When I meet with a new family who has a child with ADD/ADHD, Anxiety and/or depression in addition to GI issues that include constipation and belly pain, my immediate question would be “how healthy is their microbiome”? Our microbiota is fascinating to me and there is much we still don’t know. One aspect we do know is a linked connection between the brain and the gut. Clearly, what is happening in your gut may affect your brain health.
The brain and gut are connected by both neurotransmitters and the vagus nerve. Neurotransmitters are chemicals, one being serotonin, that contributes to feelings of happiness. Nearly 90% of our body’s serotonin is produced in our gut. Another important neurotransmitter is GABA, (gamma-aminobutyric acid), produced by gut microbes. These help control feelings of fear and anxiety. The vagus nerve is one of the biggest nerves in our body and it connects the gut and brain allowing messages to be sent in both directions. With the brain and gut connected physically and biochemically, it’s important to look at what could be occurring in the gut so we can work towards improving gut health, which includes the microbiome.
All of us have a unique microbiome consisting of 100 trillion bacteria, both good and bad, that live inside our digestive system. Some initial bacteria transfer is thought to happen in-utero with the majority transferred when a baby is born vaginally. Additionally, breastfeeding results in a similar microbiome coming from the mother. A baby born via c-section won’t have this same microbiome from mom, but rather from the environment the baby comes in contact with.
Scientists are only beginning to crack the surface on the gut microbiome and what it means for our overall health. Other environmental factors can affect our gut microbiome and the integrity of the gut wall, which includes antibiotic use, medications, stress, our environment and what we eat. When gut wall integrity has been compromised, dysbiosis can occur, a term used when the microbiome is unbalanced or impaired. Forms of GI dysbiosis include candida, SIBO, H. Pylori, Parasites, C. difficile. This dysbiosis can cause what has been referred to as “leaky gut”, which is intestinal permeability where bacteria, food particles and toxins leak through the intestinal wall causing inflammation. Much is still unknown in this area of science, one has to question, is a food sensitivity a cause of dysbiosis or the result?
Symptoms that one may have dysbiosis include GI issues such as bloating, belly pain, constipation or diarrhea, GERD and heartburn. Additionally, anxiety, stress, depression and poor sleep can adversely affect microbiome gut health.
When working to improve a child’s microbiome and dysbiosis, I start by removing potential offending foods causing the inflammation. This is where food sensitivity testing with MRT/LEAP comes in. Based on test data, we can temporarily eliminate the foods and chemicals that are reactive. We would then work to repair the gut by adding in fiber reach foods that help to feed the microbiome, including foods with zinc, vitamin C, D, and A, while healing the gut lining with an essential amino acid, L-Glutamine. Once the gut is healed, we repopulate it with probiotic-rich foods and sometimes supplements. If successful, we’ll work to rebalance and reintroduce foods previously eliminated in a systematic manner, while working to identify external stressors that may be remedied using methods to calm the body such as yoga, music, and sleep. Occasionally, an untreated cause of dysbiosis needs to be addressed with tests for candida, parasites, c-dif and h pylori, which I refer out for stool testing (at this time) and treatment from a naturopath specializing in this area.
Not all children and teens are ideal for this treatment plan. I always screen to assess one’s relationship with food, current intake and growth history. The last thing we want to do is eliminate more foods if the child has a poor appetite, (particularly if on meds), is a picky eater or has eating disorder history where overall intake is a concern. For these kids, starting with micronutrient testing to ensure essential nutrients are reaching cell level is a good place to start while taking steps to heal the gut. The microbiome and the gut-brain connection is of great interest to me and I look forward to continuing following new research as it becomes available so we all can better understand effective solutions to naturally treat and help children with ADHD and other mental health concerns via their gut.
If you’re interested in more on ADHD Check out these blog posts:
Diet and Nutrition for Your ADHD Children
Gut Microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-grain axis.
Is There a Connection Between Gut Health and ADHD, US News and World Reports
Gut Microbiota and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: New Perspectives For a Challenging Condition.