“Leaky gut” and why it relates to your child’s emotions and behaviors

Gut health and digestion should always be considered when a child is getting mental health care or when caregivers are actively trying to reduce symptomology. The gut is now referred to as the “second brain” in the functional and integrative medical community. Gut health is extremely important when it comes to mental health care for children. The “second brain” needs to get proper care and attention in the body. There are many foods, substances, products or lifestyle habits that disrupt gut functioning. The microbiome in the gut is a collection of all the microorganisms including the bacteria of the gut. Low diversity of bacteria in the gut microbiome has been linked to disease states in the body. The gut is an ecosystem that needs to have homeostasis to be in a healthy state.

Gut issues for children can start at birth. Babies who are exposed to an overload of toxins in utero can be born with gut walls that are weak and then leak out. According to Dr. Elisa Song M.D., toxins start at conception and many infants are born with leaky gut and leaky brain. Dr. Song stated that, our kids are overloaded with toxins. This causes gut dysbiosis with yeast issues and leaky gut with food intolerance issues. Dr. Song advocates for proper nutrician and understanding how to lower the toxic load. For a few examples she reported that rice has arsenic, processed cheese has aluminum and there are high aluminum levels in vaccines. Arsenic and aluminum are just two examples of toxins that are dangerous for proper gut health. You can learn more about Dr. Elisa Song (the holistic mamma doc) at healthykidshappykids.com.

According to functional medicine nutritionist, Andrea Nakayama, toxicity in the body increases if your body can’t eliminate toxins through the bowels. Toxins damage the gut health and then continue to cause issues when they can’t be eliminated properly. Improving digestion needs to be an important focus. Digestion needs to work properly to detox toxins properly, according to Andrea Nakayama. She believes that individuals, going through the gut healing process, need: a therapeutic diet, proper sleep, optimal water intake, fiber, probiotics and optimal movement.

It has been reported by Dr. Anju Usman M.D. that the flora in the gut has low diversity at birth. The flora sometimes has limited beneficial bacteria. Breast milk will play a role in the types of bacteria going into the baby’s gut. When a child has limited beneficial bacteria in the gut the gut walls will not be strong enough. Some children have stronger gut walls than others. The gut has an important job in a child’s body. The gut is largely responsible for: digestion, sending neurotransmitters to the brain, producing hormones and producing amino acids. A child’s immune system will not be working properly if their gut is not in balance. A strong immune system depends on a strong gut and healthy microbiome. A healthy child’s body needs normal development of neurotransmitters, hormones and amino acids. Amino acids produce antioxidants for the body. Children who have neurological based disorders generally have low antioxidants and low amino acids in the body. Children with troubling symptoms also generally have disrupted hormone and neurotransmitter development in the gut. Improving a child’s gut and immune system will naturally help their bodies to produce antioxidants, hormones and neurotransmitters at healthy levels. Improving gut health will naturally result in improved mental health symptoms.

There are foods, chemicals and substances that interfere with the gut chemistry. An excessive number of sulfates can disrupt the gut chemistry. A high number of sulfates in the belly can cause a child to have a distended belly. Sulfates, which are commonly used in personal care products, are inorganic salt of sulfuric acid. Sulfates are used in personal care products as a foaming agent. Synthetic sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate is used in many toothpastes. A commonly used fiber drink on the market, has the ingredient sodium lauryl sulfate. This product is supposed to help people with gaining fiber and having stable gut functioning. This seems perplexing since its most likely having the opposite long-term effect on the gut health. When you ingest too many sulfates, hydrogen sulfite gas attacks the gut and can produce a leaky gut. Many products are on the market that claim to heal the gut and aid in digestion, when instead they damage the gut.

When there are gut issues happening in the body the entire digestive system will not be working properly. The immune system matures in the gut so, when the digestive system is impaired the immune system will be impaired. If your child has a leaky gut, a leaky brain and food intolerances than inflammation will occur in the body. Typically, the entire digestive system will be inflamed for a child with Autism, ADHD or other neurological disturbances. Children who have limited beneficial bacteria in their gut could also have issues with parasites, yeast overgrowth (candida) and fungal infections. All those issues will contribute to inflammation in the digestive tract and the rest of the body. When children are given antibiotics, the gut and inflammation issues in the body get worse. Antibiotics kill the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Spore based Pro biotics are needed after the use of antibiotics to restore the beneficial gut bacteria. Kiran Krishnan M.S., is a microbiologist, who has stated that leaky gut is a major driver of disease and chronic illness. He stated that leaky gut tends to start at age 2 when spectrum disorders start to develop for many children. The microbiome is not strong for these children. As a microbiologist for the company, Just thrive, he has significantly studied the strains of bacteria in the just thrive probiotics. He reports that spore-based probiotics are important because stomach acid kills everything and typically probiotics cannot survive. It’s important for probiotics to survive in the stomach and digestive tract. Just thrive seems to be the best probiotic on the market for helping our children improve gut health.

