The Dirt Cure

Healthy Food, Healthy Gut, Happy Child

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About The Book

In this “carefully researched, compellingly written game-changer for children’s health” (Mark Hyman, MD), Maya Shetreat-Klein, MD, reveals the shocking contents of children’s food, how it’s seriously harming their bodies and brains, and what you can do about it. And she presents a nutritional plan for getting and keeping children healthy—that any family can follow.

Chronic diseases in children are rising dramatically—from allergies and ADHD to mental illnesses and obesity. A traditionally trained pediatric neurologist and a parent herself, Dr. Maya encountered the limits of conventional medicine when her son suffered a severe episode of asthma on his first birthday and hit a developmental plateau. Treatments failed to reverse his condition, so Dr. Maya embarked on a scientific investigation, discovering that food was at the root of her son’s illness, affecting his digestive system, immune system, and brain. The solution was shockingly simple: Heal the food, heal the gut, heal the brain…and heal the child.

Recent changes in growing and processing food harm kids’ gut microbiomes, immune systems, and brains, contributing to chronic disease. Dr. Maya “convincingly argues the case for a dirt-filled but chemical-free life” (Publishers Weekly). She used fresh foods and nature to heal not only her son but chronically ill patients from around the world from the inside out and the outside in—and now makes it available in The Dirt Cure. “Full of scientific information presented in a fun and informative way, [with] concrete evidence that good food can transform one’s life,” (Publishers Weekly), The Dirt Cure shares success stories from Dr. Maya’s practice and her tips as a working mother of three on stocking healing foods (from veggies to chocolate!), reading labels, and getting even picky eaters into the new menu. “Reader-friendly” (Kirkus Reviews), this paradigm-shifting “tour de force prescription…to fight and prevent chronic disease” (Robert K. Naviaux, MD, PhD) empowers you to transform your child’s health through food and ensure the long-term wellbeing of your kids and the entire family.

Excerpt

Dirt Cure CHAPTER 1 Where True Health Begins
I love to work with soil. During my pediatrics residency, I gained local notoriety for the melons, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, arugula, and beans that burst from the small raised bed I’d built next to our hospital housing. Even though our new apartment in the Bronx overlooked a park, I had yet to find a space of my own where I could grow.

Miraculously, I found an office for my practice that had a lot behind the building. The grumpy landlord confirmed that the building did indeed have a “backyard” and agreed to include it in my lease. Key to padlocked gate in hand, I emerged into a desolate space nothing like the verdant Eden I’d imagined. Between the dying tree, the mass of thigh-high weeds and vines as thick as small tree trunks (not to mention sizable piles of what appeared to be petrified dog excrement), I had my work cut out. Despite all the overgrowth aboveground, the hard-packed, dusty earth revealed little below—no “potato” bugs, spiders, or garden snakes, and, worse, not one worm. I could barely fathom how to help this sick land get well.

I enlisted an extra set of hands—Jesse, a young artist who wanted to plant a permaculture food forest in each borough of New York City. We spent the next few months working side by side, covered in dirt, using straw, broken cardboard boxes, and a hilariously named manure called Chickity-Doo-Doo to build soil that would retain moisture and nutrients and invite worms and bugs. Over time, the terrain began to heal. As the soil became rich and substantial, worms returned, which meant that their invisible communities—beneficial bacteria and fungi and organic matter in the soil that fed the plants—were returning, too. We installed laying hens and honeybees as residents. My plants—beans, melons, kale, tomatoes, kiwi, berries—grew abundantly. I learned that even urban gardens invited delicious edible wild plants like dandelion greens and lamb’s-quarters. When pests came, I resisted the (powerful) urge to poison them with pesticides. Instead, we picked off what we could, but more important, fed the soil with kelp, bone meal, and rich, black compost from kitchen and garden scraps . . . and the pests decreased considerably. While pests never disappeared altogether, the plants were able to mount an effective defense without my help and live in equilibrium with various critters. I discovered that a nourished terrain rich in microbes and minerals yielded healthy, resilient plants.

