Optimising Kids' Health
By Cath McCarthy
Kids are growing up in a very different world to the one their parents grew up in. And they face very different and new health challenges. Parents are bombarded with alarming statistics about the increase in childhood obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, the growing prevalence of allergies and increasing risk of learning and behavioral disorders.
So how do parents make best efforts to ensure that our kids avoid these health risks? And become the robust, enthusiastic, bright and healthy little Australians that they deserve to be, with every opportunity to reach their full potential in life?
Everything Starts In The Gut Wall!
From a naturopathic perspective, everything starts with the gut that is the first membrane of defence against the world. After our food is broken down in our digestive tract, the good stuff is meant to be absorbed across the gut wall into our blood stream. And the non-useful stuff is meant to be excreted.
If the gut wall has become damaged, too porous or "leaky", it lets molecules which are larger than ideal into the blood stream. This then causes a reaction from our immune cells. As a result we are likely to develop skin symptoms like rashes and eczema. If these are suppressed with cortisone creams, the problems will most likely move to the respiratory system may lead to the development sinusitis, ear-aches or asthma.
If the problem continues and is treated with a lot of antibiotics, the gut wall may get further damaged. Over a long period of time we compromise our immune system, because we synthesise a lot of our immune cells along the gut wall. Damaged gut mucosa can also negatively affect our moods because much of our calming neurotransmitters are synthesised on the gut wall.
In children this is likely to manifest in a runny nose, grey under the eyes, and a pasty complexion. They may be prone to skin or respiratory problems, become prone to bugs going round, suffer from constipation or diarrhoea, crave sugar, revved up and difficult to live with! At school they may be inattentive and/or disruptive.
How Does This Come About?
Many of us have trouble digesting two of the staples of our Western diet - cow's milk and wheat. In may develop a damaged gut wall and all the problems that flow from this. So for children manifesting some of the symptoms of a "leaky gut", it really helps to try to avoid these foods as much as possible and replace them with other grains and milks.
The Western diet is rich in refined processed foods that dissolve instantly in the gut, enter the blood stream in a rush, and increase blood sugar. Then it is absorbed by our cells and results low blood sugar, lethargy and tiredness The two biggest selling items in supermarkets today are two different sizes of coke! The increased sugar in our diet is a major contributor to our problems with weight gain.
How Do We Fix These Problems?
- Ensure your children eat a nutritious breakfast
- Ensure your children eat plenty of vegetables & fruit everyday
- Ensure your children eat protein-rich foods in each meal or snack
- Ensure your children drink plenty of pure water each day.
- Avoid or severely limit processed foods, additives & artificial flavours
- Exercise & fresh air matter. Getting regular exercise & fresh air encourages not only a healthy body, but also a healthy mind!
- Persuade them to participate in activities that interest them. Encourage them to become involved in team sports, martial arts, ballet, music or art. Studies show that regular participation in structured social activities is linked to low levels of anti-social behaviour.
- Sleep & rest are also important. Get children off to bed at a reasonable time. Children need more sleep than adults & lack of sleep can affect their learning.
- Set a good parental role model: Most importantly, we cannot expect our children to eat & live healthily if we do not model this for them!
3. Natural Medicines
- Fish Oils - omega-3 essential fatty acids, EPA & DHA, are vital for the developing brain. Most children do not eat enough oily fish such as salmon, tuna & sardines.
- Vitamins & Minerals - zinc, magnesium, iron, B vitamins, folate & Vitamin C are key nutrients for brain development & energy production. A high quality supplement can help your child overcome lethargy, irritability, apathy, fatigue & inability to concentrate.
- Probiotics - containing specific strains of healthy bacteria to support the beneficial gut flora. This is very helpful when a child has a "leaky gut" & compromised immunity.
- Herbal Remedies - There are some great-tasting powdered combinations available for kids to help in all sorts of conditions: eg. to help improve memory & concentration; to help with stress, anxiety & sleep problems; to build up immunity & protect against colds & flu; to ease the symptoms of asthma, hayfever, sinusitis; to settle upset digestive systems.
Sometimes it really helps to seek the advice of a qualified naturopath or herbalist to prescribe a program specifically for your child. By taking a detailed history, looking at blood-type, studying your child's iris, and possibly using a screening tool called Hemaview, your practitioner will be able to devise an optimal dietary program, recommending appropriate supplements and or medicines for your child.
Cath McCarthy is a Medical Herbalist working in Hamilton, Newcastle. She established Hamilton Natural Therapies Centre in 2000 where she works alongside a massage therapist and a kinesiologist. In her practice she treats holistically, supporting her clients to achieve better weight management, gastrointestinal health, better immunity, hormonal balance and fertility.
Prior to this she worked as a high school teacher for over 20 years. So she has a special interest in helping kids become really healthy so they can reach their full potential.
B.Health Sc - Comp Med. B.A. Dip Ed,
Hamilton Natural Therapies Centre
85 Lindsay St. Hamilton NSW 2303
P: 02 4969 6868