The Gut-Brain Connection and Children with Special Needs
The gut-brain connection may have a direct impact on children with special needs. Deep in the walls of the digestive system is the body’s “second brain”. This enteric nervous system (ENS) consists of over 100 million nerve cells that line the entire gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus to the rectum in two thin layers – more than in the spinal cord.
Although the ENS does not control thought and mental functions, it does communicate with the brain in ways that may trigger mood changes. This is important news for parents dealing with children who have special needs that may affect emotional stability and well-being.
Just as the brain can signal the stomach to release digestive juices, sometimes merely by thinking about food, the gut can send messages to the brain. That is why stress and emotional upset have a profound impact on gastrointestinal issues. A distressed gut cannot heal under duress.
The gut is home to 70% of the immune cells in the body and 95% of the serotonin. Leaky gut syndrome occurs when junctions located in the digestive tract widen and leak toxins into the bloodstream.
In some instances, congenital defects, abnormalities, in utero issues, and exposures can have an effect on the development of the ENS. A 2014 publication – “Gut microbiota, the immune system, and diet influence the neonatal gut–brain axis” offers more information about this topic, and can be found through a link at the end of this report.
Children, Pain, and the GI Tract
That “pain in the stomach” may rightly be “all in the head.” Individuals dealing with functional GI disorders often experience pain differently than others. Because their brains regulate pain signals coming from the GI tract more acutely, perceived pain may seem more severe.
As a child becomes upset, his or her stress level rises causing certain movements and contraction in the GI tract that can increase inflammation. We already know that inflammation is the root of many diseases, including autoimmune disorders. The signals of pain going to the brain increase further as a response of this inflammatory action, fueling the stress and other emotional responses.
Here are some symptoms to watch for in your child that may be a sign of distress along the gut/brain connection:
- Sleep problems
- Tremors or shakiness
- Teeth grinding
- Quick temper
- Poor concentration
- Trouble with memory
The Gut Microbiome and its Connection to Autism, ADHD, and More
A broad spectrum of medical issues and disorders may be affected by the gut microbiome. We will focus on some current information as an example of this here. Scientific research has uncovered a link between GI issues and autism in some people. Autistic people often have gluten intolerance or other food allergies. In 2013, a study in mice showed that a certain type of bacteria given to those with similar behavioral characteristics to autism created less anxiety and increased socialization with other mice.
In his article “Autism: Metabolism, Mitochondria, and the Microbiome” published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine in 2013, Derrick MacFabe, MD discusses how individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may have a higher incidence of prior antibiotic exposure, GI symptoms, abnormal food cravings, and unique intestinal bacterial populations that may relate to symptom severity. In this report, Dr. MacFabe discusses how propionic acid affects the GI tract and how some antibiotics that kill GI tract bacteria can lead to positive communication changes in some children. A link to this article in its entirety is at the end of this report.
Because of the high rate of GI problems in children with ASD, more research into gut microbes is being conducted than ever before. Additional information can be found in a report about The Microbiome in Autism Spectrum Disorder, also below.
The gut microbiome is home to over 1,000 species of bacteria, and we need a healthy and diverse combination of both good and bad bugs in the gut. When that balance is out of alignment, symptoms of ADHD, ADD, as well as many chronic diseases can worsen. One study of 743,939 children showed that those with ADHD had a threefold higher prevalence of constipation than those without ADHD, as well as increased visits to the doctor with GI issues.
It may be beneficial to research any medical conditions along with the gut-brain connection to see how your child may be affected by an improper ratio of good to bad gut bacteria.
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