Just you as a parent have the power to improve child's health naturally ! This page is here for you to learn all about how to improve child's gut health and how environmental toxins, lifestyle habits, diet, leaky gut, candida & parasites can influence chronic health conditions. Understanding this holistic health perspective helps you become and empowered participant on your child's path to improved health and healing.
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Knowledge is power, but without strategic action, it is not helping you help your child.
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What can I do about them without having to walk around in a hazmat suit or live in a bubble?
Can that be a thing if we have never travelled to a developing country?
How do I do it without ruining our lives?
That’s a lot of questions rolling around in your head…maybe you now have a couple you didn’t have before! Don’t worry. We are going to hit on all of those questions right here. I am going to give you the low down, what you need to know to improve child's health naturally but not overwhelm you with detail.
Our modern-day medical approach has advanced in miraculous ways over the past hundred years and if you have an acute condition requiring life saving interventions, we are very fortunate to live in this time. Where this medical system is failing us is in the treatment of chronic health conditions. In this case the focus is almost solely on treating the symptoms of the condition.
Rarely will this system look any deeper than these surface symptoms but, in order to truly improve health, we need to dig deeper.
The symptoms are the red flag pointing out to us that something is wrong and our present & dominant medical system focuses only on the flag itself. Once we begin to look past the flag to see what it is trying to signal, we can set about establishing balance to the systems of the body that will bring about more meaningful improvements in symptoms over time. This is where the holistic health approach thrives.
The holistic and functional nutrition approach look at the whole body and its interconnected systems. Looking for imbalances that are showing up in the body as a particular set of symptoms. It is roots over symptoms.
Holistic practices have been addressing chronic inflammation as an underlying root issue in chronic illness for a long time. Happily, modern medicine is also beginning to come on board and research supports the idea that long term inflammation in the body can lead to imbalances and chronic illness. Dr. Mark Hyman, a prominent functional medicine physician in the States, sites chronic inflammation as one of the most important root causes that must be addressed to improve health. The wonderful news is there is so much we can do as parents to address chronic inflammation and underlying imbalances to help our kids improve their health!
Now, you might be wondering how on earth your young child came to have chronic inflammation!
The image below gives a good visual of the things that stoke the fires of inflammation in your child's body. By making changes in these elements we are essentially removing fuel from the fire and allowing our child's body to return to a better state of balance.
This is the Empowered Participant Pyramid I use when working with clients. I call it that because with this model you are not a mere bystander watching what happens with your child’s health. You are a necessary participant, an integral part of the process to reclaim health! The pyramid lays out a visual roadmap for how we as parents have the power to influence our child’s health, happiness, and future.
Let's explore the different layers and you will see just how much you can do to make a difference.
There is major power in the foundational layer of the pyramid and it is the base of what all other healing interventions are built upon. For some children just cleaning up some of the lifestyle habits, getting rid of toxic chemicals in the home and eating a whole foods diet is enough. Other kids, with more complex health issues, need a little more intervention with a gut healing protocol. The best news, this whole base layer of the pyramid is within our realm of control and ability just as parents. It means we have the power to build a beautiful and strong foundation for our children in our own homes!
Within this base layer of the pyramid, you will be addressing that chronic inflammation we just talked about, head on. You will conquer 3 of the most important contributors to chronic inflammation in your child’s body.
1. Environmental toxins
2. Unhealthy lifestyle
3. Leaky gut & Food Sensitivities
First up is the environment. Today our kids are growing up in a veritable toxic soup. There are thousands of chemicals in many of our everyday household products. Frighteningly many of them have never been safety tested! According to the Environmental Working Group, only about 40% of the 82,000 chemicals on the market in the US have been safety tested! Most alarmingly these chemicals are the ones we find in our body care products, shampoos, body washes, soaps, creams and grooming products. It is these small things we take for granted everyday that add up to our children being bombarded with toxins day in and day out without respite.
Critics of the idea that these chemicals are toxins and harmful to your body (i.e. the industry!) will tell you that our body’s have a built in detoxification system to deal with anything that could be harmful. It is true. Our bodies are amazing and intelligent and will always fight to maintain balance. But its capacity is finite and the fact is, we are simply not evolving fast enough to keep up with the level of toxicity now present in our everyday environment. Some of our children may also be genetically compromised in their ability to detoxify optimally which makes this soup even harder to deal with.
