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How does our gut affect our brain?

When I work with families on their children’s health, I always work with the gut-brain connection and bring in the link to the immune system too.

The gut includes everyone from mouth to bottom, and also the liver. The brain also includes the central nervous system.  When either the brain, the gut or the immune system are disrupted, this can cause issues elsewhere.

Children are not just miniature humans.  Their gut, brain and immune system are still developing, and more sensitive.  Until children are two years old, their blood-brain barrier hasn’t formed properly and is easily damaged.  Children’s guts are also not mature and can be leaky, and their livers might not be at full speed for detoxification.  That’s why we should make sure our kids eat only organic food and don’t get exposed to toxins like cleaning products or cosmetics.  And lastly, children’s immune system is not fully mature until they are two.

If the gut is out of whack, the immune system is out of whack and the brain is out of whack.

If the immune system is out of whack, then so it the brain and the gut.

And if the brain is out of whack, so is the immune system and the gut.  Think of a time when you were really anxious about a performance or a test, and got diarrhoea!  That’s an example of the brain affecting the gut.

If there are too many toxins to be processed by the liver, this causes inflammation, which will affect the brain.  Heavy metals such as lead, mercury or cadmium will cause inflammation in a big way.

Having gut flora which is out of balance will affect a child’s nervous system, and changing the gut flora can improve behaviour and brain biochemistry.

So what is the connection between the gut and the brain?

Nerves

There are neural pathways linking the gut and the brain.  There are 100 billion neurons in your brain.  There are 500 million neurons in your gut!  These are connected to your brain through your nervous system.  The biggest nerve connecting the gut and the brain is the vagus nerve.  It takes messages from the brain to the gut, and also from the gut to the brain!  There are lots of things you can do to improve how your vagal nerve works, singing and humming being a few of them!  Improving gut health (like with vegetables and fermented foods) helps the vagus nerve transmit messages to the brain better.

Neurotransmitters

As well as nerves carrying messages, body chemicals called neurotransmitters also take messages from the brain to the gut and vice versa.  Neurotransmitters are chemicals that affect feelings, emotions and sleep.  One of the best-known neurotransmitters is serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter which also helps you sleep.  Many of these neurotransmitters are made in the gut by your own body and also by the gut bacteria.  So the happy neurotransmitter serotonin is partly made in the gut.  If your gut isn’t happy, you won’t be happy!  Other neurotransmitters produced in the gut after emotions like fear and anxiety.  A neurotransmitter important in ADHD is dopamine, which can be low in children with ADHD.  If a child is anxious or having difficulty sleeping, this will affect their digestions, as neurotransmitter levels are different.

Gut bacteria and inflammation

As mentioned, the gut and the brain are also related to your immune system.  If something triggers the immune system, it causes inflammation, which is associated with brain issues.  Bacteria which shouldn’t be present in high levels can make a toxin which directly causes inflammation if it gets into the bloodstream.  It can get into the bloodstream if the gut is a bit leaky.  High levels of this toxins in linked to depression

What to do about it?

The fundamental factor that you have to look first is diet.  Diet has the biggest impact on gut health.  That’s exactly why I developed my 6 week coaching program, to guide parents on the journey from a highly processed diet to a real, whole food diet.  By doing this, you can improve your gut health and improve your brain health.  Get started today by clicking here. 

If you’re not quite ready to do the program, but would like to get an idea of what to feed your kids to improve their gut health, click here.  You can arrange a time to have a chat with me, and I will plan out 3 weeks of meals for you and your family.  I take into account every thing about your situation, and develop a meal plan that will work for you.

And if you just want a quick chat to understand how I can help your family, click here.

ADHD – what else could it be?

There are so many ways changing diet can help with behaviour issues, or even with diagnosed ADHD.  In this article, I am going to focus on conditions that mimic ADHD, and give you an understanding of how some diet and lifestyle interventions can resolve ADHD-like symptoms.

Iron deficiency

A 2014 study of more than 1200 children between the ages of 5 and 18 looked at the levels of nutrients in the children’s blood.  Half the children had ADHD, half didn’t.  There was a statistically significant difference in the children with ADHD compared to the children without ADHD for serum iron, ferritin and haemoglobin.  These are all measures of a child’s iron status.  So already, you can see how nutrition can affect ADHD like symptoms.  Many children are iron deficient simply because they don’t eat enough iron-containing foods like red meat.  In the short term, they may need a supplement, but never ever give a child an iron supplement without a blood test and without working with a practitioner.  Other children have leaky guts so they don’t absorb their iron as well as they should, so a nutritionist can put together a plan to heal the leaky gut, and therefore improve absorption.

