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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.

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.

Tips for surviving the school holidays

Set meal and snack times and stick to them.

Kids tend to want to graze all day long during the holidays.

This grazing tends to be on snack food, rather than proper food.

The end result is that they don’t want to eat their dinner, and the cycle of snacking continues.

It can be really useful to agree on meal and snack times for the holidays.  So if a child says they are hungry outside of these agree times, you can tell them how long they need to wait.  Eating real food, and not just snacks is better for stabilising blood sugar. Low or high blood sugar has a big impact on mood.

Snack food also tends to have more flavours, colours and preservatives which are linked to ADHD symptoms.

Choose where you are going to eat out very carefully.

It’s nice to eat out in the holidays, however as you are going to be doing it a few times, you need to choose locations very carefully.

You can’t expect to take your child somewhere which serves junk food and expect them to go for a healthy option.

There isn’t a child on earth who would go to McDonalds and choose the salad!

When you go to a café, the kids menu is usually junk – chicken nuggets and chips, so avoid the kids menu at all costs.

It is much better to find somewhere that has adult meals you can share between a couple of kids, or between a parent and a child.

Stay away from deep fried foods, as the oil that is used is really inflammatory, and you really want to decrease inflammation in your child’s brain.

Monitor your how food is affecting your child’s mood.

Download my free food and symptom diary, and use this to help.

Write down everything your child eats and drinks, and how their mood is.

When you are with them all day long, and you do this for a few days, you may be able to see patterns between what they are eating and drinking and how their behaviour is.

Screen time.

Screens are hard to avoid during the holidays, and it is fair to say that most families will use devices as baby sitters at least some of the time.

There is a strong association between screen time under the age of 3 and ADHD.  Under the age of five, kids should have less than 60 minutes per day.  The screen time should be educational and watched with a parent.

How often does that happen?

Screen use can affect concentration, focus, mood and behaviour.  So keep screens to a minimum, and instead use the holidays to get your children into nature as much as possible.  ADHD has been called nature deficit syndrome, and being outdoors really helps sleep quality, which helps behaviour

Sleep.

Every parent knows that the last couple of weeks of term are a nightmare when it comes to kid’s behaviour.

Kids get very tired, and everything becomes a drama.

That makes it really important to use the holidays to catch up on rest.  Don’t overschedule your kids.  Allow time for boredom and creativity.

If you let them stay up late every night, the new term will start the same way the last one finished.

So set boundaries and limits to make sure everyone gets a rest.

Best sources of iron for kids

It has been drummed into us that babies need to start solids, specifically fortified rice cereal, by the age of 6 months in order for them to top up their iron stores.  Human breast-milk is low in iron, so it is true that iron stores will get depleted if that is all that is eaten.  What isn’t true is that fortified rice cereal is the best way to top them up.  Did your baby start solids and magically and suddenly get constipated?  That’s because the form of iron that cereal is fortified with is the same as in cheap iron supplements, notorious for making adults constipated.  I made the mistake of giving my first child rice cereal, and watched the discomfort she went through with constipation straight away.  With my next two children, I skipped the rice cereal, and the constipation.

Why do we need iron?

Iron is a trace mineral that we need to make red blood cells.  These cells transport oxygen around our body.

Children need iron to keep their immune systems strong, to help them grow, and for brain development.  If they don’t get enough iron, they can be pale and listless, and have lower energy levels than their friends.

They can also get headaches and be breathless when they run around.

Not having enough iron can reduce your appetite, making it a vicious cycle.

Iron deficiency is also linked to restless legs.

What clues are there that my child might be low in iron?

  • Your child really, really, likes to eat ice
  • Your child is very sensitive to the cold
  • You child is very prone to infections
  • You child gets tired very easily, or lacks energy
  • You child has very brittle fingernails
  • Your child has a swollen tongue

These might prompt you to get a blood test done, by your GP or Nutritionist.

What types of iron are there?

There are two different type of iron – haem and non-haem.

Haem iron will come from animal products.

Non-haem comes from plants, animals and supplements.

Haem iron is the type that the body can most easily use.  Non-haem iron is poorly absorbed, but eating with vitamin C can improve absorption.

About half the iron in meat is haem, and the rest is non-haem, so it is good to have vitamin C when eating meat.

