As I mentioned in the first post we were stuck at home during a pledge drive weekend because it was Chicago, it was cold and we had the flu. So I watched a series of episodes about the brain and diet…on the heels of the articles I had already read which were included in the prior post.

Now for a bit of backstory…

In college, due to my own allergies, I took a premedical microbiology sequence of classes. Technically I wasn’t allowed to take them, but this is back in the day before everything was on computers and cross checked so as a result I was able to scam my way in. As a result, I actually studied cell biology, genetics, and immunology despite majoring in economics and math and blowing off the prerequisite classes.

Yes, that is indeed the kind of person I am.

So I knew that the way that the immune system works (to grossly oversimplify) is that it recognizes foreign proteins and mounts an attack. This is why a list of the most allergenic foods is pretty much the same as a list of the highest protein foods (with the exception of the meat of warm blooded animals). Pollen is high in protein, dander is shed animal skin (protein!), you get the general idea.

Autoimmune disease occurs when the body mistakes a protein that has every right to be there (say your joints or pancreas) is a hostile invader and the body attacks its own tissue. And these PBS specials were all indicating that at least a portion of what we think of as ADD, ADHD, and possibly autism is due to these autoimmune protein reactions in food.

The problem is that the results of the GFCF diet have been inconclusive. It seemed to help some of the time, but not overwhelmingly or consistently. However, as a celiac myself I can tell you that many if not most of us need to give up more than one food. The blog gets rid of dairy and corn for that very reason.

That said the studies that we looked at in the prior post had overwhelming results with ADHD and ODD. Most children got better…which made me wonder what else might be going on.

Back in the 1970s a pediatric allergist named Benjamin Feingold noticed that his allergic kids went a bit bonkers when they were given aspirin. Back then children were given aspirin…and were latchkey at 8 and didn’t use car seats…or seat belts….basically a whole bunch of things that would get their parents arrested today.

So he suggested that the parents remove salicylates (aspirin is one, but they exist in some plant based foods in high doses as well) from their children’s diets. He recommended the removal of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives as well.

He achieved a fair amount of success, so much so that his diet became well known as a cure, in many cases, for ADHD and ODD. Further research was done, especially on the impact of the artificial colors and flavors. Some of the results are in the first post and others are published in a myraid of articles many of which are cataloged on PubMed. The evidence against artificial colors was strong, and, as a result, in England candy and other foods with artificial colors must, by law, be labeled that it may provoke behavior problems.

Feingold, however, was thinking exclusively of the salicylates and additives. His program did not work every time…and it was also not gluten or dairy free.

Now salicylates kind of defy the whole autoimmune theory. Salicylates are not proteins, they are acids and they are anti-inflammatory. They are quite high in what we consider very healthy foods (like berries and turmeric) and given that the immune system reads proteins and not acids they seemed an unlikely target. Yet each of the few foods diets mentioned in the last post eliminated most of the significant sources of salicylates, which made me wonder it the pathways might not be a bit messier.

You see Feingold was an allergist. So every single kid he saw had a wacky immune system or they would never have been in his office. So what if the problem defied Occam’s Razor? What if these kids were reacting along multiple pathways? What if it was not enough to remove the major allergens, and not enough to remove the additives and not enough to remove the salicylates. What if all these were working together and that, like an equation, when a certain maximum or combination was tripped the cascade and the meltdown began?

What hypothesis would work under all these conditions.

And suddenoy I had an idea…