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Are food colourings safe for children?

Does your child love:

  • Lollies
  • Cordial
  • Soft drink
  • Ice cream
  • Store bought cakes and slices?

These foods are really attractive to kids as they contain artificial colours. Articifical colours are even in certain brands of pickles, smoked salmon and salad dressing, as well as medications.

Children are the biggest consumers of food colours.

Is it something we should be worried about?

Food colours can either be produced naturally or derived synthetically (artificial colours)

Naturally derived food colours include:

  • Beetroot extract (purple)
  • Chlorophyllin (green)
  • Beta-carotene (from yellow and orange vegetables).

Annatto is also natural, but has been associated with head banging in children, so still not a good choice.

Levels of hyperactivity in young children have been shown to increase when consuming mixtures of certain artificial food colours, and the preservative sodium benzoate.

Research in 2007 at the University of Southampton looked at the possible effects of artificial food colours on children’s behaviour.

It revealed behaviour changes in children after consuming food colours and preservatives, even though these children had no previous behaviour problems or known food sensitivities.

The addition of food colours and benzoate preservatives to the diet resulted in significantly more hyperactivity in children’s behaviour, shown by increased movement, impulsivity and inattention.

This evidence suggests children with behavioural and hyperactive disorders would benefit by the removal of the following 6 food colours from the diet:

tartrazine (102), quinoline yellow (104), sunset yellow FCF (110), carmoisine (122), ponceau 4R (124) and allura red AC (129).

So what are the potential effects of these food colours?

The list is remarkable:

  • Asthma
  • Hyperactivity
  • Skin ailments (rash / hives)
  • Behavioural problems
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Learning difficulties

Alarmingly, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) reviewed the study and did not find sufficient evidence to lower the safety limits of these colours in food.

Therefore the Australian standards do not acknowledge the link between eating food colours and hyperactivity, and have not put restrictions in place.

Currently there are more than 300 food additives approved for use in Australia that are hidden in commonly consumed foods, many of which are banned or restricted in other countries.  

Aldi supermarkets in Australia have responded by removing the six previously stated food colours from its own-brand products, plus a further eight additional colours.

The European Union has required food colours to have a warning statement on packaging stating ‘may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children‘.

The British National Food Regulator encourages food manufacturers to find alternatives to these colours and many manufacturers and retailers in the UK have since taken action to stop using them.

We hope Australia follows in this path soon!

How should you and your child avoid the colours?

Try to avoid packaged and processed food!

If you have to eat packaged food, always check the label.

Additives to take a note of to AVOID:

Artificial Food Colours Preservatives Synthetic Antioxidants Flavour Enhancers
Yellows – 102, 104, 107, 110 Red – 122 to 129 Blues – 131, 132, 133 Green – 142 Black – 151, 153 Browns – 154, 155 Natural colour – 160b (annatto)   E.g. Lollies, soft drinks Sorbates 200-203 Benzoates 210-213 Sulphites 220-228 Nitrates, nitrites 249-252 Propionate 280-283, ‘cultured’ or ‘fermented’ anything e.g. ‘cultured dextrose’   i.e. Processed foods Gallates 310-312 TBHQ, BHA, BHT 319-321       E.g. Oils Glutamates including MSG 620-625 Ribonucleotides 627, 631, 635 Hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP) E.g. Noodles, shapes

These food colours, preservatives, and other additives are mostly found in processed and discretionary foods, which are advised to eat as occasional treats anyway.

To avoid these additives, I recommend opting for as many unprocessed, whole foods as possible.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and proteins is going to keep your child the healthiest and happiest. 

It is worth trialling the removal of these food colours and additives from your child’s diet to see if any behavioural improvements are noticed.

Next steps

If your child has any of the conditions mentioned above, it is worth getting professional help to make sure their diet isn’t contributing to some of their issues. By having an appointment with me, I can help you optimise your family’s diet and improve their health. Click here to make an appointment.

Is it worth trying the Mediterranean diet for ADHD?

The short answer is….. YES!

So what is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is not a diet loaded with pizza and pasta!

Instead, it is a whole food way of eating, based on unprocessed, natural foods. 

In addition to the actual food, it also reflects a way of eating.