Now, I tell you all this for awareness. Not to scare you. Carrying around fear of these substances will do no good at all. It is simply a matter of making some small changes in your home, controlling what you can (and that’s a lot) and letting go of the rest.
This is something you can get started with right away. Go into your bathrooms and get rid of all the typical bathroom products and replace them with options from a health food store. If you can’t afford to do it all at once pick a product a week to replace. You can buy large quantities of castile soap that is very affordable and use it for all your body washing needs.
Next, replace your laundry detergent and stop using any scented fabric softener. Throw away your dryer sheets and use dryer balls instead to prevent static. Now tackle the cleaning cupboard and replace all the chemicals with something as natural, simple and cheap as vinegar and water. Add a few drops of essential oil like tea tree to add a nice sent and extra cleaning power. Replace plastic water bottles with glass or stainless steel. Replace a few foods from the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen list with organic varieties and cut way back on toxic pesticide exposure.
Just those few things and you have removed hundreds or more chemicals from your child’s everyday environment. That’s a big and powerful step!
You're off to a great start!
Now let’s tackle those lifestyle habits that might be contributing to imbalance in the body. These are basic habits but they play a major part in keep our children’s bodies balanced and in rhythm.
Sleep might seem like the absence of activity but actually the body is very busy during this time doing much needed repair work, cementing memories and detoxifying the body and brain. Without this complete downtime the body begins falling behind on this essential maintenance.
Sunshine is the best source of vitamin D, far and above and food or supplement you can find. Vitamin D is vital for proper function of the immune system, brain, muscle and respiratory function as well as bone formation. Best of all it is anti-inflammatory! Just what we want for our kids. Just 15 minutes in the sun without sun screen is enough to produce all the vitamin D your child needs for the day! During the winter in cold climates unfortunately we do have to resort to supplements.
How about fresh air, did you know that amazing forest smell actually has a compound that has been shown to reduce inflammation and enhance immune function? A little walk in your local park or taking a hiking trip on the weekend would be all it takes. Those forest walks would help you ensure your child is getting enough exercise daily too.
I don’t need to tell you about the importance of exercise, you already know it! Of course eating right is also part of a healthy lifestyle and we are going to talk more about healthy diet in the next section on leaky gut.
Hopefully you are starting to see that making the changes to reduce inflammation in the body and support balance don't have to be hard. Now we are going to look at leaky gut, food sensitivities and how dietary changes can have a big impact. This is where the rubber really hits the road you have so much power to impact your child's health!
If you're a little tired of all this reading sit back and watch this video explanation of leaky gut. Its a short and sweet way to really get the essential details of gut health and your child's health condition.
Prefer to read? Scroll down below the video and you will find the text version there. Nice to have options.
Way back in 460 bc Hippocrates said "All disease begins in the gut". Boy, was he right! It is really being proven to be true.
When we talk about the gut here we are talking about the small intestine and large intestine. For our purposes we are going to focus on the small intestine.
First of all lets take a quick look at some of the basic but vital functions of the gut.
You can see already - if these organs are not functioning well - its going to have a negative effect on your child’s health and wellbeing!
Now some SUPER, super basic anatomy – 2 things- not getting complicated or into the nitty gritty here just a couple simple parts that will help you really get leaky gut and its role in health
Cells that line the small intestine are called enterocytes. Don’t worry about the name - just know that there is a layer of cells that line the intestine and they have some really important work. Namely all those things we just listed above! Big job.
The other thing I want you to know about is the gut microbes or gut bugs as I like to call them. These are the little critters, the bacteria, that call our intestines home. It is an entire habitat with more microbes than stars in the universe in there! Pretty wild when you think about it. We have a symbiotic relationship with most of our intestinal microbes and they are essential for good health. Some scientists believe that the microbiome in our guts should be considered an actual organ in and of itself!
More and more is being discovered about these important little creatures everyday. We now know that the bacteria in your gut have conversations…like they actually communicate with other organs and systems of the body.
Immune – Nervous – Brain
We also know they play a major role in detoxification of harmful substances that reach the intestines.
Now, let's talk about the "good guy" and "bad guy" bacteria. This is an over simplification as we actually need a balance of both but it is helpful for illustration purposes. So we have our friendly or beneficial bacteria, opportunistic and pathogenic bacteria in our guts all the time.
