the gut. If kids don’t have healthy guts? The rest goes to pot.
You need healthy flora many children have had multiple courses of antibiotics for recurrent ear infections. It alters their biome, and that causes disruptions in their immune system. The other thing I see a lot, is for example, leaky gut. Children who leak these different proteins, and develop secondary immune responses, and have food allergies.
How do you diagnose a leaky gut?
I can remove certain food group offenders and see how kids do. An elimination diet. That’s the easy way. I can test and look for food antibodies. These are not the typical antibodies, they’re not the typical tests some allergists may use, … but I have had fabulous results. Finding kids who have these lower grade, food antibodies and food issues. I adjust their diets and right there they get better without having to do anything else.
Do you have to get off gluten?
Getting kids off gluten is a big part of my practice. A lot of kids have gluten sensitivities. Gluten has a lot of deleterious effects on children…
Ms Perro believes that GMO food contributes to abnormal architecture in leaky gut, (she postulates, following results from animals studies). ‘Large gluten proteins are getting across the gut wall, which is supposed to have tight junctions, the immune system is on the other side picking it up, seeing it as a foreign invader, and making an immune response. I wonder what other toxins get across easily because that normal architecture is not intact.
But I do believe leaky gut can be fixed and kids get better.
What I do is organic, organic, organic, non-GMO diet. I say that all day. But critically, for this to work: ‘Somebody has to get into the kitchen. Cooking’s cool!’. This involves no processed food, only organic, no processed food, no chemicals in the food, non-GMO, healthy soil, farmers market when possible, no fast food.’
A lifestyle change.
Are we aware of the risks of GMOs? …
I don’t believe people realise how pervasive it is, and the health impact. I don’t think that’s understood. Because they are not hearing from their paediatrician, it’s not in the literature, it’s not in our newspapers. So when you improve kids health this is where we have to start.
But I have some families who say, ‘I do all that and my kids still have these issues, what’s going on?’ Kids are still sick, what’s happening? I say, look at the school, what chemicals are used there? For example a child had profound headaches – it ended up being new glue in the school carpet. It’s a big conversation. As mums, as families, there is so much toxic stuff around schools, cleaning products, pesticides, dust, glues and art supplies etc.
Children are closer to the ground, they put more in their mouth, metabolise and breathe faster. Children take up more toxic chemicals. …. I worry about heavy metals in seafood.
Can we heal our children?
And it’s very hard to get people to make change. Particularly around habits. I put food in the same category as addictive habits. Trying to come off gluten, it’s not so easy. Off sugar, off carbs – top addictions. When children get better, parents will make the change. Who does the cooking?
If you’re the cook, you’re in charge. You do it as a family. You can’t hide junk food in the closet like my husband did.
Eat real food. (Look at) personal care products. You don’t want to overwhelm a family – start with a small list. Sometimes I have mums take pictures of their pantries – let’s see, what have you got in there?!! Home economics isn’t there to educate people anymore. We need to help people…. We think locally, we change home. We model behaviour – to help unruly teenage sons to change as well. It’s not how we started – I’ve come along way.
I tell mums: Lose that guilt – we didn’t know. You have to leave that guilt behind. No self-flagellating! Kids can heal, with testing, with integrative health therapies to help them heal.
For me – what I tell my mums – every change they make – one change is a significant change. You don’t need to change everything in a day. Begin small so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Take baby steps. Some families are ready to do it. They’re there.
1. Use up your existing content in your cupboard.
2. Buy bulk organic – it’s affordable. Buy bulk, and make it.
3. Don’t buy processed foods, you’ll save on your budget.
4. Don’t cave to the kids. Have the snacks ready. Eg. Almonds, raisins and dark chocolate, a special treat.
I wouldn’t be sitting having this conversation with you if I didn’t think women could do this. Dads are involved too, but women have a special calling to keep their kids healthy.
I see them sick, and they get healthy. There’s a fierceness about mothers wanting to improve the world for their children.
If I piss off enough mums they get with the program.
They get it.
Molly Arthur: We can speak up, we can make a difference. We can speak up and have something strong to say. Thank you Dr Perro for being here with us today – for giving us advice for being the Dr Mom that is living the reality – we know we will make it better for our children
Abbreviated. Interview with Dr Perro for Healing from the Ground Up. Published Nov 5, 2014. Community Media Centre of Marin.