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Bridges4Kids LogoChildren 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 everything."

"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 mellow."

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 it.

"I'm hoping in the long run Dylan's going to do things on his own," DeGlopper said.


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