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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.

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”.
How to improve your gut health naturally

How to improve your gut health naturally

Everyone is talking about gut health these days.

But why does gut health matter?

How can you tell if your child has an issue with Gut health?

How do you improve gut health?

Why does gut health matter?

If you gut isn’t working right, your body isn’t working right.

Your child’s brain is part of their body, just like an arm or leg, so if their gut doesn’t work right, their brain won’t work right.

Pretty much most childhood conditions can be linked back to gut health:

  • Skin conditions such as eczema
  • Allergies and intolerances
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Learning or behavioural issues

How can you tell if your child has an issue with gut health?

There are some basic checks and measures you can do to check your child’s gut health.

  1. Visual

Whenever your child does a poop, have a look.  Luckily our little darlings can often forget to flush, giving us ample opportunity to do this.

If it floats, your child might be producing a bit too much gas, which might mean they have an infection or are lactose intolerant.

If the gas causes your child pain or discomfort, this is a sign that their gut health is out of balance.

You shouldn’t be able to see undigested food in the poo.  If you can,

  • They might be eating too fast
  • They might not be chewing enough. This is a common issue when they go to big school and they want to get off to play as soon as possible.
  • They might simply be eating too many hard-to-digest foods, like nuts.
  • They may have some inflammation or not enough stomach acid.
  1. Frequency

Check the number of bowel movements your child has each day.

The ideal number per day is very individual.  The rule of thumb is that most people should be moving their bowels at least once a day.

If it is less than that, increase the number of veggie servings.

  1. Transit time

Feed your child with a noticeably difficult to digest food, like corn or sesame seeds.  Note the time they eat the food, then wait until you see the food reappear.

Transit time should be 12-48 hours.

Longer than that, and the food is sitting up there a bit too long.

Longer than 72 hours is constipation.  Do the test 3 times and get an average.

  1. Bristol stool chart

This is the best way to describe poo formation.  It ranges from 1 (hard nuts) to 7 (diarrhoea).  If your child’s poo is in the 1-2 category or 6-7 category, you may want to take them to a gut specialist, such as a Nutritionist or Naturopath.  Check out the Bristol stool chart.

  1. Symptom score card

Does your child suffer from any of these issues?

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Belching
  • Loose stools
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Undigested food
  • Bad breath
  • Mucus in stools
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Chronic food sensitivities.

All these point to suboptimal gut health, which would benefit from gut healing

  1. Look for wrigglers

If you see something wriggling in the poo, your child has worms.

There are natural ways to get rid of worms, without resorting to medication.  These involve using essential oils or garlic.  It is really something you need to do with a Nutritionist or Naturopath, to make sure you don’t kill off good bacteria too.

The important thing is to keep the terrain of the gut healthy (See below, ‘How do I improve gut health’).  This means keeping all the bacteria in balance.  That way, they defend their territory and don’t let invaders like parasites or pathogenic (disease causing bacteria) take over.

  1. Specialised testing

You can do specialised gut testing with your Nutritionist or Naturopath.

This could be a stool analysis, breathe test or urine test and can assess how well your child’s digestive system is working.  It checks if there is anything there that shouldn’t be there, or something missing that should be there.

How do I improve gut health?

  1. Feed the good bacteria in your digestive system!

You do this by eating more fibre and unprocessed foods.

Highly processed foods are very easily digested., which means they’re completed digested early in the digestive process, and there is nothing left to feed the good bacteria in the bowel.

You have to feed the good bacteria with fibre, or they can start to attack the walls of the intestines.  This can trigger allergies and asthma.

Eat more whole foods.  Include lots of fruit, vegetables and nuts in your child’s diet.

  1. Bring in the cavalry

As well as feeding the good bacteria in your child’s gut, you want to boost the number of good guys in the bowel too.

Eating foods that contain bacteria is a good way to do this, including fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, live yoghurt or kvass.  You can make your own or buy in the health food shop.  Just make sure they aren’t pasteurised.

Highly processed yogurt doesn’t have these health benefits (and the ‘yoghurt’ topping on snack bars isn’t yoghurt at all.)

If you know your child doesn’t have enough good bacteria, because they have had antibiotics, or have allergies, they may need a probiotic supplement too.