Magnesium deficiency

Magnesium deficiency is a big issue in Australia, for adults and children.  We are deficient because we are not eating enough green leafy vegetables, and also because our soils are quite depleted of minerals.  A 2006 study involving 40 children who had ADHD symptoms were given magnesium (plus vitamin B6) for 8 weeks.  Their ADHD symptoms of hyperactivity, aggressiveness and lack of attention were scored over the 8 weeks.  By the end of the 8 weeks, hyperactivity and aggressiveness were reduced, and attention at school improved.  When the supplements were stopped, the symptoms came back!  Supplements are great to look at in clinical studies like this, as it is easy to monitor how much of a vitamin and mineral a child is taking.  But in real life, nutrients should come through food, and by improving a child’s diet, you don’t have to rely on supplements forever.

Zinc deficiency

In 2004, 400 children with diagnosed ADHD were split into two groups.  Half were given zinc supplements, the other half were given a placebo.   At the end of 12 weeks, tests were conducted that showed that the zinc was better than placebo at reducing hyperactive, impulsive and impaired socialisation symptoms.  Zinc can be lacking in a child with a restrictive diet, and being low in zinc affects children’s sense of taste so they get even more restricted!  With zinc, it is also really important to get a blood test to check levels, as if you give zinc to someone, it can throw other minerals out of balance.

Vitamin D deficiency

We have become so sun-safe that lots of kids are vitamin D deficient.  The best bits of your body to convert the sun’s rays into vitamin D is belly and bottom, so let your kids have a little nudie time in the backyard!  We have also shied away from lots of foods that used to provide vitamin D in our diet, like fatty fish and liver.  In 2012, 37 children with ADHD and 37 children without ADHD were tested for vitamin D levels.  The children with ADHD had significantly lower levels of vitamin D in their blood than the children without ADHD.  Again, get this checked, and get your kids bellies out in the sun for short periods!!

Omega 3 fatty acid deficiency

These are fats that are found in fish, nuts and seeds.  They are really important for brain health and lots of other issues.  A small trial of 13 primary school-age children with autism and severe tantrums, aggression or self-injurious behaviour took place in 2007.  After 6 weeks, the children who took an omega 3 supplements had less hyperactivity than the children who took the placebo.  Don’t be fooled by the omega 3 gummies on the shelf.  The amount of omega 3 in these is ridiculously low, and you will never see a change in your kid’s behaviour.  You have to invest in a high quality, high dose supplement from a practitioner.

Exposure to lead

It’s sad to say that even today, with all we know about lead toxicity, lots of children are still exposed to it.  Mining communities have a big issue, and some parts of Australia routinely test children for lead.  Outside of mining areas, one of the biggest sources of lead that children are likely to be exposed to is house paint.  Lead isn’t allowed to be in paint any more, but have you ever lived through renovations?  As the walls come down and the paint comes off, the lead is exposed.  Cheap imported toys will often be a source of lead, and children of course chew on their toys.   I do hair mineral analysis on kids that display symptoms of lead poisoning, or when I talk to parents and there are ways that the child could have been exposed to lead.  If there is lead, it is then a slow process to remove the lead from the child.  One very gentle way to do this is by using lots of herbs in the child’s food, like coriander and parsley.  A US study looked a blood-lead concentrations  in children with ADHD.  The conclusion was that lead exposure is responsible for nearly 300,000 cases of ADHD in US children.

Exposure to mercury

Mercury can get into our children through dental amalgams (unbelievably some dentist still use mercury amalgams!) and some fish.  The term “mad as a hatter” comes from a time when people who made hats used mercury in the process, and it eventually had an impact on their mental health.  In a 2012 study mercury was associated with inattention and impulsivity/hyperactivity.  The study also showed that fish intake was protective against ADHD!  So the message is to eat fish, but only the low mercury type (like salmon or sardines).

Exposure to mould

We used to think mould was unsightly and a bit stinky, but now we realise the enormous impact mould exposure has on our health.  When Polish researchers tested 277 children for IQ and inspected their homes for mould, they found that long-term exposure to mould led to lower IQs. This study looked a visible mould, but you can’t always see it.  If you are renting a mouldy home, see if you can move.  If you own your house and you know there has been some water damage or poor ventilation, get a proper assessment and take steps to remove the mould.

Food allergies

Food allergies can affect children in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.  One of the less well-known ways is behaviour (and sleep, which indirectly affects behaviour).  Studies suggest that putting children on a diet excluding common allergens (milk, chocolate, soy, eggs, wheat, corn and legumes) can improve behaviour.  To find out what your child is sensitive to, I can organise a blood test for them, or I can put them on an elimination diet for a few weeks, then reintroduce the foods one at a time.  Parents never want their child to be the one that can’t eat whatever they want, but it’s time for parents to have resilience and see the bigger picture!

