PT Classroom - The Attack of Food and Food Additives on Central Nervous System Processing ׀ by Michelle Lindsey PT, CPT, MBA


Michelle Lindsey, PT, CPT, MBA is a Physical Therapist with 12 years experience who owns Rising Star Therapy Specialists, LLC, in Phoenix, Arizona, where she specializes in treating pediatric and adult special needs clients. She was a guest speaker at the National Spinal Cord Injury Association Conference in 2002. Ms. Lindsey is a Certified Personal Trainer and has won national recognition in many areas of fitness. She was a competitive gold medal figure skater, an elite marathon runner on the 1997 United States Maccabiah Open Track and Field Team, a triathlete and a professional speed skater. Ms. Lindsey received a special award from the United States Tennis Association in 2001 for coaching and directing a team for the Special Olympics. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology at Indiana University, her Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Therapy at The Finch University of Health Sciences, Chicago Medical School and her Master of Business Administration in Health Care Management at the University of Phoenix. Michelle is currently also a speaker for Cross Country Education. For a complete listing of upcoming courses for Michelle Lindsey, click here.

The Attack of Food & Food Additives on Central Nervous System Processing


As I woke up one morning about two years ago, everything appeared quite different. For the first time in my life I could see the world through clearer eyes. My headaches, blurriness and abdominal bloating were gone. I was able to stand tall and erect on two feet without feeling as if I was going to lose my balance (later I was told I had been experiencing gluten ataxia). I had such coherent thoughts that I no longer felt that I was walking around in a blank stupor.

Ten years ago, I had been told by doctors that I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, the all-inclusive diagnosis given to the group of symptoms with no notable cause. The truth, however, was that I felt like a majority of my clients who were diagnosed with Autism, ADD, or ADHD.

Recognizing the feelings that my clients were experiencing, I knew I wasn't well. I was masked behind the medications and foods that were poisoning me. How could I show the world who I really was when I couldn't connect with anyone? My medical doctors were giving me the drugs that I was most allergic to. I cried all the time and had so much pain in my abdomen that it was difficult to have any type of life at all.

My mother, a kind-hearted and gentle woman, often recalls how happy and vibrant I was as a child. I watched my mother as she also struggled alongside me in pain, helplessness, and frustration during my many years with this illness. She witnessed me deteriorating and was unable to understand how she could help.

Most of those years, I was expressionless. My face showed signs of aging, and my once lean and athletic body appeared stout with bloating near the abdomen area.

Many spiritual people believe that there is duality in life. There is duality in the words positive and negative, life and death, failure and success. I was always told as a child that I should enjoy the peaks when they come and while they lasted, and I should also enjoy the valleys as well.

I never really understood that last part until I was willing to accept the challenges in my life. I was told to welcome the journey of life, to truly enjoy it and share it with others. All great days would have a beginning and an end. It was the challenges or misfortunes in life, I was informed, where the greatest meanings in life evolved.

The lows of life, I was told, existed to awaken our inner beings and to break our life patterns that were no longer beneficial. These rough times existed to help transform us, to move us forward in a new, rewarding direction.

As children, we move through this thing we call life by how we are taught or how we experience things. We create paradigms - ways we see the world - and from those we create our belief systems. Often we are stuck in these belief systems unless we can shift them. Because I had pain, depression, and sickness, I was able to gain a better life for myself and have a greater understanding towards the clients that I work with.

I remember, the time when my belief system shifted. I had an appointment with my gastrointestinal doctor. At my third visit, I confronted my doctor and asked him if my nutrition was playing a role in my illness. He replied by saying, "You are depressed and need to go on anti- depressants."

I looked at him with big eyes and said, "I am a professional just like you, I need you to spend time with me to find out the cause of my problem without immediately making an assumption based on some symptoms. I need you to look at the cause of my problem using a systems model approach (a problem could result as an interaction among many systems each contributing to different aspects of control).

I realized that his refusal to see my point of view gave us no room to collaborate; I stormed out of his office. Since this doctor and most of the doctors I had been seeing for 10 years weren't trying to find the cause of my problem, I was going to have to be the one to do research.

In fact, I found interesting information in Dr. Mark Hyman's book, "Ultra Prevention." On page 36, he reports that according to a study in the "Journal of the American Medical Association" (January 20, 1999), that "the average interaction between a doctor and patient lasts twenty-three seconds before an interruption. Doctors tend to be distracted, they don't ask about your medical history, and they don't pay attention to all your symptoms because those symptoms don't always fit into their preconceived definition of a disease (14)”. The system today through education and day-to-day practice doesn't give doctors the space to practice holism. Eastern medicine today focuses more on this idea of holism, or looking at chronic problems and preventative measures. Western medicine looks more at trauma care and therapies for acute problems. Within each practice, there is enormous amount of time taken to examine any tested information; each discipline uses its own meaning to interpret information. It is important to remember, both have their own usefulness in the world today.

