WIN-ning Wednesday: Gluten and ADHD

One of my favourite, and most polarizing, health “cowboys,”  Dr. Mercola, recently posted an article in an e-newsletter that reviewed the link between dietary gluten and ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder).  Dr. Mercola is often posting topics that are way ahead of our time.  Love him or leave him, I thought this particular post on the gluten-ADHD connection was well done and the topic itself needs to be taken more seriously in mainstream health care.

Naturopathic Doctors have long understood the influence of food on digestive tract and the relationship between the digestive tract and the nervous system.  The food we eat, which intimately affects the gut lining, influences the nervous system in 3 major ways:

1) Certain foods, like gluten (which is a protein found in wheat), can be poorly digested.  One of the byproducts of poorly digested food is toxins, or irritating molecules.  These irritants can injure one or a combination of bodily systems, with the digestive tract being the first one to be compromised due to fact that it is the organ system that deals directly with food.

2) It is estimated that there are millions of nerve cells in the gut’s “enteric nervous system.”  This is why, in Naturopathic Medicine, the gut is often referred to as a second brain.  These nerve cells communicate with the central nervous system and they secrete their own neurotransmitters, like seratonin.  The food we eat can influence how these nerve cells communicate and the balance of neurotransmitters secreted.

3)  Dr. Mercola discusses in his post how food can promote inflammation in the body and how that affects our physiology, particularly that of the nervous system.

One or a combination of these 3 factors can significantly impact the health of a child.  Children can be especially sensitive to dietary influences because their nervous system is constantly in a state of development, starting at birth.  Anyone who has watched the huge developmental, behavioural and intellectual changes that happen in just the first 2-4 years of life would appreciate the plasticity of a young child’s nervous system.

That being said… in mainstream nutrition, the majority of “Kid Friendly” foods are wheat based.

– Bread, Bagels, Buns, Pizza

– Pasta, noodles

– Crackers

– Cookies, cake

– Cereals

– Some baby pablums (infant cereals)

– Granola Bars

– Pancakes, waffles

– Snack food: pretzels, melba toast

I often see children that are eating wheat foods at 2-3 meals a day, sometimes in addition to wheat based snacks, 7 days a week, for weeks, months or years on end.  When wheat foods are introduced early, and consumed regularly, kids start to really favour eating them.  This is one way “picky” eating can develop.  Kids can start to prefer the low texture and bready flavour of this food.  Then it becomes a test of wills as parents try to get their kids to eat more variety.

A child’s diet that is high in wheat based foods can also lead to developing a food allergy to wheat, which can manifest in many ways including behavioural issues, digestive changes, skin issues (like eczema) and/or chronic respiratory symptoms.

It is very easy these days to find alternatives to the wheat based foods.  For some parents, picking one food substitution at a time is the most realistic way to start making change for their kids.  It can take a long time, but gradual change may help to ensure a smoother transition with a child and his/her diet.

Moreover, it can take anywhere from 6-12 months for some people, of any age, to see health changes once they start changing their diet.  This may not be a quick fix for everyone, but 6-12 months is a drop in the bucket compared to a lifetime.

Dr. Mercola lists gluten free foods.  Here are some of my recommended switch ups that are available at most grocery stores:

– Breads: In the start try a sprouted grain bread.  Even though Dr. Mercola doesn’t recommend this, I do because sprouted grain breads can have less wheat than standard bread.  A little less can help the in process, and these breads are often not to far a stretch from regular “whole wheat” bread products.  Also, there are great RICE based breads products out there, too, which are totally wheat and gluten free.

– Pasta: try Rice Pasta or Rice Noodles

– Crackers: try Rice Crackers, Mary’s Organic Crackers  (offer dip like hummus or guacamole to jazz up snacks).

– Cookies, Cake, Pancake, Waffles: there are many great gluten free options

– Granola Bars: try Lara Bars

– Breakfast Cereal: try Nature’s Path Mesa Sunrise Flakes

– Baby Cereal: try 100% rice cereal as a first cereal for baby.  Read the ingredient list carefully because many “Rice Cereals” contain wheat.

I don’t often recommend a family completely go to “Gluten Free” manufactured food products.  The concern with things specifically branded “Gluten Free” is that is can get expensive.  Certainly, this is a niche in the health food market that is seeing rising popularity but buyers should beware.

When venturing to change a child’s diet, it is SO important to take small steps and to be flexible in the process.  Children are very perceptive and it is important that they don’t develop issues around food at a young age.  It can be a good idea to start offering new things in the process rather than restricting food.

Also, when the whole family adopts a healthier diet, everyone benefits and it prevents one family member from being singled out.

Lastly, when considering working on a child’s diet, it is very important to seek guidance from a professional.  Licensed Naturopathic Doctors have a strong understanding of nutrition and can give individualized solutions for people of any age seeking to improve their health concerns, while also considering their nutrition.

To read Dr. Mercola’s article in it’s entirety, click this link: Child has ADHD?  Stop Feeding Them This

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