This brought to mind a famous old rivalry between two scientists: Louis Pasteur, father of “germ theory” and pasteurization, and his colleague Claude Bernard disagreed about which played a bigger role in disease: the germ or the person who had the germ. Pasteur pinned human disease on the presence and action of certain germs. According to his theory, the fewer microbes the body is exposed to, the better. Bernard said that a person’s internal environment plays the more important role in health. He maintained that most common microbial diseases are caused by organisms present in the body of a normal individual. Normally, these microbes help with cellular and metabolic processes—unless the body is out of balance, which allows these same microbes free rein to cause illness. For Bernard, the health of the host—and not the power of the microorganism—instigates most disease. And the story goes that Pasteur conceded on his deathbed: “The microbe is nothing. The terrain is everything.”

In the tradition of Pasteur, my own medical training taught the paradigm that disease could strike anyone at any time, which I call the “sitting duck” theory. In that sense, disease is bad luck and the ideal preventive steps would be to eliminate exposure to as many microbes as possible with the strongest treatments available. This philosophy has been a guiding principle of modern medicine, and has extended into animal husbandry, agriculture, and food production. While incorporating practices like hand washing with soap and quarantining the ill has indeed helped to reduce the risk of spreading infection, the story is actually more complex.

My garden experience broadened this picture by illustrating the truth in Bernard’s theory. There, healing the terrain—indeed, adding more microbes, bugs, and worms—powerfully strengthened plants in the face of stressors like infection and pests. Any number of pests could be attacking the plants in my neighbor’s garden just ten feet away without making much of a dent in my plants. The most effective strategy was not declaring war on bugs. I learned that a balanced terrain acts as powerful protection from whatever challenges nature doles out. This unexpectedly resonated for me as a physician. These observations from the plant world translated to my work with children.

In my practice, as in my garden, the health of a child’s inner terrain reflects the health of the child’s outer terrain. In other words, the elements of nature make all the difference to a child’s resilient health. For this reason, growing healthy children cannot occur in a sterile terrain, but only a richly diverse one.

Germ theory pits microbe against terrain, but we are learning that in large part, diverse and abundant microbes are our terrain. To maintain health, both plants and children need to be in contact with—not protected from—the full array of living elements: sunshine, truly fresh food, soil, all sorts of microbes, even critters. Both need to be actively nourished with living food, minimal toxins, rich in dirt. Their health depends on it.
THE BODY IS ALWAYS LEARNING
Our bodies are not intended to be islands. We are built to be challenged. Indeed, these challenges come from every one of our diverse interactions with nature—food, dirt, microbes, animals, people—as well as synthetic chemicals, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, and the like. Our bodies are complex information processing centers, and each interaction serves as another bit of information that educates the body. Every small challenge teaches our bodies what to do when bigger challenges come along. This is why it’s normal—even important—for kids to be exposed to the outside world and to get occasional runny noses, fevers, coughs, and so on. As they recover from these mild infections, kids’ bodies and immune systems begin the lifelong process of learning to navigate the world in all its complexity.

Somehow, we’ve lost trust in the body’s ability to heal itself. Instead, we use frequent rounds of Tylenol, ibuprofen, and antibiotics at the first hint of symptoms because we are afraid the body won’t know what to do. Paradoxically, each time we unnecessarily interfere with our bodies’ natural survival mechanisms—even out of a desire to protect—the body becomes less able to recover on its own. A body that is constantly shielded from fighting and recovering from small illnesses may not respond effectively when bigger challenges inevitably arise. How could it? If you want your child to learn to play the violin, you can’t bring someone else in to practice the violin for him (or slap his hand away every time he tries to practice on his own!). Allowing children to overcome small illnesses without interfering strengthens their immune systems. It also provides opportunities for the body to evaluate whether challenges are benign or dangerous, when to live and let live, and when to pick a fight. These are skills critical for your child’s lifelong health.

