Did you know that comfort foods such as ice cream, chips, cereal, and cookies can impact children's health, behaviors and ability to learn? As a child, I learned that I was allergic to preservatives, and once I got off of processed foods, I felt tremendous cognitive gains. There is a multitude of reported, dietary remedies for students with learning disabilities and ADHD, however, what works for one individual often does not work for another. The reason for this is that each individual has their own background, genetic makeup, and sensitivities. As a result, finding a natural remedy can be a bit of a process, but I believe that it is best to address the cause then to treat the symptoms with medications.
Do Allergies/Intolerances Impact the Brain?
Everyone's body reacts differently to food allergens and intolerances. Some common indicators are hives, sneezing, coughing, a swollen tongue or lips, and a stomach ache. However, because allergens travel in the bloodstream, they also affect the brain. Allergies to food can upset hormone levels and alter key brain chemicals. In addition, allergies can cause fatigue, a slower thought process, irritability, hyperactivity, impaired concentration and in extreme cases aggressive behavior, depression, anxiety, learning disabilities, and schizophrenia. Dr. Joseph Egger from the Pediatric University in Munich and his team studied the effect of food on 76 hyperactive children to find out if diet contributes to behavioral disorders. Results showed that 79% of the participants had adverse reactions to artificial food color and preservatives. In addition, 48 different foods produced symptoms in the children. For example, 64% reacted to milk, 59% to chocolate, 49% to wheat and 16% to sugar. What's more, once the participants eliminated the triggers, behavioral problems diminished, and they reported additional benefits such as fewer headaches, fits, stomach aches, rashes, achy limbs, and ulcers of the mouth.
Common Dietary Culprits:
- Preservatives/Nitrates: Preservatives are now known to cause a number of problems such as neurological and reproductive problems, headaches, difficulty breathing, and anaphylactic shock. There are many names for these offenders. Here are a few: sodium benzoate, sodium nitrite, sulfites, nitrate benzoic acid, propyl gallate, BHA, BHT, and TBHQ2.
- Artificial Colors and Flavors: Hyperactivity, behavioral disorders, attentional problems as well as learning disabilities have been linked to artificial colors and food flavors. To learn more, CLICK HERE.
- Excitotoxins: An excitotoxin is a chemical often found in soups, dressings, broths, canned vegetables processed meats and snack foods. It causes brain cells to become excited and fire uncontrollably leading to the death of the cell. MSG and other excitotoxins such as aspartame (Nutrasweet) are used to enhance food flavor and trick the brain to eat more. There are many other names for excitotoxins and some include sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, anything “hydrolyzed,” autolyzed yeast, and yeast extract. Other common culprits are carrageenan, citric acid, soy protein, "seasons," and natural flavors.
- Cane Sugar: Cane sugar and other sweeteners such as corn syrup, cane juice, dextrin, dextrose, maltodextrin, molasses, rice syrup, and sucrose can cause difficulties for some individuals. A study at the University of South Carolina found a correlation between increased sugar intake and destructive and restless behavior in hyperactive children. In addition, a study at Yale University concluded that diets high in sugar may increase inattention in some kids with ADHD.
- Other food allergies and intolerances. Some common sources of food allergies and intolerances are: wheat, milk, eggs, beef, corn, and chocolate.
What Can Be Done to Uncover Allergies or Intolerances?
- Get Tested for Food Allergies and Intolerances: One simple solution is to go to your doctor and ask for a comprehensive allergy test. These aren't 100% reliable, so I would also consider the other options listed below.
- Keep a Food Diary: A food diary or log can be a time consuming, but reliable method to finding the best solution. A child's diet can be documented and symptoms or noteworthy behaviors can be recorded. In addition, a child's pulse can be taken and recorded after each meal, as an increased pulse rate is an indicator of an allergy or intolerance. Once a particular food is thought to be a possible allergen or intolerance, this food can be eliminated from the child's diet and the results can be recorded.
- Consider follow a diet such as the Feingold diet.
Please keep in mind that other environmental factors from pollen to perfumes can also wreak havoc on the brain. So be sure to be cautious when selecting bottled cleaners, glues, air fresheners, detergents, pesticides and other commonly known irritants. Furthermore, some additions to one's diet can also help. Known beneficial supplements include omego-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, vitamin D, and magnesium. Deficiencies in all of these have been shown to worsen attentional difficulties. Finally, mindful meditation and exercise are two more powerful agents that help to combat the symptoms of learning disabilities and attentional problems.
Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.
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