There are basic natural choices that can help improve children’s health, but positive results depend upon practitioners, parents, children and society “buying in.”
Currently in its pilot phase, The National Children’s Study, funded through the National Institutes of Health, plans informative research into many children’s conditions, including asthma, obesity, diabetes, behavior, learning and mental health disorders.
For practitioners, those issues are also seen as some of children’s top health concerns.
Dr. Jared M. Skowron, ND, vice-president of Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians, listed what he considers children’s top health issues:
• Childhood obesity—affecting 17 percent or 12. 5 million children
• Asthma—affecting 9.5 percent or seven million children
• Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and neurodevelopmental delays—8.4 percent or five million with ADHD, one in 50 with autism
• Lack of family structure/TV and iPad overuse
Dr. Robert Melillo, co-founder of the Brain Balance Centers, said the leading issues with children’s health and education revolve around the epidemic rise in neurobehavioral disorders such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, obsessivecompulsive disorder, tourettes and processing disorders. Dr. Melillo is also affiliate professor of Rehabilitation Sciences at Nazareth Academic Institute, is a senior research fellow with The National Institute for Brain and Rehabilitation Sciences, as well as president of the International Association of Functional Neurology and Rehabilitation.
“This is the first time that the fastest growing issue in both education and health care are the same issue,” he noted. “ADHD is the leading childhood disorder in the world of any kind; it is the number one health issue and the leading reason why a child will be medicated.”
As for supplement manufacturers, Courtney Nichols Gould, co-founder and co-CEO of California-based SmartyPants Inc., a producer of children’s supplements, said the country has twin concerns that most people would be surprised to find go together: obesity and malnutrition. “The most recent USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) survey shows that most of us (68 percent) are still not getting the RDI (recommended daily intake) from diets alone. The real acute concern is that not only is obesity on the rise, but those most in need of nutrients are frequently found to be deficient in omega-3s, vitamin D and other key nutrients that are so critical to not only physical health, but the ability to learn, to retain facts, to being able to pay attention.”
In addition, diabetes, depression and stress are other realities for today’s children, according to Dr. Richard Drucker, BS, MS, ND, PhD, of Texas-based Drucker Labs.
It can safely be said that many American children’s lifestyles are often far from healthy. “We agree with Dr. David Katz and so many others in this field that it’s not a single-pointed answer, and why it takes comprehensive solutions to solve,” said Gould. “Cheap food that is heavily marketed to kids with a heavy focus on fats and sugars, food deserts (with fresh fruits and vegetables less available to those who most need them), less time spent being active whether due to safety concerns, screen time or ill-funded PE (physical education) programs, parents working longer hours with less time to cook family meals at home together, all conspire to make being healthy extremely challenging,” she pointed out. “I have a great deal of empathy with all my fellow Americans—if fast food companies are spending billions of dollars while non-profits can only spend a few million to message to these same people, who do you think is going to win hearts and minds?”
Dr. Skowron also stressed the battle of societal influence over children. “The deterioration of our food supply, along with the mass marketing of low-nutrition, high-sugar foods and poor education and knowledge of parents of healthy food choices combine to give our country the highest rates of childhood obesity in the world. And it doesn’t seem like anyone cares. What does our government do? What are our local school systems doing? It is left to the parents to battle the marketing on TV, along with the peer pressure of societal norms.”
Dr. Skowron noted that increases in technology train children to expect fast-paced visual input. “When kids play iPad games, they get fast, colorful input, along with bells and whistles every 30 seconds when they win. Repetition creates habits and expectations. Then, we put them into a seat for eight hours a day at school, expect them to sit still and listen to the same teacher all day long— without the bells, whistles and Pavlovian rewards of technological babysitters. We are training them to expect more than our school system can provide. The school systems then wants the kids to shut up and sit in their seats, so they suggest ADHD medications, which is a $10 billion industry, and these meds work in a minority of cases.”
Dr. Melillo agreed, noting that the rates at which children watch television and play video games has greatly increased in recent years, even among very young children. According to data from Nielson, children ages 2-5 watch television for more than 32 hours a week, while kids ages 6-8 spend 28 hours in front of the television. “As these numbers continue to increase, so do the numbers of kids with learning disabilities and mental diagnoses, as does the number of kids who are overweight or obese,” he said.