Today, I am in charge of my health, which has given me the ability to research and to deliver this knowledge with vitality and passion. As a physical therapist, I give seminars on sensory integration and neurotherapeutic techniques for the special-needs population. Now I'm going to tell you what I learned through my research, and how I helped myself and how you can help your patients.

A prime piece of sensory integration is how food and food additives affect central nervous system processing. It is difficult to fully treat someone's central nervous system without understanding one's basic chemistry.

When one's chemistry is smothered with medications and foods that don't react positively with one's body or DNA, the results are tremendous. (16, 5, 11). Clients that are often labeled as having behaviors or ADHD may be really suffering from allergies to food additives and medications that may alter their gene expression or structure. The study today of Nutrigenomics, according to Dr. Hyman, "seeks to provide a molecular genetic understanding for how common dietary chemicals (i.e. Nutrition) affect health by altering the expression and / or structure of an individual's genetic makeup. The fundamental concepts of the field are that the progression from a healthy phenotype must occur by changes in gene expression or by differences in activities of proteins and enzymes and that dietary chemicals directly or indirectly regulate the expression of genomic information" (20).

Sensory integration looks at how our brain locates, sorts and puts together all the sensory input from the environment and combines it into full brain functioning. Within a normal intact nervous system, our neurons send impulses to the correct area of the brain so that these impulses can be integrated into memories, perceptions and relationships to produce adaptive responses (32).

For example, if after 10 years of not riding a bicycle, we decide to get back on a bicycle and ride it again, our brain will be able to remember our past experiences to allow us to perform this task with ease. According to Neorolink, research done by Allan Phillips, our brain has about 100 billion active neurons, each with about 20,000 different controlling and 300,000 enzyme functions per minute with each cell containing DNA, which represents the tiniest copy of us (24).

Eighty percent of our nervous system is used for processing sensory input, especially visual input (17). This means that our peripheral nervous system, the system that transmits information to and from the brain and spinal chord (the central nervous system or the body's control center), is responsible for making sure that a signal speeding through the nervous system manages to find the exact region of the brain designed to handle it (32).

When a nervous system isn't functioning as it should or is not intact, this input/ output relationship may be tangled and create sensory dysfunction. An adaptive response may have occurred differently than the norm, meaning the input may have gone to a different area of the brain and therefore, a different response might have occurred. For example, Daniel Tammet, one of the savants living today, who wrote the book, "Born on a Blue Day," reported that when he suffered a seizure at age 4, he began seeing the world through a landscape of numbers that had different colors to them, (30) and this is how he viewed the world in most tasks he performed. Furthermore, as mentioned above, there is more and more research reporting that food and food additives can affect this input/ output relationship and therefore, can change how one sees the world and processes information.

Jean Carper, in her book, "Your Miracle Brain," discuses how approximately 55% of the foods we eat today are industrialized or "new foods" (16). Our brain, she reports, is uniquely responsible to food chemicals. When brain cells are unable to get the correct amount of nutrients, neurotransmitter systems can become dysfunctional causing disastrous consequences. Some foods may be filled with chemical additives that affect this brain neurotransmission, causing chemical reactions, even food cravings. Perhaps, the bag of potato chips that you bought yesterday was so good that you wanted to buy another bag today.

These chemical additives can cause cravings, so the exact response by the producers of these foods is that you want to buy more. Do food manufacturers really have our best interests in mind? Children with sinus infections or earaches may just have a dairy allergy because they may lack the enzyme needed to digest milk (16, 14, 3). Remove the dairy from the diet, and these symptoms may be gone and no medications or surgeries may be needed.

What are the main food attackers? Gluten, sugar, and high carbohydrate foods are examples of these food attackers. Gluten, for one, is a protein fraction that is found in wheat, rye, barley, and most oat products. It has been found in lunch meats, soy sauces, raisins, in over-the-counter medications and even medications prescribed by MDs. It causes people to have headaches, bloating, difficulty focusing, depression, possible anger, and even balance problems.

I know one thing is certain: I was given the drugs I was most allergic to. It is no wonder why I had cardiac and thyroid problems as time

Researchers in England, Norway and the University of Florida have previously found peptides (breakdown products of proteins) with opiate activity in the urine of a high percentage of autistic children (1). Opiates are drugs, like morphine, that affect brain functioning.

Most autistic children are essentially being drugged on these products as if they were on a morphine drip (1). Moreover, Dermatitis herpetiformas, on the autistic spectrum, is a skin disorder often associated with celiac disease or sensitivity to gluten in the diet (7). Eliminate the gluten from the diet, and the rash will disappear and brain processing can occur again.

As a personal trainer, I have found that my clients are really good at consistently following the exercise programs I design for them. However, my clients often ask, "Why am I still not losing weight?" Often it is their diet that is the problem. For some, the foods they are consuming are "new" foods or foods that are filled with gluten, and these foods don’t interact well with their body’s chemistry. I am finding that the difficulty in losing weight may stem from the body having an inflammatory response in the gut to these foods, meaning retention of toxins and water. Once, the focus on the diet shifts to healthy nutrients, the weight drops.

