Gastrointestinal health (also known as gut health) is important from day one. This is because you rely on proper digestion and assimilation of nutrients in order for your body and brain to work effectively. You’re likely familiar with how you feel when you go long periods without eating—your blood sugar takes a dive and you get irritable and moody as well as fatigued.
Well, new research suggests the gut-health connection goes much deeper, connecting imbalances with the 4 A’s: autism, allergies, ADHD, and asthma. Ensuring that your child has a healthy gut may prevent these serious conditions from ever developing.
Here’s how they are connected and how you can help promote optimal gut health for your children.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
Caregivers of children on the Autism Spectrum have long suspected and correlated gastrointestinal symptoms with ASD. Research now backs up their claims. A recent study shows autistic children had less robust gut flora and had significantly reduced amounts of bacteria known to aid in the digestion of carbs and fermentation of foods to make them digestible and their nutrients absorbable.
Another study suggests that kids on the ASD spectrum are more likely to have a intestinal lining that is hyper-permeable, also known as “leaky gut.”
Furthermore, in cases of gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease that’s been misdiagnosed as ASD, treatment of the malabsorption syndrome caused autism-like symptoms to disappear. Some studies have suggested an increased risk of gluten sensitivity among ASD children, while other studies have not found such a link.
Either way, it’s important to promote gut health in your autistic child in order to optimize her potential. Many parents find improvement by implementing a gluten-free, casein-free, or the GAPS diet at home. GAPS stands for Gut And Psychology Syndrome and was discovered by Dr. Campbell-Mcbride in 2004. In her book by the same name, she discusses a gut-psychology link and outlines a special diet to recover psychological health (see Resources).
As a parent, allergies can be your worst nightmare, interrupting activities and limiting your child’s ability to play and enjoy life. But again, researchers are discovering links between allergies and gut health: Intestinal permeability has been linked to allergy acquisition and amplification. And research has clearly indicated that a lack of flora (aka “good bacteria”) can lead to allergies and atopy (the triad of asthma, allergies, and eczema).
Repairing your child’s gut permeability and restoring healthy gut flora may provide a drug-free therapy for the prevention and eradication of childhood allergies.
Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder
For many years, the link between diet and ADHD has been well documented. Food and digestion-related risk factors associated with ADHD include food and additive allergies; environmental toxins; a diet low in protein and high in carbohydrates; mineral, essential fatty acid and amino acid deficiencies; and B-vitamin deficiency. Addressing these deficiencies can be as effective as Ritalin in treating ADHD.
Asthma also appears to be affected by the microenvironment in your gut. In fact, one study found asthma patients treated for reflux were able to reduce their asthma medications! From this you see a direct link between gastrointestinal issues and the severity of respiratory distress in asthma patients. In addition, a lack of H. Pylori bacteria was associated with higher asthma risk in children.
Gut Health and Your Kids
Here are some simple ways to help get your child’s digestive track back on track:
- Make sure your family eats a healthy, real food/ whole food diet with lots of plants and adequate amounts of healthy fats and proteins. Kids especially need more fats.
- Introduce your children to fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchee, yogurt, and kefir —they are packed with probiotics and help promote healthy gut flora.
- Address issues such as chronic diarrhea, constipation, and food allergies with a competent health care provider skilled in restoring GI health.
- Eliminate food allergens and sensitivities from your child’s diet whenever possible.
All of this evidence points to the importance of feeding your children a healthy diet, exposing them to healthy probiotics in fermented foods, and treating them for any issues related to food allergies, absorption, and elimination. Teach a child how to build and maintain a healthy gut and you’ll not only ward off the 4 A’s, but ensure good health for a lifetime. If you would like guidance with these issues for your family, please call for a nutritional consult.
Gut and Psychology Syndrome, by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride
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