How can I get iron from my food?

Haem sources include:

  • Liver and other organ meats
  • Red meat
  • Oysters
  • Mussels
  • Eggs

Non-haem sources include:

  • Molasses
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Tomato paste
  • Lentils
  • Dried apricots
  • Almonds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pecans

As you can see, it is much easier to get the iron from the haem sources than the non-haem sources.  If you are bringing your child up to be vegetarian or vegan, you will need to carefully construct each day’s menu to ensure a good intake of iron.

If your child is on reflux medication, you need to work extra hard to make sure they get enough iron.  This medication will reduce the absorption of iron.

Too much iron can be as bad as too little, and some people are genetically programmed to hang on to too much iron.  That’s why you should never supplement iron without having a blood test to check levels first.

Luckily, it is hard to overdose on iron when you are just eating food.  The body is clever enough to absorb more iron when your stores are low, and absorb less iron when your stores are sufficient.

10 ways to boost your child’s immune system

Now that winter is well and truly upon us (in the Southern hemisphere at least), I’m hearing from lots of mums and dads who’d like to boost their child’s immunity and prevent the relentless coughs and colds.

Helping your child’s immune system is possible through healthy, natural foods, and with a little time and effort, you might prevent that next antibiotic prescription.

Here are my top 10 tips to boost your child’s immune system.

  1. Eat at least 5 servings of immunity-boosting fruit and veggies every day

A good diet is the foundation of a healthy immune system and making sure your child has lots and lots of fruit and vegetables in their diet is a fantastic first step.  Try to get at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day.

Every meal and most snacks should contain some vegetables.  Try to include a rainbow of vegetables, as each colour represents different phytochemicals (the vitamins and other goodies in the vegetables).

How about adding some wilted spinach at breakfast, or including some veggie sticks for morning tea, and perhaps a small thermos of soup at lunch time.

Aim to include a mixture of raw vegetables, fermented vegetables and cooked vegetables every day.

When it comes to fruits, choose seasonal fruits – nature knows what we need and provides us with an abundance of high vitamin C citrus fruit in winter.  Fruits are also cheaper when they are in season.

  1. Choose your supplements carefully

There are lot of vitamins and supplements on the market targeted at children’s immunity. Think cartoon characters, bright colours, cool shapes.

What child wouldn’t love them?

These are generally very sweet, really fun packaging and tasty.  Ironically, sugar depletes your child’s immune system, so chewing a few too many of these gummies will be doing more harm than good.

Alas, they are jam packed full of sugar and other additives.  The amount of actual vitamins and minerals in these is too tiny.  There isn’t enough to help your child at all!

You are much better off buying a better quality supplement.  This has much more of the active ingredients and a lot less of the nasty additives.  Sure, it will cost you more initially, but at least it is doing what it claims to do.

If you, like many other parents, have been buying the gummies, and your child’s immune system still isn’t firing as you would like to, try swapping to a more therapeutic supplement, not targeted at kids.  You will be pleasantly surprised with this difference

When you are choosing a supplement, here are a few tips of what to look for:

  • Vitamins and minerals to help boost immunity are are Vitamin A,C and Zinc
  • Useful herbs in supplements include Echinacea and Elderberry.
  • Look for NO added sugar (stevia is ok, avoid artificial sweeteners)
  1. Try a little Cod Liver oil

This might seem like it is straight out of the middles ages, but don’t write it off just yet!

Cod liver oil is high in vitamin A and vitamin D.  It also contains essential fatty acids, which are so beneficial for our health.  There’s a reason why kids in the olden days used to line up to get their teaspoon of Cod Liver oil every day.  These people knew prevention was better (and cheaper!) than cure.

Vitamins A and D are great for boosting your immune system.

The vitamin A, vitamin D and the EFAs work together to improve respiratory system health This can reduce the over-reaction of the immune system to irritants like pollen and dust.

Think less coughing, less asthma attacks, less croup.

You can buy cod liver oil with a bit of orange or peppermint essential oil, so they are pleasant enough to taste.  All the same, don’t go adding them to smoothies – just take the dose on a spoon and then eat some food.

When you buy a good quality Cod Liver Oil, the amount children need is tiny, about half a teaspoon a day. If you child really isn’t keen, you can syringe the small amount into the back of their mouth.  Can’t remember to take it?  Set an alarm on your phone to go off just before breakfast or dinner.

