September 22, 2017

Feed the Brain, Heal the Mind

By Jodee Kulp

For children with already fragile systems due to prenatal exposure to alcohol quality nutrition, exercise, sleep and play allows them the opportunity to live better lives. As an infant, Jodee Kulp’s adopted daughter Liz had been unable to tolerate milk or many, many formulas and Jodee had turned to a dietician to help keep her alive. So when Liz was first diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders she quickly contacted Dr. Jeffrey Brist, a clinical nutritionist.

Dr. Brist used clear language and remarkable compassion to tell her daughter Liz how her body worked and how changes in her diet could help her body process food better and thus help her brain function more effectively. He pointed out that brain nutrition has four primary aspects, each corresponding to a class of food. Like the sides of a pyramid, they work together to create, protect, power and activate the brain.

  1. Structure – Fats for essential fatty acids and cell membrane integrity.
  2. Protection – Fruits and vegetables for antioxidants and brain cell longevity.
  3. Energy – Carbohydrates for glucose and energy production.
  4. Function – Proteins for amino acids and neurotransmitter synthesis.

Liz was overwhelmed by the conversation and rammed into the walls and melted down in his office. She yelled and screamed she was starving. Our new doctor realized this was not a temper tantrum but a brain injury expression. We redirected her with the promise of diet change, but one last fast food sandwich and soda. Then I returned alone two hours later for a private consultation to learn as much as I could to help my daughter.

It was the middle of winter and my garden was covered in three feet of snow. My kitchen was going to need an overhaul—wheat, dairy, caffeine, MSG, sugar, preservatives, dyes and corn products were to be eliminated. In 1997, it seemed corn syrup and hydrogenated fats lived in everything. By the time I got done eliminating the stuff we couldn’t, shouldn’t and wouldn’t eat for the test, my cupboards were bare. By the time I restocked our kitchen my bank account was empty. But the results were worth every penny and minute of this investment.

Liz was remarkably less frenetic and impulsive after a month of turning our family diet upside down. Our home was more peaceful than it had been in over twelve years. Her headaches were reduced by half and because of that she participated in life in a more spontaneous and loving way.

That first week, Liz exclaimed, “Mom, I can think!” She proceeded to memorize 45 states and capitals, learn her multiplication, understand the concept of division and write a song. Her mind unstuck.

Over the years we learned what foods worked best with our daughter’s body and we discovered healthy fresh vegetables and fruits provided her healthy skin, more energy and a better stool. We sought farms that used no additives or hormones in raising their animals. We used brown rice, barley and thick rolled oatmeal. We seldom ate at restaurants. The six years we invested in helping Liz learn to cook and eat properly has also had another outcome; at age 27 she maintains her own diet and shopping for food. Her body, emotions and mind will always remain challenged due to the choice her mother made before she was born. However, today Liz is a remarkable cook.