Inflammation of the gut is linked to chronic problems throughout the entire body, including neurological and autoimmune disorders. While we continue to wait for the science to catch up to what so many of us have already concluded, we can begin to take charge of our lives, and almost more importantly, our children’s lives.
I’m creating a three-part series on the topic of elimination diets because there are generally three types of individuals who are looking to learn more about them. Adults who are tired of band-aid solutions that cover symptoms, mothers who are exhausted and frustrated with colicky, cranky, diaper-rash-butt babies, and parents who want to figure out what is happening with their children. All three of these people have walked through my office doors. Some find it amazing that something as simply difficult as an elimination diet can change all of their lives.
I’m starting the series with elimination diets for kids because this generation is struggling with gut-inflammation like no generation before them.
Look around and you can see the ever-growing number of children suffering from ADHD, ADD, Autism, Type 1 Diabetes, IBS, Obesity, Cancer, Depression, Anxiety, Sensory and Mood Disorders. While some of these disorders cannot be fully recovered from, they are all linked to a leaky or inflamed gut. As the gut is truly the ‘brain’ of the body, it feeds the real brain and cannot do as intended when it is inflamed and not functioning properly.
One (not so) small example: Researchers have found that putting ADDHD children on a restrictive diet to eliminate possible, previously unknown food sensitivities decreased hyperactivity for 64% of kids.
Children have age on their side, but their young guts may not even know how to be healthy or function correctly. If your child struggles with food allergies/sensitivities, rashes/skin issues, extreme emotions, tantrums, sleep troubles, lack of control, or any of the above mentioned issues, I highly recommend beginning an elimination diet to heal the gut and learn what specifically effects your child.
I am a huge proponent for daily probiotics and utilizing digestive enzymes, but you should get to the root of the issues. We cannot eliminate the environmental toxins from our children’s lives, but we can work to restore gut health and possibly ease their chronic ailments.
What is an Elimination Diet?
It is exactly as it sounds. A diet that takes out foods from the typical diet. Generally all chosen foods are eliminated together and left out until the person begins to feel/act/achieve a ‘normal’ state for a period of time. Once this occurs, foods are very slowly reintroduced, taking extreme note on behaviors, sleep, moods, skin appearance, and overall health. Through the reintroduction stage, you will discover what foods ‘trigger’ or intensify your child’s ailments, symptoms, and disorders.
What Elimination Diet is Right for My Child?
This is where things get hard. There are several diets you can choose from, but there is not a one-size-fits-all magic trick diet. Well, there might be, but many parents opt to go for an easier introduction to the food-eliminating world. The GAPS diet will bring you back to the very root of foods and keep you there until the gut is healed. It then slowly reintroduces foods as you record the body’s reactions. It is a wonderful option, especially if things do not change after eliminating the basic foods.
There are three basic types of elimination diets:
The strict, limited foods “oligoantigenic diet” which eliminates nearly all foods except a limited number that generally cause no problems.
The multiple-food elimination diet removes foods that most commonly cause food sensitivities. Dairy, gluten, wheat, corn, soy, eggs, nuts, citrus, processed foods and artificial colors and flavors top the list of what should be first eliminated.
The single-food elimination diet removes only one or two foods at a time. It is most helpful if you are highly suspicious of one or two items your child is eating. However, this diet typically leads parents into a multiple elimination diet, as it is not as accurate.
You can learn more about diets geared specifically toward ADHD, Autism, and other ailments like the Feingold Diet. You can try a month of Whole30 and see if it leads you to any easy solutions. You can create your own diet if you feel comfortable doing so. However, a diet is not an overnight miracle. It takes 2 weeks or so for the body to detox from the foods it is used to. This detox period can be emotional and extreme, especially when a child is use to consuming food dyes, sugars, and processed items on the regular. Stay strong and committed, keeping other foods out of reach and sight. Once your child reaches ‘baseline’ or what you would consider ‘typical’ for a 3-week timeframe, you can add back in one thing at a time. Reactions (emotional, mental, or physical) can occur up to two days after eating something.
Food sensitivities are linked to skin issues like eczema, ADHD, bloating, IBS (and constipation), Autism, behavioral problems, developmental delay, epilepsy and more. So how do you figure out if and what foods are harming your child’s gut?