Foods included in Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is based on lots and lots of plants. 

Lots of leafy green vegetables, seasonal fruit, nuts and seeds

It also contains wholegrains.  Grains can be an issue for some people, which is why diets like GAPS, Paleo or Autoimmune protocol remove them entirely.  However, if they are eaten in appropriate quantities (not 5 times a day), and appropriate forms (not heavily processed), they can be a healthy inclusion.

Wholegrains to consider include brown or black rice, whole oats or sourdough bread.

Grain products to avoid are highly processed breads, pastries or breakfast cereals.  Even when a breakfast cereal says it ‘contains wholegrain’, you need to take a step back and ask your self – ‘can you see a whole grain?’  If not, then the wholegrains have been milled to a fine powder and included as an ingredient with other additives and flours.  These types of ‘wholegrains’ do not belong in a Mediterranean diet.

If you do choose to include grains, make sure they are not the main feature of meals and snacks. Vegetables should be the main event!

Nuts and seeds to include are raw, not salted or seasoned. 

When nuts are salted, it is not so much that the salt is a problems, but it’s the inflammatory fat they have to be fried in first to make the salt stick.  Even if they have a corny marketing messages like ‘baked not fried’, this just means the inflammatory oil gets sprayed on after baking.

Olive oil is another poster child for the Mediterranean diet. 

Choose organic, extra virgin olive oil, and drizzle liberally on salads or veggie.  You can also use it for cooking, although you can use normal olive oil, not extra virgin.

Dairy products are included, but only fermented. 

So think of cheese, kefir and yoghurt. 

Not icecream, milkshakes or hot chocolates.

The Mediterranean diet includes fish, eggs and poultry frequently, and red meat less so. 

I see so many kids in clinic who are not eating enough protein and have anaemia due to not eating enough red meat.  I think it is wise to include more of these foods, including small amounts frequently.  It should always be organic however, so the types of fats in the meat are healthier.  Conventional meat has less beneficial fats and more harmful fats. 

To make sure your kids get enough protein (essential for neurotransmitters), make sure they get lots of beans, lentils and nuts.  These will also be a major boost to gut health.

How to eat

The Mediterranean way of eating is all about the family sitting round the table, relaxing and socialising. 

It isn’t about grabbing food and eating it in the car on the way somewhere. 

Find time in your day to sit down and have a nice meal with your family. The benefits are worth it!

What does the science say?

Research shows that ADHD is associated with a lower adherence to the Mediterranean diet. 

This means that children who eat a Mediterranean diet have less chance of having ADHD. 

This is pretty clear cut! 

Specifically, researchers have found that children who don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables, who often skip breakfast, and eat fast food are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than children who eat more fruit and vegetables, eat breakfast and don’t eat fast food.

Other habits which led to more ADHD were having a lot of soft drinks and lollies and not eating enough fatty fish.

What next?

My Create cool calm and cooperative kids program is the perfect way to get your family eating a more healthy way, and reducing behavioural concerns you might have. Get started today, or have a chat with me first.

Why your child should go to school on an egg

Before the demonization of cholesterol in the 1980s, it was very common to have an egg for breakfast.  Then all of a sudden, eggs were going to kill us because they contain cholesterol, fat was bad, and breakfast cereal was good.   But do you ever notice that when you have an egg for breakfast you are full until lunchtime and if you have breakfast cereal you are starving by 9am?

Eggs have so much going for them nutritionally, that they should be encouraged for breakfast, for adults and children.

Of course, diets are not one size fit all.  Lots of children have egg allergies or intolerances, so need to avoid them.

Adults with autoimmune diseases also need to tread carefully with eggs.

So why are eggs such a great food?

Phospholipids

Eggs contain fats called ‘phospholipids’. These help to make the myelin sheath, the insulation that covers all our nerves.  Having good insulation is essential for signals to be transmitted easily along nerves.

Eating enough phospholipids will help your child’s mood, school performance and focus.

There are 2 types of phospholipids of interest, called phosphatidyl choline and phosphatidyl serine.

Phosphatidyl choline

Rat studies have shown that pregnant rats that are fed phophatidyl choline give birth to baby rats with better brain function and better memory.  The reason it is so important is because our bodies use it to make acetylcholine.  Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter in our brain which helps with memory.