BALANCE is the key. We want to have more of the friendly fellows than the opportunistic pathogenic bacteria. In order to have healthy happy cells lining our small intestine we need to have this balance.
When the balance is off we can get an overgrowth of the pathogenic and opportunistic species and they begin to take over the place and push out our good guys.
This is called Dysbiosis – what happens when our child has more opportunistic and pathogenetic gut bugs than friendly ones?
Remember that the health and happiness of the intestinal cells (with all those important jobs) depends on a good balance of gut bugs. Research has shown us that without gut flora these cells are not able to develop properly and they are not renewed as often as they should be.
Here is fun little picture of the enterocyte cells. The one on left lives in a gut with good balanced microflora – look at all the lovely digestive enzymes there ready to do their work. The one on the right lives in a gut with dysbiosis. Look at his digestive enzymes…pretty paltry and he looks pretty sad and weak. What do you think happens in our child’s body when their intestinal cells look like this poor guy?!
The Intestines simply can’t do any of their work well. Begins a cycle of not fully digesting food –> malnourishment + a feast for the bad guy gut bugs = bad guys multiply. And the cycle feeds into itself creating more dysbiosis. As the friendly bacteria get pushed out we also end up with impaired detox and immune system dysregulation. The pathogenic bacteria can even send signals to the brain to increase inflammation!
That alone has a huge impact on health but there is another piece to the puzzle. Remember that the intestinal cells also form a protective physical barrier. That barrier becomes compromised when the cells look like the poor fellow in the picture.
Let’s look at how that works. Imagine the enterocyte cells are like bouncers at a big club and they are holding hands really tightly to form a barrier. They only loosen their grip to allow certain very controlled substances to pass through. When they are weak because of an imbalance in microflora they start to get a little lazy and they begin to lose their grip. Now the club is less secure and things that would not normally be allowed through are able to pass.
The gut literally becomes LEAKY. Or fancy talk -the intestines become hyper-permeable.
What exactly is leaking?
Now remember when we started you saw that at least 70% of the immune system is around the gut. Those immune cells (called GALT) are like the army standing at the alert. When something leaks out of the intestine that should not be there they attack!
This leads to
Pretty clear we need to take care of that gut in order to improve our children's health no?
Picture from GAPS book by Dr. Natasha Campbell-Mcbride
In order to have healthy guts they need two things
We give them both through a gut healing diet!
Jump over to the Take Action Page. Learn what a gut healing diet looks like and find resources on how to make the changes happen for your family. Without having to make it your full time job, without missing out on life and without feeling like you'll never eat yummy food again!
Above we hit on how leaky gut underlies food allergies and sensitivities. When the gut becomes hyperpermeable and undigested food particles leak out, they immediately encounter the GALT - The gut immune army! These food particles do not look like they should. The molecules are not the right size or shape and the army does not recognize them. So, it does what it is supposed to do and goes into attack mode to protect the body. Chronic inflammation and allergic type reactions to food follow. I also like to explain this using a Lego analogy and you can check that out right here.
This is a very simple way of understanding what is going on with food allergies and sensitivities. Of course, it is a more complex topic than this simple one paragraph explanation, but that gives you a good enough picture to see how leaky gut and food sensitivities need to be addressed in order to help restore balance for your child.
What about food sensitivity testing?
Food sensitivity testing is different from allergy testing. In this case, as described in the video, we are looking for an IgG antibody response rather than and IgE response. This can be a valuable test to determine if there are particular foods causing a reaction and contributing to inflammation and health problems. However, it can be very frustrating for many parents and I know exactly what that feels like.
We bounced back and forth with food sensitivity testing for a long time and every time we went back the foods we had been avoiding were now clear and the ones we had included tested as sensitivities. It became an overwhelming juggling act and sometimes if felt like there were no foods we could feed my son that he was not sensitive to. That became pretty unmanageable and as I deepened my training in nutrition and gut healing, I realized this is not just about avoiding foods! It has to be about getting to the root, the reason there is sensitivities in the first place. The hyper-permeability of the gut.
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride and many others in the holistic and functional health world believe that while there is leaky gut there will be food sensitivities, so a gut healing protocol of some type is an absolute must. In my opinion and experience this makes good sense. There can be no overcoming food sensitivities and allergies without restoring proper function to the gut.
