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Episode 21: It’s Likely Your Child’s Behavioral Issues And Anxiety Are Gut Related

Episode 21: It’s Likely Your Child’s Behavioral Issues And Anxiety Are Gut Related

Anyone with children knows that it’s inevitable they’ll have a temper tantrum at some point in their lives, but what if their erratic behavior continues to escalate? From anxiety to mood swings and more serious conditions like autism, science is learning that a large percentage of childhood symptoms are tied to gut health. 

On today’s show, Andrea talks to Dr. Nicole Beurkens, an expert in evaluating and treating a wide range of developmental and mental health issues in children using food, targeted nutrients, and healthy lifestyle strategies.  A unique combination of psychologist, nutritionist, and special education teacher, Dr. Nicole Beurkens has over 20 years of experience supporting children, young adults, and families to improve brain function naturally. She has a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, masters degrees in Special Education and Nutrition and is a Board Certified Nutrition Specialist.

She’s also the founder and director of Horizons Developmental Resource Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan; and is a best-selling author, award-winning therapist, and published researcher. Dr. Beurkens says that the majority of patients she sees are dealing with gut issues - even if they’re not exhibiting gut-related symptoms. She seamlessly breaks down how the gut and brain are intricately connected, whether a single time head trauma (such a concussion during a sporting event) can trigger gut problems and how parents can take control of their child’s gut health and create a happier, more harmonious family environment.

Check out Dr. Beurkens’ website and download her “5 Keys to Unlock Better Behavior, Naturally” here. To keep up-to-date with her research, follow her on social on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

On this show, you’ll learn: 

  • How Dr. Beurkens got involved with gut health (1:47)
  • The connection between gut health and behavioral problems (6:05)
  • The gut brain axis and how they are intertwined (8:28)
  • The connection between mental or developmental health and gut issues (14:56)
  • A connection between a “one off” health event and gut issues (17:14)
  • How are these gut imbalances getting started? (18:23)
  • Antibiotics and microbiome balance in children (22:28)
  • If this is an issue – what can parents do? (27:03)
  • How to get your kids more involved (32:58)
  • How quickly children can bounce back (35:51)
  • The over-sterilization of society (38:00)

 

Transcript:

Andrea Wien: Welcome back to The Microbiome Report, powered by drmicrobiome.com, a site packed with cutting edge research and information all about the microbiome. I'm Andrea Wien, and on today's show, I'm talking to Dr. Nicole Beurkens, an expert in evaluating and treating a wide range of developmental and mental health issues in children using food, targeted nutrients, and healthy lifestyle strategies. A unique combination of psychologist, nutritionist and special education teacher, Dr. Beurkens has over 20 years of experience supporting children, young adults, and families in improving brain function naturally. She also has a doctorate in clinical psychology, a master's degree in special education in nutrition, and is a board certified nutrition specialist. She's the founder and director of Horizons Developmental Resource Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is a best selling author, award winning therapist, and published researcher.

                         Today we're talking about something that parents all over the country are struggling with, behavioral and mental health issues like anxiety in their kids. Dr. Beurkens talks about why more children are exhibiting problems that range from food intolerances to autism, and connects the dots on how a child's gut, and brain health are intricately linked. She answers questions like whether temper tantrums are indicative of a bigger gut problem, and whether kids can have gut issues without experiencing any GI symptoms. If you're a parent or a parent to be this is one episode that you absolutely cannot miss. Dr. Beurkens, thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: Such a pleasure to be here, thank you.

Andrea Wien: How did you get interested in this connection between gut health, the microbiome, and childhood development, specifically, mental health?

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: Yeah, it's an interesting story. I have sort of an unusual combination of backgrounds. I started out as a special education teacher working with kids in the mid '90s with pretty significant neurodevelopmental issues. Things like autism, severe ADHD, those kinds of things, and back then those issues were not nearly as prevalent as they are now in kids. But, I had training in various educational and child development kinds of modalities, but kept sort of noticing this thread of a lot of these kids had physical health issues too, and that just kind of was a little blip on my radar at the time, I thought, "Oh, that's interesting." And, didn't think too much about it.

                          And then, went on and got a doctorate in clinical psychology, really focusing more on private practice of working with families, being able to do diagnosis, and treatment, and those kinds of things, and so, got a whole nother realm of tools in my tool belt for working with kids, and families around various types of cognitive behavior therapies, and psychological kinds of interventions, and that was all great, but then, began to see even more of this thread of seeing all of these kids, and there's commonalities here in physiological things, lots of kids with constipation, IBS, major sleep problems, reflux, picky eating, allergies, all these things, and as I really got into working more and more with kids with a wide range of not only the neurodevelopmental, but also, more of the mental health, things like bipolar, anxiety, depression, those types of things, I thought, "There's really something to this."

