Is Your Child’s Gut Health Messing with Their Brain?

One of the unique characteristics of children who suffer from childhood disorders such as dyslexia, ADHD, learning disabilities and autism spectrum is that they often suffer from other more subtle signs of a poor functioning immune system. Immune health is reflective of brain health because both brain and immune health start in the gut. If we are to seriously address the underlying cause of these childhood disorders then addressing the gut-brain connection is the first step.

Bacteria in Your Affect Your Brain

Everyone from gastro-intestinal specialists to psychiatrists are fascinated by how significantly gut health impacts brain function. Whether it’s mental illness, dyslexia or ADHD, gut health is making headlines and for good reason. It is a major piece of the puzzle in brain health and function. Researchers have even developed a new and exciting term to describe the effect that strains of bacteria in the gut have upon brain chemistry and behavior—psychobiotics

The Gut and Psychology Syndrome

The latest research in autism has determined that 9/10 individuals with autism also suffer from gastro-intestinal problems. Insurmountable evidence is now indicating that the underlying cause of autism is linked to the microbes in the gut. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride wrote about this almost thirty year ago in her paradigm shifting book about the gut-brain axis, The Gut and Psychology Syndrome.

In her book, Dr. Campbell-McBride explains that changes in our diets, lifestyle and medicines have seriously altered our gut ecology. Our interventions and modern lifestyle is sterilizing the good bacteria in our gut more and more and conversely allowing the bad bacteria, yeast and parasites to flourish. This has contributed to the rise in inflammatory bowel disease in recent decades as well as childhood disorders like ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and other learning disorders.

Understanding Why there is so Much Overlap with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD and other Cognitive Disorders

Dr. Campbell-McBride explains overlap is frequent with these disorders because all of these conditions stem from the same source—which she most accurately names the ‘Gut and Psychology Syndrome’ (GAPS). The reason that one child may have ADHD and dyslexia and another may only have dyslexia is because each person’s gut bacteria is unique as is their biochemistry and this combination will have different effects on the brain depending on which neurotoxins your child’s bacteria produces. The labels that modern medicine has given to these disorders are merely to better classify and treat a series of symptoms that essentially all stem from similar causes.

Signs Your Child’s Gut Ecology is Imbalanced

Children who have brain disorders often have very specific physical health conditions that are related to gut and immune health since 80-85% of our immune system is in our gut. If your gut health is compromised then so too is your brain and immune system. Some marked aspects of children who have GAPS (ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism etc.) are:

  • Constipation/diarrhea
  • Tummy aches, gas, bloated
  • Stool odour is highly offensive
  • Asthma
  • Food allergies
  • Hay fever
  • Frequent ear infections
  • Eczema, psoriasis
  • Athlete’s foot, thrush, diaper rash as a baby, frequent UTI’s and canker sores can all indicate yeast overgrowth

Often as gut health is restored through gut healing protocols, the above conditions also disappear or the symptoms are greatly reduced.

Your Gut – Your Second Brain

If you remember science class, your teacher taught you that neurons were brain cells, but what your science teacher probably didn’t tell you is that neurons exist in other places besides your head. There are over 100 million neurons embedded along the lining of your intestinal wall known as the Enteric Nervous System (ENS)—your second brain. The ENS is influenced by the health of the gut: that includes its gut ecology as well as the health and integrity of the intestinal lining.

Researchers have discovered that many of our neurotransmitters are produced in our gut and that our gut bacteria plays a major role in our mood, levels of anxiety, ability to focus, our personality, cognitive abilities and even our perspective and thoughts. The reason for this is that the gut bacteria is central in the process of manufacturing and metabolizing everything from neurotransmitters to amino acids and even hormones—all of which have profound effects on brain chemistry.

Your Brain Chemistry is Made in Your Gut

Serotonin which many of us know as the ‘happy chemical’ is made primarily in the gut—about 90-95%. Children who have ADHD have lower levels of serotonin and dopamine. Ritalin works by balancing these two neurotransmitters, but often with undesirable side-effects.

Many integrative doctors, naturopaths and nutritionists have had success in correcting or alleviating symptoms simply by restoring the gut ecology and healing the gut lining. Adequate serotonin cannot be manufactured if the gut flora or lining is injured and this is obviously true for all other neurotransmitters, amino acids and nutrients that are either manufactured or metabolized in the gut.

GABA, an amino acid and a neurotransmitter is also manufactured in the gut and has been shown to affect brain waves by helping to prevent overstimulation and calming the brain. It has been found in countless studies to illicit profound changes in children with ADHD. Both GABA as well as the neurotransmitter glutamate are made in the gut and are responsible for mood, cognition, attention, learning as well as memory.

How the Gut Communicates with the Brain

You may be wondering after reading my last post how the gut-brain connection works. The whole gut-brain axis might seem a little far-fetched, since let’s face it—the gut and brain are not exactly beside each other. There are three known ways in which the gut communicates with the brain:

1)The Nervous System – The vagus nerve is a bundle of nerves in the gut that sends signals from the abdomen to the brainstem. Gut bacteria influences the cells along the vagus nerve by releasing neurotransmitters which influences different areas of the brain.

2)Hormones – Microbes in your gut influence hormones which then cross the blood brain barrier and affect neural activity. There is also the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis which are glands that are affected and influenced by the gut.

3)The Immune System – Immune cells in the gut migrate to the brain and influence various parts of the brain and thus neural activity.

Heal the Gut, Heal the Brain

Many children (and adults) struggling with behaviour and cognitive issues see much improvement with gut repair and re-inoculation of good bacteria. Healthy gut bacteria also affects your child’s stress hormones by turning off or reducing levels of cortisol and adrenaline. If your child has an unhealthy gut flora, he or she may be explosive, anxious, agitated or have a difficult time learning because these hormones are running high and creating a chronic stress response. The good news is that gut repair is possible and doesn’t even require surgery. For the most part—it starts in your kitchen.

References:

The Gut and Psychology Syndrome – Dr. Natasha Campbell

Missing Microbes: How The Overuse Of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plaque  by Martin Blaser

Bugs, Bowels, and Behavior: The Groundbreaking Story of the Gut-Brain Connection by Martha Herbert, Teri Arranga, Claire I. Viadro