Blood sugar dysregulation

The impact of breakfasts of different glycaemic loads on the performance of nineteen children, aged six to seven years has been looked at. The glycaemic index of a meal reflects how quickly it makes your blood sugar rise.  High glycaemic load meals will make your blood sugar go high really fast, then plummet really fast.  Over a four week period, children attended a school breakfast club each day and ate one of three meals. Each meal offered a similar amount of energy but differed in their glycaemic load. The children’s behaviour, attention and memory were assessed in the classroom. Two to three hours after a low glycaemic load breakfast had been consumed, memory and attention were better.  There were fewer signs of frustration and focus was better.  The easiest way to eat a low glycaemic load diet is to eat real, whole foods, which are slower to digest.

Have you had your child assessed for all these things?

When you work with me on my 6-week coaching program, we work through all these factors.  All recipes are nutrient dense, and low glycaemic load.  We cover all the factors in your home which can be contributing to toxicity and affecting sleep too.  The program consists of 6 modules of online training, and 6 private sessions with me, to help get your child’s health back on track.  Get started here.

If you would like a meal plan for your family to help get all these important nutrients in to them, make an appointment here.  I develop 21 day meal plans for families to help them manage food allergies, likes, dislikes, cooking ability and available time.  The meal plans include recipes, shopping list, and even a food prep guide!!

Or if you just want to have a quick FREE chat to see how I can help your family, click here.

How to create healthy sleep habits

Sleep. Until you have to do without it, you don’t realise how good it is.

If your child isn’t a great sleeper, you can go years and years without a decent night’s sleep.

For the parents, this can get frustrating and pretty taxing, emotionally and physically.

It isn’t doing the child any favours either.  Lack of sleep can lead to symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as the child tries stay focussed.

There are lots of issues than can disrupt sleep and you can read about them here.

The amount of sleep a child needs will vary, depending on their level of activity, their age, and their individuality.  For a primary school age child, they are going to need between 10 and 12 hours per day.  A good way to know if your child is getting enough quality and quantity of sleep is their demeanour in the morning.  If you have to wake them every day, and drag them out of bed, or they are very cranky, chances are they need more or better quality sleep.

Sleep hygiene refers to all the habits around sleep and bedtime, and this is the best place to start to improve your child’s sleep

First up, have a think about how much exercise, preferably outdoor, your child is getting.  Kids need about 1 hour of exercise, through the day, not just before bedtime.  This is highly variable however.  Two of my kids fall asleep at the same time very night, it doesn’t matter if they have done nothing all day.  The other child needs to have lots and lot of running around, or she struggles to get to sleep.  Most parents I meet also need a bit more movement in their lives, so get out and get active with your kids for an hour a day.  Everyone will benefit.

Screens wreak havoc with bedtime.  They make it extremely hard for kids to fall asleep.  And, again, some kids will not be affected.  Generally speaking, cut out screens for at least 2 hours before bed. So no TV or iPad after dinner.  Instead, read books, do a puzzle, or just play.  Of course, this also means that parents can’t be on their devices in the time between dinner and bed.

Chamomile tea is a lovely soothing bedtime drink.  Some children like it, and like the ritual of having a cup of tea like mum.  If it is too bitter, add a touch of honey, but try to get your child used to bitter flavours as they have lots of benefits for gut health.

Kids thrive on routine (although not all parents do!).  Have a predictable routine every day, which starts at the same time.  We accidently got into the habit of setting an alarm at 7pm when it is time to brush teeth (the alarm was actually to remind me to switch over my milk kefir, but it became the bedtime alarm!).

Be firm, but kind.  Anxious children may need a parent to lie with them.  As long as it is for a reasonable length of time (like 5-15 minutes), this is fine.  If it is for 3 hours, it probably isn’t fine.

In my online course “Create Cool, Calm and Cooperative kids”, I take parents through a bedroom audit to see how their environment is affecting their child’s sleep, as there are lots of factors which disrupt sleep, but are really easily fixed.

Foods that help with sleep include:

Walnuts

These contain an amino acid called tryptophan.  The body uses tryptophan to make two neurotransmitters called melatonin and serotonin which help with sleep.  These lovely brain-shaped nuts also contain small amounts of melatonin itself.

Almonds

Almonds are a good source of magnesium.  Magnesium is a mineral that a lot of people are deficient in.  It is very calming, and helps your muscles relax, so definitely good for sleep

Green leafy vegetables

These provide calcium to the body, which the body also needs to help make melatonin, which helps us sleep.

Seafood

I always noticed when my kids were babies that they slept much better on the nights they had fish for dinner.  Seafood is a really good protein source, including the amino acid tryptophan.

