Is it ADD or food allergies?
You are what you eat.
Everyone's heard it, but everyone may not realize just how true it is.
When Tristan Johnson was 3 years old, his parents, Jeff and Jo Johnson of Detroit Lakes, noticed something was wrong.
He would stumble going up the stairs. He would drop plates out of his hands for no reason. He would run into corners of the room.
Jo Johnson said she enrolled her son in Head Start because she thought her child needed some extra help. As a first grader, Tristan was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. Johnsons reluctantly put him on medication, but took him off eventually because the symptoms worsened and he tended to be lethargic.
"He was a difficult child to live with. I wanted him to be a little more hyperactive," she said.
Hans and Mary Beth Gilsdorf of Detroit Lakes also found emotional issues with their daughter, Kendra, that concerned them. She was a second grader at the time.
"There were different behaviors that we were trying to figure out," Mary Beth Gilsdorf said.
She thought about hypersensitivity because Kendra would "be in tears over things that weren't that big of a deal."
If a glass of milk was spilled, the night was ruined.
One day Johnson, on a visit to her chiropractor, Dr. Jay Johnson, she asked if he knew anything about ADD. He said that many times food allergies are misdiagnosed as ADD.
By the end of first grade, Tristan was having headaches on a regular basis and was falling behind in school. He couldn't hold a conversation or even talk with his sentences in order.
Johnson said when Jay Johnson suggested food allergies, she thought that was impossible, because Tristan didn't have any kind of rashes or cough or anything else people associate with allergies. But, why not give it a try? Nothing else was working.
She took Tristan in for a resistance test with Jay Johnson.
Tristan would hold out one arm and have to push against Jay Johnson's hand. In his other hand, the doctor would place the basic items people are allergic to -- wheat, dairy, eggs and dyes.
He put the wheat in Tristan's hand and no problem, Tristan could push against his hand. Jay Johnson got to dairy, and Tristan's arm had no resistance whatsoever. Same went for blue and red dyes.
When Gilsdorf Googled hypersensitivity, the first thing to come up was food allergies. She talked to her mother-in-law, and she said that Hans Gilsdorf's brother had been allergic to red dye. He would throw temper tantrums, but when she eliminated the dye from his food, it was like night and day.
So, the Gilsdorfs picked up some books and looked up which foods had dyes in them. What they found -- nearly everything.
"It seemed like everything we eat is toxic," Gilsdorf said. "There is nothing natural out there."
They also took Kendra to Dr. Johnson to test her for other allergies. Same thing -- when it came to dyes, she had no resistance.
"She's not going to fake it," Gilsdorf said about the testing. "She didn't know what we were doing."
Dr. Johnson said, "There is good evidence food sensitivities are a contributing factor" to behavioral problems.
He said the term "sensitivities" is better used, rather than "allergies" because it's more general.
When Dr. Johnson performs the resistance test, he said he likes to place the food in the mouth rather than in the hand because taste buds are directly linked to the central nervous system and stimulate the reaction quicker.
While it may seem amazing that the sensitivities can be noticed that quickly, Dr. Johnson said it's simple.
"When you bite into a lemon, you know right away it's a lemon," he said.
While allergies aren't always the problem, they are something to consider.
"I tell parents, this is a possible factor. It's a significant one to look at," he said.
"No matter how we find it (food sensitivity), none is proof. The proof is diet and elimination of food product."
Amazed at Tristan's results, Johnson went home and made sure her son didn't have any dairy or dyes for 24 hours. The next day, he came home from school. Suddenly he was bright-eyed, making eye contact, excited about his day, more than willing to do his homework.
"I thought, 'where has this little boy been?'" Johnson said.
For two weeks, the Johnsons carefully monitored everything Tristan took in. He cleaned his system out and was a completely different child.
Until one day he came home from school and was back to being lethargic and having a headache. As the night went on, he got sicker and sicker. Johnson asked her son what he had had that day: It was a can of grape pop.
"It was a blessing in disguise," she said of the relapse.
Tristan had always had headaches, but with the chemicals in his body for years, it was just another headache. After having his body clean for two weeks, the dye in the pop caused him to have such migraines he was throwing up.
Johnson said it showed Tristan what can happen if he's not careful. Now, at age 9, he reads labels and makes sure he never gets that sick again.
Gilsdorf said she could tell a change in Kendra within a week of cutting out dyes, as well. It's been just over one year, and Kendra no longer has the "queasy" feelings inside.
"The peaks and valleys of emotion leveled off," Gilsdorf said.
Now when milk got spilled, Kendra apologized and wiped it up.
One night, Gilsdorf said she made croissant rolls for supper. Within half an hour Kendra was back to her old self. Gilsdorf got out the can the rolls had come in and sure enough, they contained yellow dye.
Johnson said that, although she never would have thought it, the food allergies makes perfect sense.
"What's the one thing we all have to have? Food," she said.
"I'm not a fanatic, but what you put in your body is supposed to work for you, not against you."
Many times, dyes are just added to products for a more marketable appeal. Johnson said her husband contacted Ocean Spray and asked why they had grapefruit juice and the Ruby Red grapefruit juice. The reply was with the red dye in the Ruby Red to make it a different product meant more shelf space and visual advertisement.
Johnson said it is more difficult to cook and shop for snacks and foods Tristan can have, but it's a small difficulty compared to the way things used to be.
Now as a third grader, Tristan "has worked his butt off" and is at the same level as his classmates, he's happy, has no headaches and is a label reader.
Johnson said after the seven years with Tristan being lethargic and what she thought might be just plain lazy, the last two years have been like a different family. And Tristan knows it too.
Johnson said at Thanksgiving, Tristan said the thing he was most thankful for was that his food allergies were discovered.
Even though Tristan can't drink milk or eat other dairy products, Johnson said she makes sure her son eats other products with calcium and vitamin D. She said she doesn't want Tristan to have other health-related problems just because he can't have milk and dairy.
"It's hard work, but so much easier in the end living with your kid," she said of the different lifestyle and cooking choices.
The Gilsdorfs have found it more difficult to shop for food and snacks as well, but they also say it's well worth it.
Valentine's Day, Easter and Halloween. What do they all have in common? Tons of candy filled with dye. Kendra can have chocolate, but that's about all.
Gilsdorfs have solved the problem by making sure Kendra always has some chocolate during the holidays and buying back the others she can't have.
"She made about $5 at Valentines. Halloween is a real bank buster," Gilsdorf said.
Even the simplest thing, such as finger paints, will set off Kendra. The red dye in them turned her back to her emotional self one evening after painting that day.
The Gilsdorfs even had to replace Kendra's toothpaste.
"It's been an interesting year thinking 'oh, I didn't think of that,'" she said.
"It's been very eye-opening. It's probably good for all of us."
(Next week, read about how these kids are coping with allergies and school lunches and what changes could be made for healthier lunches.)