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Holistic Kid Care

By Carmela D'Amico

Nurturing and optimizing the well being of children can be a challenging task in a society of junk food and video games, corporate sponsors and overflowing schools, violent media and savvy advertising.

Unless we are living in rural isolation, we frequently must find creative ways to protect young developing minds and bodies from external pressures and potential harm. We can't hope to exert very much-if any-control over society. What we can do, though, is help to prepare the child to meet the challenges he or she inevitably faces.

Two crucial things that we, as parents, do have some control over is what our children eat and how to treat their illnesses. A healthy mind depends on a healthy body. And, of course, a healthy body depends on well-balanced nutrition.

Parents who adhere to the basic guidelines of the FDA's Food Pyramid may think they're providing children with the balanced nutrition they require. However, unless there's a conscious effort to choose organic foods, the pesticides, preservatives, hormones, anti-biotics and food dyes found in conventional food products will interfere with the absorption of nutrition and cause excess stress on the immune system.

The organization Californians for Pesticide Reform points to the dramatic upswing in children's asthma as a case in point. Approximately 4.8 million children in the U.S. under the age of 18 have asthma (the most common chronic illness in children, according to the organization) which suggests that numerous scientific studies link this disease to increased pesticide exposure. The fact that respiratory disease (in general) accounts for more than half of all childhood illness suggests that attention must be paid to this strong feasibility.

The Environmental Protection Agency considers 30% of all insecticides, 60% of all herbicides and 90% of all fungicides to be carcinogenic, yet for political and financial reasons, they're still being sprayed on our foods as though they're safe.

Processed foods, refined flours, deep-fried items and soda pop are all extremely debilitating to the immune system of a growing child. Juvenile diabetes and obesity in children under 12 are at an all-time high, and both are the result of diets comprised primarily of such foods. Many childhood illnesses that are neurological in nature-such as ADD/ADHD, Autism, ODD, Dyslexia, Tourette's syndrome-are also on the rise and these, too, can often be traced to faulty nutrition (and vaccinesthat's another story).

Conventional medicine fails to emphasize the necessity of supporting a child's immune system in a manner that is preventive against the onslaught of disease. In Western medicine, the focus lies on remedying the symptoms-rather than the underlying cause(s)-of an illness when they occur. Routinely, many children with infectious and chronic conditions are prescribed antibiotics which, when taken in such an excessive manner, tend to cause more problems than they solve. It is in response to this ongoing cycle of recurring illness in children that leads many frustrated parents to holistic healing. Fortunately, this also is what often leads to a child's regained health.
When a child is brought to a naturopathic doctor, diet is an essential focus-along with other environmental and external factors- to determine the cause of the child's symptoms and form a diagnosis. Even if the diet is properly balanced and primarily consists of whole and organic foods, allergies to certain foods may upset the body's balance and its ability to assimilate vitamins and minerals. In general, natural medicine theories emphasize a whole-foods diet as a first step toward achieving vibrant health.

Naturopathic Pediatric Care
"Our goal when treating any given illness, is to balance the immune system so the body can begin to heal itself," says Afia Menke. She and Tami Taylor are Naturopathic Physicians and primary caregivers at The Cottage Clinic, a Northgate clinic specializing in health care issues specific to women and children.

"The first doctrine is to find the cause(s). Why does this child present this complex of symptoms?" Menke asks.
By observing the interaction between the mother and child (especially important in children under two), asking numerous lifestyle questions regarding diet and daily habits, and conducting whatever diagnostic tests she deems necessary, she attempts to determine those causes. Once they are uncovered, a treatment-which may include herbs, diet change, homeopathy, and/or nutritional supplements-is designed to specifically address the individual needs of the child.

"One thing we do not practice here is 'recipe medicine.' Every child who comes in with eczema, for example, does not get [only one particular treatment]" Menke says. The cause of eczema can vary from child to child. Certain potent steroid-based creams, for example-normally prescribed by conventional medical doctors-may temporarily soothe and clear a child's itchy eczema. But unless what causes the child's skin to break out is determined and alleviated, the eczema will resurface, and dependence on steroid cream to manage the outbreaks results.

One general suggestion Menke almost always mentions to parents-for children older than two-is that their diet be supplemented with Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), also known as Omega 3, 6 & 9s. The importance of EFAs in a child's diet cannot be underestimated: They aid in immune function, regulate hormones, prevent allergies, strengthen the heart, fortify neural pathways, and systemize the activity of white blood cells. Cold-water fish oil & flaxseed oil are the most potent sources of these beneficial nutrients. They can flavorfully be added to a child's food. They can be found in liquid form in the refrigerated section of your local natural food store.

