Can functional medicine help behavioural problems in children?
Behavioural problems in children.
All young children can be disobedient and impulsive at times but some children demonstrate exceptionally difficult and defiant behaviours compared to their peers. These problems can result from temporary stressors in the child’s life, or they might signify a underlying behavioural condition.
The most common disruptive behaviour disorders include:
Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) – the child angers easily, has frequent temper tantrums and argues with adults. Children with ODD often refuse to obey rules and seem to deliberately try to annoy others. They frequently have low self-esteem and a low frustration threshold.
Conduct disorder (CD) – the child refuses to obey anyone in authority and lies frequently. There is a tendency to use drugs, cigarettes or alcohol from a young age, and truancy and vandalism are common. Empathy is typically lacking and sufferers of conduct disorder tend to be aggressive and keen to start fights, often bullying other children.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – the characteristics of ADHD can include difficulty concentrating, forgetting instructions, impulsivity, restlessness and fidgeting. Children often have difficulty completing tasks and may get frustrated and easily lose their temper.
All these conditions are more common in boys than girls but it is unclear why this may be. Difficult family situations and learning difficulties are also known risk factors.
Typically medical diagnosis involves ascertaining whether the child’s behaviours meet a standardised set of criteria for each condition.
Treatment is usually multifaceted and depends on the particular disorder and factors contributing to it, but may include:
- Parental education and family therapy – to improve communication and problem-solving skills.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy – to help the child to control their thoughts and behaviour.
- Anger management
- Medications – these include drugs such as Ritalin to help control impulsive behaviours as well as various antidepressants and tranquilisers
So how can functional medicine help?
From a functional medicine point of view there can also be underlying imbalances that exacerbate behavioural problems. These include:
- Nutrient deficiencies – The child may be lacking in certain nutrients required for balanced brain chemistry. Detecting and rectifying these deficiencies can assist in restoring stable emotional responses
- Food sensitivities – Adverse reactions to common food groups or to food additives can underlie behavioural problems in children. Identifying the culprit foods and implementing an elimination diet can improve symptoms
- Gut flora imbalances – the friendly bacteria living in the gut can influence mood and behaviour. A lack of good bacteria or an overgrowth of less beneficial microbes can be uncovered in a functional stool assessment. Any imbalances can then be remedied with dietary changes, natural supplements and probiotics.
- Toxins – Exposure to, and inability to excrete, environmental toxins can also be a factor in behavioural disorders. Heavy metals, chemicals used in plastics, and agricultural pesticides and herbicides have all been linked to changes in brain development. Support the bodies detoxification mechanisms and taking steps to avoid these toxins can both help relieve behavioural symptoms
- Inflammatory imbalances – children with behavioural problems often exhibit signs of increased inflammation and oxidative stress. This may be a result of poor food choices or a lack of particular anti-inflammatory nutrients. A carefully planned dietary strategy that works around the child’s food preferences can address this imbalance.
For more information on other health issues that can be helped with Functional Medicine, see our conditions we can help page