Published on January 19th, 2011 | by Ledger Online0
Q & A: Vicki Kobliner, MS, RD
WILTON – Vicki Kobliner is a registered dietitian and owner of Holcare Nutrition, where she utilizes a functional nutrition approach to help children and adults with chronic illnesses such as allergies, asthma, ADHD, autism, digestive disorders and inflammatory conditions. Kobliner has a special interest in fertility and prenatal counseling as a means to prevent future illnesses. She speaks nationally on the subject of nutrition and chronic illness, is a member of the Nutrition Faculty of the Autism Research Institute and has appeared on television and radio. She writes a monthly column for Natural Nutmeg magazine and is a board member of PEACE: Parents Ending America’s Childhood Epidemic.
Kobliner contributed a chapter to the recent book, “A Compromised Generation: The Epidemic of Chronic Illness in America’s Children” (Sentient Publications, 2010), the subject of two upcoming talks in Stamford.
She spoke with the Ledger about the factors contributing to children’s health, and how to help kids stay healthy.
Q: How do you approach your work in nutrition, and what trends are you seeing in children’s health?
A: I look at what’s coming into our bodies through our genetics, lifestyle, foods, environment, and how those factors are impacting our health. What I’m seeing is a tremendous increase, over the last decade, in incidents of asthma, allergies, anxiety and depression, and ADHD. I believe that all of this can be traced back in part to the way we live and that, if we modify or change our lifestyle – nutrition, environmental factors, medications – we can get to the root cause.
In sick children, I see two critical phenomena: a really poor-quality digestive system; and, as a result and partly as cause and effect, an immune system that is also dysfunctional.
Our digestive system is the gateway to the rest of the body. Our body tries to extricate and absorb nutrients, and whatever is toxic should be excreted by the digestive system. When that great barrier is impaired, when the gut isn’t as impervious as it needs to be, we can start to absorb things that are toxic, which causes the immune system to be overactive. Seventy percent of the immune system is housed in our digestive tract and 90 percent of neurotransmitter activity happens in our gut. When our digestive tract isn’t high-functioning and its integrity is impaired, our immune system and brain are affected, and our bodies become more toxic because we can’t get the toxins out.
For all those reasons, we see people getting sicker. In the case of children, when their digestive function isn’t good from birth or the early years, they get sick earlier and the effects are longer-lasting.
The bottom line is that we need to extract nutrition from our food. Those nutritional factors keep the body working the way it should, but when we don’t get that nutrition, we can’t function. The body may not be able to get those things it needs, because of depleted agricultural soil, reduced food quality, a proliferation of processed foods which often include a lot of additives that we’re not designed to handle, and the fact that we don’t eat enough things like fruits and vegetables.
In addition, we use a tremendous amount of antibiotics, which kill the good bacteria in the digestive tract, which then leads the way to increased permeability of the intestines, and the lack of a good barrier between what you consume and the rest of your body.
Q: What do you believe is contributing to this deterioration of children’s health?
A: There are five points I look at: diet, environment, lifestyle, medications, and vaccines.
Our diets are extremely devoid of nutrients. We don’t eat the right balance of foods, we eat too many sugary and starchy foods that are non-nutritive. We need to eat good-quality proteins, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and legumes. As a nutritionist, I individualize the diet to each client.
Much of what we eat is very processed with lots of additives that we’re not designed to handle. There’s nothing processed food gives us except chemicals I’m a huge supporter of organic food and meat from pastured and free-foraging animals. Agricultural soils are becoming depleted, but organic farmers rotate crops, use natural fertilizers, and put beneficial stuff back into the soils, so organic soil over time is much more nutritious to foods. It encourages the natural way that the earth was designed to remain so that it can be supportive to plants. In a home garden, composting can achieve this outcome as well.
Regarding environmental factors, we have a very indoor, sedentary lifestyle. I’m seeing chronic Vitamin D deficiency, which affects immune function and normal bone development, and helps the body store calcium. A lack can lead to obesity and depression, and the development of cancer later in life. The best way for the body to produce Vitamin D is to be outdoors without sunscreen for 20 minutes a day in the summer. In the Northeast during the winter, the body can’t make enough Vitamin D, so I recommend supplements. As a fat-soluble substance, the best sources are whole milk and healthy fats.
