Throughout my blog I’ve spoken at length as to why I’m concerned about the rising tide of chronic inflammation and how our modern-day lifestyle is perpetuating this condition. Unfortunately it is not just adults who fall victim to this issue. During my years working for UCSF I have seen firsthand how inflammation can create havoc in tiny little bodies. As with many things our children are vulnerable and I saw this come up in different ways; chronic pain, digestive issues, behavioral or developmental challenges, skin rashes, etc. I believe it is something we all need to be on the look-out for and to do what we can to help regulate these inflammatory pathways. Time and again I was able to see the “miracle” of an anti-inflammatory diet at work. When children began to nourish their bodies with real food and remove inflammatory triggers the improvement in their symptoms was immediate. I even had one very grateful parent, the day before Thanksgiving, call and tearfully thank me for giving her child back! Can food really do this?! If you haven’t figured out the answer to this yet…..YES!!
What Conditions Are We Talking About
Although I might argue that most conditions or diseases have an inflammatory component, these are the ones I more commonly see that have a direct connection to inflammation. As we lower the inflammation in the body, symptoms diminish or even completely resolve, the body begins to heal and re-balance, and our children start to feel better and more comfortable in their bodies.
What happens when inflammation targets the gut? This is often the root cause of many inflammatory conditions. As the gut becomes increasingly irritated and inflamed we may see symptoms such as chronic diarrhea or constipation, irritable bowel, cramping, and generalized abdominal pain. The tight junctions within the gut become increasingly weak and “leaky”. Once this happens the gut is no longer a strong barrier to the rest of the body. Undigested food particles, pathogens, or other “antigens” can cross over the barrier into the bloodstream and begin triggering an immune response elsewhere in the body.
Once these inflammatory chemicals start circulating through the bloodstream they can set up shop in a variety of locations. In the skin this may be seen as eczema, hives, or other chronic rashes.
Within the respiratory system we may see more allergies or asthma.
When the inflammatory chemicals target the musculoskeletal system this most often shows up as pain in the muscles or joints.
And when inflammation targets the brain or nervous system, we can see a variety of symptoms from chronic headaches to depression, anxiety, behavioral challenges, or even symptoms of ADD/ADHD and Autism. As the neurons become inflamed and irritated of course this is going to present itself as a more irritable and easily agitated child.
What Are The Causes
A leaky gut is definitely a common cause of chronic inflammation but there are other pieces too that need to be considered. Lingering infections (GI or otherwise) will keep inflammation high in the body. A pro-inflammatory diet (high sugar, refined carbs, processed foods), high stress or emotional trauma, chronic poor sleep, or inactivity. All of these factors play a role in keeping inflammation high within the body. Another interesting piece to this equation is what happens in utero that may be contributing to a pre-disposition to inflammatory conditions. An interesting study published in February 2014 followed 1.2 million women in Finland. Researchers measured the women’s levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a well-established measure of inflammation. They found that the risk of autism in the children of women with the highest levels of CRP was 43 percent higher than in those of the women with the lowest levels. Other studies have begun to show that mothers who have certain pro-inflammatory conditions are at greater risk of having children with autism—these conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, celiac disease, diabetes, and obesity. Some studies even suggest that women who develop a serious infection during pregnancy may also be at increased risk of having children with autism. All of this to say that clearly inflammation is playing a role both during pregnancy and after birth.
It Takes A Team
I do want to take a moment to reiterate that although your diet and lifestyle play a direct role in the level of inflammation in your body, it may not be the sole cause of the condition you’re dealing with. This is why a team approach is always the best approach. That way you can work on the diet and uncover inflammatory triggers while also evaluating other contributors. Either way, as the diet improves so will the condition and its symptoms. While I was working in the clinic at UCSF I was fortunate enough to be a member of two amazing teams, both at the Osher Center and with a team in the hospital where we were working with kids dealing with chronic pain (from a variety of reasons). Nutrition was always an integral piece but only in conjunction with other modalities; acupuncture, massage, biofeedback, psychology, integrative pediatrics, and other specialists when needed.
Always Start With Diet
If your child is dealing with any of the above listed conditions, the first place to start is to bring in an anti-inflammatory diet. There are some basic principles to healthy eating for kids and the best part is most of those principles are also anti-inflammatory — real food, colorful plants, healthy fats, in conjunction with less processed and refined foods. This will definitely get things moving in the right direction although it may not be enough. In my next post we will dive deeper into the diet, exploring how to uncover inflammatory triggers while optimizing the quality of foods being chosen.
Take Home Message
We are all at risk for chronic inflammation, both adults and children alike. It has become our modern-day epidemic. And when you consider the poor quality of food pushed on our children by the food industry, it’s easy to see how diet plays a big role. The first step is to recognize the signs and take action. Start by nourishing your children with a whole foods diet full of colorful plants and healthy fats. Their food choices really do matter. Next, evaluate other potential contributors to the inflammation and pull in a team of experts when needed. For more articles like this one, join The Rustic Tribe and receive weekly blog updates, recipes, inspiration, and more delivered straight to your Inbox! (this article was first published on 9/15/17)