First, I must start with noting that there is a large difference between food allergies and food sensitivities. A true food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body. It can cause a range of severe or life-threatening symptoms. Food intolerances (sensitivities) effect the gut and, in turn, can cause reactions throughout the body. Allergies can be found through IgE testing, and sensitivities can be found through elimination diet, food panels, and IgG testing. Let me clarify that this article is specific to food sensitivities.
35 years of research was studied to find that Artificial Food Colors, benzoate, and a laundry list of foods are all very much linked to causing ADHD, as well as the above mentioned challenges. It was found that a complete elimination diet was recommended to figure out the exact triggers for each child suffering. (For example, one study showed that after eliminating trigger foods, children who suffered from chronic eczema showed 100% signs of relief and improvement.)
What is an Elimination Diet?
The purpose of an elimination diet is to discover symptom-triggering foods. There are several well-known elimination diet, the most recommended (and extreme) being GAPS. ‘The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS)’ is a wonderful book that I suggest you read as you journey through this challenging time. It will open your eyes to just how important it is to heal the gut, and how completely eliminating foods and beginning with a pure, whole foods’ bone broth aids to truly solving your chronic problems. While GAPS is extreme and very hard to stick to in the beginning, it is well worth the hard work.
Whole30, Feingold, FODMAP and many other elimination diets are slightly easier to follow and will also help pinpoint exact food intolerances. These diets will not heal the gut, but they are a great start and will give you answers.
The most common foods to cause reactions include:
The most common foods to cause reactions include:
Many of these foods are known to be highly inflammatory, which of course means they cause inflammation within the body and trigger chronic pain and problems that can be different in each individual. Dairy (lactose and casein)
Corn (including corn meal and corn starch)
Corn Syrup (in all forms and all names)
All citrus fruits and juices
An elimination diet is not instant relief. It takes weeks for foods to clear from the system. Once you are symptom free for 8-weeks, you begin to slowly reintroduce foods one at a time to look for reactions. When a reaction occurs, eliminate the trigger food and do not add in another until you are baseline again.
It is important to note:
The offending foods can be your favorites, the foods you often crave.
If you are affected by several foods, eliminating only one may make little difference with your symptoms.
You may find that you can have a small amount of a trigger food without observing symptoms, while a larger amount causes a reaction. I call this the cup theory. Your gut is like an empty cup, it can only fill so full before overflowing and triggering symptoms.
Your tolerance may be impacted by several factors; natural hormonal fluctuations may make you more sensitive.
Your triggers can change over time.
It is becoming more common to hear my clients explain to me about how their child is not managing well with school. These children are as young as kindergarteners. They complain of tummy aches daily, beg not to be dropped off, or become a different child under the eyes of the teacher. Parent-teacher conferences are leading parents to wonder what is wrong. There may be behavior issues, refusal to complete work, ADHD tendencies, isolation or seclusion, and/or little attempts to learn the material, leading to a believed learning disorder. Many families struggling with these challenges speak with their pediatrician and turn to medication for better focusing, or use threats of losing privileges if the child doesn’t ‘do better’ or perform to standard. I talk a lot about the anxiety a child may be feeling, and how that anxiety could be the root of all the challenges.
School-related anxiety is a very real thing today. Separation anxiety, performance anxiety, and social anxiety can impact our children in a large manner. If you believe that the mind and body are one unit working together, then you understand just how important it is for the body to be in perfect alignment so all neurons firing can reach their desired destinations. Anxiety is not only mental, but it relates to the physical body, causing personality alterations and even chronic pains or illnesses.
It can be hard to diagnose school-related anxiety because it tends to surface in different ways for different children, but the most common problem for children suffering from anxiety is that school is hard. It becomes harder the longer the anxiety goes unnoticed.
According to the Child Mind Institute, signs of anxiety in school-aged children include: http://childmind.org/article/classroom-anxiety-in-children/
- Attendance Problems
- Disruptive Behavior
- Trouble Answering Questions in Class
- Frequent Trips to the School Nurse
- Problems in Certain Subjects
- Lying About Homework/Not Completing Work
- Avoiding Socialization/Not Making Friends
- Asking to Stay Home
- Bullying/Being Bullied
These signs can be linked to any of the following types of anxiety:
- Separation anxiety: Worried about being separated from the parents.
