by Kelly Dorfman, MS, LND
Many children with developmental delays have digestive problems. These may be caused by leaky guts.
The lining of the digestive system is a selective screen. It allows necessary fuel and nutrients to slip through, or be actively carried across, the intestinal membranes to the blood. Well-functioning membranes filter and excrete undigested food chunks, debris and germs.
What happens when the tissues lining the digestive tract are operating poorly? They “leak.” Microscopic junctures between the cells are too large to prevent undigested food pieces and potentially dangerous chemicals from reaching the blood.
The several pounds of food that the average child consumes each day contain an endless array of toxic substances, organisms and heavy metals. Pathological bacteria or fungi that tend to grow in excess along the surfaces of a leaky gut can change these toxins into even more dangerous compounds.
Fungal/bacterial derivatives, heavy metals and mal-digested food can greatly impair a child’s behavior and development. Additionally, inefficient digestion of necessary nutrients can ravage neurological and immunological systems.
Repairing a leaky gut is a five-step process:
Step 1: Eliminate Reactive Foods
When a child’s gut cannot tolerate certain foods, the result can be irritation and inflammation. Casein (milk-based) and gluten (wheat-based) proteins are two of the most difficult proteins to digest and, therefore, the most allergenic substances in most diets. Milk protein intolerance is the primary reason for gastrointestinal bleeding in infants, although few older children and adults have this problem. Soy, eggs and corn are the next most common allergens.
How can the gut be repaired if a child continually consumes foods causing debilitating reactions? For a child who reacts negatively to almost everything he eats, the family’s best course is eliminating only the most problematic items so that the child’s diet does not become nutritionally at risk.
Step 2: Add Extra Nutrients
Normal gut repair is “nutrient intensive,” as the outer lining is totally replaced every 72 hours. The high activity level causes constant cell loss and replacement. With insufficient nutrients, cell turnover is slower and inefficient.
When the gut leaks, unwanted substances are absorbed while some good nutrients are lost (or eaten by fungi and bacteria). Just as home maintenance requires lots of money, gut repair requires the availability of a broad range of nutrients.
Vitamin A, zinc, essential fats and protein, all critical for cell integrity, are some of the many nutrients that children can take as supplements. These nutrients are important in many ways. Developmental pediatrician and researcher Dr. Mary Megson has suggested that poor absorption of just one nutrient, fat soluble vitamin A, makes some children especially susceptible to adverse reactions from MMR (Mumps/Measles/Rubella) vaccines.
Step 3: Restore Good Bacteria Balance with Probiotics
Antibiotics contribute to gut leaking by killing the beneficial bacteria that are a first-line defense against invading organisms. Good bacteria further aid in gut repair by converting certain fibers in the diet into small fatty acids. These short chain fats work as a biological “mortar” to strengthen weak cell membranes. Most health food stores carry several brands of “probiotics” or “good for life” bacteria. Common strains include L. acidophilus and L. bifidus. Purchase them from the refrigerated section in powder or in pull-apart capsules. (Excessive use can cause gas and, occasionally, irritability from the die off of fungus.)
Step 4: Kill Pathological Bacterial/Fungi with Anti-fungals
Fungus and “bad” bacteria thrive in an unhealthy gut environment. Once they are living happily, they are not easily removed. A healthier diet, supplements, and good bacteria may help, but eradicating excessive pathological organisms may be necessary.
To determine the need for this more intensive intervention, consider:
- A urinary organic acid test to measure fungal or bacterial by-products, available from Genova Diagnostics
- A comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA) with parasitology test, through Genova Diagnostics
Your physician can request these tests and help with treatment options.
Step 5: Provide Digestive Support
Many children with developmental delays are deficient in one or more digestive enzymes or stomach acids. A new peptide-digesting enzyme, SerenAid (by Klaire Labs, 800-533-7255), specifically addresses the breakdown of gluten and casein in youngsters with developmental issues. All digestive aids can cause irritation, so use with caution.
The gut and the brain are connected. Therefore, repairing a leaky gut can reduce chemical and microbial assault to the brain. The better food is broken down and absorbed, the fewer problems for the body.
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