  1. Eat dirt.

Not literally handfuls of dirt.

Just relax the sterility a bit.

Ditch the hand sanitiser.

Play outside and get dirty.

Do some gardening.

Get a pet.

Be sensible though — wash hands before eating, after blowing nose, or touching something contaminated (like poo, compost, or vomit).  Wash with soap and water, not antibacterial soap.

  1. Avoid medication.

Lots of medications are harmful to your gut, the most well-known being antibiotics.

Don’t get me wrong.  Antibiotics are life savers, but they are for emergencies only.

I have one child who wouldn’t be here today without the existence of antibiotics.

If your child needs antibiotics, start them on a probiotic immediately, but take it 2 hours away from the antibiotic.  This stops the harmful yeasts getting a hold on the gut

Ever taken an antibiotic and gotten thrush straight away?  That’s because yeast has taken over in the absence of good bacteria.

If your child has had multiple courses of antibiotics, they will need a good quality probiotic for the foreseeable future. Other medications are damaging too, including reflux medication, that is designed to reduce stomach acid. Guess what?  We need that stomach acid!  That is one of the body’s first lines of defence again infection.  Remove the acid, and the bad guys (worms, yeast and bacteria) get in a bit easier. Anti-inflammatories and asthma medication can also harm your gut.

5. The migrating motor complex

This is a really important factor which doesn’t get talked about too much.

Basically, the migrating motor complex (MMC) is the electrical activity of the muscle in the gut between meals.  It is responsible for keeping undigested food moving and moving bacteria from the small intestine to the large intestine.

It occurs in cycles, about every 1.5 – 2 hours.  It only works when you are not eating.  That means, if your child grazes continuously throughout the day, the MMC never kicks in.

This can lead to stagnation of undigested food, and over growth of bacteria in the small intestine.  So another important way to keep your child’s gut health is to stick to designated meal times and snack times only.

50 years ago, there were 3 square meals a day.

Now we have somehow moved to about 3 meals, 3 snacks, and possibly even some food in between there somewhere.

A lot of this change is driven by the food industry.

Think about it.

If you have to prepare food from scratch for 6-7 eating occasions per day – will you do it?

But if you can grab something off the shelf, you are much more likely to do it.

More snacking occasions = more food sales.

Some children need so much food, that they need 3 meals and 2 snacks, especially if they are little.  You will find if they are having whole foods with ample fat and fibre, they will get less hungry outside of these times.

Especially in the school holidays, I find myself having to write meal and snack times up on the fridge.  If anyone asks for anything outside of this, tough luck.

I’m only thinking of your migrating motor complex, darling.

  1. Add healing foods

Healing foods are natural foods that will help rebuild your child’s gut lining.

Introduce your child to some healing foods such as

Bone stocks and broths 

Organ meats like my Liver and Bacon recipe

Cold water fish such as salmon.  These are high in essential fatty acids and reduce inflammation in the gut

Cheaper cuts of meat such as Osso Bucco. 

The amino acid glycine is higher in cheaper cuts of meat, making it more healing.  Cook in the slow cooker, kids love the tender meat.

  1. Relax!

Stress and anxiety will play havoc with gut health and similarly, poor gut health will lead to stress and anxiety.

A great place to start with improving this cycle in kids is to have them play outside for 1- 3 hours a day, preferably in natural light to get the vitamin D level topped-up.

Try not to fight over food (says she who says your child must eat 5 veggies a day, fermented foods and less snacking!).

Try to model good food choices, don’t make veggies out to be punishment, or less appealing (‘you can’t have dessert unless you eat the broccoli’ is setting broccoli up as not appealing).

  1. Avoid irritating foods

For a lot of people, foods such as grains, legumes, dairy, processed foods or sugar may cause gut irritation.  Your child may have a food intolerance to a random food.

By identifying and excluding irritating foods for 6 months and working on gut healing, you may be able to reintroduce some of these foods later.

I hope you find this useful and it helps to put into perspective why you need to think about gut health in relation to you child.

If you think your child might need to improve their gut health, click here to arrange a FREE 20 minute PHONE HEALTH CHECK.