Behaviour Starts in Their Gut

Every behaviour your child has is for a reason, and poor or unhelpful behaviour signals a deeper issue within their body that needs to be addressed.

Parents don’t often make a connection between their child’s mind and their gut but these systems are intertwined more than any other two systems in the body. There are many neurotransmitters produced within the gut, and there is a constant communication going both ways between the mind and gut.

While many children may have a genetic predisposition to behavioural disorders, this is not the cause of the issue. A common analogy is to think of genetics as the gun and environmental factors as what pulls the trigger – all have a distinct effect on the gut.

Factors affecting microbiota and digestion:

  • C-section delivery – no ingestion of bacteria found in birth canal to initiate their own gut bacteria
  • Diet – including variances between breast milk and formula
  • Sterile environment – exposure to lots of cleaning products with no exposure to dirt and a range of bacteria
  • Reduced exposure to a variety of people and animals
  • Antibiotic exposure – wipes out good bacteria, potentially causing an imbalance
  • Stress – causes microbiome changes and shuts down digestive processes and secretions.

A large number of children with behavioural disorders have distinct gastrointestinal symptoms. This can cause a primary trigger due to gastrointestinal pain which the child might not be able to communicate. In addition, these symptoms can cause changes in production in neurotransmitters, immune system changes, gut permeability and malnutrition which, in combination, cause rampant inflammation.

So, how does this all tie together and what does it have to do with your child’s behaviour?

The microbiome can cause immune activation directly at the gut surface. When the gut lining is not optimal, opportunity arises for disease-causing bacteria to populate and immediately signals an immune response. This is a normal response in someone with a diverse number of good bacteria which can overcome the bad bacteria, ensuring this happens less often. However, when gut integrity is low and the bacteria unbalanced, the immune response is constantly set off. This then signals nerves associated with serotonin which is a neurotransmitter associated with many behavioural disorders. It also creates inflammation within the brain which has a direct effect on the efficiency of mental processing.

As mentioned before, the gut and the brain also have a two-way conversation which is called the gut brain axis. Activity within each organ signals a response. For example, high level of stress within the brain signals the gut to slow down digestive functioning even if there is food coming through. This can cause poor digestion and inflammation within the gut, signalling the processing of neurotransmitters sending out stress signals, making your child’s behaviour change dramatically.

A poorly functioning digestive system may include slower digestion, impacted stools and fermentation. Having high amounts of digestive toxins may trigger inflammation within the body, again causing poor neurotransmitter production and inefficiency. Large amount of pollutants such as heavy metals, histamine, hormones and oxidants have been directly linked to autism, ADHD and other behavioural conditions. Optimising gut function will help detox and remove these pollutants.

The gut lining is where the conversion of food to minerals, vitamins, fats, proteins and carbohydrates occurs. If there is inflammation and problems with the microbiome, the conversion process will be inefficient. Even if the child is eating a healthy, nutrient-dense diet, they may still be deficient in certain nutrients. This deficiency affects the whole body and its processes, including production of neurotransmitters and inflammation.

There are so many ways your child’s behaviour can be affected so it is important to get a clear picture of what is going on within the gut. Understanding where the problem lies can be achieved through investigative questioning and functional testing, with the information used to tailor treatment and develop a personalised plan specific to your child and their needs. The goal is to get their health in order as soon as possible.

Now, you may be thinking this is all well and good but it’ll be almost impossible to get my child to eat well and take supplements. Well, it might not be easy but it will be well worth the extra effort! Together we can discover ways to introduce healthy and balanced food into your child’s diet. Even if your child exclusively eats chicken nuggets and vegemite on toast, we can start working on some healthy alternatives that you can prepare ahead of time and which are specifically designed to reduce the mood swings and behavioural symptoms. And in doing so, you will be helping your child’s mental health as well as your own. You will also be helping your child in the long run by introducing and replacing foods that not only replenish stores of essential vitamins but also promote good microbiome health. And that is the ultimate goal!

If you would like help to improve your child’s behaviour through gut health, please make an appointment with one of our naturopaths. Our knowledge of the gut and how it impacts all areas of your health have helped many people just like you and your child to turn their health around and live a well and happy life, naturally. Get right to the cause today!

Written by Ally Stuart BHSc
Naturopath