Tart cherries

These contain melatonin and help kids get to sleep, but the catch is in the name.  Tart cherries are tart!  You can buy tart cherry juice, but not many kids would drink it.  I have made it into ice blocks, and it definitely works, but giving a child juice every night is not ideal (but better than medication!).

Wholegrains

These can be helpful, but again they have to be whole grains.  If your child has problems sleeping, you could give them a small bowl of porridge made with milk before bed.  The oats need to be rolled oats, not quick oats.  The carbohydrates from the oats and the calcium from the milk will help.

Boiled egg

This is a traditional way to help with sleep, the protein keeps your child’s tummy full overnight.  This will help your child get to sleep and stay asleep.

What about foods to avoid before bed?

Caffeine

There is caffeine in chocolate, so it your child has a Freddo before bed, switch it for something else, like some natural yoghurt, or a small piece or cheese.

Sugar

Ice cream after dinner is a big no-no.  The sugar will have them wired at exactly the same time they should be winding down.

Doing a food allergy test can be a really good short-cut to improving sleep.  You can book one here.

If your child has issues with behaviour or sleep, I highly recommend doing my online course “Create Cool, Calm and Cooperative kids”.  In this I guide parents on a 6 week journey to improve a child’s mood through food.  There are lots of recipes, coaching videos, a closed Facebook group for extra support and handouts.  Start your journey today!

New habits for a new happier term

Get the uniforms ready, check for mouldy lunch boxes in the school bags, and brush everyone’s hair – it’s time to go back to school.

The start of a new term is a good time to start some new habits.

Improving behaviour and mood is a great motivator to make some changes to the routine, so here are my top 5 habits to implement.

Go to school on an egg or paleo bread.

Ditch the Weetbix or toast.

These foods are highly inflammatory, high glycemic index, and lacking in nutrients.

Eggs, on the other hand are a good source of fat and protein, high in choline (a nutrient needed to produce acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter for memory, mood, muscle control, and other brain and nervous system functions).

If your kids are fixated on a “toast-like” breakfast, try my paleo coconut bread.  It has lots of eggs, and quite frankly it’s like having cake for breakfast.  Your child will focus better, and won’t be hungry as quickly

Include two veggies in the lunch box.

The closer a diet is to a Mediterranean diet, the less their chance of developing ADHD.

Mediterranean diets are high in fresh, seasonal fruit and veggies.

Primary school aged children need 5 serves of vegetables a day. If you try to get all 5 serves into dinner, you will never get there.  By having one serve at munch and crunch, and one serve at lunch, you might just get to the 5 serves.

As well as containing lots of important nutrients, and being low glycemic index, they also displace less nutritious food from the lunchbox.

Mix it up and try different veggies until you find ones your child will eat.  You can have traditional crudité types like carrots, cucumber or capsicum.  Or try leftover cooked veggies from the night before – some broccoli which has been roasted with bacon, or sweet potato chips.  Don’t give up if they come home for the first few days, new habits take time!

No devices at the dinner table.

School holidays (especially wet ones!) can involve lots of iPad and TV.

They might even creep up to the dinner table, even if they don’t usually.

So starting from Monday, put them away again!

Screen time has a bad effect on children’s behaviour, and they will already have spent time in front of a screen at school.  Dinner is a time to socialise, talk about how everyone’s day went, and enjoy a shared meal.  Children who eat dinner together with their parents have better vocabularies.

Of course, it is not always possible to get the whole family together every evening, so just make an effort to achieve it at least a few times a week.

Get outside and get moving!

ADHD has been called nature deficit syndrome, so get the kids out for an hour every day.

Prisoners get more outdoor time than school kids do!  It a great chance for parents to de-stress and get some exercise too.  Adults should be getting 10,000 steps day (your iPhone measures this for you!).  So grab the bikes or scooters and get the kids out for an hour of exercise.

They will eat their dinner quicker and sleep better.

Start a ferment.

Fermented foods have a really positive effect on our gut health, and our brain health is directly related to our gut health.  I see such positive results in improving behaviour and anxiety when children start to eat fermented foods.

There are lots to choose from, you can ferment most things (even fish!).

One of the easiest ones is sauerkraut juice.  Once you have made it, just include it in foods and dressings (don’t heat it).

My other favourite is milk kefir, for children who tolerate dairy.  Children who can’t have dairy can have coconut or water kefir instead.  It may be very daunting to start fermenting, and you may have a few fails, but just have a go.  Before we had fridges, fermenting was how we preserved vegetables.  People didn’t know about different bacterial strains, or the effect on their gut health.

It was just a tradition and a way of life.

What foods can cause behaviour problems?

