In Crisis: Dylan - Nutritional Therapy Gives Youngster a Weapon
in the Battle Against Rage
by Laura Potts, Detroit Free Press, September 14, 2004
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Like a child
reciting his favorite video game titles, Dylan DeGlopper
meticulously lists the foods he can't have: anything with wheat
or white flour; flavored popcorn and potato chips; anything
enhanced with smoky seasoning. The no-nos go on and on.
But breads, cookies, beef jerky and more aren't off limits for
weight-control reasons. For Dylan, the foods fuel his
aggression, anger, irritability and instability. If the
Kalamazoo 12-year-old eats ordinary foods that contain wheat,
MSG or other common ingredients, he said his "head feels tingly
and lightheaded, and then it's like a big burst of feeling
"I was ornery and cranky," he said recently, four months after
starting a gluten-free diet. "I feel a lot better than I did
when I was eating normal stuff. Now with this, I feel a lot more
As advances are made into understanding children's emotional and
mental disorders, some experts are espousing nontraditional,
holistic approaches to treatment, such as the nutritional
therapy Dylan is trying.
"It's easy to throw a medication at something but understanding
what the real, underlying cause is takes a lot more legwork,"
said Constantine Bitsas, executive director of the Health
Research Institute Pfeiffer Treatment Center in Warrenville,
Ill. The nonprofit research and treatment facility specializes
in researching biochemical imbalances that affect mental health.
It purports to have treated more than 16,000 patients with
behavior dysfunctions, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar
disorder, autism, learning disorders or anxiety by balancing
body and brain chemistry.
Bitsas, who has a degree in psychology Portland State University
in Oregon and was a mental health therapist for eight years,
said most people's bodies have no problem breaking down glutens.
But for those like Dylan who can't, the proteins act like
opiates, causing a lack of focus and an inability to pay
attention, stay on task and think clearly. Glutens also can
cause sugar levels to go up and down, leading to irritability
and aggression, he said.
"Our position is not that medications are bad for you. You may
need a combination of" a gluten-free diet and drugs, Bitsas
said. "If we get them on the proper nutrient-based program, they
might be able to reduce the amount of medications they're on."
The diet has been a miracle for Dylan and his family, said his
grandmother Emily DeGlopper. Life is much calmer and more
pleasant in their home, where Dylan has punched holes in walls,
destroyed aluminum siding and smashed a glass oven door during
his fits of rage.
"For a while, it was a real bad roller-coaster. You could never
know what mood Dyl would be in," said DeGlopper, who has cared
for Dylan most of his life. But since he started the gluten-free
diet, "it's been a world of difference," she said.
"He's a dream," she said. "It's nicer here."
Dating back to the first grade, Dylan has been charged six times
with assault, treated in psychiatric hospitals nearly a dozen
times and has alienated his fellow students and neighbors. He's
been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder, and also deals with abandonment issues,
anxiety and learning disabilities.
At least once a week, Dylan would have a violent outburst, and
it would take him hours to calm down. Regular work with an
anger-management counselor, therapist and psychiatrist helped,
but his explosions were unpredictable and -- as he is growing
bigger and stronger -- dangerous. DeGlopper was afraid another
criminal charge would send Dylan to juvenile detention, or that
he would seriously injure someone.
On his new diet, Dylan may still erupt, but the episodes only
last a few minutes and occur much less frequently, DeGlopper
said. Afterward, Dylan realizes what he's done, and is
apologetic and cooperative, cleaning up any mess he makes, she
said. He's also taking about half the 12 or so daily medications
he was on four months ago.
Preparing meals with hard-to-find rice flour and potato flour
and making sure meats and other foods haven't been tainted with
wheat products or MSG can be costly and time-consuming.
DeGlopper is trying to shake up the recipes so she's not always
feeding Dylan a plain hamburger, cheese and rice.
Many mental health practitioners are skeptical of nontraditional
therapies, such as acupuncture, reflexology and diet and
nutritional treatments. But DeGlopper said she was open to
trying nearly anything that could help Dylan.
Dr. Preeti Venkataraman, a Bloomfield Hills child and adolescent
psychiatrist, said, "It's tough to say" if such alternative
treatments are truly effective "because there isn't a lot of
data out there backing these things up." She said she doesn't
discourage patients from exploring dietary alternatives, but
said they should be very cautious about nutritional supplements
or herbal remedies, which can interfere with prescription drugs
and impact the body.
"When you're treating children you want to be very cautious and
careful and go with treatments that have been proven and that
have data that's backing up what you're doing," she said.
The diet hasn't been fail-safe. A few weeks ago, Dylan snapped,
slamming his fists into a tree and then into the steering wheel
of his grandmother's minivan, which he wanted to drive away.
"He wanted me to choke him, put him out of his misery. He
explodes, the anger is just horrible," DeGlopper said.
She suspects Dylan -- who has learned to carefully read food
packaging labels -- accidentally ate or drank something
containing gluten. This time, though, Dylan's fit didn't last as
long, and he let his anger-management counselor help talk him
down. Afterward, he apologized, telling his grandmother, "I'm so
sorry I could have hurt you."
"There are some days that are harder than others," he said.
Still, while Dylan and his grandmother know they face hurdles,
they're committed to him becoming a happy, healthy young man who
recognizes what triggers his anger and knows how to deal with
"I'm hoping in the long run Dylan's going to do things on his
own," DeGlopper said.
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