So lately I’ve been seeing several posts from friends about their kids and night terrors. We have quite a bit of experience in this arena since my son Ronin had night terrors for the first few years of his life almost every night. He suffered from anxiety from a very very early age. And you probably know, I do too. It turns out, my husband has anxiety as well.
So here’s our story. Perhaps it might help you. Perhaps not. Even if only one person learns from our experiences, I’ll be glad I shared them.
In my–I’m not a doctor, I just do this at home–opinion, for many people food intolerance is a big trigger for a lot of issues from intestinal/gut health to mental health. More and more research is being done in this arena. For example, the connection between gluten allergy and Autism Spectrum Disorder has been discussed quite a bit.
There’s anecdotal evidence, which means it could be causation, or it could just be a correlation. BUT it certainly can’t hurt to try if you or your kids are having troubles with anxiety and sleep disturbance (or intestinal issues for that matter.)
When I met my husband in 2003, he had suffered for many years from intestinal issues and anxiety. He had been told all of his life that he was lactose intolerant, and operated under that assumption, drinking Lactade milk, avoiding cheese or taking Lactade pills before eating pizza or what have you. But it wasn’t really helping.
At one point in 2004, we decided to try the Atkins diet (if you’re unfamiliar, its mainly protein and vegetables.) He felt the best he had in a long time and wasn’t sure why. It didn’t occur to us that he wasn’t eating grains (and hence no gluten) on Atkins. It really wasn’t something that was on our radar then.
We stopped Atkins and went back to our normal eating and his issues continued. After moving to the Seattle area in 2005, we met some people with Celiac disease and he started to wonder. So he went to the doctor and got a blood test, which came back negative. No Celiac, but he decided to avoid gluten anyway (his own food intolerance test) and quickly realized a few things. When he removed gluten from his diet:
#1 His intestinal issues stopped (and if he eats gluten, they return with a vengeance immediately.)
#2 His anxiety decreased.
#3 He could fall asleep faster and his mind raced less.
I did not have any intestinal issues when eating carbs/gluten, so it never occurred to me–even though it helped John’s anxiety–that it might help mine to remove gluten from my diet. It’s amazing how some of these connections can take so much time to seed in our minds.
When our son Ronin came along in 2007, he was a very anxious baby. He had sensory issues. He had night terrors. He was terrified of anyone but me and John. (That’s him on his first birthday with his doting Grandma and Uncle, poor kiddo.) I attributed this behavior to him being my son–a mother with mental illness. Of course! My illness genetically passed onto him, or so I thought.
For almost 3 years, he woke up just about every night with night terrors. He was a HORRIBLE sleeper, waking many times per night. Not once did I think food could be the cause. I just thought “Of course he has anxiety. He’s my kid.”
I did take him to the allergist for IGG allergy testing at about 2 years because he showed signs of peanut allergy, which he does have. He also came up allergic to dust. But I remember clearly the allergist saying that she didn’t want to test him for too many things because it could “open up a can of worms” with allergies that might not even be affecting him. So she only checked things we clearly saw causing physical reactions. (What a weird thing to do in my opinion, but she was the doctor so I didn’t question it at the time.)
A friend of mine finally recommended her Naturopath to me. Her son had been helped greatly, stopping his recurrent sinus infections by testing for food intolerance and removing several foods. The MDs had removed his adenoids (surgery on a 2 year old!) to no affect. But simple IGE food tests and he was cured.
We took Ronin and he came up highly intolerant to gluten and dairy. The test looked at about 95 foods, so the actual results were much more detailed than that (such as he’s allergic to casein and lactose, in both cow and goat’s milk, for example.) It was pretty overwhelming at first to learn and make the changes when he was so young. The gluten part was OK because we were used to it with John. The dairy was a bit harder because Ronin was always a huge fan of milk and cheese, but we found substitutes for all of his favorites pretty quickly.
A few things resulted after removing gluten and dairy:
#1 His night terrors stopped. Nowadays, if gluten sneaks in one day he will have a night terror that night. There is absolutely a 100% causation, without a doubt.
#2 He became much less anxious. This could be partially a result of growing older, going to school and gaining more confidence. But I also think the gluten removal helped.
#3 His stomach aches (which he had started to complain about a lot) stopped.
#4 His eczema (which he had had from babyhood) went away.
How great is that!?! Seriously it was a game changer for us.
I had my daughter (then 10 months) and myself tested too. She came up also intolerant to gluten and dairy. I came up with no food allergies at all (except a very mild intolerance to mushrooms and scallops.)
I have to admit that at the time I was really disappointed that some major allergy didn’t come up. I was hoping for a cure to my mental illness. And that I did NOT get, sadly.
But then something happened.
Last year I started a diet called Dukan (that I’ve talked about here and here) It is mainly low-fat protein and veggies. I stuck to it for several months and I lost a lot of weight, but I also felt really good. And when I went back on carbs, I started to notice, the more carbs I ate, the more anxiety I would have. It doesn’t cure my mental illness to stop eating gluten, but it really helps some of my symptoms. And I did NOT test positive to an intolerance to gluten.
So there’s my anecdotal evidence. A study of one family.
Could it help with night terrors, anxiety and intestinal health for you? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s certainly worth a shot.
And by the way, our pediatrician was really surprised by Ronin’s response to gluten. He of course believed me based on our experiences, but he was shocked at the effect. My psychiatrist on the other hand was not surprised at all. She sees many correlations between diet and mental health.
It just goes to show you that doctors do not know absolutely everything. We must question, and advocate for our mental health and that of our family. Please don’t blindly follow a doctor just because MD is tacked onto his or her name. We are all human and have finite knowledge, even those educated to treat our health.
If you’ve experienced similar affects with diet, I’d love to hear about it.