Food, Antibiotics, and Behavior Problems in Children: The Gut-Brain Connection

Brace yourselves, moms and dads. This headline knocked me on my ass: New ADHD guidelines: Should Ritalin be prescribed to 4-year-olds? Yes, the grand wizards at the American Academy of Pediatrics are now advocating diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in preschoolers. They suggest you and your pediatrician evaluate signs like “fidgeting, excessive talking, and abandoning chores and homework”.

Are you f—ing kidding me?

All kids do at four is babble, fidget and abandon chores. Hmm, pick up your toys, or throw daddy’s phone in the toilet? Easy choice!

Behavioral “disorders” are on a meteoric rise, especially among boys. The CDC says 11% of kids have ADHD, and sure enough, we’re medicating them into oblivion (the boys, not the disorders). Tragic, this Ritalin-riddled picture of the American family. Somewhere, a dove cries. A better question, what percent of the CDC has their head up their ass?

Look, there are a ton of related subjects – the role of compulsory education, “big pharma”, Baby Einstein, nature-deficits, the restless and active nature of children, and 100 other posts, but for now, we’ll focus on diet. And first and foremost, it’s personal.

My six-year-old Ryder (he calls me “Bad Daddy”) can be ornery, scattered, anxious, explosive and downright violent. But he is also one of the sweetest guys I know, depending when you get him. Dr. Jeckle, and Mr. Hyde – a split personality. When he was two, we realized we had become afraid to say “No”, due to the inevitable outbursts that followed. Ashley (the beautiful wife) says it felt like an abusive relationship.

“You are a TERRIBLE MOMMY!!”  Brutal (he writes, sweat dripping down his brow).

We served good food, mostly. Too many Annie’s fruit snacks, sure, and not enough veggies, but plenty of eggs, fruit (bananas were his favorite), milk, chicken, and beef. There wasn’t much “junk”, and Ashley (short skirt, beautiful smile, always a spark in her eyes…) spent the extra cash for organic, focusing on whole foods (damn those grocery bills!). So, we were doing everything right, right? Maybe not.

Ashley, fascinated with nutrition (a fitness instructor), began experimenting. She tried cutting out gluten, and noticed a change in his demeanor. It was subtle, and like usual, my boneheaded, traditionalist-self said “Babe, you’re nuts”. But then we brought gluten back, and I saw it too: Mr. Hyde. It was as predictable as a yo-yo, as we confirmed a few times thereafter. But, we never would have known without experimenting.

Empowered to learn more, we did an IGG test – $200 by mail with a few pricks at home – and found Ryder was reacting to most of the foods he ate. The biggest culprits: gluten, eggs, sugar, dairy, and bananas! His sister didn’t have these sensitivities. Those foods were fine for Mia, but Ryder had a “leaky gut”. The foods he ate most were escaping the gut barrier, causing his body to attack them specifically. It was creating inner turmoil.

We can only speculate, but think he developed the gut issues because of the heavy dose of antibiotics received as a baby (which killed his “good” gut bacteria too). The behavioral issues WERE NOT just who he is, and the answer wasn’t medication.

The answer was to heal the gut, by cutting out the foods he became sensitive to, and introducing gut-healthy foods, like probiotics and fiber-rich veggies.

The results have been phenomenal, and we plan to retake the IGG test every few years (sensitivities can and do change). More importantly, we watch closely his reactions to different foods and how they affect behavior. We know to expect a bit of turmoil (and be extra patient) after a week with the grandparents, or at Halloween and Easter.

I am so grateful to have (a wife that) figured this out, before the inevitable consults from teachers, principals, doctors and psychologists, explaining spectrums, disorders, interventions, and medications. Ryder may have gone is whole life – certainly his childhood – in near-madness if not for some simple dietary investigation.

Diet may or may not be the answer in your case, but it’s quite possibly environmental, and no one will know better than you. Watch carefully, and use antibiotics sparingly – they are not without consequence. If you are dealing with behavioral issues, order an IGG test ASAP. It will indicate clearly if and which foods are causing sensitivities. Stop feeding your child those foods, and watch what happens next.

Whatever the case, cheers, to being a proactive, empowered, inquisitive parent (or married to one!), a few steps ahead of the medical-industrial complex. And if this advice could help someone in your life, don’t miss an opportunity to share it today.

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