Choline can also have big impacts on children with speech delay, also because of it’s impact on acteylcholine

Phosphatidyl serine

This is also really important for brain health, especially learning, concentration and memory.

It is also able to decrease cortisol, the stress hormone, making it really useful for people who are chronically stressed (all kids with behaviour issues will be under chronic stress).

One of the best sources of these phospholipids is eggs.  Another great source is organ meats like liver, kidney or brain!

A vegetarian or vegan child (either through fussiness or parental wish) will struggle to get enough  phospholipids without taking a supplement.

Protein

Egg whites are a great source of complete protein.  Having an egg at breakfast will provide protein which is necessary to build healthy neurotransmitters in the brain.

It will also help to stabilise your child’s blood sugar so they won’t by tired and irritable by the time they get to class.

Having an egg at breakfast will mean your child won’t spend the first hour at school wondering when they are going to be able to eat something because they are so hungry!

Sulphur and selenium

Eggs contain sulphur and selenium.  These are both great nutrients for detoxifying.

Lots of children have been inadvertently exposed to heavy metals like lead and mercury (find out if this is a problem for them with a hair test), and eating eggs is one way to start to remove these toxins.

B vitamins

These are needed to have a healthy stress response, and to produce energy.

Children that have behaviour issues are under constant stress, at home and at school: “hurry up”, “sit down”, “don’t do that”.

Having a good store of B vitamins will help them deal with that.

Being under stress also depletes B vitamins so it is easy to get into a vicious cycle

Vitamin D

The “slip, slop slap” campaign has been so successful that a lot of children are now deficient in vitamin D.

Vitamin D is needed to make serotonin (the happy neurotransmitter).

Children with ADHD have vitamin D levels which are a third lower than children without ADHD.

Eggs are one of the few commonly consumed food sources of vitamin D.  Another reason to eat them!

How to choose eggs

When shopping for eggs, you want to choose free range organic eggs.  What a chicken eats will directly affect the nutritional content of their eggs.  If they are eating a diet just of grains, they will not have as rich a nutrient content as if they are eating grass, bugs and worms.

Boiling or scrambling the eggs is better than frying them.  Frying eggs in a high heat will destroy more nutrients and oxidise the fats more.

Protein for a healthy brain, better mood and balanced behaviour

Children (or adults!) with mood or behaviour issues need to get enough protein in their diet.  Ideally, there should be some protein at every meal or snack.  That doesn’t mean eating meat 5 times a day, it’s just a matter of being mindful to include some high protein foods such as nuts, legumes or eggs.

So why is this protein so important?

There are a few reasons why this protein is useful.

Blood sugar

Eating protein with a carbohydrate will lower the glycaemic load of the carbohydrates.  Fluctuating blood sugar due to eating high glycaemic index foods will affect a child’s mood, behaviour and IQ.  Sugars and starches are quickly broken down to glucose during digestions and absorbed into the blood stream, giving a sudden burst of energy.  The higher the glycaemic load of the meal, the greater the fluctuation in blood sugar.

Neurotransmitters.  These are the chemical messengers in the brain and have a huge influence on things like mood and behaviour.  To make neurotransmitters, you need amino acids.  Amino acids come from protein.  So if your child isn’t eating enough protein, they won’t be able to make enough neurotransmitters.

Serotonin is one of these really important neurotransmitters.  It has a big impact on mood and sleep, and it is made from the amino acid tryptophan.

Eating lots of protein rich foods such as these will help you make enough serotonin:

  • fish
  • turkey
  • chicken
  • cheese
  • beans
  • tofu
  • eggs

If you child already is low in serotonin, either because they aren’t eating enough protein, or because they are always stressed, they may need a supplement.

A perpetually stressed child, or one with a chronic infection won’t make serotonin efficiently, so finding ways to help the child relax and treating infections are important too.  A great way to see if your child isn’t making serotonin well is to do an Organic Acids Test (OAT).

