Michael R. Lyon, MD
"Research is recognizing more and more that food allergies and intolerances, toxic influences and marginal nutritional deficiencies may all be playing a critical role in the phenomenal increase in childhood behavioural and learning disorders..
"Research is recognizing more and more that food allergies and intolerances, toxic influences and marginal nutritional deficiencies may all be playing a critical role in the phenomenal increase in childhood behavioural and learning disorders."
Two years ago, when the US Surgeon General announced that ten per cent of North American children now suffer from a diagnosable psychiatric disease, the media hardly took notice. What should have become front page headlines was hardly given a second thought by the vast majority of people. Nevertheless, whether you are a parent or not, childhood psychiatric, behavioural and learning disorders will affect us all and will place a tremendous burden on society.
Probably the most prevalent of these challenges is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD (often referred to as ADD when hyperactivity is not a primary feature). Characterized by serious problems with inattentiveness, easy distractibility, and often hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour, children with ADHD will face tremendous obstacles to success. These kids can also pose great challenges to parents and teachers.
It's Not Just "All in the Genes"
The prevailing view in conventional medicine is that the most childhood behavioural problems are largely genetically based. However, research is recognizing more and more that food allergies and intolerances, toxic influences and marginal nutritional deficiencies may all be playing a critical role in the phenomenal increase in childhood behavioural and learning disorders.
Keep Kids off the Blood Sugar Roller Coaster
Parents also need to avoid feeding their children foods that cause rapid swings in blood sugar levels. Most sugars (e.g., sucrose, glucose (dextrose), maltose, most fruit juices) as well as all refined starchy foods (especially white flour products) are high glycemic index foods, which means they allow for rapid absorption of sugar and result in a roller coaster effect on blood sugar. Whole grain products are much lower in the glycemic index and result in a gentle rise in blood sugar after meals without the roller coaster effect.
Improving the Efficiency of Detoxification
Because today's children are exposed to a wide array of neurotoxins from pesticides and other pollutants, I am a strong believer in the supplementary use of nutrients that aid the liver and gut in processing and expelling these unwanted chemicals. Milk thistle extract, fibre, sulfate, L-glutamine and N-acetyl cysteine are all key helpers in the body's continual detoxification activities. The neuro-protective power of these nutrients can be further increased with the addition of natural fruit extracts and herbs such as decaffeinated green tea extract and grape seed extract, providing important phytochemicals that kids often lack.
Building a foundation for a successful future must include a program of sound nutrition. After all, the brain is composed completely of nutrition. Epidemics of childhood learning and behavioural problems, as well as skyrocketing rates of allergic diseases, obesity, and a variety of other maladies, can all be linked to market-driven changes in the diets of our kids. Parents who truly care must make take the time to learn, discover and apply what it really takes to properly feed their child's precious brain.
The Brain is Mostly Fat
Many nutritionally-oriented health-care providers now recommend essential fatty acid supplementation to all children with conditions like ADHD, learning disabilities and atopic (allergic) disorders. In research I conducted on 76 children with ADHD, over 80 percent were found to have deficiencies in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (found in fish oil) and about 1 in 5 had deficiencies in the omega-6 fatty acid GLA (found in evening primrose oil). Recent research from Oxford University has expanded on this finding by demonstrating that kids with learning or behavioural problems respond positively to supplementation with a combination of tuna oil and evening primrose oil. I predict that fatty acid supplementation will soon be recognized as one of the most critical components in the treatment of childhood learning and behavioural problems.
The Brain is Crying for Protein
It is an indisputable fact that kids' brains need high quality protein. It is also true that many kids skip breakfast or eat meals that are high in carbohydrates and low in protein. As well, many kids with learning or behavioural problems experience adverse reactions and allergies to such common foods as dairy products. Therefore, finding a source of low allergy-potential protein can be a challenge, especially for breakfast.
One of the easiest ways to ensure kids get a high protein breakfast is to make smoothies. Blender smoothies that combine a protein powder or smoothie mix made from rice or golden pea protein with fruit and other nutritious ingredients such as nut butters and "greens powders" take a just a few minutes to make. They are a satisfying and brain-boosting foundation upon which to build a successful day.
Critical Nutrients for the Brain
Other "brain critical" nutrients play an important role in children's cognitive health. Several vitamins, especially B12, B6, folate and thiamine all have a significant impact upon cognitive performance. As well, iron, magnesium, zinc, calcium, and several trace elements have been clearly linked to brain function in kids. Because kids' intake of these nutrients is often marginal, supplementation may be vital for good brain function. In my research and clinical practice, I have found that most kids with learning or behavioural problems exhibit evidence of nutritional insufficiencies or overt deficiencies. These must be corrected if progress is to be expected.
Healing the Gut-Brain Connection
I have also found that kids with learning, behavioural and developmental problems usually have subtle disturbances in gastrointestinal and immune system function. Increased gut permeability (leaky gut), poor gut immune function and disordered gut ecology (including parasites, lack of friendly bacteria and overgrowth of yeast organisms) are common accompaniments of disordered brain function in kids. Getting children on a high fibre diet and supplementing with probiotics (friendly bacteria) is something I recommend in all such cases. As well, gut-supportive nutrients such as L-glutamine, FOS, antioxidants (such as grape seed extract and decaffeinated green tea extract), pantothenic acid, essential fatty acids, and lecithin help to support and heal irritated gastrointestinal mucosa. This is especially important in kids with autism or atopic conditions because increased intestinal permeability is very common in these conditions.
The Utopian School: Your child's education could (and should) be like this
Every day across North America, millions of children attend school without eating a nutritious breakfast or no breakfast at all. Many also eat junk food for lunch. This is not necessarily because of financial difficulty families today are hurried and it's often easier to give a child money to buy lunch, rather than make one ahead of time. With money in hand, children can't resist sweet snacks and sugary drinks, and those sweets are easily accessible, as many elementary and high schools are equipped with vending machines.
Stop for a minute and think: what would a school be like if every child ate wholesome food every day at school? Would behaviour change? Would fighting stop? Would test scores get better? Central Alternative High School in Appleton, Wisconsin showed recently that nutrition does make a difference. It was 1997, and teachers had little control over student behaviour fighting was rampant, discipline problems common, and teaching nearly impossible. They had tried everything from expulsion to increased security measures but nothing worked. So instead, they tried something really radical and removed all vending machines and served wholesome food in the cafeteria. Soon, raw produce took the place of processed pasta and pizza. Homemade meat and vegetable dishes replaced greasy burgers and fries.
The results? Discipline problems ceased; suicide rates, drop-out rates and weapons violations spiraled to zero. For the past six years, teachers have been able to teach instead of just try to control, and kids are finally learning. The food program came courtesy of Natural Ovens, a Manitowoc, WI bakery that specializes in whole-grain breads, and now participates in workshops on children's nutrition and learning. With the Appleton project as a role model, other Wisconsin schools and are now trying the same strategy and finding success.
Source: fiengold.org/PF. To learn more, read the Pure Facts newsletter, produced by the Feingold Association. The FA educates people about the connection between eating, learning and health.