Do you have a child that has tantrums they should have grown out of already?

Does your child have mood swings, and can be sent into a rage over the most trivial things?

Is your child spacey at school, and struggles to focus?

There are some changes you can make to their diet to improve all these things!

You might have heard about the Glycaemic index (GI).  It’s a rating system to let you know how much a food is going to raise your blood sugar.  Eating a low glycaemic index diet is a well known way to lose weight and control high blood sugar issues.

It is also great to regulate behaviour!

Have you ever had that hangry feeling?  When you are due to have a meal, but haven’t got round to it yet?  This can make you very irrational. You can’t think straight, and you lash out for no reason.

This can happen to children too, when they eat foods that make their blood sugar spike and then fall very dramatically.  It affects their mood and behaviour, and it doesn’t matter how much you reason with them or discipline them.  Their emotional regulation systems are out of control.

Here are my top 10 tricks to help regulate your child’s blood sugar and their mood:

  1. Stay away from regular white bread at breakfast. Opt for lower glycaemic index choices like sourdough, grainy bread, porridge made from rolled oats (not quick oats) or a paleo bread.  Or you could serve up some eggs and fried mushrooms, or my breakfast pulled pork instead.

 

  1. Have protein and fat at every meal or snack. So if you child is having an apple after school, chop it up and give it with a peanut butter dip (or sunflower seed butter if allergies are an issue).  Serve some hummus with carrots, or just a boiled egg!

 

  1. Stay away from highly processed, high carbohydrate foods. Some of the worst foods for spiking your child’s blood sugar are rice crackers, rice cakes and potato chips.  Try to replace these with foods that have a lower GI.  Good choices are raw nuts, seed crackers, roasted chickpeas or fava beans.

 

  1. Children should only drink water. Drinks like juice, energy drinks or soft drink are full of sugar and will cause huge fluctuations in blood sugar.  Save your money, and stop buying juice, soft drinks and energy drinks and just give water.  Beware of smoothies you buy in cafes and food courts as they have a lot of sugar.

 

  1. If your child is used to a sweet treat after dinner like ice cream or a cake, switch over to lower GI treats instead. You could serve Greek yoghurt with some frozen berries instead

 

  1. Brown rice has a bit more fibre than white rice, and is more of a whole food, but it is still high GI. There are lots of red rices and black rices on the market now, and readily available in the supermarket.  Try these instead, and they have big gut health benefits too (always helpful for mood!).  Basmati is the lowest GI white rice, or introduce your children to quinoa as a rice substitute.

 

  1. Lots of kids have 2 minute noodles after school, as it is something they can prepare themselves. These are full of additives (which we’ll talk about in another blog!) and very high GI.  Look out for buckwheat or soba noodles, and prepare some on a Sunday night with some stir fried veggies and garlic.  Put into single serve bowls in the fridge, and your child can still help themselves.

 

  1. It’s sad to say that potatoes are very high GI. The good news is that you can cook potatoes, let them cool, and then serve as a potato salad the next day and the GI will be much lower.  This can even go into the lunch box as a sandwich or cracker alternative.

 

  1. Bring back the beans! Pulses (also called legumes) which include lentils, beans and chickpeas.  These can be served with a main meal, instead of rice, pasta or potatoes.  Use cannellini beans to make a mash, just like mashed potatoes.  Cook a dahl with lentils and serve alongside a curry.  Or roast some chickpeas and throw them into a salad.

 

  1. Last but not least, if your child has mood swings, they shouldn’t be eating lollies, cakes, muffins and chocolate. These cause dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar and massive crashes when the blood sugar drops.  Reconsider your mindset that children are entitled to treats.  Children are entitled to happiness, love, and parent’s devotion.  Not treats.
Organic food and children’s behaviour

Have you ever thought that organic food is too expensive?

What if I told you that your child’s mood and behaviour can be improved, just by making the switch from conventionally grown food to organically grown food?

I think most families would like to improve their children’s mood and behaviour!

Organic food is better for everyone, but it is especially important for children, as their brains are still developing

Research shows that children with ADHD have higher levels of pesticide residues in their urine, these are the chemicals that come from eating non-organic food.

If a pregnant lady eats non-organic food, the brain of her developing baby can also be affected.

There are a few reasons why non-organic food has such an impact.

One reason is that glyphosate, one of the main chemicals which is used to spray crops, actually kills bacteria.  Prevailing wisdom used to be that humans aren’t bacteria, so this doesn’t matter.  As we learn more about the gut microbiome, we realise that we are actually more bacteria than we are human.

Eating food with pesticides is like taking a long term, low dose antibiotic.

This kills off your good bacteria and lets the bad guys flourish.  Having low levels of good bacteria affects our mental health and can lead to issues like anxiety and depression.

