Poor digestion, poor results

Just prior to and at the beginning of every school year I see an increased number of parents bringing in their children because there are concerns at school. Typically, the children are having difficulty with focus, concentration, and overall behaviour. These concerns usually translate into poor grades and difficulty fitting in. These behaviours often lead to varying opinions from teachers, principals, parents, and doctors about what the actual problem is and how to best address the problem. Over the next few weeks we will discuss some of the most common and most treatable reasons these types of behaviours develop.

In this week’s article, we will focus on poor digestion and how it can cause or exacerbate behaviour challenges at school. Interestingly, the most common thing parents ask for when looking for a diagnosis and treatment plan revolves around food allergies. This will be the topic of next week’s article. I chose to start with digestion partially because of how easy it is to miss and partially because poor digestion can lead to food allergies.

Digestion is the process of breaking down nutrients from food into microscopic particles. Absorption is the process of getting those nutrients into the blood stream. The phrase, “You are what you eat” is not exactly true. Just because a child puts food into his/her mouth does not mean it will be processed properly. We want to assess each step along the way to ensure the nutrients are actually getting into the bloodstream and being delivered systemically. It is more accurate to say, “You are what you eat, except what you excrete”.

The phases of the digestive system require a number of steps to work in harmony. Digestion actually starts before a child is even eating. This first phase is called the Cephalic phase and it involves the production of stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes, bile, and other digestive juices in preparation for the meal to come. This is often where a major problem exists for children. When food is simply “thrown” into a digestive system that is not ready for it there are predictable consequences like tummy aches, reflux, constipation, diarrhea, urgency, and behaviour problems.

The tendency for children with sub-optimal digestive systems is to eat a very limited diet. Typically, this limited diet will focus on plain foods that are simpler to digest. They will tend to avoid variety, complex combinations of food, or more difficult foods to digest. Many of these children are likely to have behaviour concerns or poor performance at school in part because they are not actually getting the nutrients their bodies require.

The consequences of poor digestion can get more complicated and create more complex behaviour problems. For example, the incomplete breakdown of proteins in the stomach (due to poor stomach acid) can increase the likelihood of food allergy reactions in the small intestine. This happens because the immune system starts reacting to proteins it has not encountered previously when stomach acid levels were more appropriate.

Another possible consequence of poor digestion is the imbalance of bacterial and yeast species in the intestines. The wrong species or an imbalance of species cannot only create lower abdominal digestive system concerns but can also create behaviour problems. All bacterial and yeast species consume nutrients and create waste. The right balance of species actually helps our immune system and digestive system. The wrong balance of species harms both of these systems and can lead to behaviour problems because of the creation of harmful waste products in the intestines.

In the weeks to come we will continue to discuss the causes of behaviour problems in school in more detail. If you have concerns about the behaviour of you children I strongly advise you speak with a health care professional who can properly assess and diagnose the causes of the behaviour concerns.

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About the Author

Dr. Brent Barlow is a Naturopathic Physician practicing at The Kelowna Wellness Clinic in downtown Kelowna. Dr. Barlow has been in practice in Kelowna since graduating from the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine in Vancouver in 2009.

Naturopathic Doctors are trained as primary care physicians, and primarily use natural medicine to treat disease and promote wellness. Dr. Barlow believes strongly in identifying and treating the causes of disease rather than focusing on the treatment of symptoms.

Naturopathic medicine utilizes diet therapy, botanical medicine, nutritional supplementation, acupuncture, spinal manipulation and other physical medicine treatments to treat the causes of disease. Dr. Barlow also trained in the specialized treatments of prolotherapy, neural therapy, intravenous nutrient infusions, and chelation therapy.

Dr. Barlow is in general practice and welcomes all individuals and families. As a naturopathic physician he is trained to treat all health conditions in the manner that best suits the goals of each individual patient. He also has special interests in natural treatments for pain management and digestive health.

To learn more about Dr. Barlow's treatments or to schedule a consultation, visit his website at www.drbrentbarlownd.com or call 250-448-5610.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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