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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.

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:

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.

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.

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!

 

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.