Improving gut health and lowering inflammation are critical steps for improving your child’s mental health

Your child’s gut (the intestinal tract) needs to be healthy for a healthy body and brain connection. Your child’s brain will not be healthy or functioning properly if they have an unhealthy gut. The immune system and gut functioning should be addressed if your child has a mental health disorder or chronic lime disease (that contributes to mental health disorders). The gut, “the second brain”, is responsible for developing the immune system, producing hormones and producing neurotransmitters. Important messages are sent from the gut to the brain. Your child’s physical and mental health rely on the health of the gut and the gut microbiome. According to Dr. Elisa Song, M.D. (board certified pediatrician, holistic practitioner), you need to treat the gut when your child is suffering from a physical and mental health ailment. A child with ADHD, Autism, anxiety or allergies has a gut issue. Physical health and mental health problems typically go together. If you have a hyperactive child with skin issues and asthma, gut health needs to be addressed. Usually, a hyperactive child has a list of physical ailments that all stem back to poor gut health. Healing the immune system and gut health is a complex process. Focusing on the immune system and the gut is extremely important for children with developmental challenges.

According to research, Autism can be looked at as an autoimmune disorder in a child. Autoimmune issues involve the gut, the microbiome and the immune system. I believe other childhood mental health disorders also fall under the autoimmune category. Storms of toxicity and harmful bacteria are brewing in the bodies of many children with ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, sensory processing disorders, defiant behaviors, obsessive behaviors, motor disorders and depression.

The immune system needs to be strong to keep us healthy so naturally, our immune system may be weakened if there are mental health symptoms happening. The immune system is complicated and should always be evaluated when treating children for mental health concerns. Typically, pediatricians, therapist and psychiatrists don’t evaluate a child’s immune system during assessments and treatment therapies. A psychiatric based medication should never be given to a child without the immune system being considered. The immune system and the gut will not be nurtured and healed with a psychiatric medication. A medication doesn’t support a healthy gut microbiome. Many medications make the gut microbiome worse and worsen the child’s gut issues. Many medications deplete the body of key vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy immune system. A child’s immune system is a large network of cells, tissues and organs that should be working together to protect the body against foreign invaders. Foreign invaders to the immune system are typically tiny Microbes in the body. Microbes are bacteria, parasites, and fungi that cause a variety of infections in a child’s body. When a child’s immune system is fighting off bacteria, parasites, mold, and fungi that won’t go away, a whole host of issues occur in the body. A child that has a healthy immune system will not have significant developmental delays or neurological based mental health disorders. Many parents have said to me, “My child is very healthy. My child just has ADHD and doesn’t have any issues with there immune system.” This is what parents often think but, its not totally true. Your child is suffering in some way if they have an ADHD, anxiety or behavioral diagnosis. The immune system and gut can be affected in ways a parent may not realize. Parents need to take a deeper look at their child’s immune system and the child’s total gut health. Again, ADHD is not technically a “diagnosis” of the child’s issues. Its just a catch all label for the symptoms. When a parent tells me, their child has ADHD I am just hearing that they have symptoms. Parents need to know what the symptoms mean and what is causing the symptoms to occur.

Harmful Bacteria’s and heavy metals are a blow to the immune system of our children. They cause inflammation of the gut and weaken the immune system. They weaken the guts ability to develop hormones and neurotransmitters. Harmful bacteria’s and heavy metals kill beneficial bacteria the gut needs for a healthy immune system. It is shown in scientific research that bacteria’s and heavy metals can cross the blood brain barrier. When a heavy metal or a harmful bacterium gets into the brain it can linger in the cells and create swelling. Swelling and inflammation in the brain is called encephalitis. Encephalitis is very common in children with moderate mental health disturbances. When inflammation leads to undetected scar tissue, the body will have a harder time circulating oxygen. Those children on the spectrum that have issues with inflammation and mitochondria disfunction, are linked to having high lactic acid in the body. A lactic acid build-up occurs when the oxygen level is low. When the oxygen level is low carbohydrates break down for energy and make lactic acid. A diet high in carbohydrates could be creating a lactic acid overload in the body. The lower the flow of blood and oxygen occurs in the body, the more lactic acid the body will make. Even though a child with ADHD and Autism can seem hyperactive their cells can be lacking energy needed. Children who are lacking cellular energy will need every bit of their energy for fighting off an infection, digestion, and for breathing. Energy needs to be used for basic life functions in the body. Children with energy depletion and toxic stressed bodies may not put energy into eye contact or play skills. Skills can’t be worked on when the immune system is on hyperalert.