Maybe Johnny, the student in class labeled as having ADHD, doesn't have a behavior problem after all, but just a food allergy to food. Remove the greatest destroyer, food and food additives, and maybe Johnny will then shine in class (11, 6). Correct the school menus by eliminating the industrialized foods, and perhaps, productivity will be enhanced as seen by many schools researched by Dr. Feingold's association (11, 6).

There is more research being done today on how sugar and high carbohydrate foods are affecting central nervous system processing. These foods often cause our bodies to go from extreme highs to extreme lows, especially with regards to our blood sugar. Imagine those who have food allergies who already have difficulties processing information and connecting with the world. They are in more danger because their bodies are in constant turmoil trying to get any input to the right area of the brain for an adaptive response.

After I found out that I had allergies to gluten and other foods and food products, I was ready to remove these detriments from my diet so I could feel better again. The process of eliminating foods and chemicals from our bodies is called detoxification. Detoxing isn't easy; I have done two major detoxes, one in California and one in Thailand, each lasting for one week. After the one week, my body slowly adjusted to a healthier and cleaner way of eating. I lost weight, could focus better, my vision and balance improved, and my skin looked 10 years younger. But the greatest thing was you got to see ME!

According to the Autistic Network for Dietary Intervention, they highly recommend that parents try these gluten-free diets for at least three months without cheating (1). It is important to remember everyone's nervous system is unique. It may take much longer or even shorter to feel better.

Dr. Feingold's research and the Feingold Association have also been a blessing in my life. Dr. Feingold dedicated his life to the pursuit of the relationship between what we eat and how we feel (11). His program is a form of the time-honored elimination diet, focusing on the foods that are allowed.

These foods are free of synthetic dyes, artificial flavors, preservatives and "natural salicylates" (11). Dr. Feingold found in his research that most of the dyes in our foods are synthetic, petroleum-based; these synthetic-based dyes are chemicals that don't interact with our own DNA (11).

I am so grateful to have this research because the Association researches foods to determine which brands are free of both the obvious and hidden additives. As part of the Association, I receive a monthly newsletter with the latest research, recipes and much more (11).

Just as important as watching what you put in your body is watching what foods come across our border. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't have enough agents at the borders to inspect the foods being imported into our country. In a July 14, 2007 article titled, "FOOD," it reports that the FDA normally inspects about 1 percent of all food ingredients at U.S. borders. It does tests on about half of the 1 percent (19).

Recently, our country witnessed the lead-contaminated multivitamins and lead-contaminated toys showing up on the shelves of U.S. retailers (19). Four years ago, Congress passed a law requiring food to be labeled for its country of origin. But that didn't extend to individual food ingredients (19).

The article even discusses how the Chinese would dry their tea leaves by laying the tea leaves on a huge warehouse floor and driving trucks over them, so the exhaust would more rapidly dry the leaves out. Added to the problem is that the Chinese use leaded gasoline, so they were essentially spewing the lead over all these leaves and then shipping the packaged tea to the U.S. (19).

The FDA was also mentioned in another article from the "Chicago Tribune" in December of 2008, titled "How to Protect Kids from Unseen Allergens" (28). Parents are informed in this article to be aware of the fact that many product labels contain flaws that mask food allergens. It reports that at least one in seven recalls for undeclared allergens by the FDA and USDA involved imported food. Most products, again, were from China (28).

So, here is what you can do to feel better. Tests exist to discover if one has food allergies. One is the IGg antibody blood test, which tests one's blood against about 130 different foods. If you're sensitive to any of these 130 foods, your blood will react. The idea is to remove the foods that interact negatively with your body. This test, I highly recommend. I found through this test the foods that were causing all my reactions. The foods that were causing my reactions were gluten, dairy, eggs, yeast, kidney beans, cranberries, and green beans. Once, I started eliminating these foods that posed a reaction, I stopped being sick (15).

In addition, after I cleaned up my diet and removed all the above foods and food dyes, I started eating all natural fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and herbs. Remember: It isn't more expensive to eat natural and clean. During prehistoric times, people survived off the earth by eating fruits, vegetables, lean meats and herbs. Herbs were discovered to have medicinal effects and were used as an adjunct to pharmaceutical drugs.

In conclusion, I struggled for 10 years with an illness that was finally found to be food-related. My life might have been different had I only known sooner that food had the effect it did on my nervous system.

Today, my symptoms are gone, and I can see the world through new eyes. I am able to relate better to my clients and can recognize if they may be battling food allergies. I try to make sure they are referred to the proper professionals to be examined so I can work better with their central nervous system.

I attribute my awakening to greater awareness of myself and others. It is time we extend ourselves beyond what we have been traditionally taught and really try to find the cause of our problems. Then we may ask, do our clients that have been diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, and Autism really have these disorders? Just a thought? Or should I say FOOD for thought.


Last revised: April 10, 2009
by Michelle Lindsey PT, CPT, MBA


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