Here is the second part to my blog which looks at how you can nourish your child back into a calm state. In the first part of this post you saw some important nutritional nuggets to help your child to cope with the ongoing pressures of life. In this second part I am going to dig deeper into some of the more significant metabolic issues that children can experience, and which may contribute to a state of anxiety and overwhelm.
PANS: Auto-Immunity In Disguise?
Autoimmunity is where the body gets confused and triggers an immune response to fight its own healthy cells. Different auto-immune diseases are identified depending on which organ or cells the body starts to attack. If a child is in auto-immune mode (this can be inherited or acquired), then there are several known infections that can fight the brain cells, specifically the basal ganglia which controls your child’s ability to regulate the following:
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty winding down and relaxing
- Getting stuck in a repetitive cycle of thoughts,
speech or movements
- Muscle tension and soreness
- Tremors and fine motor problems
- Tics and involuntary movements
- Chronic irritability
- Predicting the worst
- Tendency towards OCD
The two most prevalent auto-immune conditions that affect the basal ganglia have been identified as:
PANS – Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome – a clinical diagnosis given to children, who present neuropsychiatric symptoms including severe anxiety, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), eating disorders, mood swings, depression, irritability and uncontrollable body movements. These symptoms often appear suddenly, even overnight and effect every aspect of a child’s life including their ability to effectively communicate and participate in everyday life and ability to learn at school. Research into this syndrome is still in its infancy and therefore there remain a lot of unanswered questions but it is believed PANS is triggered by infection such as chicken pox, the flu, mycoplasma and Lyme disease, metabolic disturbances and chronic inflammation.
PANDAS – Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcal Infections – presents typically with OCD or tics (involuntary, purposeless movements) and the affected child tests positive for a recent streptococcal infection including scarlet fever, strep throat, or peri-anal strep. As with PANS, children with PANDAS will often have acute anxiety, trouble learning at school, even the loss of handwriting skills, irritability, emotional and social issues.
If you think this rings any bells with your child, then it is important to seek out either naturopathic or medical support to run some tests.
Could It Be KPU? (Kryptopyrrole/Pyrrole Disorder)
If your child has frequent meltdowns and a marked inability to cope with stress, then it could be the result of a metabolic issue called Pyrrole disorder. Pyrrole disorder (also referred to as kryptopyrrole or mauve factor) is a genetic condition that results in dramatic nutritional deficiencies including zinc, vitamin B6, and magnesium. It can also interfere with the proper absorption of arachidonic acid, a long-chain omega-6 fat found in meats and eggs.
During the synthesis of haemoglobin in red blood cells, the body generates Kryptopyrroles which are usually naturally and rapidly disposed of by the body. However, in kids with Pyrrole disorder these Kryptopyrroles build up fast (and they build up even faster if the body is stressed). The build-up of Kryptopyrrole then binds very strongly with zinc and vitamin B6, starving the body of these vital nutrients. These nutrients are vital to healthy functioning of your child’s brain, digestion, and immune system with grave consequences to your child’s long-term health.
White spots on fingernails (zinc deficiency) is a strong sign of a pyrrole problem. Hypoglycemia/ sugar intolerance is also common, as well as food and environmental allergies. Other symptoms include joint pains (especially knee pain), fatigue, headaches (especially migraines), bowel problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, easy bruising, dizziness, difficulty sleeping as well as poor memory and concentration. Poor stress control, mood swings, nervousness and anxiety as well as inner tension, episodic anger, poor short-term memory and depression are other common signs of a Pyrrole disorder.
Testing for Pyrrole disorder can be done by a simple and cheap urine test and children with Pyroluria can easily be supported with the high dose supplementation of vitamin B6 and zinc, under the supervision of a naturopath or nutritional therapist. You should not put in high doses of these supplements until you have done the testing. Their diet will also need to be carefully managed with careful attention paid to the amount of omega-6 fatty acids consumed (which can be opposite the usual recommendation of plenty of omega-3), as children with pyroluria require a larger amount than the average child. Low levels of zinc and B6 has been associated with mood disorders, anxiety and even ADHD.
Not Enough Cholesterol
Most people are trying to prevent their cholesterol from becoming too high and posing problems for cardiovascular risk. However, chronically low cholesterol can hugely impact on mood and brain function. Cholesterol is literally “brain food” and when we have low cholesterol, our brain is starving and cannot function properly. The optimal blood level for cholesterol is 4.17-5 and any lower the child needs support.
Cholesterol is used to produce crucial hormones, vitamins, secondary messengers, and bile acids. Low values are associated with behavious such as increased violence, suicide, depression, anxiety and bipolar disease. Low cholesterol may be due to manganese deficiency, coeliac disease, hyperthyroidism, liver disease, malabsorption, and malnutrition.
In extremis, low cholesterol may be diagnosed as Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome (SLOS) which is a developmental disorder that affects many parts of the body. This condition presents with a small head size (microcephaly), intellectual disability or learning problems and behavioral problems. Many affected children have characteristic features of autism.
If you do have a child with ongoing anxiety and one who does not eat eggs or liver regularly then you may want to consider checking their cholesterol levels. The good news is that in most cases you can boost up the cholesterol quite quickly and this usually coincides with a calmer, happier child.
Too Much Glutamate?
Glutamate is a neurotransmitter (a brain chemical messenger) essential for energy production and detoxification. However, it is believed for children with a sensitivity to glutamate (possibly due to a genetic condition) abnormal concentrations of glutamate can act as an ‘excitotoxin’ within the body and brain. Excess glutamate can create a host of conditions in the brain, body and nervous system such as migraines, irritability, anxiety, aggression, depression, reflux, indigestion, IBS, diarrhoea, heart conditions and nerve damage.
Monosodium glutamate (E621) is the most well-known source of glutamate and many parents go out of their way to avoid this in processed foods. However, we can absorb free glutamate from processed foods containing hydrolyzed protein (in many vegetarian and vegan food products) and those containing artificial sugars (aspartame) and yeast extract (most flavoured crisps, crackers and stock cubes). Very sensitive kids also can have difficulties from the glutamate occurring in processed flour, concentrated tomatoes, parmesan cheese, mushrooms, anchovies and peas.
We also produce a neurotransmitter called GABA, which is essential for brain to stay calm and deal with stress. More GABA can balance out excess glutamate. A great way to increase the levels of GABA and help keep a healthy balance is through ensuring your child’s diet is full of high GABA natural foods such as almonds, bananas, beef liver, broccoli and lentils. Herbs that are fantastic sources of GABA include; theanine (found in green tea) passiflora, skullcap, lemon balm, and magnolia bark.
So as you can see there are a wealth of underlying health issues that might be the cause or a significant contributor to your child’s anxiety. These can become apparent from an early age or kick in later on in life during their teens or even at university. But I hope I have gone some way to reassuring you that help is at hand, through the use of simple tests and the correct diet and supplementation.
My son gets tics after viral infections, nothing else just tics, he had several tics last year after a strep infection we worked hard on his immune system and we had a year of no tics and then he got chicken pox and we now have a neck tic, I’m just pleased he has no other symptoms! I use magnesium in his bath, super zinc, and other supplements..he has minimal gluten and no dairy I guess it’s just inflammation? Bizarre no one seems to believe me that this happens. Thank you for you’re article
PANS/PANDAS is well established inflammatory response to infections which oftern manifests in tics. More doctors are becoming aware of this: https://www.e-hospital.co.uk/resources/pandas-pans/