Childhood conditions such as allergies, eczema, asthma, autism and ADHD are on the rise. There are many factors that play a role in these health concerns. But one that is often overlooked by Western medicine is gut health.
Conventional medicine doesn’t have a lot of answers for these health issues. It does play a role by providing emergency care such as an EpiPen for allergic reactions, but many treatments simply focus on symptom relief. It doesn’t address the underlying cause of why the child’s health was compromised in the first place. And one common denominator with all of these conditions is digestive health.
Watch the video or continue reading below to find out more about gut health in allergies, eczema, asthma, autism and ADHD.
These common childhood conditions fall into two main groups. The first group is atopic or allergy-type conditions – asthma, allergies, intolerances and eczema. Although each affects a different body system, the common issues are immune regulation and gut health.
The second group is neurodevelopmental disorders. Conditions such as autism and ADHD affect the brain and the nervous system. But like atopic conditions, the state of the gut is one of the root causes.
The Role Of Gut Health In Atopic Conditions
Our modern diet and environment is altering the microbiome – the delicate balance of microbes found in the gut. Research shows that these changes in the gut are associated with the increasing incidence of food allergies in kids. On the other hand, improving the balance has a protective effect against allergies and intolerances.
Another important link is gut permeability, or leaky gut. A healthy gut is like a tube – the walls are solid and keep the contents contained within the tube. But with leaky gut, the walls become damaged and allow food to enter the bloodstream before it has been broken down properly. This can trigger the immune response and inflammation.
Research has shown that leaky gut is a risk factor not only for food allergies, but also eczema and asthma – even if there is no other allergy present. Removing the allergen is only the first step. Healing the gut cannot be overlooked.
The Role Of Gut Health In Neurodevelopmental Conditions
There are many links between autism and the gut. Research shows that GI symptoms such as bloating, constipation, gas and pain are 6-8 times more common in kids on the spectrum compared to typically developing kids. But supporting gut health in children with autism can have a positive effect on their behaviour, learning and concentration.
The relationship between autism and the gut is most likely the gut-brain connection. The gut and brain are so tightly linked that the gut is often referred to as the second brain. Many of the brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, are actually produced in the gut. They then travel via the vagus nerve up to the brain to exert their actions. Although there is no definite pattern, there are imbalances in these brain chemicals for kids on the spectrum compared to typical children.
Leaky gut is also linked to autism. Research has shown that leaky gut is more common among patients with autism. But it also showed that a gluten-free, casein-free diet can be protective against leaky gut. The GFCF diet can help to reduce symptoms of autism, but it can be hard to follow. Many kids with autism are quite fussy about food, and go for foods that are full of gluten and dairy!
Why are gluten and casein such an issue? Some people, particularly those with autism, have trouble with breaking down these two proteins during digestion. When they absorbed into the bloodstream, they can cross the blood-brain-barrier and attach to opioid receptors in the brain. This can affect the person’s mood, pain tolerance, behaviour and mental performance. But they can also be quite addictive – almost like a drug for the brain.
Much like autism, ADHD is linked with gut health because of the gut’s effect on regulating behaviour and mood. One interesting study into ADHD and gut health looked at the influence of probiotic supplements. The researchers gave newborn babies either a probiotic or placebo for the first 6 months of life, and then reassessed them when they were 13 years old. By age 13, 17% of the placebo group had a diagnosis of either ADHD or autism. But in the probiotic group, the result was 0% – none of the participants had ADHD or autism.
What the researchers found was that the children who were diagnosed with ADHD or autism had lower levels of Bifidobacterium, a type of beneficial bacteria. This doesn’t mean that probiotics can prevent 100% of ADHD and autism. But it does show that gut health and the balance of bacteria play an important role.
Why Is Gut Health Such A Big Issue For Kids?
It’s clear that the gut is playing a massive role in these childhood conditions, and that they are on the rise. But why is it so common for kids to develop these issues? Some of the biggest factors are:
- The diet – many kids have a diet that is low in prebiotic fibre and high in sugar, which can alter the microbiome balance. Other factors such as food additives can also affect the health of the gut
- Stress – we talk more about stress here, but kids are actually under a lot of stress these days!
- How they were born and fed – birth via C-section can reduce the exposure to good microbes, whereas breastfeeding can support a healthy gut
- Antibiotic use
- Chemical exposure – including plastics and pollution
- Lower exposure to microbes – kids are spending less time playing outdoors in the dirt and more time using anti-bacterial products
It’s important to remember that gut health is always a work in process. There are so many factors that can affect the gut, and it can be overwhelming as a parent. But you can start with small changes, and work on repairing the gut over time.
Gut health is just one of the aspects to consider when it comes to chronic health issues in kids. Often, it’s difficult to know where to start with allergies, eczema, asthma, autism and ADHD. To find out which area of health is a priority for your child, take the free Natural Super Kids quiz to find here.