- Social anxiety: Excessively self-conscious, making it difficult to participate in class and socialize with others.
- Selective mutism: Having a hard time speaking in some settings, like at school around the teacher.
- Generalized anxiety: Worrying about performance and perfectionism.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder: When children’s minds are filled with unwanted and stressful thoughts.
- Specific phobias: When children have an excessive and irrational fear of particular things, like being afraid of animals or storms.
There is, of course, a normal amount of anxiety that can be felt, but even that can manifest itself. Utilizing chiropractic care will allow the body to work as a whole unit and provide proper pathways for the nervous system, allowing for a healthier overall well-being. Chiropractic care reduces stress-related subluxations in children just as it does in adults.
In addition to chiropractic care, there are numerous ways you can help your child manage their anxiety.
Open Communication. Talking about your own hard days, finding happiness in situations, and how you talk yourself through things will provide a positive example and allow for them to come to you with questions and emotional struggles.
Self-Confidence Building. The key to coping with and minimizing anxiety in your child is to teach them to talk their way through it. “I am strong. I am kind. I will learn something new and smile today.” You can alter the talk to suit your child’s needs, but it is important to follow the day with a second talk. This one should be in response to how the day went – but always taking a positive outlook and including happy things to dream about and plan for the following day.
Talk positive about school, friendships, and learning. Modeling positive feelings can have a large impact on your child.
Do not ask probing questions about your child’s anxiety. Questions such as, “Why are you feeling this way? What’s wrong? Why don’t you want to go to school” can cause more stress and will not help you help your child. Instead stick with simple questions that can invoke positive answers. “Are others including you? Is something happening at lunch that makes you feel bad?”
Be there. Let your child know that you will be there for lunch, recess, or another specific time frame and be sure to follow through. Seeing you may ease the anxiety. This may not be convenient, but it can be very important to gradually helping your child adapt and feel more comfortable.
Talk to the teacher. Work as a team to help your child feel more comfortable at school.
Lead a healthy lifestyle. By eating a well-balanced diet and keeping the body healthy with the highest quality supplements, the body will function at its highest potential.
Respect your child. Ultimately, your child deserves your respect and support. Figuring out how to help without breaking your child’s spirit or forcing them against their will may be the hardest obstacle you are faced with during this phase of parenthood, but you can do it.
October is Sensory Awareness Month. Sensory processing disorder is becoming a more well-known diagnosis among children, those on and off of the autism spectrum. The label is still not recognized by many medical professionals, but I can tell you that SPD exists. As a chiropractor, I work with many children (and adults) who struggle with processing their emotions. That is what SPD comes down to: sensory triggers that cause a spiral of emotions in which the individual cannot control.
Sensory Processing Disorder in simple terms is a misinterpretation of sensory information. We have 5 main senses: touch, taste, sound, smell, and sight. While any of these senses can become overwhelmed within the brain, an SPD child cannot figure out how to let go of the situation. The proprioceptive and vestibular systems play a huge role in regulating the incoming sensory information. The vestibular system is located from the base of the brain to the upper neck and inner ear. The proprioceptive system calls the entire spine and joints of the body home. This is why, when a sensory child is caught in an episode, he may seem to be in pain. His joints may hurt. His ears may ring. He may feel itchy like his skin is crawling. Even when not triggered, a child with SPD may feel constantly ‘off.’ They may not actually know ‘normal.’ This is why so many children may be misdiagnosed with ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities, etc.
A sensory child does not fit in a mold. A few common signs parents notice (this is not an exhaustive list by any means) include:
- Not handling things such as loud noises, being dirty, getting wet, wearing structured clothing, wearing loose clothing, wearing tight clothing, bright light, crowded spaces, having hair washed/brushed, getting fingernails or toenails cut, receiving an unexpected hug; walking barefoot, wearing shoes, getting buckled, or certain textures.
- Doesn’t notice when touched; almost always prefers sedentary activities to active ones; seems unaware of bodily sensations such as heat, cold, or hunger
- Needs to be touching someone, something, or everything he passes. Hugs too strongly and doesn’t know his own strength.
- Dislikes foods with certain textures.