A child with a serotonin deficiency will tend towards:

  • depression (especially in winter)
  • social anxiety
  • aggression
  • obsessive compulsive disorder
  • carbohydrate cravings
  • constipation

Another important neurotransmitter is dopamine.  If a child doesn’t have enough dopamine they will have addictive tendencies, restless legs, be unmotivated, have dull dreams and be forgetful.

To boost dopamine, and therefore boost focus and motivation, kids need to eat foods high in the amino acid tyrosine.

This can be found in these protein rich foods:

  • almonds
  • eggs
  • fish
  • chicken

Satiation

Protein fills you up more than carbohydrates do, which means eating protein helps you manage your weight.  This means your child won’t reach for snacks as often, which is a great thing to help avoid artificial additive and junk foods.

Could yeast overgrowth be causing my child’s problems?

You may have heard of yeast overgrowth by it’s other name, Candida (or Candida albicans).  Candida is a type of fungus, a one-celled organism.  Everyone has some Candida in their body, and quite often it lives in balance with the bacteria in your body.

Sometimes however, it can go a little crazy, and start to dominate your body’s ecosystem.

This can happen for a few different reasons:

  • Too many courses of antibiotics.  Antibiotics disrupt the eco-system in your gut, killing off lots of bacteria, good and bad.  In doing so, it allows candida to take over, it doesn’t have to compete with bacteria any more.
  • Too much sugar and refined carbohydrates in the body.  Candida loves sugar, and worse than that, it makes its host (the child) crave sugar.  So a child with candida will get into a vicious cycle, of craving sugar, which feeds the Candida, which makes the sugar cravings even worse!
  • Heavy metal toxicity.  If your child has been affected by lead, mercury or another heavy metal, this will make them more susceptible to Candida overgrowth. And until you can get rid of the heavy metal, the candida will be hard to treat.  Doing a hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA) will show if your child has a heavy metal issue, which you can then treat using food and nutrients.  Organise a test using this link.

So why is it so bad to have a candida overgrowth?

If you have ever had a candida infection, you will know the physical discomfort this can bring.  But the problems run deeper than this.  Just like the problem bacteria Clostridia, Candida will form toxins (metabolites) in the body which can affect the brain and cause behavioural problems.  The toxins can leak out of the gut and into the bloodstream, which means they can get to the brain.

Behavioural issues you can expect in a child with a Candida overgrowth include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Hyper-excitability
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Mood swings
  • Memory problems
  • Poor attention span
  • Inappropriate behaviour
  • Sleep disturbances

Other symptoms of Candida overgrowth:

  • Cravings for sweet foods or refined carbohydrates
  • Weak immune systems
  • Vaginal candida infections
  • Fungal toenail infections
  • Bad breath
  • Sinus issues
  • Bloating
  • White furry tongue

How do I get rid of the Candida overgrowth?

Certain types of probiotics, if taken in sufficient quantities will help to dampen down a candida overgrowth.  That is why it is a good idea to take probiotics at the same time as taking the antibiotic, to make sure Candida doesn’t over grow.

Remove sugar from the diet.  All forms of sugar need to be removed for a while, this even includes fruit.  The only fruit that can stay is lemons and limes.  This is an essential step to take, as if you keep feeding the Candida, you will never get the upper hand.

Add in antifungal foods and spices.  Antifungal foods include coconut, garlic, oregano and ginger.  Cook with coconut oil, add garlic in the final stages of cooking so it is still quite raw, add heaps of oregano to bolognaise and make a tea from fresh ginger and lemon

Drink KefirKefir is a fermented milk drink, and it helps your gut ecosystem get back into balance.  It tastes a bit like drinking yoghurt.  The sugar in the milk has been digested by the good bacteria and yeast in the kefir.

Add sauerkraut into your diet. If you have never had sauerkraut before, start with a very small amount, or even start with sauerkraut juice.  Similar to the kefir, sauerkraut will help to rebalance the ecosystem in your gut, so Candida can’t dominate.  Sauerkraut is really great for digestion, as raw vegetables contain enzymes which will help remove toxins from the body and strengthen your immune system.  Strengthening your immune system will help your body defend itself again Candida overgrowth.

When I work with children with mood or behaviour issues, I run both a HTMA and a combined food allergy + Candida test.  That way I can tell from the very start if heavy metals, nutrient deficiencies, food allergies or candida is the issue.  This makes treatment much faster!

