Saturday, February 18, 2012

Child With a Sensitive Sense of Smell

Extreme sensitivity to smells may be caused by a zinc deficiency.
I cursorily Googled child with a sensitive smell a while ago and did not come up with anything meaningful.  Selena's sense of smell was highly sensitive.  Almost all food smelled bad to her.  Bananas were the worst.  Every time Allie wanted to eat a banana she would freak out and run away (which of course Allie thought was hilarious and would proceed to chase her), but lots of other food caused problems as well.  She would frequently eat a different dinner at a different table than us.  Sometimes I would think she was overreacting and making it up, but she would smell stuff from another room, while not being able to see the food, that led me to believe she was not, so I tried to accommodate her.  Sometimes I wondered if something was wrong with her, but doctor Google didn't come up with anything, and I had forgot to mention it at her last doctor appointment.

Then I happened to come across a book called What's Eating Your Child?: The Hidden Connection Between Food and Childhood Ailments recommended via a blog I read.  (There is a new edition of the book coming out on April 23, 2013 renamed  Cure Your Child With Food.)  I had been looking for a book that might explain the prevalence of food intolerance's that seems to be going on. The title mentions picky eating as well, and I thought that might have some useful ideas, but honestly I didn't think it would say more than, "Make your child eat more variety."  Boy was I wrong!  This book goes into picky eating and identifies CAUSES for the picky eating.  If you fix the cause then the pickiness is easier to abate.

She tells you to not skip ahead to the chapters relevant to your child, and I tried not to, but she kept referring to chapter seven and I couldn't help myself (though I did go back and read the book in it's entirety).  Chapter seven is called "The Case of the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow" and is about ZINC DEFICIENCY.

The symptoms she notes are:
  • Fifth percentile or lower for weight or height?  Selena is currently in the third.
  • Growth trend going down?  For Selena she went from about 10th percentile to roughly 5th, gradually from age zero to two, so it wasn't a dramatic drop, but she was also born 3 weeks early and started off fairly short.
  • Does your child rarely seem to be hungry?  Selena is hungry often, but hardly eats much.  A couple bites often fill her up.
  • Is your child a picky eater? Yes!!
  • Does your child complain frequently that foods smell or taste funny?  Yes, yes, yes!!
  • Does your underweight child get full after a few bites (not counting dessert)?  How did you know?
  • Has a bone-age test found that your small child's bone age is close to her chronological age?  Have not had this test done.
At this point I felt like I was really onto something.  Selena is very short (or little as she prefers to be called), and sometimes I worried about it, but at the same time I was always THE smallest kid compared to my peers, and Floyd was the same way.  Someone has to be at the bottom of the charts, and I figured that me and my progeny were destined to be the ones  (excepting Allie who is about 50th percentile for height.). Yet sometimes I would wonder if she was still even smaller than either my husband or I at that age.

The book mentions a solution you can take to test for zinc deficiency.  Apparently there are solutions you can get that taste like water if you are deficient and taste awful if you are not.  I was on vacation and couldn't order it, but I was pretty sure this is what was going on anyway, so I immediately went to the store and got a supplement.  She recommends 20mg for younger children 30mg for older ones.  (Note:  The multi-vitamin I have tried giving her, but which she wouldn't eat because it smelled and tasted funny, only had 2mg).  I could only find 15mg or 30mg so I went with 15mg.  Unfortunately it came in a capsule and has to swallow it, but so far she's managed.  *Update: Here is a 23mg chewable zinc lozenge that is similar to the one we use now. 

I told Selena that the vitamin should help her sense of smell so that food wouldn't smell bad, and that she wouldn't have to run away from Allie's bananas.  I also told her it would help her taste buds and make other food taste better.  She was as excited as I was. In four days we started noticing a difference.  Allie was eating a banana and Selena had preemptively plugged her nose.  I asked her to unplug it and just see if the vitamin was working yet.  She was so surprised, she couldn't smell the banana!  A few seconds later she is asking if she could try eating the banana.  I handed the rest of Allie's uneaten banana to her nonchalantly, internally my jaw hitting the floor, and she scarfs down the whole thing, AND asks for more!  Amazing.

Since then life has been so much easier.  When we go out, she doesn't refuse every available food item, which usually left us with nothing at least somewhat nutritious to feed her.  We have seen the following positive changes:
  • She now eats and requests meat.  Before I could cajole her to eat a bit of chicken or a bite of homemade teriyaki beef maybe once every two months.  Now she requests it.  She chose to eat chicken strips over macaroni and cheese when were out for dinner!  I jokingly asked her if we should have chicken or steak for dinner and she said, "Both, that would be so yummy."  My eyes almost popped out of my head, and of course we did have both.  When we were eating the chicken, she complained about it being messy.  Normally this would have ended the meal right then.  This time, however, I wiped off the messiness and she ate it.
  • She now will eat the multi-vitamins I had tried giving her before and is also taking spoonfuls of fish oil mixed with smoothie.  She says that it tastes bad, but she just grimaces and deals with it, instead of freaking out.
  • I haven't heard one peep out of her about our food smelling bad.  She can sit near us while we are eating something she doesn't like and it doesn't bother her.
  • She doesn't seem to have as much of an issue with different foods touching each other.
  • Usually if a food didn't look "perfect" she wouldn't eat it. Any variance in color, texture, or seasoning would cause her to refuse the meal.  Now she will comment on it, perhaps out of habit, but she still eats it.
  • I'm not positive, but it seems that her appetite is a bit larger and she is eating a bit more at each sitting.  Hopefully this continues.