- Cannot be anywhere without his primary caregiver.
- Often struggles with speech.
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Is passive, quiet, slow to respond to directions.
- Is excessively cautious and afraid to try new things.
- Is upset by transitions or unexpected changes.
- Avoids group activities.
- Wants to spin, slide or swing excessiely, and is constantly moving.
- Is accident-prone and has difficulty with physical skills such as catching a ball.
Children with SPD experience their meltdowns due to one of three reasons:
- The brain not receiving messages due to a disconnection in the nerve cells
- Sensory messages received inconsistently
- Sensory messages received consistently, but not connecting properly with other sensory messages.
Enabling a functioning vestibular and proprioceptive systems are key to aiding a healthy sensory connection. Vertebral subluxations (misalignments) of the spine may cause a disconnect between the brain and these sensory systems. An irritation can cause this misalignments – birth position, birth trauma, a fall, stress, etc. Chiropractic care removes neurological imbalances by realigning the spine. Within weeks of proper adjustments, a SPD child’s spine may begin to heal. Improvements with sensory triggers should occur, meaning the meltdowns should improve quite a bit. Motor skills, social skills, even speech may see vast improvements throughout chiropractic care.
Along with seeing a chiropractor, a diet free of processed foods, dyes, and gluten will greatly benefit a child suffering with sensory processing disorder. There may be more specific foods that a child reacts to, and an elimination diet (such as the Feingold diet) can help pinpoint the exact triggers.
It is not easy parenting a child with sensory processing disorder. Many pass judgement and try to blame the behavior on parenting styles of lifestyle choices, but the truth is that SPD is real. Occupational therapy, chiropractic care, dietary and lifestyle changes will all improve a family’s daily happiness.
It’s time to stop blaming the child for the chronic issues that he cannot help. It’s time to dig deeper than a simple diagnosis to something chronically plaguing your child. It’s time to find the patterns, connect the dots, and look at the bigger picture. It’s time to stop making excuses, and follow your instincts.
Calories do not equal nutrition. Just because your child is eating meals does not make them healthy meals. Store bought, shelved cereal, bread, waffles, granola bars, sandwiches, cookies, crackers, French fries, the list goes on and on… these are not actually foods. They are processed and filled with chemicals, artificial items, and absolutely nothing that benefits the body. They are not just a filler though… they are harming the body.
Even the perfect gut should not be consuming these items.
What happens when these chemicals, toxins, and other microbes overgrow in the digestive tract? They transform the gut from a source of nourishment to a source of toxicity. The food that comes along gets digested by this abnormal mass of bacteria, they convert it into hundreds of toxins that flow into the blood stream. These toxins travel through the body affecting different individuals in different ways. If the brain of the child is clogged with toxicity, all of this sensory information cannot be processed properly. This can symptomize as ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, just an emotional or overly strong-willed child. You may see eczema, bumps on the arms, or other rashes. Your child may wet the bed, sleep horribly, or be overly tired. She may have a swollen gut, constipation or loose stool issues. The list of possibilities is pretty long, but it all connects to the health of the gut.
How you can help:
- Cut the processed foods out – Read labels and skip boxed and bagged items with a shelf life longer than a week.
- No food dyes – these should NEVER be consumed.
- Stick with whole foods – organic or local meats, organic or fresh dairy items, organic fresh produce. (Flash frozen works too!)
- Think Simple – Don’t spend days on Pinterest. Stick with 5-10 meals that everyone likes and rotate them. Simple meals taste wonderful and are significantly cheaper to prepare than elaborate ones.
There will be a nasty die-off period of detoxing from the sugars and chemicals that the body has come to rely on. A child may even seem worse for a brief amount of time before you see improvement.
The hardest part comes after this. After surviving a toxic detox from a child. This is when you will be able to start figuring out which REAL foods affect your child. You can opt for an IgG blood test, or you can follow a true elimination diet (I highly recommend the GAPS diet). Once you have identified which foods trigger an inflammation of the gut (bringing back symptoms you have seen before or new ones), you will then begin to create a lifestyle full of all the foods your child responds well to!
“Don’t Eat Anything Your Great Grandmother Wouldn’t Recognize as Food.”
Our kids are overfed and undernourished.