Any mother who brought up the idea of candida as a problem for her child would have been very likely have been poo -pooped by her physician. However, I think that we are making some progress here thanks to the incredible work of many talented functional medicine doctors who have shone their light on the issue of candida and chronic health conditions.
If you have done any google searches on alternative approaches to your child's health you have likely come across some articles on candida. Again, we are not going to dissect this in great detail, but just give you the basics so you have a general understanding of how this may be affecting your child's health.
Candida is a yeast, a fungi, and it lives in all of us. It is what is referred to as an opportunistic microbial species that is normally kept in check by our more beneficial species. It lives in our guts primarily but it can colonize other tissues as well. Unfortunately, our modern world has give these opportunistic critters exactly the window of opportunity they needed to begin growing their numbers, increasing in strength and crowding out our beneficial microbes. Over use of antibiotics and steroids, birth control pills and processed food diets all contribute to the problem.
How does candida undermine health?
The standard American diet favors these critters. They just love processed foods, carbohydrates, sugar and lactose. The main stays of most children's diets these days! The more they get of these foods the more they proliferate and wreck their havoc on the body. According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of the GAPS diet, candida is connected to almost every chronic health condition we know including arthritis, digestive problems, MS, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, neurological disorders like autism and ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, autoimmunity, PANDAS and even things like asthma and eczema. It is not something we want to overlook in our efforts to help our kids!
There are a list of common signs and symptoms of candida overgrowth including bad breath, bloating and gas, diarrhea, constipation, brain fog, irritability, difficulty concentrating and others. However, even if your child doesn't have any of these you should consider it a possibility if they have any chronic health condition. My son has virtually none of these symptoms...yet lab tests have shown he had a definite yeast overgrowth.
Dietary changes are needed to overcome a candida overgrowth as well as gut healing protocols to help bring the microbiome back into proper balance so it can hold these nasty opportunists in check. There are many dietary approaches to dealing with candida in my experience a Paleo/GAPS style approach has been most effective and is less restrictive than other approaches. If you want to get started right away make sure you have downloaded a copy of the E-book 25 Gut Healing Recipes to Reclaim Your Child's Health. Then head over to the Take Action Page and get to work on healing that microbiome!
*Candida is just one species of opportunistic bacteria. There is almost always others present when there is a microflora imbalance.
Just FYI....you don't have to visit a tropical country to pick up a parasite. Most North Americans are walking around with intestinal parasites they don't even know they have!
Some of these guys are nasty little critters that can cause a lot of problems to our health. Not only can they be robbing us of nutrition and burrowing little homes into the sides of our intestines (causing a lot of gut integrity damage), they are also considered a trigger for some chronic health conditions and especially autoimmunity.
Here are just a few of things that can be blamed on parasites!
Irritability, lack of energy, skin problems and rashes, sleep problems, bed wetting, anemia, muscle cramps, teeth grinding, post nasal drip, allergies, poor concentration, and headaches.
Just how parasites contribute to illnesses not directly related to the digestive system is complex and still being researched. But it is generally accepted that these critters do indeed have an effect.
The most important thing for you to know here is that parasites are a possible trigger for health conditions and should be looked into. As a parent you can help get rid of parasites by using a gut healing diet. It is a very important part of bringing balance back to the intestines, so it is not a happy place for parasites to move in. I've worked with many clients whose children begin eliminating worms in their stool a few days or weeks into a gut healing protocol. Gross! But great news!
Sometimes diet alone is not enough and you need to work with a qualified health practitioner like a naturopath, herbalist or homeopath. Stool tests are available and can give an interesting window into parasitic infections. It is not the be all and end all though. Parasites can be tricky to spot as the stool test is only a small snap shot of one area in the intestine (the lumen) at one point and time. Since they can burrow in and hide in the intestinal wall, they can easily be missed.
For a better understanding of some of the private testing available to you and how it differs from what you would likely get in the standard medical tests listen to my podcast interview with Dr. Shaw of Great Plains laboratory.
I know it in my bones, I know it from personal and professional experience.
I hope now you do too.
Making these changes is the best thing you can do for your child and the results of improved health and happiness are priceless. It is not difficult, it takes some discipline and planning, but if I can do it I know you can too, and I am here to help you every step of the way.
Even small changes built up over time make a huge impact so don't feel overwhelmed. Just start putting one foot in front of the other and overtime it all adds up to good stuff!
The only way you can go wrong is not taking action. Next step, visit the Take Action Pages.
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