“Of course, this is not to say that kids should never be allowed access to TV or video games,” he added, “but it does help us see that we aren’t doing our children any favors when we allow their brains to go without ‘exercise.’ Moderation is key, as is getting kids active. The more they can interact and get hands-on with the world they live in, the more they can build connections in the brain and develop mentally and physically.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, nutrition and fitness are the cornerstones of children’s health. While everyone agrees, Dr. Skowron suggests tests that play a crucial role in pinpointing problem areas.
For children with asthma, he tests vitamin D levels. He also suggests testing amino acid levels and brain chemical levels for children with ADHD.
“Deficiencies of serotonin and GABA can exacerbate distractions. While deficiencies in dopamine can affect our reward and bribery centers, and deficiencies in norepinephrine affect our focus and concentration,” he said.
“In addition, targeted amino acid therapy, based on the individual child, along with resolving vitamin and mineral deficiencies can improve brain function. Removing gluten, dairy or artificial dyes from the diet can also help,” he said.
Dr. Melillo’s use of natural approaches to treatment include diet and nutrition, motor training such as gross motor activities, primitive reflex exercises, balance and vestibular training, fine motor skills, metronome training, sensory stimulation using light, sound and music. “At Brain Balance, we have specialized Brain Balance Music that is directed toward one hemisphere or the other to balance the brain and to help integrate the two hemispheres,” he said. “Also, tactile stimulation, smell, vestibular or sensory processing skills like global versus local visual or auditory processing. Academic and educational interventions focused on a child’s academic and hemispheric weaknesses, and behavioral modification are also natural approaches.”
Though chewing on a gummy supplement may be a fun and simple way for children to receive comprehensive vitamin and mineral formulas, supplement manufacturers recommend overhauls to diet and exercise. “Evaluate your plate,” said Dr. Drucker. “Eliminate foods that are processed and/or genetically modified, and replace them with fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and lean, organic meats.
“Active children have a lesser risk of obesity, developing type-2 diabetes and becoming depressed,” he added. “Also, those diagnosed with attention deficits and other behavioral disorders have noticed great benefits in being active and/or in having involvement in organized sports.”
“Since ‘natural’ isn’t a technical term,” noted Gould, “I think the less corrupted an ingredient is the better. The key natural treatment here is food as medicine in combination with supplements in their most bioavailable forms in a low dose, broadspectrum format, as opposed to mega doses, to fill in any gaps.”
Eating a healthier diet will help all aspects of a child’s health, Dr. Skowron said, agreeing that good quality multivitamins and fish oils are essential to a developing child, while complete nutritional evaluation and testing will reveal individual nutrient deficiencies. “Genetic testing is the new front that can help a parent understand behaviors that started at birth,” he added.
While diet and exercise are keys to establishing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, with respect to diet, it is important to note that even organic fruits and vegetables lack the nutrients, which were once delivered through the rich farming soil, said Dr. Drucker. Over-cropping has depleted the soil of its once abundant nutrients, he noted.
“A dietary supplement can be an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that may be missing from a child’s diet,” Dr. Drucker said. Drucker Labs’ intraKID is an all-in-one dietary supplement, designed specifically for the nutritional needs of a growing child. It contains more than 215 essential ingredients derived from natural sources such as fruits, vegetables, and herbs. IntraKID’s complete liquid formula eliminates the need for chalky pills and candied gummies, 1-fl.-oz. provides complete supplementation for the day and is available in a raspberry flavor for children’s sensitive palates.
IntraKID contains 215 essential ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, probiotics and more. It also contains fulvic acid, a naturally occurring polymer. Together, these ingredients with the fulvic acid help to support neuro-cognitive brain function, immune health, and overall growth and development. The product is gluten- and caffeine-free, vegetarian and hypoallergenic.
SmartyPants’ Gould said she finds shakes/smoothies to be an extremely effective tool in helping people of all ages start out ahead of the game every day. “You can add protein, tasteless fiber (something everyone is not getting enough of) and pack some great fats, such as coconut milk or regular milk, along with getting two to three servings of fruit all in one serving that even those with the most picky palates will gulp down.”
As for specific deficiencies that even the staunchest vitamin critics agree on—omega- 3s and vitamin D. “I think supplements are a logical approach,” Gould said. “Vitamin D is not available in the diet—unless you plan to chug eight 8-oz. Glasses of milk every day— and omegas are tough to get from food when balanced against concerns about mercury and PCB contamination and/or impacts on the environment. As long as you know the source of your omegas and D, supplements for this issue are a great solution.
“For greens,” she said, “I find seaweed snacks/kale chips are great: super easy to make or easy to buy—but expensive. I am not a great cook and I can make these in one step.”