How do bad gut bacteria impact kid’s behaviour?

Our gut health impacts all aspects of our health, including our mental health.  I have explained how this works in my article on the gut brain connection.

Overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut will produce harmful compounds.  For example the bacterial family Clostridia produce a harmful compound called HPHPA.  This compound changes the neurotransmitter balance in the body, which leads to hyperactivity and aggression.

Why would your child have high levels of this bad bacteria?

Lots of kids have too much Clostridia, and the main reason for this is having had too many courses of antibiotics.  The over-prescription of antibiotics, especially for recurrent ear infections leads to overgrowth of harmful bacteria, as well as lots of other issues including childhood obesity.

What does HPHPA do?

This harmful compound enters the blood stream via the gut.  Here, it affects the enzymes responsible for maintaining the balance between two neurotransmitters called dopamine and norepinephrine.  If these two neurotransmitters are out of balance, emotional and mental wellbeing is affected.

Dopamine controls things like satisfaction and pleasure.  It also helps the communication between brain and muscles (which is why people with Parkinson’s disease have a tremor, because they don’t have enough dopamine).

Norepinephrine’s job is to regulate learning, emotions, attentiveness and sleep.

Normal levels of dopamine are good, but too high levels are not good.  Too much dopamine causes over stimulation, agitation and anxiety.  It also causes oxidation in the brain, which then uses up the body’s store of antioxidants.  It will make the child burn through the body’s stores of zinc, magnesium and B vitamins which are essential to brain health.

How do I know if my child has high HPHPA?

There is a urine test called an organic acid test (OAT)  which looks for HPHPA levels.  It is estimated that between 10 and 20% of children with ADHD will have high levels of HPHPA.  Whilst these numbers aren’t huge, it is still a good idea to test, as treating this root cause will improve your child’s mood and behaviour in a matter of months.

Are there any clues before I spend money on testing?

Yes.  You can have a guess at whether this is an issue for your child.

If you tried medication and your child got worse, then this might be because their dopamine was already too high, and the medication pushed it higher.

If your child has hyperactivity, agitation and aggression, they may already have high dopamine because of the HPHPA.

If your child has gut issues such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea.  That may mean they have an overgrowth of Clostridia.

What next?

Treatment of the clostridia would involve improving gut health and taking a high dose probiotic, which is best to do in conjunction with a practitioner like me, who specialises in this area.  Click on this link to make a Skype appointment with me.

What does gluten have to do with mood and behaviour?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, and other grains such as barley, rye and spelt.  Unless you are on a gluten free diet, there is a good chance that your child is eating gluten three or more times per day.  One of the reasons that so many people have a big issue with gluten is because we have overdosed so much on it in the last few generations.

So why does this protein have such a negative impact on mood and behaviour?

Food Allergy

Rates of food allergies have skyrocketed in recent years.  There are a few different types of food allergy.

There are food allergies that can cause a reaction quickly after eating a food.  Possible symptoms of an immediate reaction are hives or anaphylaxis.  These types of reactions are called IgE reactions, and they can be life threatening.  These are the allergies that are tested for with skin prick tests, by doctors or allergists.

Food allergies can also be delayed and symptoms may not be evident for many hours after the child has eaten the problem food.  These are called IgG reactions.

Delayed food allergies can have a range of different symptoms, which are hard to link to eating a particular food, due to the time delay.   They are also hard to identify, as the problem food is often a food that is eaten multiple times every day, so you are never really symptom free.

Symptoms of IgG reactions related to behaviour include:

  • Highly strung, excitable or agitated
  • Inattentive
  • Impulsive
  • Irritable
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Hyperactive
  • Repetitive, loud talking, perhaps with stuttering
  • Short tempered
  • Moody
  • Problems with handwriting

The best way to test for a delayed reaction allergy (IgG reaction) is to do a blood test.

Food sensitivity

Some children will have a sensitivity to gluten, and not be able to break it down properly.  This isn’t a food allergy, as the immune system isn’t involved.

When they can’t break the gluten down properly, the gluten forms a compound called gliadorphin in their brain.  As the name suggests, this compound is closely related to morphine!  And it will act like morphine in your child’s brain.

