by Elizabeth Szlek, LMHC, CGP
On April 9, 2017, an article appeared on the website, “The New American”. The writer, Joe Wolverton II, J.D., tells the story of a seven-year-old boy who was taken away from his family by Child Protective Services because his school decided he was “mentally unstable”. The parents of Cameron Maple, of Lebanon, Ohio, were instructed to take him to a hospital so that his disorder could be diagnosed. When the parents demurred, the state stepped in and placed the child in protective custody, citing “health neglect” against the parents, since they would not comply with the psychological evaluation recommended by the school administration.
This situation is wrong on many levels. There is no such thing as “ADHD” as a literal neurobiological disease that can be diagnosed and treated. With this in mind, it is regrettable this child was ripped from his parents’ home because a nonexistent “ADHD” was suspected. I think that something else could be going on. There could be a real bodily dysfunction that is being overlooked in many of these unfortunate children who are being labeled “mentally ill”. They could simply be malnourished.
There are many books out there written on the topic of “ADHD”, but as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and a Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Practitioner, I have a different take on a possible answer to the question, “What is ADHD?” We know that a child’s brain requires nutrient-dense foods for proper development. This means things like eggs, cod liver oil or other fish oils, butter, liver, beef, lard, and a host of other fatty foods. The brain, of course, is largely made up of fats. When the proper fats are lacking or deficient, the brain does not function properly. We would say the child is malnourished.
How does a child with these nutritional deficiencies behave? They are not able to manage their behavior very well, and are apt to appear fidgety and unfocused. They lack the self-control they need to fit into social situations, like school, effectively. They have trouble controlling their moods, as well, and often seem inappropriate in their responses to the environment.
Children who are properly nourished, are much more able to control their behavior, to stay on task, and they suffer less from negative moods, like anxiety and anger. Their bodies can create the neurotransmitters their brain needs to calm themselves down and be happy, because they are eating the proper amino acids and other micronutrients their bodies need to do so.
A study done in Norway in 2013 showed that children who ate a diet largely consisting of processed sugary foods, and lots of starches like bread and buns, pizza and the like, were far more apt to exhibit either internalizing behaviors like worry, sadness and anxiety or externalizing behaviors like tantrums, hyperactivity and aggression.
On the other hand, children who ate lots of cheese, fish, vegetables and eggs showed fewer such symptoms. The point is, a child’s diet affects behavior and moods, either for good or ill, and diet is an important factor in this.
Another thought is that when a child develops his or her own diet, choosing starchy and sugary foods over anything else, it is likely that they are suffering from small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). We know that if candida albicans, a fungus/yeast, takes over the small intestine, it is capable of sending messages to the brain instructing the person to eat more sugar and starch, its favored foods.
Thus, you have children who will preferentially eat these foods, to the exclusion of the healthier vegetables, meats, eggs, yogurt and other raw and fermented foods. This becomes a vicious cycle, eating the wrong foods, and being reinforced from the gut to continue to do so. Many parents despair of ever seeing their children take a bite of a vegetable. This is gut dysfunction, and when this situation continues for too long, intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut” appears. Toxins, produced by bacteria, or other toxic wastes, can leak into the bloodstream, and past the blood-brain barrier and into the brain, causing disordered thinking.
If some of you recall, ADD or ADHD used to be called “Minimal Brain Dysfunction”. It would be wonderful to get back to that concept, and apply the cure: Proper nutrition and healing the gut. Then, we could look forward to complete remission of that real dysfunction!
Elizabeth Szlek is the Director of The Door Counseling Center of Yorkville, NY. She is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and a Certified GAPS Practitioner. She can be reached at (315) 768-8900 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.