Take fever. We’re so fearful of the body malfunctioning that we’ve come to mistake the body’s healthy immune response for something inherently dangerous. Some of the sickest kids I see—like those with severe chronic disorders—rarely get fevers. But this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Fevers allow the immune system to expel organisms and compounds from the body. These kids don’t even mount a response. Even my own son—with all of his “runny noses” and coughing—never developed a fever as a young child. He ran his first fever when he was seven. And when he finally did, we were thrilled. I understand it sounds weird, but his immune system finally could do what it was supposed to do: fight and overcome infection.

I’m not suggesting that kids should live in misery when they’re sick. But avoiding all exposures or interfering with the body’s normal response is not the answer. This book will discuss ways you can strengthen your child’s body and immune system to enhance his or her ability to recover.

Fever: The Body Knows What to Do to Heal
Fever itself is not a disease; it’s a remedy to disease. Fever is a component of a complex inflammatory cascade that the body launches in response to infection. Fever acts as a natural “antibiotic,” raising internal temperature to make it inhospitable for unhealthy elements. Yet during the past 30 years, many parents have come to believe that they must immediately administer antipyretics—fever-lowering medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen—for any fever or no fever at all.1 Yet according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, fevers below 104°F are not damaging. In fact, fevers may well allow children to get over infections more quickly.2 Antipyretics reduce the body’s purposeful rise in temperature and also interrupt the inflammatory response that helps to vanquish the infection.

Sometimes fevers reflect dangerous infections, in which case your child may appear very ill and should be evaluated and treated by a medical professional. Otherwise, the best approach is to support the immune system and keep your child comfortable with cool cloths, lukewarm baths, hydration, and plenty of rest.3 I recommend giving your child elderberry syrup, thyme-infused honey, a cup of licorice tea, and loads of chicken soup infused with sliced gingerroot, maitake and turkey tail mushrooms, and astragalus root to promote immunity and fight infection. Yarrow tea or tincture can help initiate sweating, which can mitigate a high fever without interfering with the immune system’s job. A mug of peppermint tea or a compress dunked in ice water infused with a few drops of peppermint essential oil is also soothing.

LET’S GET (REALLY, TRULY) HEALTHY
What does it mean to be healthy? Many people define being healthy simply as “not being sick.” Yet health is more than the absence of illness; it’s the dynamic relationship between us—our bodies and minds—and the world around us. Homeostasis is a term that describes the tendency of the body to maintain internal equilibrium by normalizing function at every moment and at every level. It’s the driving force that keeps everything from heart rate to blood sugar to white blood cell levels in balance with the world around us. When our internal terrain is in alignment with our external terrain, we are healthy. When it’s out of alignment, we become sick. And by the time severe illness rears its head, there likely have been ongoing signs that things were out of balance for some time.

Yet more and more, these ongoing problems that indicate children are not in balance are not recognized as problems. For example, I might ask, “How many ear infections has your child had in the past year?” The answer is usually something along the lines of, “Oh, no more than normal.” Or “How often does your kid poop?” “The normal amount.” Beware: The prevailing definitions of normal may not be all that normal.

For example, one really smart, lovely mom came in with her five-year-old daughter for learning disabilities. I asked about her child’s stool, and she said, “Oh, it’s normal.” But her child volunteered enthusiastically, “I clog the toilet every time I poop!” Her mom recoiled: “Honey, the doctor doesn’t need to know that!” I told her that’s exactly what I need to know. Not only did this little girl clog their toilet, her mom carried a plastic knife in her purse so she could break up her poop to avoid clogging toilets at other people’s houses. “I call her my super pooper!” she declared. She represents her child’s stool as “normal,” yet she carries a sharp utensil in her bag to slice up her kid’s poop. That’s how thoroughly we can justify our kids’ conditions as normal—even to ourselves!