                         There's just too many of these kids who also have these co-occurring like gut issues, physiological things, and at the time, I was also looking at things for my own children. I had a son with pretty severe eczema, and a young daughter who was really struggling with some various types of behavioral challenges, so that all kind of came together for me. I started looking at the research, started learning more about the gut brain connection, and started to put these pieces together of, "Oh, wait, this is not just sort of an interesting thing I'm observing. This is really something that is relevant, and something that we're seeing across the board of these significant connections between what's going on in the body, and then, what's going on in the brains of kids, and how they're developing, and how they're functioning."

                         We talk a lot with adults about how gut problems can show up, and it looks different in kids. I mean, some of the symptoms are the same, things like poor sleep, or foggy thinking, or some irritability, but a lot of where we see those kinds of issues show up in kids is in their behavior, so we see things like temper tantrums and meltdowns. We see inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, sort of this moodiness, those types of things. I really began looking at how gut health and how just overall physical health was impacting these things, and that's really what led me to go back, and get an additional master's degree in nutrition and integrative health to really be able to pull these components into treatment plans, because I realized that a lot of what I was doing in the realm of cognitive behavioral treatment, mindfulness trainings, some of the child development stuff, family therapy, that was all great, but we weren't really getting to the root of some of the underlying things.

                         And so, now really my focus is pulling in some of these physiological pieces, pulling in the nutrition, the gut health pieces, so that we're really treating kids and families in a really full spectrum, holistic kind of way to address their needs.

Andrea Wien: Yeah, and I think this is still something that's totally unheard of in a lot of the general population. Like, I have friends who have kids, and they might be having some behavioral issues, or some anxiety, or food sensitivities, and things like that, and I think with something like a food sensitivity, you can more easily describe to someone why that could be related to gut health, but with some of those other issues, everyone thinks that it's just the parenting, or the way that kids are growing up these days, and very few people are still making that connection between gut health, and overall health, and behavioral problems.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: I agree, and it's really unfortunate, because there really is a good amount of research literature on it. It's no longer just an idea or a hypothesis. We know that gut health whether we're talking about the proper balance in the microbiome, we're talking about things like leaky gut, or gut permeability. All of those kinds of things do impact how the brain functions, and why that's particularly important to be thinking about for children is their brains and bodies are more vulnerable. They are more sensitive, they are in a phase of rapid growth, and development physically and neurologically, and so, these kinds of issues impact them more significantly, and in a variety of ways even more so then, when this stuff happens in adulthood's with a brain that's already well developed, and a physiology that's already well developed.

                           It's really unfortunate that more people aren't looking at this for kids. I do think that more healthcare practitioners are starting to be aware of this, but you're right, the predominant way of thinking still is, "Well, if your child's having these kinds of behavioral issues, or mental health kinds of things, you go see a mental health practitioner, and you get some kind of psychological therapy, and you go on some kind of medication, and that's what we do for you." And, the reality is, we have so many more options now, now that we're understanding the connections with these things. We have so many more options to really get to the root, and treat kids more effectively.

                         So, that's really part of my mission, is to help educate parents, and just help them to understand that there are other things that maybe you've not been told that could be a contributing factor for your child's issues, which then leads to a whole host of things that you can take control over to be able to shift your kids in a positive direction, and I think that's really the hope that a lot of parents are looking for.

Andrea Wien: Absolutely, and it feels so much more empowering to say, here's some really tactical and tangible things that you can do versus just medicating your child and crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. We've talked briefly on the show about the connection between gut and brain health, but for listeners who are maybe hearing this for the first time, tuning into this for the first time, can you describe a little about the gut brain axis, and how those things are intertwined?

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: Yeah, and I talked about this in a pretty simple way, because certainly, we can get into a lot of the scientific complexities of it, but there's a few things that I think that people should be aware of in terms of this connection. The first is on a very basic general level, when kids aren't feeling well, they're more irritable, it's hard to focus and their behavior is worse, and that is not something that is unique to children. That happens for adults too. Often, I will say to parents at the clinic, "Hey, the last time that you had to go to work, or do something important in your life, and you were really constipated, or your stomach wasn't feeling good in some other way, or you had a really bad headache, think about what that was like for you."