A hyperalert immune system seems to be the new normal for children but, they don’t have to stay at status quo with a hyperalert immune system. The very first step to treating a child who is struggling is improving gut health and immune system health. Reducing the stress on a child’s body will reduce the need for the immune system to be on hyperalert.

Harmful bacteria can breed parasites in the body. Parasites are also a blow to your child’s immune system. Your child may have more parasites in the gut than you realize. Parasites are sponges in the body for heavy metals. If your child’s body has an elevated level of mercury or aluminum, parasite detoxification may need to happen. Parasites can also hold lime into the body according to Dr. Jay Davidson D.C. Pathogens behind our biofilm need to be treated for optimal immune system functioning, according to Dr. Davidson. Those pathogens can be mold and parasites. When our brain is not functioning properly, the rest of our body wont function at the optimal level. The opposite is also true. When our body is not functioning properly, the brain wont function properly. Mold and parasites can be a large concern for children who have a chronic mental health issue.

Parents should consider air purifying systems in the home that can take mold and other toxins out of the air. Having clean air in the home is one step towards helping your child get well. Parents need to make sure the air purifying system is effective for taking mold out of the air. Not all air purifying systems are created equal and research needs to be done to make sure the system is the most effective. Improving the air quality in the home, especially during winter months, is critical for having a mentally healthy child.

When I assess children, parents regularly report that their child gets sick often. The child may look run down, tired and physically weak. Your child may have pale skin and dark circles under there eyes. Your child may have skin pigment issues on there face. An immune system boost is what so many children need on their way to recovery from current mental health struggles. Optimal physical health translates to optimal mental health. This seems like a no-brainer and obvious but, this concept isn’t really taken into consideration by many practitioners treating children with mental health concerns. Nutrician, sleep and exercise aren’t typically discussed and evaluated at length. My children have never been thoroughly evaluated on any of those things during a pediatrician appointment. During many assessments with children, I observe children who have dark circles under their eyes and appear to be lacking energy. Children with the most significant behavioral concerns often have skin rashes, asthma symptoms, and get headaches with certain lighting. The lack of energy if often accompanied by reports of limited sleep, sedentary lifestyles, and poor diets. Every year the symptom list seems to grow larger for young children during evaluations.

The DSM (diagnostic and statistical manual) doesn’t even begin to explain what is going on in the bodies of children with Autism or ADHD symptoms. Every child with Autism is different and all symptoms may have a unique cause in the body. Labeling symptoms should only be the starting point for uncovering why the body is experiencing dysfunction. Body chemistry and genetic mutations are complicated factors that contribute to labels and are being treated improperly by many mental health professionals. Body chemistry and genetic mutations are essentially being ignored in main stream mental health care. Taking your child for a day long psychiatric evaluation will most likely not produce results on what is going on in your child’s body chemistry or in their genetics. Gaining a label of Autism or ADHD through a psychological assessment will not provide the specific or most accurate answers needed for recovery. Recovery for your child won’t happen unless you improve gut health and lower inflammation in the body.

Because of gut imbalances and inflammation in the body, the upper part of the body is also at risk. Inflammation can occur in the throat, ears, nose, mouth and neck. When this occurs, the lymph nodes in the neck may not drain properly. Those lymph nodes are responsible for draining toxins from the brain. Infections can also clog the lymph nodes, so they can’t drain properly. When the lymph nodes in the neck can’t drain fluid, the fluid can build up in the brain. It’s important for the lymph nodes to be circulating properly. When fluid builds up in the brain and lymph nodes, learning disabilities may follow. When toxins can’t drain from the brain your child is likely to have neurological issues along with the learning disabilities.