Similarly, parents often say no when I ask whether their child has any medical history. I review all the systems: eyes, ears, nose, throat, lungs, heart, belly, skin, and so on? Nope. He almost never gets sick; he’s really healthy! So I’ve learned to collect medical history backward, by asking if their child has ever been on common medications like antibiotics. Oh, no more than normal. “How many times is normal?” Maybe six or seven times a year. “How about steroid cream?” Oh, yes, he needs that for his eczema all winter long. “Allergy medication?” Of course, he takes those every spring and fall or he can’t breathe! Three plus medications and counting in a “healthy” child—that’s how blurred the line between healthy and unhealthy has become. Each of these is a warning sign that a child’s body is out of balance.

Our normalizing of chronic illness in kids has extended to all kinds of problems: recurrent headaches, eczema, allergies, asthma, gastric reflux, anxiety, depression, explosive behavior or irritability, chronic diaper rash, “ants in the pants,” trouble sleeping, or trouble gaining or losing weight. Even families in constant struggle due to their children’s health conditions may deny that their children have a “chronic illness” until symptoms become so severe that they’re forced to visit numerous doctors or the hospital. The new normal for children’s health has become chronic illness, with chronic symptoms and chronic medications to treat them.

What if I told you that these conditions aren’t healthy or “normal”? That some kids never get ear infections, ever? That skin inflammations like eczema and even diaper rash are ways that the body—especially the gut—asks for help? Despite what we’ve been led to believe, babies with eczema aren’t born with a topical steroid deficiency! ADHD isn’t a stimulant deficiency. And constipation isn’t a Miralax deficiency. Each of these conditions is a symptom of a depleted and overloaded body—a body in distress.

Every symptom happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason remains a mystery, but often we can act as detectives to uncover triggers by asking: Why is this happening? What recently changed for my child? What might be my child’s triggers? How can I alter these triggers to change the course of his or her health? Often it has to do with the interaction between what’s inside our bodies—including our genes—and the world outside our bodies.

Signs of a Dysregulated Body
Here are two ways we know that the body isn’t working as it should:

1. A child begins to struggle when exposed to foods, trees, or flowers with which we evolved, side by side, for thousands of years. When the familiar becomes so unfamiliar that the body treats it as a potentially deadly enemy, the body is out of balance with its environment.

2. The most fundamental and necessary functions of a child’s body—eating, breathing, pooping, sleeping, running, laughing, speaking, thinking, learning, playing, and, most important, healing—are disrupted.

Healthy Children Are Resilient
The best evidence that a child is healthy becomes clear after a child gets sick. After a bout with an illness like the flu, healthy kids go right back to normal—usually with rest, time, and a little TLC. They are back to their active, curious selves before you know it and they can stay that way the majority of the time.

The most important manifestation of health is “resilience,” a term used in biology and economics to mean that something or someone has the ability to meet a challenge, adapt, and thrive. Also called grit, it’s the vital capacity to cope with the constant unpredictability in our world—to recover from challenges small and large and come out better and stronger on the other end. Remember homeostasis, our system’s tendency to always move toward balance? The ability to maintain homeostasis reflects the body’s overall resilience. All of this happens literally on a cellular level in organelles called the mitochondria. (More on that later.)

Luckily, raising happy, healthy, resilient children doesn’t require elaborate measures. In fact, the body—in all of its sophistication and complexity—is capable of doing the heavy lifting. The body is built to withstand the trials that life throws our way—intense exercise, occasional lack of sleep, microbes, even some toxins. A well-nourished child who’s allowed to interact with diverse exposures becomes naturally resilient.
YOUR GENES ARE NOT YOUR DESTINY
Why do so many parents accept as normal that their kids suffer from chronic maladies? It may be because we ourselves suffer from similar conditions, so we assume it’s our family heritage. I’ve heard from many parents that there’s nothing to be done about a condition or even that it’s “normal” because it “runs in the family” and “everyone has it.” What if I told you that many chronic conditions that you thought were “genetic” are not necessarily written in stone? What if you could alter your child’s genetic destiny?

