Home Education, Mother's Education, Other Thoughts

Is Your Child Allergic to Learning … or Just Food?

August 6, 2018 by Si Vencel
[dropcap]P[/dropcap]icture this all-too-common scenario. A normal child wakes up on a normal morning and eats a normal breakfast. As mealtime ends, you — the parent/teacher — begin the homeschooling day with your normal routine. An hour passes without incident. Then, out of nowhere, your heretofore “normal” child bursts into tears, throws a fit, erupts with volcanic energy or mercilessly harasses his siblings.

 

Your peaceful learning environment quickly devolves into managing the emotions of your child and limiting his nuclear fallout on your family. Did an unhinged alien secretly inhabit the body of your once-sweet kid? How did this madness start?

While several explanations might be at play here, I want to suggest a dietary one. It is a fact that we are what we eat, meaning that the nutritional elements of our diets literally become the structural elements of our bodies: our skin, tissues, organs, etc. But food (or its lack) does not only affect us physically. It can impact other parts of our being, including personality, emotions, energy, immunity and mood. I am convinced that if we understood how broadly our diets affected us holistically, we would devote much more care to the subject.

Now, let’s return to the wayward child. What is happening here? One possibility is that the child feels discomfort. I’ve heard it said, “Children act badly when they feel bad.” Food-based discomfort can produce painful effects in anyone, but the feeling can be more pronounced in kids — particularly young ones — who cannot put words to the discomfort. They may act out in defiance when their tummies ache and their heads throb.

I’ve found it helpful to ask young children very pointed questions about what bothers them. I also ask them to take one finger and point to where their body hurts. Using just one finger forces the child to zero in on the problem, thus helping to identify the troubled body part and function. Typically, the pain is in the small intestine (around the belly button), but sometimes the finger goes to the stomach (under the left rib cage). A finger aimed at the lower-left region of the belly is usually the descending colon, which might indicate constipation or something worse. Wherever the pain originates, it is there you must focus your efforts to bring relief. Don’t underestimate adequate hydration, as this benefits the entire body. Also consider aloe (like this juice), glutamine, light exercise and tummy massages.

However, more often than not, the problem with a seemingly disturbed child involves a food allergy, sensitivity or intolerance. The three are not the same thing, although they may manifest similar outward symptoms. Whichever it is, the problem is that a food is not being fully digested (chemically broken down into nutrients) and absorbed into the gut’s bloodstream. As a result, a child may suffer internally (e.g., intestinal pain, imbalanced gut bacteria, bloating, diarrhea), externally (e.g., skin rashes, hives, eczema) or behaviorally (e.g., mood swings). It is easy to observe outward effects, but imagine what is happening inside your child, particularly in the brain, where learning occurs!

(Quick physiology lesson: Official allergies involve white blood cells rushing to mucous membranes and the gut, where they release inflammatory chemicals to kill the invading allergen. This leads to inflammation, which can cause “leaky gut” that over time can allow undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream. The result: additional allergies, asthma and eczema.)

It may sound odd, but I’ve also seen what is called “emotional allergies”: a food allergy that causes emotional overreactions to benign events. Not only do I have a friend whose kid has this issue, but my own child struggles with it. Consuming less than a teaspoon of added sugar will send my boy on a rollercoaster ride of high-strung emotion for 2-3 days! My child knows this about himself (and how his family dreads it), so he watches his sugar and simple sugar (wheat-based) intake closely.

This intense, long-lasting reaction may be beyond normal, but what happy home has not been disturbed by at least one child on a sugar high? (“Experts” used to claim sugar could not cause manic states, but obviously those experts were not parents of a kid who snuck a plate of cookies or cupcakes!) Now we know that sugar stimulates the same brain region that flares up for addiction. An NIH study states, “Sugar is noteworthy as a substance that releases opioids and dopamine and thus might be expected to have addictive potential.”

The point is, sugar can affect the brain negatively and thereby jeopardize learning. The culprit may be insulin, a hormone released when sugar hits the bloodstream. You probably knew this. But here’s a new tidbit: Insulin also can cross the blood-brain barrier and disrupt the communication between neurons via synapses. Too much insulin lingering too long in the brain can impact learning, particularly among children whose brains are constantly growing and forming new synaptic links (i.e., learning and memory).

So, what are parents to make of all this? Here are a few suggestions to optimize body and brain health:

  1. Monitor your child’s food-related discomfort. Have him pinpoint pain in the tummy region so you know where to direct your attention.
  2. Identify and treat your child’s allergies. You can use muscle-testing, traditional pinprick testing, blood testing, etc. Some allergies can be eliminated via NAET. Severe ones may warrant avoiding the offending food altogether. Allergies create inflammation, so find ways to reduce inflammation (see below).
  3. Limit sugars. Supply your child with nutrient-rich whole foods rather than processed sugary snacks that are low in nutrients and weaken the body and brain. Sugar and insulin lead to systemic inflammation and a host of other health problems. Keep healthy, non-sugary snacks easily accessible for hungry little people.
  4. Supplement with omega-3s and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids and DHA protect the brain from the damaging effects of inflammation and insulin, and they promote synaptic function. In my home, we all take 1+ gram of DHA per day. (Also eat walnuts, flax meal, olive oil and deep-sea fish for better brain development.) To supplement, I recommend Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega as a liquid or NOW DHA-500 in pill form.
  5. Serve nutrient-dense breakfasts. Breads, cereals and pastries may be yummy, but they lack nutrients, spike insulin and could impact your child’s mood and ability to learn effectively. Try to always supply proteins and healthy fats in the morning. Good-quality eggs are a great start to the day.