                          And, they go, "Oh, yeah. Well, it was really hard to focus. I wasn't on my A game, I was more snippy and irritable." It's like, right. When we've got things going on with a child's gut health, whether it's things like constipation, or IBS kinds of issues, or they've got reflux stuff, or whatever it is that they might be experiencing from a physiological discomfort perspective, that's absolutely going to impact their ability to learn, to focus, their behavior, their mood, all of that. On a very general level, we all can recognize that there is this connection between how we feel physically with our gut, and then, how we're functioning, but on a more specific level, it's important to understand that a lot of the neuro transmitters that our brain uses to function.

                          So, those little chemical messengers, and people often have heard of some of those, the more common ones things like serotonin, or dopamine, norepinephrine. Serotonin being the one people I think are most familiar with, the feel good chemical in our brain helps us to have an even positive mood, helps reduce anxiety, those kinds of things. The majority of serotonin, for example, is manufactured, is created in the gut. While our brain uses these chemicals constantly to regulate us, and help us function well, our gut is a huge part of that, because that is where many of these chemicals, these neurotransmitters are being produced. When our gut is not healthy, when we've got an imbalance in our microbiome, because all those little microorganisms in that microbiome, particularly, specific types of bacteria, they are absolutely necessary for producing things like serotonin.

                          So, when we don't have enough of those specific types of good bacteria, or there's an imbalance, or for some reason, those mechanisms aren't working right, it is going to impact our neurotransmitter levels, which is going to impact our mood, our behavior, our anxiety, all of those things. That's one of the very specific ways that gut health impacts our mental health, and just how our brain is functioning, and many people have heard that the gut, we refer to that as the second brain, and there's good reasons for that. The vagus nerve runs all the way from our brain down through our body right through the gut, and that is a source of major constant communication between the brain, and the gut, and people often will say, "Oh yeah, I got nervous, I felt like I had butterflies in my stomach."

                         Or, maybe you've had the experience of you got really stressed or anxious about something, and you had to run to the bathroom, because you suddenly had diarrhea. Those are really tangible examples of that constant brain gut communication. When we start to have thoughts or feelings that are generated in our brain around being nervous, or stressed out, or whatever, we immediately have this physiological reaction in our gut, so we know that there's this constant communication that way. We also know that there are neurons that line the wall of the gut. We call that the enteric nervous system, and that is responsible for a lot of gut brain communication as well, and when those neurons are not working properly, whether it's because we've got an imbalance in the microbiome, or we've got other disruptions, or problems happening in the gut, or the gut lining, then that absolutely impacts the communication of that enteric nervous system with our central nervous system in the brain, and that can create problems as well.

                         So, we've got numerous factors that we know at this point are causing either good communication or poor communication between the brain and the gut, and lots of ways that those two things are interconnected.

Andrea Wien: We'll talk in a minute about why that microbiome balance, that microbial balance might be off, because I think a lot of people might not think about that in a kid. In an adult, we have high levels of stress, we have a lot of years of toxins built up, traumas, etc. We'll come back to that, but I'm curious, do you ever see kids with gut issues that necessarily don't have gut related symptoms?

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: Yes, absolutely. This is one of the challenges in helping people to understand sort of this gut behavior, gut brain connection, because sometimes we see kids come in, and they're having normal bowel movements, they're not articulating that they're having any discomfort or pain. Their gut seems to be working well, but yes, absolutely. You can have microbiome imbalances in the gut, you can have leaky gut, you can have those things, and have the symptoms manifest just in brain based neurological ways, and not necessarily gut ways, or it may come out through the skin. Things like eczema, or you may have things like allergies, environmental allergies, asthma, those types of things. You may just have the behavioral symptoms, a kid who's really hyperactive, really irritable, melting down all the time so that's a great point. It is absolutely possible to have gut issues going on, and not realize it, because the child's not having what we would think of as obvious gut kinds of physical symptoms.

Andrea Wien: Okay, so even if someone is saying, "My kid's not complaining, they don't have any of these issues." It's still worth looking at, if this could be a potential contributor. I guess, how many kids would you say that you see in your practice that have some type of developmental or mental health illnesses that don't have gut issues? Is it in the minority?

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: It's absolutely in the minority. The research actually reflects this, what I see anecdotally in my practice, particularly, for certain diagnoses. I mean, we know from the research that the vast majority of kids diagnosed on the autism spectrum have co occurring kinds of issues, and then, we're seeing that also being reflected in the research for kids with ADHD, and those types of things. I would say, when I look at all the intakes that I do for new patients over the course of a year, the vast majority of them, is rare to do an intake, and not uncover some aspect of this child's history, or current health that isn't somehow related to the gut that may be connected to their symptoms, and certainly, many kids are dealing with over issues... even constipation. Parents tend to downplay that.