I suggest reading The Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Campbell-McBride. Through her research, she has determined a distinct correlation between unhealthy intestinal flora, poor digestion and toxicity from chemicals created by undigested foods, which can severely affect brain chemistry.
Note: Even if you were told your child was born with one these conditions, or that he was genetically predisposed, remember that in utero, a fetus is exposed to the gut flora of the mother. Those bacteria become the foundation to his own gut health, which can be the very reason a doctor is telling you his ‘problems’ were inherited.
Signs Your Child Needs a Diet Change
This is a list of outward signs that the gut is in distress. While there are several other possible signs, these are the most commonly seen and easy to relate to. While every child is different, and how you will heal your child’s gut will vary from the next family, it is possible to alter the diet, eliminating the processed foods, dyes, and artificial sugars, and remove trigger foods. The key is figuring out what your child’s trigger foods are. If anything on this list jumps out at you, please look into closely following an elimination diet.
- Sporadic Emotions: High highs and low lows; sudden tantrums or more extreme tantrums than normal.
Research shows that essential fatty acids (specifically Omega3) aid the body in balancing emotions and keeping a stable feeling of contentment or happiness. The body is not able to create essential fatty acids on its own, so you have to get them from what you eat. There are two forms of EFAs (omega-3 and omega-6), and they are found in the membranes of every cell in the body.
One of the first ways the body excretes toxins is through urine. When toxic urine comes into the bladder, it irritates and causes a chronic underlying inflammation in the mucous membranes of the bladder and urethra. As a result, the child does not have a chance to get to the bathroom – and may not even wake. (Daytime urinating is more frequent)
- Thrush/Yeast Infection
Most infants (and mothers) will experience this with breastfeeding, and almost everyone assumes it is just normal. They use a natural yeast killer or take a prescription (which is then a double-headed sword! An unhealthy gut being fed an antibiotic!) and continue on without a second thought. The truth is that the yeast is a sign of an unhealthy gut.
Hyperactivity is related to the brains ability to process information and remain calm at the same time. Children with hyperactivity tend to have poor intestinal flora and digestion. Put down the prescription and pick up the GAPS book. A prescription is going to mask the symptoms while worsening the underlying issue.
- Dry Skin, Rashes, Acne, Eczema, Cradle Cap, Dandruff
Fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K are linked to keeping the skin moist. But a diet rich in sugars and carbohydrates, processed/refined food, caffeine, alcohol, rancid oils and fats leads to skin irritations. The gut is directly linked to the skin; heal the gut. Heal the skin.
- Anxiety or Depression
While both anxiety and depression are thought to be neurological illnesses, the gut is linked directly to the brain. Studies have shown that inflammation may be involved in the development of depression. Depression is frequently associated with gastrointestinal inflammations and autoimmune diseases, all which can be treated through diet and gut repair.
- Delayed Speech
B12 deficiency is linked to speech delays. While increasing the natural sources (organic chicken and beef, wild caught fish) have your child tested before supplementing. As speech is processed in the brain, the ‘wiring’ may not correctly connect due to an unhealthy gut.
While sugary foods, or a bottle of sugary milk at bedtime can cause cavities, I am talking about chronic cavities.
Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist known for his theories on the relationship between teeth and nutrition, found that cavities resulted from a deficiency in proper minerals, and also a deficiency in fat soluble vitamins that are needed to absorb and assimilate the minerals.
When we eat foods that aren’t nutrient dense, our bodies are hungry. The body becomes starved for good nutrition and that’s why you won’t feel satisfied when eating highly processed foods and/or foods devoid of nutrients. Our bodies were meant to feel satisfied with a balance of all foods.
- Frequent Illness (Colds/Flus)
It is easy to blame childhood colds on school, playdates, or surrounding environments, but the truth is that healthy children don’t get sick. A child with a healthy gut has the proper bacteria to increase immunity and is less susceptible to other children’s germs. There’s something to be said about serving a homemade bowl of Grandma’s chicken soup to help you feel better. Chances are that soup consisted of a bone broth simmered for days with local, fresh raised chicken or beef bones. This explains why it actually made people feel better.
Research shows that iron and vitamin D deficiency are both common in children without showing obvious signs, but can be linked to many illnesses and chronic problems. These levels should be tested annually.