Pediatric Acupuncture
Eli Stahl is an acupuncturist who specializes in the holistic treatment of children. At the Northwest Institute of Acupuncture (NIAOM) pediatric clinic where Stahl practices part-time, the complaints he addresses range from chronic colds to bedwetting, upper respiratory problems, chronic ear-infection and asthma. In addition to performing the acupuncture treatments, he often recommends certain herbs to enhance their healing effects, and offers specific nutritional advice.

It was during Stahl's training when he witnessed children's lives change dramatically for the better that he became inspired to specialize in pediatric care. One child in particular stands out in his mind-a vivacious 4-year-old girl who had been written off by doctors as incurably epileptic and who they felt would have to remain heavily medicated for the rest of her life. Her parents, refusing to accept this diagnosis and desperate for a cure, took their daughter to Julian Scott, Stahl's mentor and teacher, to try acupuncture treatments. Within a year of intensive therapy, the child was gradually weaned off her medications and, last Stahl heard, was functioning normally and happily.

Hyperactive children and children who have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, also tend to respond successfully to acupuncture treatments. Of those Stahl has treated "many have shown significant improvement almost immediately, in the form of calmness, sleep improvement and a heightened ability to focus." Stahl prefers to see these patients twice a week in the beginning stages. As symptoms improve and healing begins to move along, treatment sessions taper, until Stahl considers the patient cured and treatment ends altogether. This differs greatly from the way ADD/ADHD is conventionally treated-by management with Ritalin, a powerful stimulant, with effects that last only as long as the drug is in the child's system.

The needles used in acupuncture are hair-thin and the sensation virtually painless. But the idea of having any kind of needle pierce the skin may frighten a child, so Stahl makes a point of helping the children he treats feel relaxed. Once the first needle is inserted and the child realizes it doesn't hurt, more often than not the remainder of the treatment proceeds along peacefully. But for the child who simply cannot get past the fear of needles, Stahl uses acupressure, an effective method of relaxation that in and of itself is beneficial to the healing of the body.

Network spinal analyses
Have you ever watched a four-year-old walk and then bend down and pick up something? Effortless. Notice how their head is perfectly upright and balanced-almost floating-on that little neck with no slumped back and none of the lumps of knots around their shoulders that so many of us wear. Although for many of us it may seem as though tension held in our body is just some unfortunate twist of fate-a part of getting older-it just is not the case.

Network spinal analyses is a form of chiropractic care that consists of gentle touches to the spinal system, rather than forceful manipulations. It encourages the nervous system and spine to realign on their own, making it a more holistic approach to healing than that of traditional chiropractic treatment.

Dick Shepard employs network spinal analyses to improve or maintain the general well being of infants and children. The basic underlying philosophy of NSA, he says, "is that over the course of our lifetime, we store unresolved stresses in the nervous system and the associated skeletal structure. This accumulated nervous system stress affects our perception of reality. The majority of these stressful experiences occur during infancy and childhood."

For example, an infant may feel severe panic over the perception of being abandoned, even if left alone for just a few minutes at a time. When the parent reappears to lift the infant from the crib and cradle to comfort her, the panic subsides but those stressful emotions-which the infant can't "think through" yet-remain imbedded in the infant's perception of reality.

The natural fight-or-flight response that all human beings experience during these times creates what Shepard calls a defense physiology. Through the gentle touches of NSA, he says, the body can learn to "drop out of this stressful state, wherein life is seen as fundamentally unsafe and where, subconsciously, we feel consistently under potential threat."

NSA is not a treatment that in and of itself can initiate a cure for disease, but by "focusing on giving the body new strategies," healing can occur at a much faster rate. "The life perspective widens once a body learns that it doesn't have to hold on to all that stress. Consequently, the quality of life is improved," Shepard says. Or as is often the case with many children, NSA enables them to maintain their health and alignment by dealing with the energy rather than storing it in their bodies.

In Summary
One benefit of natural remedies is that they can be used safely in tandem with conventional medicine, if necessary. For example, the pediatric brochure for the Northwest Institute of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NIAOM) states that "acupuncture may be an alternative to prescription medications or it may help your child cope with the side effects of a required medication, immunization or surgery."

The most important thing in regards to the health of your child is to keep the child free from disease in the first place. This is the object of preventative care. You can start by avoiding antibiotics when possible, feeding them whole, nutritious foods and employing the use of gentle herbs or other modalities to soothe and heal their ailments and keep their immune system strong. Taking them to see a naturopath for a wellness check-up is good place to start.

The Cottage Clinic -206-510-2220
Dick Shepard-206-525-4155