When Cian Moore was 12 years old he complained to his parents of a gritty feeling in his eyes that was affecting his ability to play football. He felt as though there was a grey film covering his eyes that was causing increasing night blindness. Specialists had diagnosed him with untreatable optic nerve damage in both eyes. He was told it was a condition he would have to learn to live with.
However, it was over two years before any doctor thought to ask Cian about his diet. Once he revealed a diet consisting mainly of bland foods like bread, chicken and chips and virtually no fresh vegetables or fruit, ophthalmologist Professor Stephanie Watson made the link between his diet and his failing eyesight.
Severe Vitamin A deficiency can lead to blindness, and this is exactly what was happening to Cian. His diet was lacking in the essential nutrients, like Vitamin A, that are provided by a balanced diet. However, once prescribed high dose Vitamin A supplements, his Vitamin A levels were restored and Cian was able to save the sight in one of his right eye. Cian was one of four cases of Vitamin A deficiency that Prof Watson has diagnosed in Australia.
Springfield MA, USA
Sonny Lopez is a 60 year old resident of Springfield, Massachusetts. He lives on the poverty line and survives on food stamps and support from the Government welfare system. He first visited Dr Eric Churchill several years ago suffering from inexplicable, extreme fatigue, his hair was thinning and his teeth starting to rot.
When Dr Churchill asked about his diet, Sonny revealed that for many years he had been eating only one meal a day consisting of rice, beans, plantains and sugary foods. It was a diet so lacking in essential nutrients that blood tests showed his Vitamin C levels to be incredibly low. Sonny had scurvy a disease mostly associated with malnourished sailors from the 18th century and was part of what is believed to be the largest scurvy cluster in the developed world outside of wartime or natural disasters. Sonny, like many others, lives in what Dr Eric Churchill describes as the “food desert” often found in lower socio-economic areas, where a good diet is not only hard to maintain, but often fairly low down on the priority list.
Since he started seeing Dr Eric Churchill, Sonny has changed his diet and does his best to remember to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.
Kim & Debbie Robins
Kim Robins was born with a haemangioma, or birthmark, in the middle of his shoulder blades. His parents Debbie and Wayne were assured at birth it was nothing to worry about. It wasn’t until Kim was 6 months old that they realised he wasn’t meeting his developmental milestones.
After months of testing, Kim was diagnosed with a neural tube defect, effectively a hole in his spinal column. In Kim’s case, the result was a much thinner spinal cord in the area of the haemangioma. Kim was conceived using IVF and complications arising from this lead to Debbie being very unwell during the early stages of her pregnancy. It was at some point during this stage that the folate levels in her system were low enough to result in a neural tube defect in her son, Kim, causing permanent spinal damage.
When Kim was 4 years old, he participated in an international research study that showed conditions such as spina bifida and other types of neural tube defects could be significantly reduced when women increased their intake of folate (vitamin B9) during early pregnancy. In 1991, the Telethon Kids Institute, lead by Prof Fiona Stanley and her colleague Prof Carol Bower, ran this world first trial asking women considering starting a family to take folic acid supplements and eat folate-rich foods.
However it wasn’t until 2007, that the legislation calling for the mandatory fortification of break-making flour with the synthetic form of folate – folic acid – was passed in Australian parliament. Since then the rate of neural tube defects in Australia has halved and the prevention of neural tube defects with folic acid has been called one of the great medical advances of the 20th century.
Kim, now 30 years old, is still in touch with Fiona Stanley. He is now an international wheelchair basketball star, touring the world and playing professionally while finishing his Masters in Finance. Yet despite living with chronic back pain, Kim is adamant he wouldn’t change his life if he could. His disability has pushed him to achieve and experience so much more than many of his peers.
Becky Jackson, mother of twins Joe and Elizabeth, is from Omaha, Nebraska. When her twins were born she was thrilled and wanted everything she could as a mother for their health and well-being. When she wasn’t able to provide enough breast milk for both twins, she chose to keep the fussier Joe on her breast milk and feed Elizabeth a homemade, organic formula from a local health store.
Becky soon noticed that Elizabeth wasn’t growing as fast as her brother Joe, her eyes had become sunken and her colour was off. When she took Elizabeth to the doctor for blood tests the results were alarming. Elizabeth had toxic levels of Vitamin D, causing high levels of calcium in her blood. She was dangerously close to kidney failure and potential death. Further investigation lead to a surprising discovery. Wanting to compensate for Elizabeth being fed formula rather breast milk, Becky started to increase the amount of Vitamin D she added to the formula. Without realising it, she had been giving Elizabeth significantly more than the recommended daily adult dose of Vitamin D. Becky had been accidentally poisoning her child.
Elizabeth is now a healthy two-year-old with stable Vitamin D and calcium levels.