                         First of all, they look at me weird as a psychologist when I ask, in an intake, "How often does your child poop? Let's talk a little bit about that." Kids think it's hilarious to talk about poop. They don't have an issue with it. Parents are like, "Why are you asking that?" Parents often down play, and say, "Oh, [inaudible] I don't know, every three to five days, something like that." And, that's a big red flag to me. Oftentimes, that can run in families where parents it's just been normal for them to have a bowel movement only a couple times a week, so they think that's normal, but as we get talking about it, and educating them about it, it's like that is not normal, and that can be creating issues.

                         Kids will often say, express in an intake session that they are having discomfort, or they are having challenges with some of these things, and parents weren't even aware, because often his parents were not necessarily asking, especially with things like bowel movements. We toilet train our kids, and then, we kind of step out of it, and unless there's a real obvious problem, we're not really aware of it. Parents are often surprised to hear their kids say in an appointment things like that, and they go, "Oh, I had no idea. I had no idea that you were using the bathroom all the time at school, because you were having diarrhea." Or, "I didn't know that you were only pooping once a week." Asking those kinds of questions is important. Sometimes parents just aren't even aware of what the kid is experiencing.

Andrea Wien: Now, is there a connection between a one off event mental health issue like a concussion, let's say during a sporting event, and what we see in gut health? Can it work the other way?

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: Absolutely, and we've got some very interesting research on that, about how having either a one off incident like a major bonk to the head, or what we're seeing more commonly is these small repetitive head injuries through different kinds of sports, and things like that. Absolutely, that can cause a cascading effect in the brain, and then, through the body that can negatively impact the gut microbiome, so you're absolutely right. It can go both ways. We can have issues in the gut microbiome, or in the gut that then push out into the brain and cause problems there, but we can also have things occur at a brain level like a concussion that then have a cascading effect and impact the gut.

Andrea Wien: We'll talk in a minute about how to kind of start remedying some of these things. Aside from what we just talked about of, maybe repeated traumas, or things like that, or one off incidences, how are these gut imbalances getting started? I mentioned in adults, it makes sense. We have this history of stress, we have poor lifestyle decisions, but kids are so young. Is this starting from infancy?

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: It absolutely can. We know now that it can start in utero, even before babies are born. It used to be thought that the womb was a sterile environment, that babies had no exposure to microorganisms prior to birth, we know now that's not true. There's a significant impact of the mother's microbiome, and the mother's overall health on the baby's developing microbiome even in utero, then certainly through the birthing process, and this is something that gets talked about, and is still a big debate in the research literature, vaginal birth versus caesarian section.

                         Vaginal birth is the normal process through which the baby really starts to populate their microbiome passing through the birth canal, and being exposed to gut flora, and the vaginal microbiome there versus caesarian section where they don't have the exposure to that, so certainly those are components from very early on that can impact. Antibiotic use is a big issue. Some mothers are put on antibiotics during the birthing process, during the pregnancy. Babies sometimes are put on antibiotics post birth for various concerns about infectious things. Children who have a chronic history of infections from birth through their infant and toddler years, things like chronic ear infections, throat infections, strep, various types of things in there put on lots of antibiotics that absolutely disrupts the developing microbiome, and shapes that in a way then that impacts them moving forward.

                         And, certainly, while antibiotics are beneficial, and needed in some cases, the downside to them is that they not only wipe out the bad guys that we need to get rid of, they wipe out the good guys too, and that can be particularly challenging in the case of children whose microbiomes are still being established, and are still developing. That certainly antibiotic exposure is certainly a big factor that we see impacting that. Sometimes medications, other types of medications that kids are put on. We're seeing more and more children having issues very early on in the newborn and infant stages, with being diagnosed with GERD, and reflux kinds of issues, being put on acid suppressing medications that then absolutely have an impact on the development of that microbiome. So, things like that.

                        And then, we get into things like food, what kids are being exposed to via food. Are they eating more of a whole foods diet that we know is more beneficial for feeding good bacteria, and having a healthy microbiome? Or, are they eating more of a processed foods diet that may have different kinds of fats, and chemicals, and things that are more detrimental to a developing microbiome? Diet is another issue that shapes all of that moving forward. Certainly, lots of elements that come into play that impact a child's microbiome from early on, and then, impact their overall development, and physical, and mental health symptoms that can develop.