Pesticides also cause oxidative stress in our body, which slows down our body’s ability to detoxify.  Oxidative stress is one of the issues which leads to behaviour problems.  If our children can’t detoxify, it affects their behaviour

Your mitochondria are the power houses of every cell in your body.  Children with ADHD have mitochondria that don’t work as well. Pesticides will damage these mitochondria, so to keep them healthy, stick with organic food.

An important antioxidant in your body is glutathione.  It helps you detoxify chemicals and ironically, pesticides will reduce your levels of glutathione.  So not only are you taking on more chemicals that need to be detoxified, but you are also reducing your ability to get rid of these chemicals.

Inflammation in the brain is also a big factor in brain health.  Anything that increases inflammation in the brain is going to make behaviour worse and pesticides will do that.

There are lots of other reasons to switch to organic food too.

Organic food tastes better!  Once you start eating organic apples, you will never go back to conventional apples.  The flavour just isn’t there.  I still remember the first time I tried organic yoghurt about 20 years ago!  It was sensational!

There are higher nutrient levels in organic food, so even though you might pay more for it, you get more nutrients for your dollar.  And that means you need to get your children to eat less for them to get the same nutrient hit!

Buying organic food saves our farmers from the toxic occupational exposure they face from spraying crops.  Farmers have higher levels of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, so encouraging more farmers to grow organically will reduce the number who get these diseases.  If we can see our farmer’s brains getting affected by pesticides, of course our children’s brains will be too!

The good news is that once you switch from a conventional diet to an organic diet, the pesticide residues in the urine start to decrease.  It is never too late to make the change to organic food.

Pay our struggling farmers now or pay the doctor later!

 

Diet and child behaviour problems – fact or fiction?

Children’s behaviour can be a big motivation for families to change how they eat.

There has been an explosion in the diagnosis of behavioural issues such as ADD and ADHD in the last generation.

This is partly driven by a change in expectation of how children should be behaving, but also due to the change in diet and lifestyle that has happened over the last 50 years.

Our society now has so much stimulation, adults and children find it hard to switch off.

Whether your child has a diagnosis or not, if you want to address behavioural challenges naturally, here are some things you can start to work on right away.

Nutrition and child behaviour:

There are a few different things to look at when it comes to food and behaviour.

  1. Hypoglycaemia

When a child’s blood sugar drops too much (think hangry!), their behaviour can quickly deteriorate.

If you know your child is prone to outbursts of bad behaviour  when they haven’t eaten for a while, you need to plan for frequent ‘snacks’.

I hate to use the work ‘snack’ as people immediately think of ‘snack food’ and bring out the rice crackers, rice cakes and other processed food.

If you think your child would benefit from eating frequently, make sure all this food is nutrient dense.

Choose snacks like these:

  • hummus and carrots
  • a boiled egg
  • some chicken and avocado.

Giving ‘cardboard food’, like rice crackers is filling them up with empty calories.

This starves the good bacteria.

It also sends blood sugar on a roller coaster, the exact thing we are trying to avoid.

There should be protein, fat and a vegetable at every meal or snack.

  1. Sugar:

Studies show that hyperactive children eat more sugar than non-hyperactive children.

The rocket fuel boost that children get from sugar will cause their behaviour to worsen.

All sugar and refined carbohydrates should be removed from the diet.

This includes:

  • soft drinks
  • juices
  • lollies
  • ice cream
  • chocolate.

These should be replaced with nuts and seeds, and real food.

  1. Food sensitivities:

Processed food is full of chemicals that we should not be eating, such as artificial colours, flavours and preservatives.

Children are often the canaries in the coalmine,as they are more sensitive to these chemicals.

We should all learn from these sensitivities.

Many of these additives now carry warning labels in some countries, as studies have shown the negative affect on behaviour from consuming them.

By eating real, whole foods, it is easy to avoid these chemicals.

  1. Food allergies:

Allergies and intolerance are very common in children and can negatively affect their behaviour.

The six foods most likely to cause are reaction are wheat, dairy, eggs, peanuts, corn and soy.

Any food can be a culprit however, so thorough investigation is necessary.  To determine the allergies, you can do allergy testing, or an elimination diet.

  1. Salicylates:

Foods high in salicylates are some of the most healthy foods, but lots of children are sensitive to them, which affects behaviour.

Don’t avoid healthy foods high in salicylate long term, but focus on healing the gut instead.

By improving gut health, you can improve tolerance to high salicylate foods.

Increasing omega 3  fats can make salicylates less of an issue, so try supplementing with a high dose of omega 3.

It is important to note that the fish oil you buy in the supermarket very cheaply is not the best way to supplement.

