Food and the gut are at the epicentre of health for GAPs children
It’s predicted that 25% of US children will be on the spectrum in the next generation. As a community, we need to understand why this is, and look at ways to turn that tide around.
GAPs (‘gut and psychology syndrome’) and autistic children, or those ‘on the spectrum’, generally display similar characteristics. They are often affected by a sore tummy, constipation and diarrhoea. You might see them lying on their tummy or pushing something against it to apply pressure, in an attempt to find relief. Mood disturbances such as ADHD, depression and anxiety can be common too, as can sensitivity to light and noise. Due to their ‘ill’ tummies, these children often get skin symptoms such as eczema, and many have allergies – especially to wheat and dairy. Although seemingly unrelated, the root of all of these concerns lies within the gut.
After working tirelessly on my own child’s tummy, I’m very keen to help other parents navigate these waters, both in my capacity as a Naturopath, and also as a mum.
Our gut – essentially the hollow tube running throughout our entire body – contains thousands of strains of different bacteria, viruses and fungi, numbering around 100 trillion cells. Collectively, these cells are known as our ‘microbiome’. The delicate balance of bacteria that reside here can create ill health.
Things that disrupt the natural ‘balance’ of the microbiome include caesarean births, antibiotics / vaccinations, stress, poor diet (too many processed foods / sugar, not enough vegetables etc.), and toxins, including environmental, radiation, and even those made naturally within our bodies as by-products of daily processes, such as digestion. Our microbiome is largely responsible for our immune health too, and plays an important role in our mood and behaviour.
‘Dysbiosis’ is a condition that refers to an unhealthy gut – a microbiome literally overgrown with weeds! Think of your tummy like a garden – we need to get in and rip out all those weeds, put in some good compost, and then plant in all those beautiful flowers! No other method will result in a beautiful garden, just the same as a healthy tummy! It takes work, but can be created!
‘Leaky gut’ is a condition associated with dysbiosis. Leaky gut, as the name suggests, produces gaps or holes in the gut wall, compromising our health on many levels. Symptoms associated with leaky gut include eczema, flatulence, colic, reflux, vomiting, diarrhoea / constipation, and an increased susceptibility to fungal or yeast infections – does your child often smell ‘yeasty’? They could have leaky gut and / or yeast overgrowth. Specific dietary interventions can help here, as will many supplements including probiotics, digestive enzymes and a vast range of herbal medicines.
Whatever your child’s individual presentations include, food needs to be at the very epicentre of treatment.
Probiotic-rich foods are a great place to start. These include brined olives, salted gherkins, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and tempeh (ensure a good quality one that contains beneficial bacteria). Miso and tempeh are soy derived, so care must be taken when considering these foods. Some children should steer completely clear of these. A qualified practitioner can help navigate the dietary terrain needed for your child. Non-dairy yoghurts such as coconut or almond (plain, unsweetened, organic, made with beneficial bacteria) are great too.
Foods like sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables are fantastic. Try to include these at most meals. They are widely available for purchase, and are very easy to make at home too. Probiotic-rich drinks like kombucha and kefir can also be beneficial.
Most parents look at me like I’m crazy when I suggest such things! My advice is to start small, and work your way up slowly. Start with a little of the brine or juice from these foods mixed into ‘normal’ meals, building you way up consistently, allowing their taste buds to get used to them. In my experience, most parents are pleasantly surprised, if not completely dumfounded, by how well their children take to such things! The most important thing is to just start, and continue to offer, these foods to your children (even after they say no!).
Benefits of probiotic rich foods include:
– Essential for proper functioning of our immune system
– Reduce intestinal inflammation and discomfort
– Aid digestion and assimilation of nutrients
– Maintain the health of the gut wall
– Manufacture certain vitamins
– Benefit the body at times of cleansing / detoxing
Always be choosey with what you buy when it comes to your health. Mass produced sauerkrauts may be cheaper, but it’s the handmade ones that retain huge amounts of these beneficial bacteria – so be choosey and remember the old adage of ‘you get what you pay for’.
Fibre is also essential. Try to get this from the skins of fruits and vegetables, ensuring they are organic to minimise pesticide residues, and other dangerous toxins. Fibre helps to detoxify our bodies, as well as providing a food source for all those bugs that make up our microbiome. It is essential for a healthy bowel, helping to regulate bowel motions.
Broth is another food enjoying the limelight at the moment. Broth has wonderful gut healing properties and can be added to most cooked foods – something easy to hide in many meals for fussy eaters! It is essential to only use pasture fed, organic bones, or to purchase pre-made broths made from the bones of such animals. Broths are widely available these days. We stock these at Saltuary in our health food shop too.
Working with a qualified practitioner is a great way to begin the process of healing for your child. No ‘one size fits all’ approach works for these children. Naturopaths treat your child as an individual and prescribe and treat according to their individual and specific needs. A huge amount of improvement can be made, and working closely with a practitioner such as a Naturopath offers critical support, guidance and understanding of your family’s unique health journey.
A comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA) is a fantastic way to check the levels of bacteria in your child’s gut. A wealth of other important health information is gained from such tests. These tests are not cheap, but as both a practitioner and as a mum, I can absolutely vouch for their value. They provide a wonderful amount of information to begin working with to healing your child’s gut and overall health. Getting good quality testing done, checking for parasites, yeasts etc., and getting comprehensive blood tests are a wonderful place to start. Find a practitioner you are comfortable with, and begin the process from there. There is a LOT that can be done. It is by no means a quick and easy road, but one that does provide a great deal of satisfaction and peace when your child starts to get and feel better.
If you are affected by ASD or similar, a wonderful resource to check is Mindd.org, who run a yearly forum for parents affected by such health challenges. They are on Facebook and also have a wealth of information on their website, including recipes.
Saltuary is a comprehensive natural health centre offering Naturopathy, Chiropractic, Acupuncture, Massage, Salt Therapy, Float Therapy, an Infrared Sauna, Yoga and Tai Chi. We have a well-stocked Natural Pharmacy with free Naturopathic advice and a Health Food Shop. Visit us in Five Dock or check out our website: www.saltuary.com.au. Find us on Instagram @saltuary and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saltuary/.
Tiina Hogg is a qualified Naturopath with two children of her own. She is the owner of Saltuary and has a degree in Health Science, along with Advanced Diplomas in Naturopathy, Herbal Medicine, Homeopathy, Nutrition and Massage. She is passionate about natural health and putting health back into people’s own hands, and into their homes. She aims to inspire, guide and support her clients to live the most holistic life possible, ensuring the health of her clients. Find her on Linked In: https://au.linkedin.com/in/tiina-hogg-295a343a