Your DNA dictates your genetic vulnerabilities. The actual DNA sequence—the genome passed down from grandparents to parents to children—is relatively stable, changing only in rare cases of a mutation. But DNA is more dynamic than anyone previously imagined. As children grow and develop, parts of the genome activate and deactivate at strategic times and in specific locations. This process happens even on a seasonal basis: Many inflammatory conditions worsen in the winter because genes promoting inflammation upregulate and genes suppressing inflammation downregulate.4 Children’s cells—down to their DNA—respond constantly to changes in the world around them. And it turns out that exposures to both natural and man-made compounds can induce epigenetic changes that are also passed down from generation to generation.

Your child’s DNA interacts with one particularly complex and powerful exposure every day, many times a day. For better or worse, every bite of food your child ingests—along with soil nutrients, microbes, or synthetic chemicals from the farm where it was grown or raised, traces from its packaging or the pan in which it was prepared—can influence his or her gene expression. Often these powerful influences on their genes are temporary, altering their metabolic function only for as long as the nutrients, microbes, or other exposures persist in their bodies. But when this back-and-forth between their genes and their experiences in the outside world produces sustained changes in the way DNA works, it’s called epigenetics.

Epigenetics (literally “above genetics”) means that food, infections, toxins, and even experiences alter the way DNA is expressed in our appearance, function, and overall health. Through epigenetic modification, life exposures can silence or activate genes in enduring ways, even through generations. One simple example of the epigenetic impact of food in the insect world: Worker bees have no ovaries, but queen bees—who are genetically identical—do. This is because worker bees eat honey, which turns on the no-ovary gene, while queen bees eat royal jelly, which turns it off. Toxins can influence our genes as well. Pregnant mice who ate food laced with bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic plastic that lines the cans of food we buy, gave birth to babies with altered gene expression. The babies developed what’s called an agouti phenotype: odd yellow fur instead of their normal brown, along with a higher risk for obesity, diabetes, and cancer. What’s more, this effect unexpectedly impacted the next generation of mice as well. Their grandbaby mice also had the same odd yellow fur and health risks, even though their moms hadn’t ever directly been exposed to BPA. On the other hand, pregnant mice whose food contained BPA plus folate did not express the abnormal agouti phenotype because folate “silenced” the toxic effects of BPA on the gene. These mice had regular brown babies and grandbabies that carried no increased risk of disease. Think of it: exposures from their food—both good and bad—influenced their gene expression, over generations.

Think of your DNA as an ongoing instruction manual for how to build and maintain your body, which remains in use every moment of every day. The cells and enzymes responsible for helping the body to grow, replenish, and repair continuously refer to those instructions. The manual itself rarely changes, but how it’s read does. Nutrients, microbes, and synthetics that enter our bodies—largely but not exclusively through food—can signal which sets of instructions our cells should follow. It’s like putting sticky notes on some pages of the manual, while leaving others unread. So you might carry the genetic predisposition for things like cancer, mental illness, ADHD, or obesity, but it’s by no means a sure thing that those portions of your DNA will be expressed. Nutrients flag important areas at certain times; thus many “on” and “off” labels come from food. Epigenetics even helps to determine seemingly random events in our children’s physiology, such as timing of maturity: when a young woman begins to menstruate, for instance, or when pubertal growth spurts happen in a boy. Genetic predisposition may make your child more vulnerable to disorders, but that’s not the final word.5

What does this mean for us? Genetics may predispose a child to certain disorders, even the timing of life cycle events, but our exposures—good and bad—have the final say. It’s been said about certain diseases that “Genes load the gun; environment pulls the trigger.” To a degree, these variations are explained by epigenetics.

