Michael R. Lyon, MD
Dear Dr. Lyon, I have a bright and healthy seven-year-old son who is unable to stay task-focused. I have had him tested for some allergies (which proved negative) but we never did any food allergy testing.
Dear Dr. Lyon,
I have a bright and healthy seven-year-old son who is unable to stay task-focused. I have had him tested for some allergies (which proved negative) but we never did any food allergy testing. I don't believe in using Ritalin for children. However, I want to help him overcome his fidgety and distracted behaviours.
Your son is not alone in the problems he is encountering. We live in a world that has become increasingly hostile towards the delicate requirements of our children's brains and bodies. Kids are more susceptible than young or middle-aged adults in their susceptibility to nutritional inadequacies and toxic influences. Food additives, preservatives and colourings are responsible. Some kids seem to be more sensitive to these negative influences than others--genetics play a role in this regard.
The typical North American diet is unsuitable for children and contributes to poor school performance and behavioural problems. As a basic starting point junk foods and fast foods, as well as most canned, packaged or processed foods, need to be replaced by whole, unprocessed foods, including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, high quality protein and whole grains.
Children with behavioural or attentional problems have special requirements for the minerals calcium, magnesium and iron, as well as the elements zinc, chromium, selenium, manganese, copper and molybdenum. All the B vitamins, as well as vitamins C, A and D are also considered "brain-critical nutrients."
The omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils and the omega-6 fatty acids from evening primrose are essential "brain fats" that should be supplemented in every child with school-related difficulties. Flax oil is a good source of omega-3 and should be part of all kids' diets, but children with brain-related problems also need fish oils (preferably tuna oil) and evening primrose. Most kids are also seriously fibre deficient and efforts should be made to greatly increase their fibre intake. Lastly, children need a variety of phytochemicals, vital plant-derived substances that act to significantly improve brain and immune system function. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as taking in certain plant extracts such as grape seed extract or green tea extract can make a world of difference.
To make matters more complicated, most children with brain-related difficulties suffer from food hypersensitivities. Except in a small minority of kids, these are not true food allergies but other types of adverse food responses not recognized as allergies by most medical doctors.
A properly designed allergy elimination diet is the most reasonable means to assess the contribution of food allergies and other adverse food responses in your child. This involves placing the child on a diet in which all junk foods and commonly allergenic foods are eliminated and then observing the effect that this restricted diet has on the child. By systematically reintroducing foods and carefully observing the effects upon the child, a reasonable list of allergic or intolerant foods can then be constructed. Research I was involved in two years ago found that about two-thirds of a group of 50 kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) responded very well to this type of diet.
Feeding a child with special nutritional needs can be even more challenging. Well designed smoothies (blender drinks) are delicious and are an easy way to pack a great deal of nutrition into a few quick mouthfuls. Smoothies can be meal replacements, quick after-school snacks or power-packed deserts. A good smoothie should be loaded with protein (low allergy-potential rice protein is best for kids with learning or behavioural problems). It should also be high in fibre and rich in vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Frozen fruit should be a major part of the smoothie. Kids love the flavour and icy texture that this provides and it adds greatly to the nutritional value. Ask your health food store about innovative products designed to suit the nutritional needs and taste preferences of kids.
Brain-activating herbal medicines such as ginkgo biloba extract and potent American ginseng extract are the topic of ongoing research at our institute. These herbal medicines go beyond nutritional support and have pharmacological effects that are much safer than the drugs so commonly prescribed to kids.
Most importantly, believe in your child! Look for the gifts, talents and interests that make him unique and cover him with love and encouragement every day.
Dr Edward Leyton, who has practiced complementary medicine for 20 years and uses different treatment modalities, will answer reader letters. Address letters to the medical advisor, 7436 Fraser Park Drive, Burnaby, BC, V5J 5B9. Please include a cheque or postal money order for $20 made out to Canadian Health Reform Products Ltd. Expect six to eight weeks for a reply.