I honestly did not expect to see such a vast improvement so quickly.  I love stories about how a change in diet can prove dramatic results, and this is an excellent example.  (When I stopped eating cereal was another.)   I am optimistic, and so is she, that she will continue to try and find new foods that she likes.  It will be interesting to see if her growth accelerates and she climbs the percentiles as far as height.

I highly, highly recommend this book (I have not been sponsored in this recommendation in any way though the links are Amazon affiliate links and I will get a small portion of the sale).  There is a wealth of information I have never heard of including how how to combat ear infections, ADHD, stomach aches, delays in speech, among other things.  If your child is a picky eater, this book may help point to a cause of the picky eating, because she notes other causes besides zinc deficiency.   I just wish she had an adult version of this book that had solutions to acne, headaches/migranes, etc.


Sybil said...

Wow, that is fascinating! Way to go mama in finding the answer for your child.

Anonymous said...

My 8-year-old is not in the lower percentiles for height and weight; she eats a lot... almost all bread; but man! That sense of smell! She likes almost no foods, can't stand any soaps, and is intolerant of laundry detergent (even the dye and scent free stuff). I just discovered an accidental dreadlock in her hair because she hasn't been using shampoo or conditioner because of the smell. She's lied to me about it, but it started to become obvious. I too have consulted Dr. Google only to get SPD sites, which don't really apply to her. Thanks so much for this post. I'm looking into this book now. Hopefully, I'll find answers.

Jess said...

My 3-yr-old daughter suffers from some of these exact symptoms (very small for her age, extremely sensitive to smells, etc.) and I found your post while looking for possible explanations. I'd really like to try the zinc supplement, but I'm concerned about the amount. You say you gave your daughter 20 mg, but the RDA is 3mg for age 1-3 and 5mg for age 4-6. I know the government agencies are over-cautious and not necessarily a reliable standard, but zinc toxicity does happen, and the tolerable upper intake level (again, according to the NIH), is 7mg for age 1-3 and 12mg for age 4-8.

I'm just curious if you have any information about this, and if you think it's a valid concern. Are you still supplementing your daughter, and how is she doing now?


Laura said...

Jess - Yes we are still supplementing. If I forget, she starts whining about the smells again most often bananas. Apparently she has a really hard time absorbing zinc. No huge growth spurts, still a picky eater, but it is still much better than it was. She will eat in the same room with us, eat at least a few bites of new things, and doesn't complain of bad smells (unless I forget for a while).

As for the dosing I got the amounts from the book (which I think there is a new edition of), her arguments regarding the safety of the dose seemed to convince me, though I don't have a copy to reevaluate them. But I think they were of the vein that the RDA is too low. Taking the dose for over a year hasn't seemed to have had any noticeable negative affects.

A brief google search says that doses at 150mg a day can cause toxicity. To assuage your concern you could get the zinc trial liquid to test and see if there really is a deficiency, do the higher dose till your daughter passes, and then lower the dose.

Jess said...

Thanks! I really appreciate you sharing your experience. I'll post back if I find out anything new.

Coreen said...

I am SOOOO happy that I stumbled upon this! My son has always had issues with smells. It just recently got worse. I went to buy the book right away but had to order it. I found 15mg zinc a honey/lemon melt away which is perfect for my son. He enjoys it. After 4 days he stopped complaining about smells and now on the 5th day he just ate his very 1st taco!!! He is actually trying new things! He has been such a horrible eater. I am so excited about this and the possibilities of his eating habits. I was a little unsure of just diving into this so I did call his doctor. My son is 4.5 and the Doctor agreed to that 15mg was fine. So THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

Laura said...

Coreen- That is great! I felt absolutely the same way. Isn't the internet awesome. :)

Jess said...

This comment reminded me that I never came back to report. I too am very thankful that I happened to find this information through your site. I started supplementing my daughter with zinc a couple of months ago, and it's definitely helped, although the difference hasn't been dramatic. She is eating a little more, and there has been a slight weight gain. The smell sensitivity has improved a lot -- she no longer yells at me to "Sit far away!" when I'm eating, so that's a relief!

I've only been giving her an 8mg dose, so perhaps there would be a more drastic improvement if I increased the dosage. I had trouble finding a higher dose that is chewable/meltaway without all sorts of additives.

Thanks again!

Laura in AK said...

Amazing! I found your article as I gogled "zinc deficiancies in pre mature infants" My youngest was born 3 months early and has major sensory issues w/ food tastes/smells and textures. She eats about ten foods (LOVES starch!) But out of those random 10 many are high in zinc! she's been self maedicating with things like cashews, frozen peas and raw oatmeal! I am eager to try this supplement so we can all sit at the same table without a grumpy 4 yr old covering her nose. Thanks! Oh and a friend shared research that stated pre-mature infants are often picky due to low zinc because of the fact that they missed out on the third trimester when babies soak up loads of nutrients such as zinc. so fascinating!

Laura said...

That is interesting. My daughter was 3 weeks early. Technically missed being a premie by only 1 hr.

Thien Nguyen said...

I just found your post and te symptoms checklist for zinc deficiency is SO my 2 year old! It's a battle to get him to eat anything most days. He does drink TONS of milk. I will be looking into this book and I'm glad I'm not the only one who is struggling to get their child to eat. We need to start a support group. =)

Angela said...

Oh my goodness....thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this information!!! My 3 year old's sense of smell basically rules our lives! I am going to try the sic immediately! THANK YOU!!

Laura Behra said...

This is very interesting my son is 4 and anytime he smells something bad he gags and then vomits. He is a great eater but there are somethings he will not eat. Loves fruit. Hates mashed potatoes! Now he hats meat and this just started. I am going to try zinc. I have told his doctors and they just look at me very strange.