Clues that this is what is happening in your child are:

  • Problems with speech and hearing
  • Spaciness or brain fog
  • Frequent fatigue
  • Moodiness
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Difficulty with sleep.

There are a few reasons why your child could have this sensitivity.

It could be that they don’t have enough of the enzyme that breaks down gluten.

Or it could be that they don’t have enough zinc to make the enzyme work well.

If your child does have this issue with gluten, it is likely that they might also have an issue with the protein in dairy (casein).  You might want to remove that from the diet also.

The easiest way to see if gluten is a sensitivity for your child is to strictly remove it for at least a few weeks, and see if symptoms improve.

Leaky gut / leaky brain

Normally your gut wall has very small gaps between the cells, so big particles that shouldn’t get through, can’t get through.  It is quite common for these gaps to get bigger than they should be, which means particles from food can get into the blood stream more easily. The gut won’t be acting as a sufficient barrier.  This is called leaky gut.

Gluten has a role to place in the development of leaky gut.  When someone eats gluten, it causes the body to release a substance called zonulin.  Zonulin causes the cells in the gut to move apart slightly, making the gut leaky.  Zonulin can even have an effect directly on the brain and cause ‘leaky brain’.  This means that particles in our blood stream that should never be able to get near our brains can get in to it!  This causes inflammation in the brain which affect mood, behaviour and is implicated in autism.

Reducing inflammation and healing the gut are important steps to improving your child’s mood and behaviour.  As well as improved behaviour, you can also expect to see improvements in language and skin.  One of the first steps in the journey to healing your gut is removing gluten, as it inflames the gut wall.

Embarking on a major dietary change can be daunting, even when you know its the right thing to do.  To ease the transition, download my free gluten free dairy free recipe book.

Hair tissue mineral analysis for children

One of my favourite tests for children with behaviour issues, autism or ADHD is a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA).  It is non-invasive, as it just requires a sample of hair, no needles.  Of course even the thought of a hair-cut is a challenge for some children, but only one lock of hair is needed.

Substances that are in the blood stream will leave the body in the hair.

Minerals and metals can accumulate, and they are fixed in the hair.

Once the hair has grown, and left the body, the levels of metals and minerals don’t change significantly.

The analysis will show the concentrations of minerals and metals that have accumulated in the hair over the last 1-3 months.

HTMA looks at 2 key things in your child’s hair

The good stuff, such as minerals, and their relative balance (calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron and more)

The bad stuff such as heavy metals (arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury)

Unfortunately, there are lots of sources of heavy metals in modern life, and these can cause developmental and neurological damage.

Another great thing it tests for is lithium, which is a type of metal, but one that you do need some of in your body.  Studies have shown that most children with ADHD have levels of lithium which are too low.  This is especially likely if there is a history of depression or bipolar in the family.

Why would my child have mineral imbalances?

A child under stress will be depleted of magnesium and zinc

A child with some toxic metals or chemicals in their body (perhaps because they don’t detoxify them very well or because they have had exposure) will have imbalances.  Toxic metals can replace minerals in the body and interfere with mineral absorption.

Children with an underlying bacterial or viral infection will be under enough stress to deplete minerals

The soil in Australia is depleted of many minerals, so even if your child is eating lots of fruit and vegetables, they may not be getting enough minerals.

Common issues which come up in a HTMA for children

Copper dysregulation.

Copper and Zinc are opposite sides of a see-saw.  When zinc is high copper is low and vice versa.  Low zinc and high copper is related to depression, anxiety, ADHD and learning disorders.

High mercury.

Mercury is found in big fish, so if your child eats lots of tuna, shark and swordfish, they could have an accumulation of mercury in their body.  Mercury toxicity is linked to depression, memory loss, mood swings and insomnia.

Aluminium. 

This is found in many medications and personal care products.  It can also be found in some foods, especially soy baby formula, colours, emulsifiers, preservatives and anti-caking agents. High aluminium is linked to dementia in adults, and in children things like memory loss, confusion, autism, hyperactivity and fatigue.

Lead. 

