Written by Jared Skowron, N.D.
Supplements. There’s so many out there, but where do you start! With so much online, different parents with great testimonials on different things, different doctors suggesting different treatments, but the problem is what’s going to work? The goal of medicine is to treat the cause of illness, but the struggle when working with children on the spectrum is that there can be multiple causes, different genetics, and different physiology in our kids, which means that while a treatment works for one, it fails in another, and vica versa.
So, please, stay hopeful! You will find an answer. If the B12 shots make your child more hyper or they don’t like the taste of fish oil or maintaining the GAPS diet 100% of the time isn’t possible because you don’t have a personal chef, don’t stop! There are lots and lots of options.
Where do you start? Or, for those already deep in the biomedical world, what’s next? Here are three supplements that are beyond the basics of multi-vitamins, fish oil, and probiotics.
1 – Digestive Enzymes
Many of my patients know the importance of the gut. Digestion, absorption, nutrients, calories, leaky gut, healthy flora, etc are all the foundation of nutrition. You are what you eat! Probiotics have become a very popular supplement, and support a healthy gastrointestinal tract. But they don’t do everything.
Healthy digestion is the first step to good nutrition. Our bodies need to take that bone broth, kale chips, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, or any other piece of food and break it into tiny enough pieces that can be absorbed across our intestine into our blood stream. That starts with chewing. Something many of our children (and us) don’t do that sufficiently.
The food then ends up in our stomachs and intestines, where stomach acid, bile, and other enzymes break the food down into tiny pieces. But what if that step isn’t working well? What if you’re on a reflux medication that reduces stomach acid digestion? What if digestive enzyme levels are reduced? The food just sits there. It starts to ferment, and then gas is produced.
Does your child have a bloated stomach? Is there lots of burping or farting? (which my 4 year old daughter thinks is hysterical) These are easy signs to assess gas in the intestines. The best supplement to assist in digestion is digestive enzymes. Now, there are lots on the market, so what do you use?
Most importantly, for those families that don’t have their child on a gluten-free or dairy-free diet, use enzymes that specifically digest gluten or casein when their child eats them.
There are specific digestive enzymes that digest specific foods. You can get a broad-spectrum combination enzyme that digests multiple foods, but if you are eating gluten or casein, you should take a gluten or casein enzyme to help the gut digest those molecules.
I saw a child with juvenile arthritis. Her knees were in severe pain and she couldn’t take part in gymnastics, karate, and other physical activities she enjoyed. After removing dairy from her diet, her pain completely resolved. She was back to being active! But, she loved her dairy. She tried Lactaid. The pain still happened. Why? Because lactaid and other products that don’t have lactose, which is milk sugar, still contain milk protein, such as casein. That was causing her pain. I gave her a casein digestive enzyme, and now she can have her dairy and be pain free!
While I still recommend diets without gluten and casein to my patients, for those families that aren’t at that place, start with the gluten and casein enzymes.
2 – Licorice (root)
Do you know someone who has a short fuse? A quick trigger? Short temper? This can present as anger, avoidance, snapping at the slightest event, or transitional anxiety. When our body is under a lot of stress, it affects our cortisol level. Cortisol is a hormone that people know as the ‘stress hormone’.
I explain cortisol to my patients as the ability to handle stress. We test cortisol levels through the urine. Think of a dynamite fuse. Those with a high cortisol level have a long fuse and can handle a lot of stress, those with low cortisol levels have a short fuse and can only handle a little stress before exploding. Now, stress is different for everyone. It might be external stress, and it can be internal stress, such as chronic inflammation.
The vast majority of children in my office test with low-normal levels of cortisol and these lab results are always associated with a quick temper and the resulting explosive behavior. Increasing cortisol to a mid-range normal level calms behavior and helps the whole family not have to walk on eggshells. A big winner for my practice!
Since we’re talking about lab results, think of a dartboard. Where do you want to hit? A bulls-eye of course. Too far to the left or too far to the right isn’t on target, but the middle is. Similar to when we interpret lab results. Out of the range may indicate some serious health condition, but just within the range on either side doesn’t indicate optimal health. For example, large abnormalities out of range for cortisol may indicate serious conditions such as Cushing’s or Addison’s, but too low within the range still can affect our day to day behavior.
3 – CoQ10
The more I do genetic testing on kids with developmental delays (regardless of diagnosis), the more genetic mutations and abnormalities I see in mitochondrial genetics. Remember mitochondria from high school biology? These are the energy factories of the cells. Whoa, whoa, whoa, you say, my kid has enough energy!!!
Here’s where things get interesting. Our brain runs on accelerators and brakes. The brakes are sensitive to mitochondrial dysfunction. So when someone has severe mitochondrial dysfunction, energy levels are extremely low, in fact I had a patient who was in bed 6 months of the year. But those people with mild mitochondrial dysfunction, the symptoms only occur in certain parts of the body, the parts that are sensitive to mitochondrial dysfunction.
The first part of the body to weaken are the brakes of the brain. Imagine if the brake line on your car was cut. You are driving out of control! Same thing with certain kids. Cut the brake line of the brain, and you’ve got non-stop activity! Another part of the body to be affected first is the digestive tract. So many families are using biomedical treatments to help the gut. The treatments may work temporarily, but it doesn’t seem to cure the problem. How many rounds of Diflucan or Nystatin have some of my patients been on? Too many to count!
Watch for symptoms such as stubborn constipation and reflux. These could be symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction. Team these up with high activity level, and you’ve got a red flag for mitochondrial dysfunction. An easy supplement to start with to help mitochondrial function is CoQ10. You may know this supplement has one for energy. It’s mitochondrial energy that can repair the brake line of the brain, and the brake line of the digestive tract. Let’s get things moving at the right speed.
Genetic testing is a great way to evaluate mitochondrial mutations, and I encourage this in all of our kids. Please understand there are over 19,000 protein coding genes in our DNA. If you had a test for Fragile X, that’s just one of them. If you tested MTHFR, that’s only one piece of the puzzle. There are approximately 2,000 genes that could be associated with developmental delays, mitochondrial dysfunction, and seizure activity. All of these should be tested and evaluated. Why? Because you could find a solution! A new treatment that you never tried before! One of my favorite stories is of a 17 year old with aggression and Oppositional Defiance Disorder, which we got him off all of his psych meds once we determined the genetic etiology of his mood and a better biomedical treatment.
Interested in genetic testing? Have a Skype appointment with Dr. Skowron!
About the Author
Dr. Jared Skowron is the Amazon best-selling author of100 Natural Remedies For Your Child, and co-founder of the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians. An international speaker on natural medicine for children, he has lectured from Seattle to Beverly Hills, New York City to Paris. Dr. Skowron’s life work and passion is to help children using natural therapies instead of unnecessary drugs and medications. Practicing for over ten years, he is one of the country’s leading experts in natural therapies for special needs children with Autism, PDD-NOS, Sensory Processing Disorders, PANDAS, and ADHD. Dr. Skowron serves on the advisory board of Autism Hope Alliance and editorial board of Natural Practitioner magazine. He is founder of the supplement company, Spectrum Awakening, which creates high quality supplements for children with developmental delays, focus/behavior problems, and sensory disorders. In addition to founding the Pediatric & Autism Clinic at University of Bridgeport, he has appeared on NBC, CBS, FOX, and Animal Planet, discussing the power of natural medicine for children. He received his undergraduate degree from Holy Cross and doctorate from National College of Naturopathic Medicine.