You might not think there’s anything to the gluten-free or dairy-free trend until you meet the Landau family in north Austin. They take the old saying “they’ll do anything for their kids” to a whole new level. They are also a perfect example of what many patients fear happens frequently in today’s world of healthcare. They go from doctor to doctor and specialist to specialist in search of an answer to a health problem. The Landaus long medical journey ended in their own kitchen pantry. They say changing what they eat took away the pain their youngest son, Seth, had endured for years and changed the quality of life for the entire family.
I met the Landaus while researching a story about food elimination diets. They invited me and KXAN photojournalist Ed Zavala into their home for lunch one day to show us how they eat. There was no bread, pasta or cow’s milk on the menu. We watched them make fresh green juice from local farm vegetables, scramble farm fresh local eggs and prepare a huge salad full of a variety of vegetables. Every family member was a part of the preparation, because they all drastically changed what they eat to support Seth. From the time he was 15 months old, his little body was covered in eczema, an irritating skin condition that made life difficult.
“It was really itchy,” Seth Landau said. “I could hardly sleep through the night.”
“It was extremely frustrating,” Seth’s mother Amy Landau said. “We just wanted the child to have relief. We wanted our son to have relief. He couldn’t play, because he was too itchy. He couldn’t sleep, because he was too itchy.”
Over a five year period, the Landaus took Seth to several conventional doctors and other health providers and tried medications that offered no lasting relief. They were referred to an allergist who found no food allergies. Amy and Josh even took Seth to a chiropractor and a naturopathic doctor hoping something they offered might make their son more comfortable. The only option they had was to apply a steroid cream to his body over and over again which worked for a little while and then stopped.
“I wasn’t certain that any of the things we tried would work, but we had to,” Seth’s father Josh Landau said. “What we were doing with medicine was not working, so we tried different types of therapies. I didn’t rule anything out.”
“I have no other hope,” Amy Landau said. “I don’t have anything else to try, because I won’t quit on my child.”
After trying what seemed like every medical option, they came across the term “functional medicine” online. The Institute for Functional Medicine defines it as the practice of addressing “the underlying causes of disease” using “a patient-centered approach” rather than the “traditional disease-centered focus”. The Landaus’ search for what seemed like the last possible answer to Seth’s condition led them to Dr. Amy Myers, a functional medicine physician in Austin, who says she focuses on getting to the source of the illness. More often than not, it includes changing what her patients eat.
“Patients are demanding that they have more time with their doctor, that they listen to them, that they have more natural ways to treat what they have and really get to the root cause,” Dr. Amy Myers said. “As more and more people hear about it, it’s just exploding across the country.”
Dr. Myers says there is a big connection between the food we put into our gut or intestines and our immune system. According to Myers, a person can develop “leaky gut” and destroy good bacteria in the intestines as the result of years of processed foods, medications like antibiotics, toxins from the environment, infection and stress. The small intestine, which absorbs nutrients into the body, then becomes less permeable. Dr. Myers believes leaky gut keeps people from getting the full nutritional benefit of their food. She also says it causes the walls of the intestine to leak partially digested food and other toxins into the body that the immune system attacks and causes an inflammatory state.
Functional medicine doctors identify certain foods that can cause inflammation in the body as the result of a leaky gut. Dr. Myers often has patients stop eating all of them at first in what’s called an elimination diet. The inflammatory foods are gluten (a protein in some grains), dairy, corn, soy, eggs, sugar and yeast. Functional medicine providers may take these and more foods out of a patient’s diet and then add them back in one at a time to determine if a so-called food sensitivity exists.
The waiting game for Seth’s results
Seth cut out more than 7 foods under the guidance of a nutritionist in Dr. Myers’ office and took dozens of supplements for a while. For about one year, he took around fifty supplements a day. Dr. Myers’ test for food sensitivities revealed Seth was sensitive to gluten, dairy, eggs, and nuts. The Landaus knew to not expect an overnight change in his skin. They knew it would take time and money. And it did.
The foods in the kitchen pantry vastly changed. There are no more cereal boxes and pizza crusts. The family does not eat bread of any kind. Instead, the pantry holds things like fresh vegetables, nut butters, oils and coconut milk. They also have fresh locally produced eggs and meats delivered to their home.
Amy Landau admits the grocery bill has gone up, the food adjustments took time, and there were social implications. The family does not go out to eat much at all, and the boys have gotten used to saying no to the birthday cupcakes. However, making such a complex change was really a simple decision for the mother of three.
“To follow the diet protocol and follow the supplements and keep up with that wasn’t nearly as difficult as seeing my child suffer,” Amy Landau said.
It took a few months of being on the new diet and taking the supplements before Seth’s skin began clearing up.
“It was about the 5 month mark when I noticed a critical change, because Seth no longer needed to apply his steroid creams,” Amy Landau said. “He’s living life again.”
Amy also told me Seth went through steroid cream withdrawal, and she got help and support for the condition from the International Topical Steroid Network.
Seth’s hands that were once swollen with eczema now fill his house with music. He loves playing the piano! The Landaus claim changing what they eat has changed everyone in the family for the better, especially Seth.
“There’s no question that what he went through has shaped him,” Josh Landau said. “He seems to always find the positive in things. He emits a positive energy that the whole family is lifted by.”
“I don’t need science to back it up, because I have in plain sight how he was before and how he is now,” Amy Landau said. ”I can see from the outside he’s healthy, but I know from the inside he’s healthy too.”
Watch the story that aired on KXAN TV here.