Consider identical twins—often they start off looking so much alike that no one can tell them apart. But as time goes on, their interaction in the world can change their appearance. Maybe it’s through the nutrients in their food, microbes, or toxins they’re exposed to, or life experiences. Some of these operate on a metabolic level and disappear after the exposure. But other factors change how their respective blueprints are read. Even though they have the same exact underlying genetic code, many twins no longer look exactly the same—on the inside or the outside—as they age. So now they’ll differ not only in their physical characteristics, but also in their health. One may develop cancer, while the other doesn’t. One may suffer from an autoimmune disease, and the other won’t.

In one study, researchers examined the conventional wisdom that identical twins with identical DNA would develop the same medical and neurological conditions, especially one with known genetic links, such as autism. Yet they discovered that both identical twins developed autism in just under 70 percent of the cases.6,7 Another identical-twin study noted that less than 40 percent of autism risk in twins could be attributed to genetics alone, while shared environmental influences may account for as much as 55 percent of risk.8 These and subsequent studies have acknowledged the role of epigenetics.9

Scientists have spent years trying to identify the “autism gene,” “diabetes gene,” or “ADHD gene,” but they’ve so far been stumped in the pursuit of this magical “one-disease, one-gene” model. Genes can occasionally be singled out as indicating a high risk for developing autism or other disorders, such as specific forms of epilepsy, or other neurological or chronic diseases. Causes of these disorders, however, are considerably more complex than the DNA we bring to the table.

While our knowledge of epigenetics is still young, what’s exciting is that epigenetic changes can be reversible. And not just for future generations—but right here, right now, for your kids—especially during early periods of rapid development. There’s still much to learn about which epigenetic exposures achieve desired outcomes. But I’ve seen children who are sick with some of the most severe or seemingly intractable conditions improve significantly—in enduring ways my training said wasn’t possible—when we change their food and environment. Epigenetic modification offers the possibility of durable healing.

Now you know that your child’s health is fluid, not static. The potential for transformation—not to mention prevention—always exists. Together, our job is to create the opportunity for shifts toward better balance within ourselves and with the world around us. So now let’s embark on a journey to explore ways for your child to be better, stronger, and more resilient.
GETTING STARTED: A CLEAN SLATE
The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

—MARCEL PROUST

Forget everything you’ve been told about your child’s health up until now—good or bad. I want you to get in touch with your intuition, your inner-knowing about your child. No expert—no matter how smart or highly trained—will ever know your child as you do. You are the expert on your child. Whenever I hear parents preface an observation about their child with “This may not mean anything, but . . .” or “I don’t know, but . . .” I immediately tell them, “You do know!” And so do you. The key is to trust your instincts.

I want you to regard your child with new eyes. We’re thinking beyond what your child has been labeled with: “constipation,” “ADHD,” “asthma,” “hypothyroidism,” “epilepsy,” or “eczema.” They’re really just descriptions of these symptoms themselves. We’re now asking why your child isn’t well, not just what you need to fix. Calling chronic symptoms “diseases” permits doctors to medicate away symptoms without ever searching for or addressing the cause.

To illustrate: Let’s say someone you know died and you wanted to know why. If you look at death certificates, you’d find many that list “cardiac arrest” as the primary cause of death. That’s kind of like saying they died of “death syndrome.” It’s a description of what that person experienced, but it doesn’t provide insight as to why. Similarly, for many chronic conditions, the diagnosis describes what but not why. And if pharmaceutical meds quell symptoms satisfactorily, many docs see no need to look deeper.

Looking Deeper
ADHD is a real-life example of how a group of simultaneously occurring symptoms may be misconstrued as a disease. ADHD is really a description of a constellation of symptoms. While the symptoms can be very real, the diagnosis doesn’t tell us anything about the root cause. One child can have ADHD symptoms for different reasons than another does. ADHD is not caused by a specific gene, nor is it an inherent brain disorder—or if it is, it’s many different brain disorders! It’s a set of symptoms caused by a variety of factors. Some children exhibit symptoms due to reactivity to food and food chemicals,10 others due to toxic exposures,11 still others become symptomatic when their blood sugar drops about an hour after breakfast or right before lunch. Other kids are in a learning environment that’s wrong for them and when moved to a more appropriate setting or get a new teacher, poof! Huge improvement. The reason for symptoms may not always be obvious, but there is always a reason.

