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Dear Feingold Association Representative:

If you had told me as I earned an MBA that problems related to food coloring and salicylates (suh lisí uh lates) would baffle me in a few years, I wouldn't have believed you. Yet, baffle me they did.

As our first daughter, Annie, approached the age of one, she had eight ear infections in six months. Her nose constantly ran and sometimes her eyes dripped too. She ate a diet full of fresh vegetables and fruits. Therefore, we blamed her illnesses on full-time day care. Little did we know that we could stop the ear infections by getting rid of suspect foods, including natural ones!

I had heard experts blame ear infections on allergies. Yet, the usual suspects, such as milk, eggs, or corn, did not apply in our case. I didn't know that the culprit hid in many foods and often failed to appear on food labels, and that my child ate these foods daily!

We began to get a clue that it could be something in her diet when Annie got hives at the age of 13 months. Our pediatrician suspected the synthetic red food coloring in a holiday cake. Until then, we didnít know that food coloring could affect anyone.

Tired of the ear infections, doctorís visits, antibiotics, and pain relievers, I wanted answers. I followed my pediatricianís suggestions, including preventative antibiotics. I visited a state-licensed herbalist who prescribed herbs to boost her immune system and I added powdered vitamins to her juice. A visit to an allergist didnít identify any allergies. The next ear infection took longer to come, but come it did. The specialist recommended ear tubes.

As I imagined Annie in a drug-induced sleep lying on a hospital bed while they inserted ear tubes, I panicked. I scrambled to find natural alternatives. A friend suggested something that had worked for her toddler 20 years earlier: the Feingold Diet. As Chief of Allergy at Kaiser-Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco and a pediatrician, Dr. Benjamin Feingold realized that eliminating certain foods helped many children.

I doubted it would help Annie. Yet, I had few options left, so I discussed it with our pediatrician and we joined the Feingold Association. I emptied our pantry of natural salicylates, food dyes, artificial flavors, and preservatives. I couldnít believe how many boxes and cans had these ingredients! I found it hard to cut out fruits and juices that Annie loved. I hoped the changes would be worth it.

I focused on what we could eat, like bananas, pears, kiwi, and pineapples. I began shopping at a store dedicated to providing natural foods. I read the monthly newsletters and talked to other Feingold families. The changes got easier.

From January through April, flu season, Annie did not get one ear infection despite the fact that she remained in full-time day care. Amazed that the diet worked, I slowly became a believer. We learned that she reacted to salicylates in apples and tomatoes! We knew that salicylates in aspirin could cause Reyes Syndrome ≠ a big no-no. However, little did we know that natural salicylates could have the same effect. We learned how many foods, including baby foods, contain these ingredients, and how food coloring can mimic salicylates. We've learned more than I can write here.

We've been on the diet 5 Ĺ years. She stopped having chronic ear infections when we started the diet. She has had less ear infections in the last 5 Ĺ years than she had before our dietary changes. It's incredible how healthy and calm my daughter stays, while some of her Kindergarten classmates need to take ritalin to calm down. She makes wise food choices. She "cheats" consciously. If she gets too much coloring or salicylates at a birthday party, she knows she'll get a runny nose, wake up at 4:30 AM without being able to return to sleep, and feel jittery. She knows that what she eats can either make her feel good, or feel bad.

Daughter number two, Molly, came into the world with the benefit of the diet. Even on the diet, she gets ear infections frequently, but they're not chronic. No doctor has suggested ear tubes. In addition, when we let our 22 month old "cheat," she displays out-of-control behavior, aggression, and night terrors.

We're committed to our diet. Thank you, Feingold, for giving us a place to start.

M.P., Richardson, Texas