  • this fish oil can have high levels of contaminants such as mercury
  • the fat can be oxidised through improper handling
  • the dose is low so you have to take lots and lots of capsules.

For kids, I prefer a high quality liquid, so only a small amount is needed.

What supplements help children’s behaviour:

  1. Multi-vitamin:

A high quality multivitamin supplement can improve brain biochemistry and correct lots of mild deficiencies.

Sure, a child should be able to get all the vitamins and minerals from their diet.  This usually doesn’t happen, for a few different reasons.

  • Lots of children are not eating enough fruit, vegetables or high quality protein.
  • Vegetables grown in depleted soil have much lower levels of vitamins and minerals than organically grown ones.  So if your child isn’t eating organic produce, they may be missing out
  • If a child’s gut health isn’t great (through multiple courses of antibiotics for instance), they might not be absorbing the vitamins and minerals from their diet as well as they should be.

Stay away from lollies masquerading as multivitamins.  They have too much sugar and not enough vitamins

2. Magnesium:

This is a very calming nutrient.

Low levels of magnesium can lead to fidgeting, restlessness, and insomnia.

Good food sources of magnesium include:

  • almonds
  • cashews
  • eggs
  • figs
  • leafy greens.

In the short term, your child might need a supplement to get their symptoms under control while you improve the dietary intake of magnesium.

  1. Essential Fatty acids:

These are nutrients for the brain, and important for concentration.

Children with behavioural issues will often be low in essential fatty acids.

If your child has excessive thirst, dry skin, eczema and asthma, they may be deficient in essential fatty acids.

You can do a blood test if you want to check, or you can go ahead and supplement with evening primrose oil or fish oil, and increase foods like linseeds or walnuts in the diet.

If you can’t get evening primrose oil into your child (try my bliss ball recipe), try rubbing a teaspoon into the skin twice a day instead.

  1. Zinc:

Zinc is often deficient in children with behavioural issues.

Children who have had 3 or more courses of antibiotics before the age of three can be low in zinc.

This is because antibiotics disrupt gut health, and therefore absorption of nutrients.

Another reason for low zinc is pyroluria (a genetic condition leading to low zinc and vitamin B6).

Before you supplement with zinc, or if you want to know if your child has pyroluria, you need to do a blood test.

Foods such as:

  • beef
  • egg yolk
  • sunflower seeds
  • pumpkin seeds
  • seafood

are high in zinc, and you can increase these without doing a blood test – it’s hard to have too much of a nutrient through food, but it can happen through supplementation

  1. Probiotics:

These good bacteria are great for dealing with gut issues.

Gut issues are very much related to behaviour issues.

Not all probiotics are created equal however, and some will help with behaviour more than others.

Depending on your child’s overall health and symptoms, I can recommend a specific therapeutic probiotic.

Why do I recommended spending money on some biochemical tests?

If a parent brings their child to see me with behavioural concerns, I like to do some tests to start off with.

Although testing is expensive, it removes a lot of the guess work.  With solid information, I can construct a treatment plan which is much more specific and can get to the root cause more quickly.

In the end, it often works out cheaper to have the information from the testing up front.

  1. Hair tissue mineral analysis:

This looks at heavy metal toxicity.

High levels of mercury or lead can be a factor in behaviour issues.  These contaminants are all too common, especially in some areas of the country.

Doing a hair test can identify if heavy metals are a problem, and then steps can be taken to reduce the heavy metals.

  1. Organic acid test:

This a urine test which can look for vitamin deficiencies, yeast over-growth and neurotransmitter levels.

Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals which are really important for behaviour.

For example, one neurotransmitter is called dopamine.  Low dopamine can lead to behaviour issues.

This test can also show if candida (yeast) is a problem.  Too many antibiotics can lead to yeast overgrowth and cause your child to act a bit drunk!

  1. Blood tests:

I also recommend some blood testing to look at magnesium levels, blood sugar, zinc, copper and essential fatty acids.

Deficiencies in magnesium, zinc or essential fatty acids can be a trigger for bad behaviour.

High copper levels can also be a problem.

And if blood sugar drops dramatically, you child can act out.

4. Food allergy testing:

This can be a very useful shortcut, instead of doing months of tedious elimination and reintroduction of suspect foods.

Food allergies and intolerance can be quickly identified and the offending foods removed.

Children’s behaviour can be vastly improved by making some changes to their diet and lifestyle, and this is an area that I focus on a lot.

Get in touch for a FREE 20 minute health check if you would like to learn more about how I can help with your child’s behaviour.

The GAPS diet

What is the GAPS diet good for?

GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology syndrome or Gut and Physiology syndrome.