Reflux is another example. Most babies who frequently spit up are diagnosed with “reflux.” Instead of asking what the trigger may be, doctors are often quick to prescribe H2 blockers to reduce acid in the stomach—what my colleague Dr. Sidney Baker calls the “Name It–Blame It–Tame It” approach. When doctors turn the symptom into the disease (“reflux”) without asking why, they can prescribe a pill to treat and control the disease. But reflux is not a disease; it’s a symptom, often caused by food reactivity (most commonly, difficult-to-digest cow’s milk proteins in formula or breast milk).12,13,14 One study found that of the 33 percent of refluxing infants and children who didn’t respond to reflux medication, all of these children’s symptoms improved when they stopped all cow’s milk proteins.15 (The other 66 percent of infants and children were not given the opportunity to trial off dairy.) Another study showed that removing cow’s milk–protein based formula improved reflux even when the baby tested negative for cow’s milk allergy.16 You might say, “Who cares if the baby takes medicine so long as he or she is feeling better?” First, adequate stomach acid is necessary for breaking down proteins that may trigger an allergy, which otherwise only further activate the gut’s immune system. Second, stomach acid acts as a line of defense against potential pathogens. Third, stomach acid is necessary for absorbing calcium, magnesium, and zinc; therefore, use of these medications can cause nutritional deficiencies at a time when demand is very high.17

Even when a child must start medication—which in some cases may be a lifesaver because things have gotten that bad—we must continue to investigate and address underlying causes. The goal is to preclude the need for long-term medication. Ideally, we avoid starting medication at all.

Healing or “curing” is rarely part of the prevailing medical lexicon based in pharmaceutical medication. This is because any cure must come from the body itself. I repeat: Any cure comes from the body itself. The role of pharmaceuticals, among other treatment approaches, is to help the body get back on its figurative feet. But when a child’s body is depleted and improperly nourished, it cannot heal. Under these circumstances, ongoing pharmaceuticals become necessary to force a physiological response that the body can’t create on its own. If a child’s body has the resolve to make this leap to healing, medication can be stopped and the child thrives. Otherwise, the child is called “chronically ill.”

A body nourished by nutrient-dense food and nature will have the building blocks to heal itself. To a great degree, you can influence these variables with how you interact with your living environment and what you eat. That’s right: Your food, drink, and contact with nature offer exceptional tools both for healing and maintaining health and happiness.

This is what I call the “Dorothy” moment. At the end of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy realizes that the almighty wizard didn’t actually have all of the answers, and that she herself had the power to get home on her own all along. In this case, you and your child may well already have the answers to how to be resilient and well. My job is to help you find them. It’s time to shed preconceived notions, start looking with fresh eyes, and begin asking, “Why?”
Keeping a Journal
I’ve included the checklist below to help you take an inventory of your child’s health and to get an idea of where there might be room for improvement. Whether your child is struggling to flourish or has chronic issues, this step will allow you to begin to see what true health looks like—and help not just your child, but your entire family—reach it.
A Healthy Child
• Sleep: Goes to sleep at night in less than 30 minutes, with infrequent nighttime waking, and wakes up rested.

• Stool: Has formed bowel movements one or more times daily (which aren’t painful, don’t clog the toilet, and don’t make the entire house smell).

• Diet: Eats a variety of foods, including vegetables and fruit.

• Digestion: Has little to no gas, few stomachaches, and no “colic.” Grows normally.

• Infections: Gets occasional coughs and colds, but infrequent ear infections (or croup, or strep) over his or her entire childhood.

• Skin: Has clear skin, not rough, “sensitive,” or itchy. No frequent rashes. And no red ears or blotchy cheeks that persist for more than five to ten minutes after being hot or cold.

• Eyes: They look clear and bright, with no dark circles, redness, or swelling.