High lead levels are all too common in Australian children.  Mining areas are particularly affected, but even in cities there is enough lead in the water that authorities recommend you run your tap for 30 seconds before drinking your tap water.  High lead is associated with hyperactivity, inattention and learning difficulties

Cadmium.

Your child could be high in cadmium if they have been around people who smoke cigarettes, or pollution.  It is also found in some food.  Neurodevelopmental issues are a sign of cadmium toxicity.

If you would like to make an appointment with me and get a HTMA for your child, please book here.

The effects of sugar on children’s behaviour

There is far more sugar in our diets than there used to be, and this is having a massive impact on all aspects of our health.

One of the issues that we see pretty quickly is the effect of sugar on dental health.

Other issues like type 2 diabetes take longer to present themselves.

The association between sugar and children’s behaviour has been the subject of much debate over the last few decades.  Unfortunately, the sugar industry has had a voice in the debate on the health effects of sugar.  This means the truth has not always come to the surface as quickly or clearly as it should have.

The science shows that a hyperactive child eats more sugar than a non-hyperactive child.  Children on a high sugar diet are four times more likely to get diagnosed with ADHD than children on a low sugar diet.

There are a couple of key ways that sugar affects behaviour.

The first is to do with the glycaemic index of sugary foods.

Refined sugar (sucrose) breaks down very easily in the blood stream.  Most people are aware of the high sugar content of some breakfast cereals or soft drinks, but there are other sugar sources that are not so obvious.

Foods previously considered healthy, like fruit juice, contain high levels of sugar.

Tomato ketchup has 2 teaspoons of sugar per squirt.

“Fruit” yoghurts are very high in sugar.

Then there are white flour products like white bread and pasta.  These act pretty much the same way as sugar in the body and are broken down very quickly into the blood stream.

Put some jam on your toast and the sugar content rises even further.

High levels of sugar circulating in your blood cause damage to your nerves and your blood vessels, so your body wants to address high blood sugar as soon as it can.

When your body realises your blood sugar level is high, it releases insulin, a hormone which helps move glucose in to the cells.  The more sugar there is, the more insulin is released.  When the high levels of insulin are released it moves a whole lot of sugar out of the blood stream.  That’s when your child will feel the crash in their energy.  Unluckily for the teachers, this will coincide with the start of lessons for the day!

It’s also unlucky for their brain.  Brains need a constant supply of glucose, not high one minute and low the next.  20% of the body’s glucose is used by the brain, so if sugar metabolism isn’t working well, your brain is not working well.

Dips in blood sugar will lead to poor attention, poor memory and aggression.

The second way sugar impacts behaviour is to do with its effect on neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters are responsible for sending messages in the brain, and if they are out of balance then the brain can’t work properly.

One way that eating a diet high in sugar can lead to issues like ADHD is because sugar increase levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the child’s brain.  This leads to feelings of reward and pleasure.  Obviously, this is a good feeling, and the child will want more sugar to keep this feeling.  Eating sugar over and over starts to blunt this dopamine response, so more sugar is required for the same feeling.  Eventually, the dopamine receptors burn out, and the result is the classic symptoms of ADHD: inattentive, distractible, disorganised, hyperactive, restless and impulsive.

Eating excess sugar will also make the body use its B vitamins more quickly, and B vitamins are required to make neurotransmitters.

Excess sugar in the diet is linked to aggression, anxiety, hyperactivity, ADHD, depression, eating disorders, fatigue and learning difficulties.

Make a few changes to your child’s diet and see how their behaviour changes:

  • Remove soft drinks from the house (sorry mum and dad, none for you either!)
  • Switch to harder to digest forms of carbohydrate like beans, lentils or whole grains
  • Choose fruits that release their sugars more slowly like apples. Grapes have mostly fast release sugar.  Bananas are somewhere in between, so great for after sport
  • Don’t give your kids Gatorade or other sports drinks, or jelly snakes after activity. A banana will do just fine!

If all of this sounds great in theory, but if you need help putting it into practice, join my online program: Create Cool, Calm and Cooperative kids.  It is full of useful coaching videos, recipes and handouts to help you on your journey.

What type of magnesium is best for children?

One of the first supplements I will prescribe for children with all sorts of issues is magnesium.