GAPS is a healing diet

The diet was developed by a Neurologist called Dr Natasha Campbell McBride.

When her son developed severe autism, she delved into the research to try to understand why he was autistic and how she could help.  From this experience, she developed the GAPS diet.

GAPS is based on another diet called the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) which has been used successfully to treat conditions such as Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis for many years.

The GAPS diet revolves around the fact that poor gut health leads to many chronic health conditions.  In children, this can be issues such as autism, ADHD / ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, learning difficulties, epilepsy, digestive disorders, autoimmune disorders, food allergies and eczema.

There are 2 phases in the diet.  There is the Introduction phase of the diet, and the “Full” GAPS diet.

The introduction phase moves through 6 stages, designed to rebuild the integrity of the gut wall, and repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria.

The focus is on fermented foods, bone stocks and broths, lots of fat, non-starch vegetables and gelatinous meat.

As you would expect on any diet, there are no processed foods or fast foods.

How long it takes to get through the 6 stages depends on how severe your symptoms are to start off with.  It could be anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months.

Once you move through the 6 stages of the introduction diet, you move on to the full GAPS diet.  This will be your eating protocol for about 1.5 to 2 years.  It is more flexible, but the focus is still on whole foods.

Meals are generally eggs, meat, fish and vegetable with lots of broth!

GAPS also has a big focus on detoxing your entire life.  This includes juicing, safe sun exposure, Epsom salt baths, cutting out perfumed and fragranced personal care product, and generally following a healthy lifestyle.

Sounds pretty restrictive?

Yes, there’s no doubt that GAPS is a big departure from the standard Australian diet.  But let’s not forget that the standard Australian diet is making us sick.  Levels of food allergies, autism and auto-immunity have skyrocketed in the last decade.

Why would I do the GAPS diet?

You might look at doing the GAPs diet if you child has a behavioural diagnosis or allergy that conventional medicine can’t help.

Or perhaps you suspect your child has compromised gut health because of antibiotic overuse.

Or maybe you would prefer not to medicate your child.

Autism requires lots of specialist therapies, such as occupational therapy and speech therapy.  The GAPS protocol works alongside these to restore your child gut and help the therapies be more effective.

What happens after the GAPS diet?

Once you or your child have healed enough to come off the diet, you can start the gradual introduction of properly prepared grains and starchy vegetables.  Of course I would never recommend you jump back into the standard Australian diet, as it is not healthy for anyone.  But the good news is that if you have restricted your child’s diet because of food allergies or intolerances, you should be able to reintroduce some of these foods. 

So a couple of years of restrictive eating and intense gut healing will allow a wider range of foods to be eaten long term.

Where do I start?

Deciding to go on the GAPS diet can be overwhelming.

For that reason, you are recommended to speak with a Certified GAPS practitioner, like me.  I offer a 3 month coaching package to hold your hand as you transition your family.  If you are interested in finding out more about GAPS and whether it is right for your family, book in for a free 20 min chat and I can answer any questions you might have.

“GAPS™ and Gut and Psychology Syndrome™ are the trademark and copyright of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.  The right of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Patent and Designs Act 1988”.
Sleep – a precious commodity!

Our family has been struggling with getting one of children to sleep for the last 5 years.  As a baby she slept, well, like a baby.  But once she hit toddlerhood, bedtimes became seriously derailed.  We would spend hours trying to get her to sleep – the stories, the cuddles, sitting with her, leaving her to cry.  We tried it all.  Like a jack in the box she would got out of bed over and over again, until she collapsed at about 9.30pm.  Then every night, she would end up in our bed as she would wake in the night from her light sleep.

Starting school escalated the situation.  Morning tantrums became a regular occurrence.  She was so tired and didn’t want to get up. It was particularly disturbing that she was getting upset about her inability to sleep. She would ask why her siblings could just get into bed and fall asleep and she couldn’t.

We eat a really healthy diet, so we couldn’t look at reduced sugar or additives.  I had to think more broadly.

Our fortunes changes when we did Bio-compatability hair analysis for her.  This gave us a list of about 8 foods which her body was not dealing well with.  We easily eliminated these foods, without having to remove any food groups entirely.  We haven’t looked back.  Now she goes to bed easily every single night, and stays in her bed until she wakes refreshed at 6.30am.  This is life changing for us, we actually get our evenings back.  This has had a dramatic effect on her school work and she has made huge improvements in a very short space of time.

The test is totally non-invasive.  Grab the scissors and cut off a few locks of hair, that’s it.  No blood tests, no skin pricks, no scratch tests.

If you or your family suffer from headaches, skin conditions, ADHD, asthma, behavioural issues or sleep disturbances, book in for an initial appointment with me.  We can go through your health history and decide if this test is right for you.