We don’t get enough physical activity. Children who spend time outdoors have a reduction in ADHD symptoms. There was a recent study comparing children who played basketball in a gym and those who played basketball outside, and those who played outside had less hyperactivity and better focus that those who played inside.
We do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids; fish oil is the best source. DHA is essential to the human brain for learning, so it is critical for babies to have DHA in the first year of life. If a breast-feeding mom doesn’t have enough, the baby won’t get enough. Lack of essential fatty acids is linked to depression, including postpartum depression, immune-system impairments, and eczema. A lack of probiotics in babies is directly linked to food allergies.
Regarding medication usage, medications have saved many lives and should be used judiciously and carefully. We all ingest medications through the water supply. People dump them into the water and we have no idea how much we’re taking in. I see infants with reflux, which I never saw 10 or 15 years ago. They’re given medication to reduce the acid in the gut, because the condition is considered a problem of excess acid, but those medications reduce the body’s ability to utilize vitamins and interfere with your ability to develop good intestinal flora because they disturb the pH balance. Ibuprofen decreases the ability of your intestines to keep out toxins. Acetaminophen depletes the body’s detoxifying ability.
There was a very small study a few years ago that looked at the cord blood of 10 newborns from typically healthy parents. Researchers found 287 cancerous and brain-impairing industrial pollutants and chemicals in the blood. Arsenic is fed to chickens as anti-biotics. Aluminum is in many infant formulas. Even in healthy families, this is what we’re giving our children before they’re born. We’re pre-polluting them, so no wonder they’re struggling and easily sickened.
Regarding vaccines, I’m not anti-vaccine; I believe they’ve saved a lot of lives. But vaccines have not been tested in combinations or over an extended period of time to check for side effects, but just over a few weeks. If you have an effect months later, medical professionals usually don’t ascribe them to the vaccine. We have different types of immuno-responses, and while vaccines protect against outside dangers, they can also increase the activity of auto-immune reactions. What we’re seeing is that kids are no longer getting sick from the big diseases that vaccines protect against, but they are experiencing an increase in auto-immune diseases. Vaccines may be one piece of that.
There may be a subset of children who are susceptible to vaccines, especially if their immune system or digestive system is already out of whack, and maybe we should vaccinate those children in another way. It’s about looking at each child as an individual. There is aluminum and formaldehyde in vaccines; some are made from chicken eggs, monkey, and other substances, so there is some potential to develop an auto-immune reaction. We have to make sure that susceptible kids have good gut flora so that their immune system can be strong.
I’m not averse to vaccines, but I am not comfortable with the standardized vaccination system we use today, especially applying multiple vaccines, and not looking at what the individual child can handle.
Q: What contributes to a healthy digestive system?
A: Probiotics [good bacteria] are critical for a normal digestive system. They protect the digestive tract and are necessary for a normal immune system and in producing enzymes for healthy digestion. If you can’t digest properly, you can’t get nutrients and eliminate toxins. When children are given antibiotics early on, the medication can cause an impaired digestive tract.
Babies get their good bacteria, as well as many of their food sensitivities, from their moms. Moms who take antibiotics during pregnancy or labor pass those on to their infants, who pick up intestinal flora when they come through the birth canal. Moms who deliver by C-section or who have a lot of antibiotics in their bodies can’t provide good flora to their children. As a result, I see a lot of infants with eczema and other conditions.
Probiotics are hearty but need a good environment to grow in, and can be destroyed by the enzymes and acids in our stomach. Good-quality probiotics need to be protected by a delivery system that allows them to make their way through the gut and get to the intestines properly. Multiple strains and large colonies of probiotics are needed to repair the gut. I also routinely recommend fermented foods for infants and children, to help the bacteria colonize properly.
• Sunday, Jan. 24, 9:30 a.m.: “Allergies, Asthma, Anxiety, ADHD, Autism and Other Chronic Illnesses in Children: Using Nutritional and Environmental Interventions to Protect Our Children”
Stamford JCC Sara Walker Nursery School at Temple Sinai, 458 Lakeside Drive, Stamford. For more information call Liptak, (203) 322-6541
• Sunday, Feb. 13, 9:30 a.m., Temple Beth El, 350 Roxbury Road, Stamford: “A Compromised Generation: The Epidemic of Chronic Illness in America’s Children”
For more information: www.tbe.org / (203) 322-6901