Interview with Dr. Nancy O’Hara
Dr. Nancy O’Hara, leading US pediatrician and featured speaker at the recent Mindd Forum shares her views on the rise of childhood illness.
1. Asthma, ADHD, Allergies, Autism; are at epidemic levels. Has there been exponential growth or is it just that there is better diagnosis?
“As you may well know, it is not just better diagnosis. There have been a series of factors including a more toxic environment, poor nutrition and a genetic predisposition in these kids for the chemicals, toxins, metals and “junk” to negatively impact their development and health. This predisposition is a lack of a key molecule (an antioxidant called glutathione) that helps all of us to detoxify and efflux (get rid of these toxins). In children who lack this or have a deficient amount (or energy systems that are not working right) then they are more susceptible and thus more affected”.
2. Is our health system to blame – with too much focus on pharmaceuticals and not enough on prevention and cellular health?
“Prevention at the fetal level, before moms get pregnant is key. It is not just big pharma, but our insurance industry, our medical system in general. Doctors get paid to fix disease not to insure wellness”.
3. Why is it so hard for the conventional medical paradigm to accept the nutritional and integrative model? Do you think this is changing?
“There are some minor changes; some increased understanding of the dangers of fish consumption in pregnancy, the need for essential fatty acids and the increase in food allergies – but nutrition is a very small (only 1/2 hour in 4 years of medical school) part of a doctors training. There is very little understanding of food as the best “drug”. The food industry (Kraft, Nabisco…) is as much to blame for this. We all want a quick meal, a quick fix and what we are teaching and preaching is not quick”.
4. Is there any new research out that helps support the nutritional/integrative paradigm? Or is it only empirical at this stage?
“There is a plethora of research on the effects of diet on glutathione and autoimmune disease (where the body is attacking itself), on mitochondrial dysfunction (where the energy cells of the body are working) and on immune dysregulation (where due to all fo these factors our ability to live healthfully is compromised). But as this research is not backed by big pharma, it does not get the press it deserves. At the conference we will be presenting all of this data, not just anecdotal information.
5. How does food and nutrition affect the brain?
“Food is the fuel for the brain. How it is absorbed and digested by our guts affects how our immune system sees it and how we can process it for use by the brain. If the gut is not working right or is inflamed, then the immune system will see foods as they are abnormally absorbed as foreign and react against it. Also most of our diets are devoid of the basic things we need like b vitamins, zinc, essential fatty acids and probiotics”.
6. What are the main concerns for you when you see children with autism going through the mainstream medical system, medication, special schools etc?
“Many children with autism have medical problems that are being overlooked because they have autism. They may have IBD, iron deficiency, other mineral and vitamin deficiencies (vitamin D, zinc, for example). They may have chronic infections or problems with their energy systems. Because they have the label of autism their other problems are ignored or overlooked”.
7. Do you believe this scenario is avoidable for many of these children?
“Treatable yes and in some cases preventable. Prevention is key – that is what we try to do with our moms having more kids”.
8. Many of these alternative treatments are not government funded and special diets are hard for working parents and also expensive. What would your main advice to these parents be?
“You have to start with diet. I think casein and gluten free is a good place to start but it needs to be healthy, not replacing gluten carbs and junk with gluten free junk. The diet needs to be full of protein with lots of veggies and fruits and fewer carbs and no junk. This does not have to be that expensive and can make a big difference”.
9. Do nutritional and integrative treatments help all kids or only some? In your experience what would the percentages be?
“All kids can be healthier, 25-30% will recover, and 30% will get moderately better”.
10. Do you believe the origin of these conditions are genetic or environmental, or both?
“There is a genetic predisposition and then environmental triggers in the fetal period or early neonatal period. Then there is a tipping point where the body cannot handle further insults”.
11. What do you believe would be the ideal outcome for treatment and support for families with kids who have these issues?
“The whole family needs to be supported in being healthier in all ways. This includes, diet, relationships and stress management. It is a heady undertaking but one that is necessary and doable for the health of all of our children and us”.