When a child has leaky gut and gut dysbiosis it’s not uncommon that they may also be dealing with: parasites, yeast overgrowth (candida) and fungal infections. These overgrowths in the body tend to get ignored in main stream medicine. Testing for these overgrowths is rare in the pediatrician’s office that follows the traditional medical model. These overgrowths can be viewed as “fake ailments” that are not a cause for concern. When a child is presenting with neurological issues every possible issue in the body is a cause for concern. When a child’s digestive system is impaired the rest of the bodily functions are going to suffer. It makes sense that treating an overgrowth in the digestive tract will allow proper digestion and proper eliminations of toxins to occur.

Even though our child may have: parasites, yeast overgrowth (candida) and fungal infections, the gut is also affected by chemical sensitivities, bacteria’s, and heavy metal toxicity. A child who presents as a “chewer” could have a bacterial infection called clostridium. Children who chew things repetitively need to be evaluated for bacteria’s that can be lurking in their gut. When our children have a chronic bacterial issue; a diet high in carbohydrates or sugars just feeds to bugs. Treating bacteria and limiting carbohydrates are probably necessary for a child who is a habitual “chewer.” Your child will most likely be viewed as having a sensory processing issue if they are a chewer. A sensory processing disorder doesn’t explain why they are chewing. The possible clostridium infection could be the root cause. All sensory processing issues have a root cause and most likely improving the digestive system will improve the sensory processing issues. Improving the digestive system must be addressed if you want to improve your child’s neurological system and how they react to stimuli.

When the body has too much inflammation and mitochondria issues in the cells the entire digestive system will be impaired. Constipation and diarrhea are very common for Autism and ADHD symptomatic kids. The muscles in the digestive tract can’t move food out properly if they are inflamed or don’t have enough energy. If the digestive tract is severely compromised, the esophagus may not work properly either. Gerd and reflux are very common for Autism and ADHD symptomatic kids. When the esophagus muscles are not working properly acid and food will come back up. My youngest, Xavier had this issue. He struggled at times to keep food down and vomited for what seemed to be no reason. He would vomit even though he wasn’t sick and seemed to be feeling fine after a meal. He choked a lot while eating and needed prompting to eat slower and chew food more to avoid choking. At times, swallowing seemed to be difficult for him. Although he was a fast eater, the inflammation of the esophagus was the issue and not his speed of eating.

If we ignore improving the gut and gut inflammation, the problems will grow. Chronic inflammation can start to take over your child’s body. When the gut is inflamed an esophagus could be inflamed and then a brain can become inflamed. Because of inflammation in the body, the body may eventually create scar tissue. Scar tissue can develop in many areas of the body. Scar tissue can be developed in the brain. Based on current research, scar tissue has been found in the brain of children with Autism. When this happens, nerves can be glued together. When nerves are glued together with scar tissue those nerves can’t grow and can’t develop. A child’s learning, sensory processing and development will be hindered when the nerves in the brain are not working properly.

Dr. Marco Ruggiero, M.D., Ph.D. is a scientist and inventor of Bravo yogurt. He stated that, it was found in 2013 that microbes are found in the brain from the gut. He reports that microbes are like a non-human brain that influence neurotransmitters. Microbes in the brain effect how our children behave and many mental health symptoms they may experience. Dr. Ruggiero believes that Autism is a chronic neurological condition. He reported on a peer reviewed study in Italy where many children recovered from Autism by a gut balance treatment. According to Dr. Ruggiero, children need proper probiotic supplementation to begin treating the gut imbalances. Treating a child with neurological issues needs to focus on healing the gut and recovering the gut to a healthy state. Your child’s body is in an unhealthy state if they suffer from neurological issues. A neurological issue is an unhealthy systemic state in the body. A healthy gut will lead to a happy, thriving and healthy child.


Author: Dr. Elizabeth Ward, Ph.D., LCPC