To summarize, a child’s food intake can cause physical injury that, in turn, can hinder learning, memory and peace in the home. These “injuries” make take the form of tummy pain, food allergies, emotional allergies and synaptic dysfunction. However, by being watchful over your children and diligent about their food choices, you can lay for them the foundations of lifelong health and learning — one brain cell, one emotion, one meal at a time.

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14 Comments

  • Reply August 2018 Newsletter: Time to Learn | Scholé Sisters September 6, 2018 at 9:11 pm

    […] Is Your Child Allergic to Learning…or Just Food? […]

  • Reply Si August 17, 2018 at 9:47 am

    To find someone able to muscle-test for allergies, I would check around your locale for an alternative practitioner or holistic chiropractor. You can also search Google for “allergy elimination” or something like that. Elimination diets can help, too, but they are quite time consuming and can be stressful to administer.

  • Reply Debbie August 16, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    Great article. My oldest struggled mightily when she was young. Her biggest culprits were artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, and MSG. The effort we put in to eliminate these was was well worth it.

  • Reply Kara W. August 14, 2018 at 2:14 am

    What is NAET?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 14, 2018 at 7:04 am

      Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques. Si (who wrote this) was trained in a technique based upon NAET, but personally I think it’s more effective and cost-efficient than NAET itself.

      • Reply Carolina August 17, 2018 at 9:05 am

        I would be interested to know the technique that your husband was trained in that is more effective than NAET. Figuring out my childrens allergies has been a very long and frustrating puzzle. What is a reliable form of testing for allergies beyond the basic blood tests and skin pricks? I have been told that elimination diets are the only sure way to test for allergies but I find that difficult to do when you are dealing with multiple allergens at once. What makes it difficult for me is how different foods cause different responses.

  • Reply Sandy August 6, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    Thanks so much for this Si! Do you have any lunch suggestions? Hard to get away from the PBJ and milk scenario. Thanks for your helpful comment about just aiming for progress, it can feel overwhelming to think about changing a whole diet.

    • Reply Si August 16, 2018 at 7:27 pm

      A few suggestions: dinner leftovers, quality lunch meat and cheese, tuna or chicken salad, no-nitrate hotdogs, Costco whole chicken, paleo pancakes, etc. Check out Weston Price-friendly recipes online for other good ideas. Generally, avoid breads and sugar combinations to prevent sugar spikes. G’luck!

  • Reply Danielle Hardy August 6, 2018 at 11:36 am

    Thanks for sharing all of this! I try to follow rigorous practices for myself, but I do have to admit I have gotten rather lax with my 5 kids. It was a great reminder as this school year is getting ready to start that I need to look at the whole picture for any behavior issues that might arise. I also need to get rid of a whole lot of sugar in their diets that I have let creep in. I am loving Si’s information! Thanks for thinking to share it, Brandy!

  • Reply Helen Swavely August 6, 2018 at 7:26 am

    Dear Si,

    Can you recommend a list of foods that would be a nice alternative for children who have been living on a carb heavy diet for years. Our children have special needs and have had a very limited menu of what they will eat. Also is there an alternative to the Nordic omega as our kids get hung up on the texture of the fish oil. Thanks for this great article. So incredibly helpful!

    • Reply Si Vencel August 6, 2018 at 1:41 pm

      I would start with healthy veggies because many are naturally wet and slightly sweet. Sliced carrots, cucumbers and bell peppers (with a little dressing if needed) are nice options. Keep them easily accessible for quick snacks; accessibility is half the battle. Replace unhealthy potato chips with dried veggie chips, and wheat-based pasta with a gluten-free variety. I also suggest keeping nuts and seeds available; they are full of healthy proteins and fats, which are filling. Regarding the fish oil, I’d stick with what Nemechek recommends, but you can hide the oily-ness in other foods, like apple sauce or smoothies.

      Remember, a “perfect” diet is nearly impossible to maintain, especially when special needs are involved. Just make a little progress here and there. Eventually, you’ll arrive where you want to be. =)

      • Reply Valerie Henderson August 6, 2018 at 5:11 pm

        Helen, have you tried the different flavors from Nordic naturals? They come in lemon, orange, and strawberry. My kids fav is strawberry. I don’t think it tastes fishy.

        • Reply Angie Tester August 7, 2018 at 2:30 am

          I have my youngest son who has tricky challenging behaviour/sensory and immaturty issues. I had been giving my boys fish oil and my youngest son’s behaviour was just extreme. His responses to situations were quite challenging, just over reacting, aggression, tears, etc. It dawned on me that it could be the berry flavouring in the kids fish oil that was the problem. I took him off flavoured fish oil and replaced it with plain fish oil. There has been a very positive change in his behaviour. He’s not so easily upset etc. So all that to issue just a caution on flavouring 🙂 Good article and encouragement to pay attention to our diets and the cause and effect resulting from it.

          • Brandy Vencel August 7, 2018 at 9:15 am

            For SURE flavors in fish oil can backfire! I’ve seen it with some of my friends’ children! ♥

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