A Naturopath’s Perspective on Behavioural Issues in Children

By Balanced Beings

At Balanced Beings, we are seeing an increase in the number of children in clinic with parents concerned about behavioural issues, including hyperactivity, poor concentration, tantrums, mood swings, anger and irritability.

Over the last few years, there has also been an increase in awareness of conditions such as ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in children. Did you know that ADHD diagnoses have risen to almost 10% of children? It is also proposed that 1 in 59 children has Autism Spectrum Disorder. This has led to an alarmingly high number of medicated children in the playground. We believe there is a reason these conditions are increasing and it involves our environment and our diets.

When children come into the clinic with behavioural issues, we are always looking for the underlying reason why. Thorough case taking, dietary analysis, and appropriate testing can help us to uncover the underlying factors contributing to their issues. By addressing these issues, we see some pretty impressive transformations and some very happy families. So, from a naturopathic perspective, what are some of the things we are looking at?

When children come into the clinic with behavioural issues, we are always looking for the underlying reason why.

Nutritional deficiencies

When treating a child, the first thing we consider is their diet and more importantly what may be missing – nutrient insufficiencies and deficiencies. The most common nutrient deficiencies in children that are associated with behavioural issues are:

  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Omega 3s

Excess copper can also cause mood imbalances as it antagonises both zinc and iron absorption.

Not only do we have to look at what is going in through the diet, we also need to consider what is actually being absorbed from their foods. This comes down to investigating gut health, malabsorption issues, and other potential underlying conditions.

Hair tissue mineral analysis is a great test we often will use in clinic to assess nutrient status in children. This can provide a more accurate analysis as well as being much less invasive and very child-friendly.

Blood sugar imbalances

Drops in blood sugar levels can trigger irritability and tantrums in children (and some adults might we add!), while blood sugar highs can cause hyperactivity. Diets that are high in carbohydrates and lacking adequate proteins and healthy fats can cause blood sugar dysregulation and subsequent behavioural issues.

Drops in blood sugar levels can trigger irritability and tantrums in children (and some adults might we add!), while blood sugar highs can cause hyperactivity.

Food intolerances and sensitivities

Artificial preservatives and dyes found in many processed foods are linked to behavioural and neurological issues in children. Artificial food dyes have been directly linked to hyperactivity in children with sensitivities to them. Studies have also shown a potential link between ASD and synthetic food dyes.

Chronic inflammation in the gut can also cause irritability and mood imbalances in children. This is often caused by underlying food intolerances. The common culprits are generally (but not always) dairy, gluten, and soy. Where food intolerances are suspected, the best way to identify them is by way of an elimination diet – the gold standard in detecting food intolerances and sensitivities.

After about two weeks of eliminating the suspected food/s, children may display noticeable improvements in their behaviour. However, it is worth noting that an initial worsening of moods and behaviour can be experienced if going cold turkey, so it is best advised to do it gradually before reaching full elimination. A tolerance test can be conducted on the suspected food some weeks later by reintroducing a small amount and checking for any reaction.

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