A naturopath’s perspective on behavioural issues in children

Written by Balanced Beings | 18 January, 2022

brunette woman with baby smiling in a field

At Balanced Beings, we are seeing an increase in the number of children in clinic with parents concerned about behavioural issues, including hyperactivity, poor concentration, tantrums, mood swings, anger and irritability.

Over the last few years there has also been an increase in awareness of conditions such as ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in children. Did you know that ADHD diagnoses have risen to almost 10% of children? It is also proposed that 1 in 59 children has Autism Spectrum Disorder. This has led to an alarmingly high number of medicated children in the playground. We believe there is a reason these conditions are increasing and it involves our environment and our diets.

When children come into the clinic with behavioural issues, we are always looking for the underlying reason why. Thorough case taking, dietary analysis, and appropriate testing can help us to uncover the underlying factors contributing to their issues. By addressing these issues, we see some pretty impressive transformations and some very happy families. So, from a naturopathic perspective, what are some of the things we are looking at?

Nutritional deficiencies

When treating a child, the first thing we consider is their diet and more importantly what may be missing – nutrient insufficiencies and deficiencies. The most common nutrient deficiencies in children that are associated with behavioural issues are:

  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Omega 3s

Excess copper can also cause mood imbalances as it antagonises both zinc and iron absorption.

Not only do we have to look at what is going in through the diet, we also need to consider what is actually being absorbed from their foods. This comes down to investigating gut health, malabsorption issues, and other potential underlying conditions.

Hair tissue mineral analysis is a great test we often will use in clinic to assess nutrient status in children. This can provide a more accurate analysis as well as being much less invasive and very child-friendly.

Blood sugar imbalances

Drops in blood sugar levels can trigger irritability and tantrums in children (and some adults might we add!), while blood sugar highs can cause hyperactivity. Diets that are high in carbohydrates and lacking adequate proteins and healthy fats can cause blood sugar dysregulation and subsequent behavioural issues.

Food intolerances and sensitivities

Artificial preservatives and dyes found in many processed foods are linked to behavioural and neurological issues in children. Artificial food dyes have been directly linked to hyperactivity in children with sensitivities to them. Studies have also shown a potential link between ASD and synthetic food dyes.

Chronic inflammation in the gut can also cause irritability and mood imbalances in children. This is often caused by underlying food intolerances. The common culprits are generally (but not always) dairy, gluten, and soy. Where food intolerances are suspected, the best way to identify them is by way of an elimination diet – the gold standard in detecting food intolerances and sensitivities.

After about two weeks of eliminating the suspected food/s children may display noticeable improvements in their behaviour. However, it is worth noting that an initial worsening of moods and behaviour can be experienced if going cold turkey, so it is best advised to do it gradually before reaching full elimination. A tolerance test can be conducted on the suspected food some weeks later by reintroducing a small amount and checking for any reaction.

Microbiome dysbiosis and parasites

There is still much to uncover on the microbiome and its impact on the nervous system, however, research has shown a definite link between the gut microbiota and brain function and development. Behaviour, cognition, moods, and even increased risk of ASD, have been linked to dysfunction of the gut-brain axis which can occur with gut dysbiosis.

Opportunistic overgrowths such as Candida species, parasitic and bacterial infections can cause inflammation and irritability in the digestive tract and also impact behaviour and mood disturbances. This can then lead to host nutrient deficiencies due to decreased absorbability within the intestines.

We use comprehensive stool testing such as the complete microbiome mapping test, where warranted, to assess a child’s microbiome status, presence of any opportunistic overgrowths, or pathogenic bacterial or parasitic infections that can be contributing to their behaviour.

Pyrroles

Pyrrole disorder is a genetic blood condition that can cause severe emotional mood swings and imbalances. Pyrroles bind to zinc, B6 and omega 6 and are excreted via the urine causing a marked deficiency of these nutrients and subsequent manifestation of symptoms.

As these nutrients all have significant roles in maintaining a healthy nervous system and producing serotonin (among others), it can be the driving force for severe behavioural conditions and neurological development. Testing for pyrroles can be conducted via both blood and urine.

Heavy metal toxicity

We use hair tissue mineral analysis to assess for any potential heavy metals that may be contributing to a child’s behavioural issues and quite often, find their presence! Toxic elements such as lead, aluminium, and mercury not only can impair neurological development and processes but also inhibit the absorption, uptake, and utilisation of certain minerals. Air pollution, cigarette smoke, medications, paint fumes, cooking methods (i.e., aluminium foils), as well as poor detoxification processes are just some of the ways heavy metals can accrue in children.

If you or someone you know is having difficulties with childhood behavioural issues, it is certainly worth seeking assistance from a qualified holistic health practitioner to find and address the underlying root cause or causes.

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References

Bakthavachalu, P., Kannan, M., Qoronfleh, W. (2020). Food Color and Autism: A Meta-Analysis. Personalized Food Intervention and Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder Management. Advances in Neurobiology, vol 24. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-30402-7_15

Black, M. (2003). The Evidence Linking Zinc Deficiency with Children's Cognitive and Motor Functioning. The Journal of Nutrition, 133 (5). https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/133.5.1473S

Borre, Y., Moloney, R., Clarke, G., et al. (2014). The impact of microbiota on brain and behavior: mechanisms & therapeutic potential. Advances in Experiment https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4939-0897-4_17. PMID: 24997043.

Hsueh, Y., Lee, C., Chien, S. et al. (2017). Association of blood heavy metals with developmental delays and health status in children. Scientific Reports, 7, (43608). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep43608

Lozoff, B., Corapci, F., Burden, M., et al. (2007). Preschool-Aged Children with Iron Deficiency Anemia Show Altered Affect and Behavior. The Journal of Nutrition, 137, (3) https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/137.3.683

Pelsser, L., Frankena, K., Toorman, J., et al. (2011). Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behaviour of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (INCA study): a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 377 (9764). https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(10)62227-1/fulltext


Balanced Beings

Balanced Beings is an integrated naturopathic clinic that is driven by providing treatment backed by testing and degree qualified practitioners. Balanced Beings focus on women's health, sexual health and children's health, and work together with clients to get results that work.

Balanced Beings was founded by Endeavour naturopathy alumna, Brooke Klower.

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