Whatever your kid eats is all that his/her brain has to work with, to build neurotransmitter balance, keep nerve impulses flowing calmly and consistently, and grow tissue.
In part 1 of this 3 part blog, I covered the hardest thing first: Food. It is the most important, and the hardest to do. It’s what many parents I meet put off until things get really desperate (as in, your child is about to lose a school placement due to impulsive, disruptive behavior). It means asking yourself how far you are willing or able to go, to improve your child’s well being and ability for learning. Changing up your kitchen, revamping all your meal prep routines, learning to cook more and prepare new dishes, and changing what you spend or how you shop for food is probably lower than root canal on your list of least favorite things ever (you’re not alone). True, it can be hard.
If you’ve found some peace with those questions, and know your “I-can-do-this” zone, dive in! Small changes count, there’s no right or wrong. You’ll find that the new habits just grow, and you’ll know which ones are so worthwhile, you’ll wonder why they didn’t start sooner.
High on my list, after restoring good food and good fats, is fungal. Huh?
Candida, fungal overgrowth, intestinal candidiasis, yeast infection or sensitivity all refer to the same thing: Fungal microbes in your child’s body (gut, bladder, urinary tract, lungs, brain, lymph, you name it). While western medicine today doesn’t consider that an issue unless you have immune collapse, many of us in the functional medicine and functional nutrition realm see that it’s more complicated than that. Yes, fungal microbes are “normal” in a human body. But:
• Some of us may have way too much of this, to the point where it functionally interferes.
• Others may have genes that leave our immune response to fungal overload dead in the water – that is, we do nothing about it, and fungal (mold) toxins overload our bodies as a result.
• Still others may have an immune response to it that is highly irritating.
Any one of these three scenarios means that your child’s ADHD may be linked to fungal overgrowth! The good news is, this is easy to redirect. And you may be amazed at how differently your child functions as a result.
Why is this even on the map nowadays? Because in the last thirty years, children have received many more antibiotics than at any time before, and they receive them earlier (even in utero, or at delivery, if mom needs a C-section or has Group B Strep infection). We also use more and more antibiotics in feed animals, too. Antibiotics don’t kill fungal species, just bacteria – including bacteria humans need (especially babies) for normal immune function, digestion, and neurotransmitter balance (did you know there is more serotonin in your gut than in your brain, thanks to healthy bacteria?). In effect, antibiotics are like fertilizer for fungal overgrowth. So if antibiotics featured prominently, early, or both in your child’s life, sugar and carb cravings are strong, and ADHD is now an issue, odds favor Candida or other fungal strains as component you can work with. Fungal microbes make lots of toxins (alcohol, dermorphin, deltorphin, acetylaldehyde), which readily reach the brain, where they disrupt sleep, behavior, and learning. This tenet of the GAPS approach to psychiatric conditions has a pedigree in scientific review that you can delve into here.
So, what do you do about it? Clear that fungal load to gear up a healthier gut and whole body biome. Real food, less sugar and starch, and less processed food can do that gradually. But especially for kids whose appetites are fiercely rigid for starchy low protein foods, intervene with strong herbal anti fungal (drops or capsules) to clear this out. This changes appetites fast, and avoids a lot of conflict when new foods are presented.
What herbs? There are many to choose from, and they can have an impact as strong as or stronger than prescription drugs, in
my clinical experience. I have great respect for these potent tools: caprylic acid, undecylenic acid, olive leaf extract, grapefruit seed extract, berberine, allicin (from garlic) are just a few of the options. Single herb extracts or blends are widely available and I guide my clients on the use of these in my practice. Which ones may be most effective can be discerned with a functional stool test that cultures yeast strains and then tests which agents killed the found strains. In some cases, it may be that the fungal piece warrants a medication. Both Nystatin and Diflucan are FDA approved for use in infants and children. Meanwhile, I have found that the herbs can be as if not sometimes more effective, gentler to use long term, and easier to administer.
Along with the anti fungal support, probiotics help as well, to populate the gut with those friendly bacteria directly. These will ultimately keep Candida overgrowth in check on their own. It’s important while doing these things to work on better food (see part 1), because those gut bugs eat first, and they eat whatever your child eats. Give the food that the good stuff likes to eat for more success; Candida loves empty sugary food while a healthy biome likes a variety of foods that have fiber, varied carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
Which probiotic? Choose one with guaranteed potency, without the worthless fillers found in most over the counter probiotics sold at the supermarket or your local pharmacy. Certain circumstances will make probiotics hard to tolerate, so if you have trouble or no success with this piece, get help.
Some products are abysmal for potency – as low as a few million CFUs. Others don’t even specify dose, beyond something like “200 milligrams” of probiotic, which means nothing. I’m reaching for 25 to 250 billion CFUs (colony forming units) per dose, depending on the child’s situation. Which strains to choose matters too; some kids do well with one product that will go badly for the next, and vice versa. Buy refrigerated probiotics and store them there; do not microwave, boil or heat past “wrist” temperature, or put through vigorous blending or mixing. Tip: If purchasing probiotics through my client interface, defer the costly chill pack shipping. A small chilled brick pack is always included; the extra cost buys you foam insulation and even more chilled bricks, for about $60. Just buy usual ship method, and store the product in refrigerator immediately on arrival.
Probiotics are available as capsules, chewables or loose powder. Begin with whatever format your child will accept, at low dose (a quarter usual dose), and work up slowly. Going too fast may mean stomach aches or diarrhea for your child. Expect to see gradual, comfortable shift toward a soft formed bowel movement every day or every other day at the least. Not sure what that means? Check out the Bristol scale.
What else should you expect from working on the fungal part of naturally supporting ADHD, focus, and learning? Besides normalized bowel habits (a “4” on the Bristol scale, daily), look for less belly bloat, fewer sugar and carb cravings, more calm, more “okay, mom” from your child instead of the oppositional tantrum, longer stretches of effort at homework instead of “I can’t do this” after seven minutes, more ability to socialize with peers, and even some surprisingly positive reports from teachers.
Next up, Part 3 of my series on natural supports for ADHD, ADD, learning, focus, and attention: Minerals, and Beware Magic Bullets!