Challenges With Children
Working with children can present difficulties for practitioners, one being compliance for taking vitamins. “Vitamins and other natural supplements can taste bad. Kids, especially those with hypersensory issues to taste, will refuse to take their vitamins, or change their diet,” said Dr. Skowron.
Also, parents’ opinions may differ. “Mom may not agree with Dad, or be divorced and have multiple families that have different health belief systems,” he noted. “Enforcing dietary changes or vitamin regimens when one party doesn’t agree is extremely difficult and gives mixed messages to the child.”
“Just trying to work with a child that may be impulsive, hyperactive, oppositional and who has communication and social issues itself is challenging,” added Dr. Melillo. “The child needs to be interested and engaged in the program. If they hate coming, it doesn’t matter how good a program you have, it’s not going to work well.”
Getting families to commit to the time and money for treatment is also difficult. “Without support of the parents, the program will fail or the results will not be as good,” he said. “We have seen that when parents are engaged, we get literally twice the effectiveness. In one control study we are doing, we have seen that when the kids follow the home activities and get support at home they go up around four grade levels on average in three months. If they don’t get the right support they only go up two grade levels in three months, that is still pretty good,” he said. “Getting them to stick to the diets and stay away from the computer and TV is also a challenge, but we get almost all of our families to completely ‘buy in’ to our process and realize this isn’t magic, it’s hard work, but it gets results and it can change their lives. It’s worth it on every level.”
Dr. Skowron agreed that the process isn’t easy. “I praise and commend every parent who wants to do better for their child,” he said. “To do what you believe is right, and to go against societal norms, your pediatrician and even your own family or parents, takes willpower and guts. But believe me, there are millions of parents who feel the same. The tide is turning, and the pendulum is gaining momentum in our health revolution. This is a revolution against food companies that create unhealthy food for our children for profit, and a revolution against the over-prescribing of unnecessary medications for our children for profit and for behavioral control in our schools.”
Research on Children’s Health
There have been many studies and reports conducted on children’s health, with some of the most interesting coming out recently.
Dr. Melillo pointed to a study published in February in the Journal Of Child Psychology and Psychiatry that suggests autism can be completely normalized or eliminated in some individuals. Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that individuals who had been diagnosed with autism as young children no longer had symptoms when they were older. “These individuals did not outgrow autism; they appear to have been treated out of it,” Dr. Melillo said. “This is not the only study that shows that autism can be corrected in a certain percentage of individuals diagnosed. Again this confirms that this cannot be a primarily genetic disorder if it can be corrected with treatment.”
Dr. Drucker noted that The American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested the use of a multivitamin supplement for children with poor appetites or erratic eating habits.
He also pointed to the study titled “Vitamin D May Lower Diabetes Risk in Obese Children and Adolescents,” published in March at ScienceDaily. University of Missouri researchers noted that childhood and adolescent obesity rates in the United States have increased dramatically in the past three decades, and that being obese puts individuals at greater risk for developing type-2 diabetes. The study found that vitamin D supplements can help obese children and teens control their blood-sugar levels, which may help them stave off the disease.
Fein D, Barton M, Eigsti IM, Kelley, E, Naigles L, Schultz RT, Stevens M, Helt M, Orinstein A, Rosenthal M, Troyb E, Tyson K. Optimal outcome in individuals with a history of autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. DOI: 10. 111/jcpp.12037.
www.healthychildren.org/English/agesstages/ gradeschool/nutrition/Pages/Vitamin- Supplements-and-Children.aspx.
University of Missouri-Columbia (2013, March 26) . Vitamin D may lower diabetes risk in obese children and adolescents. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 19, 2013, from www.sciencedaily.com /releases/ 2013/03/130326121743.htm.
Healthy Take Aways
■ Childhood obesity affects 12.5 million children in the United States.
■ According to the USDA, 68 percent of Americans do not get recommended daily intake from diets alone.
■ Vitamin D levels should be tested for children with asthma.
■ Test amino acid and brain chemical levels for children with ADHD.
■ The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests the use of a multivitamin supplement for children with poor appetites or erratic eating habits.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
■ Brain Balance Centers, www.drrobertmelillo.com
■ Dr. Jared Skowron, www.naturopathicanswer.com
■ Drucker Labs, (888) 881-2344, www.druckerlabs.com
■ National Children’s Study, www.nationalchildrensstudy.gov.
■ SmartyPants Inc., (310) 577-9525, www.smartypantsvitamins.com
There are basic natural choices that can help improve children’s health, but positive results depend upon practitioners, parents, children and society “buying in.”