Why do I prescribe magnesium?

Magnesium is a relaxing nutrient, so it’s really good for sleep. 

Lots of things disrupt sleep in children:

  • food allergies
  • neurotransmitter imbalance
  • anxiety
  • sleep apnoea

Poor sleep will have lots of knock on effects:

  • poor concentration,
  • hyperactivity
  • irritability
  • low immunity

So if you can give some magnesium, lots of issues will be reduced.

About half of all children will be deficient in magnesium.  

This rises to about 90% of children with ADHD.

Children that eat a lot of refined foods instead of whole foods probably aren’t consuming enough magnesium.

Magnesium is high in lots of foods:

  • nuts
  • seeds
  • legumes
  • green leafy vegetables
  • cacao

If your child isn’t eating a lot of these foods, but is instead eating foods made from white flour, they won’t be consuming enough magnesium. Milling whole wheat to make white flour removes 90% of the magnesium.

You actually need magnesium stores to absorb magnesium from your food.

So if your child has been depleted of magnesium because they have been eating a diet not based on whole food, even when you switch to a whole food diet, they will need some supplementary magnesium to help them absorb the dietary magnesium.

Australia soils have been depleted of magnesium.

Fruit and vegetables will not contain as much magnesium as they did a hundred years ago.

Magnesium absorption in the body is reduced when there is a lot of salt, sugar, soft drinks, stress, or thread-worms.

If your child has behavioural issues, or anxiety, they will be under prolonged stress, and their magnesium stores will reduce.  Similarly if your child has recurrent thread-worms, the little critters will be taking some of the magnesium for themselves!

ADHD medication will actually leach magnesium from your child’s body, leading to reduced magnesium stores. 

When I see a child who is on medication for their ADHD, giving them magnesium can avoid depletion and reduce some of the side effects too.

Grains contain an anti-nutrient called phytic acid

If your child has a grain heavy diet (as most kids do, this will be reducing their magnesium absorption.

How can I tell if my child is low in magnesium?

If your child gets muscle aches, cramps and spasms, they may be low in magnesium. Sweating will deplete magnesium, so if your child takes part in sports, it is a good idea to give them some magnesium to avoid the cramps and spasms.

If your child feels fatigued, this can be another telltale sign. Magnesium helps sleeps, and it also helps your cells produce energy, so if your child doesn’t have enough magnesium they may feel permanently tired (tip for tired mums – take a magnesium supplement too!)

Is your child hyperactive? Magnesium is a calming nutrient, so if your child tends towards hyperactivity, magnesium might be low, and a supplement will help them calm down.

Does your child have anxiety or depression? Anxiety causes you to wee out more magnesium, so your child will get low in magnesium, which will in turn lead to more anxiety.

So why is magnesium so important?

Magnesium takes part in 300 different enzyme reactions in the body.  So most of the biochemical processes in your body require magnesium.  If your body doesn’t have enough magnesium, lots of processes won’t work properly.

It is important for blood sugar regulation.  If your child can’t regulate their blood sugar well, their mood will be erratic, and their concentration will be poor.

It’s important to make neurotransmitters.  These are the chemicals in your brain that send messages between brain cells.  If you have low magnesium, you will have imbalanced neurotransmitters. That is why it is so good for mental health.

What sort of magnesium is best?

There are lots of different forms of magnesium in supplements.  Magnesium glycinate, magnesium citrate, magnesium gluconate, magnesium L threonate and more.  Magnesium L threonate has some good research about ADHD, however it is harder to find and more expensive.  The main thing to remember is to avoid magnesium oxide, as it is poorly absorbed.  The only time you may want to use it is if your child is really constipated.

How much magnesium does my child need?

This depends on lots of factors such as age, and how much is coming from the diet, so best to work with a nutritionist to determine how much is best for your child.

When will I start to see improvements?

You do need to be patient with magnesium.  It might take 2-3 months to get the benefits you want.  So keep taking it every day for 3 months before you make a decision if it is working or not.

What next?

If you would like help to change your child’s diet to a whole food diet, and work with me to determine what supplements your child needs, join my online program: Create Cool, Calm and Cooperative Kids.