Part 2 - Happiness Doesn't Come from a Pill

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Last week I challenged the commonly held belief that pills are the answer to your child’s (or your) emotional, mental or behavioral health issues. I introduced you to how the brain and gut interact and left you with three ideas to consider before you blindly accept the advice of your doctor and take those pills. This week I want to address the suggestions for improving gut health and in turn, brain health.

The Statistics

First, how big is the problem anyway? How many children in the U.S. are taking medications to support their emotional and behavioral health? In one study, one in 13 school-age children (ages 6-17), or 7.5% of U.S. children, take some kind of psychiatric medication with increases expected in the future. The effect of these meds is mostly to “chill” kids out …  or sedate them!

Three Suggestions for Improving Gut Health

  1. Eliminate dairy and gluten from the diet for at least two weeks to see if there’s any improvement. Research shows that the proteins (lectins) in these two food groups can damage the gut lining causing inflammation, thus impacting the brain. Specific recommendations: Switch to non-dairy products from almonds or rice. Safer gluten-free grains include rice, amaranth, teff or buckwheat. Avoid most of the prepared gluten-free products on the grocery shelf, as they often contain other ingredients that irritate the gut, i.e. sugar and corn.
  2. Commit to eating real food … not processed foods from a “box”! Real food – whole, organic, wild-caught – provides the highest quality nutrients free of GMOs, Round-up (glyphosate) and other toxins. Locally sourced and seasonal is best if it’s available. Processed foods with artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or sweeteners are not “real” foods. Artificial sweeteners, such as Aspartame, are even neuro-toxic! Specific recommendations: Get in the habit of reading ingredient labels on the foods you’re buying. It’s important!
  3. Cut way down on simple carbs and sugars, like those in processed foods and snacks. These are like jet fuel to bad gut microorganisms causing them to grow rapidly and overwhelm the good guys. These bad guys can cause a variety of GI symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or worse. Specific recommendations: Keeping your intake of whole, minimally processed, gluten-free grains – so-called complex carbohydrates, to about 30% of your diet will provide the good guys with enough food and fiber to flourish and squeeze out the bad ones. Sugar – of any kind – is a treat, and as such, should be used sparingly.

These are just the first few steps that I generally take with clients that come see me with mild to moderate emotional and behavioral health issues.

Gut and brain health is a complex topic that I can’t cover in its full depth here, but try these suggestions and see if you don’t see some improvement. If your child (or you) needs additional help, look for a professional who doesn’t rely on meds as a first-line solution and has some understanding of the role of food and GI health in brain health. [As noted last week, severe mental health issues may certainly require medication.] If you’re already under a doctor’s care, strike up a conversation about the impact of food and gut health. Remember everyone is unique and requires a different solution.

Leave a comment below … either pro or con ... and give me your feedback on the gut-brain connection and my Suggestions.