Autism, ADHD and other neurological based disorders result from maladaptation to stress that is placed on the body. Psychological stress is typically addressed in therapeutic settings but physiological stress if often ignored. Toxin overload is a physiological stress on the body. There are so many steps that can help a child’s body recover. Draining the lymph nodes and allowing lymph node circulation is a key step. Energy needs to be put back into the body and the cells for optimal circulation. The body needs to detoxify from the toxic stress. Inflammation of the digestive tract and other areas of the body needs to be eliminated.

It is significantly important for the body of a child to detox when inflammation of the gut has become an issue. If a child has an unhealthy gut, detoxification of toxins will be hindered. When the digestive tract is inflamed or has unhealthy bacteria, energy will be used up in the body on digestion. Less energy will be available for detoxification. Digestion takes the place of detox with an unhealthy gut. Children may become lethargic after eating too much because the energy in the body is being used up for digestion. Eating easy to digest foods will help the body with cleansing. Supporting the gut enhances the bodies ability to detoxify.

It’s common for many children with Autism to have asthma because of the chronic inflammation in the lungs. This is another clear indication that Autism and ADHD are a toxin overload issue. Many young children with Asthma and allergies are sent to a pulmonologist that will treat the breathing symptoms in isolation. It’s important for children to be able to breathe but, being placed on an inhaler in isolation is not always the best solution for the root cause. An inhaler is not finding the root cause of the breathing issues and isn’t fixing the chronic inflammation in the body. Once the inflammation is fixed, the child may not need the inhaler. Obviously, childhood asthma is a serious condition and symptoms should be taken very seriously. I urge parents, that have a child with a mental health concern, to consider whole body healing if the child also has asthma symptoms. It’s no surprise when children with neurological based disorders have breathing difficulties in some capacity.

One of the best ways to support the gut is by eating fermented foods. Great fermented foods are sauerkraut and kimchi. Your child will like Kimchi if they like spicy foods. You can make non-spicy versions at home. Its very simple to make pickled vegetables which are also great for gut health. Pickled cabbage is a great way to implement beneficial bacteria into the gut. Cabbage can simply be diced and added to a jar with apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar has been found in studies to help control blood sugar. It also aids digestion with beneficial bacteria and has antiviral properties to keep viruses away. The more actively we keep viruses away, the better the gut health will be. A research scientist, Dr. Seneff Ph.D. said that apple cider vinegar can kill the dangerous chemical Glyphosate that is found in GMO foods and vaccinations. This is a great detoxifier for your children. Harmful pesticides need to be killed in the gut in order to support optimal gut health. We need to remove all the foods that are harming our child’s gut in their diet. Those harmful foods are: gluten, dairy, soy, corn and sugar. Taking those 5 foods out of the diet can make a huge impact on your child’s gut health. Implementing probiotics is critical for gut health. Many probiotics do not work well and do not survive the intestinal tract. A spore-based probiotic from the company “Just Thrive” will assure the bacteria survives the intestinal tract to make a positive impact on the gut.

Simple measures really can make a large impact on your child when you focus on gut healing. It’s hard for many parents to understand the power of gut health and innate healing. Changing the diet and implementing a few supplements seems a little too simplified for many parents when their child is greatly struggling. Although it seems simple, it can be a challenge to implement a long-term plan. Gut health is not the only fix for mental health concerns, but it is a major key to the healing puzzle. Finding the root cause to childhood issues is a puzzle and gut health is the largest puzzle piece that cannot be overlooked.


Author: Dr. Elizabeth Ward, Ph.D., LCPC, Certified Health Coach


Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain – for Life
by David Perlmutter, Kristin Loberg, et al.

Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia, 2nd Edition , by Natasha Campbell-McBride, M.D.

The Body Ecology Diet , by Donna Gates and Linda Schatz

The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health by Emeran Mayer MD, Traber Burns, et al.