Oh, and even in wintery weather, keep it in the fridge.  Give a child rancid Cod Liver oil once, and they will never take it again!

  1. Experiment with fermented foods

Another old tradition which has become popular in the last few years is fermented foods.

These are foods that naturally contain lots of beneficial yeasts and bacterial.   By feeding your child good bugs, you can crowd out the bad bugs, and boost your child’s immune system.

The great thing about fermented foods is that they contain a vast array of different strains of bacteria and yeasts.  This is different to probiotics which contain a limited number of different types.

Diversity of the bugs in your system in important for overall health.

Some kid friendly options include :

  • Kefir (make into a delicious berry smoothie).  You can make Kefir from dairy, or if your child is intolerant, you can make water kefir instead.
  • Sauerkraut made with added carrots and beetroot to increase the kid appeal.

It is best to make these yourself at home, but you can also buy them in health food shops.  Just make sure they aren’t pasteurised, or this will kill the bacteria that you want to introduce.

If your child hasn’t has fermented foods before, start with a small amount and increase over time.  Otherwise they might get a bit windy for a few days!

Taking a probiotic supplement is also useful as you can consume a lot of bacteria in a short time.

  1. Try to breastfeed your child as long as possible

By breastfeeding, your child is getting access to mum’s immune system.

They automatically get immunity to lots of the bugs that mum has developed immunity to.   This mean less coughs and colds when breastfeeding.

If you child is transitioning to day care try to keep breastfeeding for at least a few more months.  The first 6 weeks at day care can be the worst for being sick, and if the child is breastfed, it can make this a little less severe.

All the lovely cuddles can only help too!

  1. Allow your child lots of sleep

Babies and young children needs a lot of sleep and rest time.

Too many activities, late nights and not enough quality sleep will put a strain on their immune system.  Make sure your child is getting enough sleep (meaning you get more parents only time too!)

They should wake up refreshed in the morning.  If they don’t, it might be wise to make bed time half an hour earlier.

Some children can handle an activity after school every day, some cannot. You need to figure out what works for your child.

 7. Encourage plenty of exercise

Whilst too much exercise will dampen the immune system, enough exercise is crucial.  Exercise increases the body’s natural killer cells.  These are really important for fighting off coughs and colds.

So get out as a family – go for bike rides, walk the dog, play on the sand at the beach.

  1. Give your child safe sun exposure

 We get most of our vitamin D from the sun.

In winter we tend to spend more time inside and cover a lot of our body when we go outside.  This causes vitamin D levels in our blood to drop.

Immune system function then decreases.

So get outside more often!

In most parts of Australia, even in winter, during the day is warm enough to go outside in a T shirt for at least a short time.   The best parts of the body for converting the sunlight to vitamin D is bums and tums.

So even just a few minutes of nudie play in the middle of the day will be helpful.

  1. Enjoy my immune boosting chicken soup

Another oldie but a goodie.

See my recipe for immune boosting chicken soup here.

Not only is your child getting all the nutrition from the chicken bones, they are also getting lots of vegetables, herbs and garlic.

Soup is great to have on breakfast in the winter.  Don’t believe the marketing hype that breakfast has to be all about cereal and toast.

Why not soup for breakfast? 

Garlic is an amazing natural antimicrobial.  It is most effective raw, not cooked.

Garlic is also an expectorant, so it will help loose and get rid of respiratory congestion (aka Snot).  The added herbs are also great for fighting colds.

  1. Eat mucus-thinning foods

Mucus is a natural substance. If there is too much of it, it will become a breeding ground for bacteria.  You know your child has too much mucus if they can feel it running down their throat, and they have to snort it.

The mucus could be in your child’s ears, lungs or throat.

What your child eats will affect the amount and type of mucus they produce.

Foods like dairy, sugar, white flour and food additives will increase the amount of mucus.

Foods like garlic, onions and spring onions will reduce the amount of mucus.

Water keeps the mucus thin, so make sure your child is drinking at least 1 litre every day.

I hope you find these 10 tips practical!  Choose a few to focus on straight away, and a few to work on next month.

Hopefully this winter you can stay away from the doctors, and enjoy happy family time instead!