• Energy: Has the stamina to keep up with other children.

• Resilience: Gets occasional fevers with illness that resolve with minimal or no intervention. Doesn’t suffer from allergies, asthma, or other chronic conditions.

• Behavior: Has infrequent tantrums. No violent behavior or destruction of property and is able to recover fairly quickly.

• Focus: Is reasonably able to concentrate, learn, and remember for a child his or her age.

• Mood: Can engage in and enjoy life.

Without getting caught up in labels or a diagnosis, make your own list applicable to your child by adding any symptoms of concern. As you follow the recommendations I’ll make throughout this book—adding healing foods and practices, eliminating those that are potentially damaging—refer back to this list and note how your child evolves with the changes. My goal is for you to see your child in almost every item on the “healthy” list—and in fewer and fewer on the “needs improvement” one.

About The Author

Photograph © Tanya Malott

Maya Shetreat-Klein, MD is an integrative pediatric neurologist with a medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Board certified in adult and child neurology as well as pediatrics, she completed the University of Arizona’s two-year Fellowship in Integrative Medicine, founded by Andrew Weil, MD, and now serves as faculty. She lectures internationally to medical professionals and laypeople on environmental health and toxins, and healing with food and nature. Dr. Shetreat-Klein lives with her family in New York City, where she runs Brainmending, her healing practice and urban farm.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (May 2017)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476796987

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Raves and Reviews

“What happens when a rigorously trained New York City pediatric neurologist learns the truth about health and healing? She gets her hands dirty (literally planting vegetables) and heals not only her son, but her patients as well. The Dirt Cure is an exhilarating book that had me cheering from page one. Don’t go the pediatrician without it!”

– Christiane Northrup, MD, author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom

The Dirt Cure is a game-changer when it comes tochildren’s health. Carefully researched and compellingly written… A must read!”

– Mark Hyman, MD Director, Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, author #1 New York Times bestseller The Blood Sugar Solution

"Maya Shetreat-Klein’s pioneering book, The Dirt Cure, will forever transform the way you think about children’s health. At a time when kids are being prescribed more and more medications to treat symptoms, Dr. Shetreat-Klein turns the prevailing paradigm on its head by outlining how fresh food, rich soil, and contact with nature can reverse the growing epidemic of chronic childhood illness. Filled with unexpected twists, fascinating science and hands-on advice, her book gives you all the tools you need to get your kids healthy and keep them that way."

– Andrew Weil, MD, author of True Food and 8 Weeks to Optimum Health

“If you are a parent,or planning to be one, The Dirt Cureis your nutritional bible. Under the wise guidance of Dr. Shetreat-Klein, youcan save your kids from a vast array of physical/emotional chronic illnesses,not only now when they’re still young but for the rest of their (longer andhealthier) lives.”

– Dr. David Edelberg, author of The Triple Whammy Cure

"Dr. Shetreat-Klein has written a tour de force prescription for creating a more nourishing environment to fight and prevent chronic disease in kids and adults. The Dirt Cure upends many cherished but flawed notions that have crept insidiously into the collective consciousness of citizens of the technological age. She combines cutting-edge science and medicine with common sense to illustrate the intimate, visceral connection between the health of the natural world that surrounds us—our terrain—and our own health. After reading this book, you’ll understand that we are not isolated from the chemical fabric that connects all life on our planet. As the environment sickens, so do we. As the environment thrives, so do our children, and so do we."

– Robert K. Naviaux, MD, PhD, Co-director, The Mitochondrial and Metabolic Disease Center (MMDC),UCSD School of Medicine

“This is a reader-friendly book, and Shetreat-Klein powerfully lays out the case for why bleach, hand sanitizers, fluoride, ibuprofen. and acetaminophen aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. She convincingly argues the case for a dirt-filled but chemical-free life.”

– Booklist

“The text is full of scientific information presented in a fun and informative way, giving concrete evidence that good food can transform one’s life.”

– Publishers Weekly

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