Andrea Wien: Yeah, I mean, I think back to when I was a kid, I had chronic ear infections, and was on antibiotics basically for two or three years, in my toddler years, very early on, and now I think it's so interesting to see these studies coming out, the Z-Pak, for example, which is such a popular tool that doctors used for kids, it can take almost a year for your microbiome to bounce back from that, or some of these other ones up to two years. You think about what's going on, and how fast our kids are growing, and then, we're throwing in even just one single round of antibiotics. It's really disrupting this whole microbiome balance.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: That's absolutely, and some people will say, "Well, if that's such an issue, why is it then that some kids seem to be fine, and some kids don't?" And, this goes to the issue of genetic predisposition, and thresholds, and all of that. Some kids seem to have, for whatever reason, genetic predisposition, or whatever the reasons are more resilient guts and microbiomes that they can have around of the antibiotics, let's say for an ear infection, they don't seem to be particularly impacted by it, and then, we have other kids who have one round of antibiotics, and their entire world flip's upside down, and suddenly they've got a host of physical, and behavioral kinds of symptoms, and that's because we are all so individually unique in terms of not only our microbiome, but our entire physiology, and our neurology, and just that combination of what our genetic predispositions are, combined with what the environmental exposures are.

                          And so, these things are not going to impact everyone in the same way, but we do know that for some people these impacts are pretty significant, and as you said, we're finding now that with some of these antibiotics that are used, it can take anywhere from just a couple of weeks to a couple of years to get back into balance, and those studies primarily are done in adults, so you think about the bounce back for them of being a year or two, but in children, their microbiomes are still developing. Now we put these things in there that have this major effect, and you get some different processes, and some different results even than doing that in adults. That certainly is something to consider.

                         For parents who are listening who are like, "Oh, my goodness, I didn't know, and my kids have been on these antibiotics." Look, I've been there with my own kids too. I know so much more now about this than I did when they were little. It's just something good to be aware of now, and to think about in terms of if your child has had a lot of antibiotic exposure, even one episode of antibiotics, what are some things that we can do to help support microbiome health, and balance to help move forward? We can't go back, and change things that happen, but the good news is, there are lots of things that we can do to support that moving forward.

Andrea Wien: This episode is brought to you by drmicrobiome.com. That's drmicrobiome.com, a new website featuring the research and articles of Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum. Dr. Ghannoum is one of the world's leading microbiome researchers, and the scientist who named the microbiome, our body's fungal community. For the last 40 years, he's led teams of scientists exploring the microbiome, and is now making his data available to the general public. Head to drmicrobiome.com to download his 10 simple tips to healing the microbiome, and stay up to date on the latest published research from his team. Now, back to the show.

                        Do we know from the research how long it takes for an infant or a toddler's microbiome to really be established? Is there like a window of time from birth to so many years, where it's really critical to perhaps look at some more holistic treatment options instead of jumping straight to multiple rounds of antibiotics?

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: Yeah, I mean, I've read lots of different thoughts on that, but in general, you're looking at through the preschool and the early childhood years, from birth through those early childhood years are really critical years for establishing the microbiome, for having exposure to the good bacteria that can populate. I think that's a critical window, which isn't surprising, because that's a critical window for kids in general, for all kinds of things. Those first five years or so, of life, five to seven years certainly lay the foundation for all subsequent development, and functioning, which does not mean that we can't help older kids, or that we can't change things. It just means that that is the window of time where it seems to be particularly important where we can to try to lay down good foundations for lots of things, including, gut health.

Andrea Wien: Okay, so let's shift gears, and talk about if this is an issue, you are seeing behavioral issues with your kids, or you have some gut issues going on, how can we really start to bring the gut back into balance, heal something like leaky gut? What can parents do?

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: I think there's several basic strategies, or areas to start thinking about, and oftentimes, in my clinical practice, parents will want to jump right to talking about probiotics, and supplements, and what pills can I give my kids? I like to back up, and really do some education around how food is a very pivotal component for supporting, and improving gut health. You cannot expect that your child's gut is going to be healthy, and that they're going to have a well balanced gut microbiome if they're eating a diet that is full of heavily processed foods, lots of sugar, those types of things. Those two things just can't exist while at the same time, so while I certainly don't advocate that families need to immediately do a complete overhaul of their pantry, and their life surrounding food, I do think that there are some basic things to consider, and start making shifts around.

                         And, one is, reducing the amount of processed foods, so packaged foods that when you look at the ingredient list have a lot of things that you either can't pronounce, or wouldn't cook with in your own kitchen, have ingredients like artificial sweeteners, like aspartame or sucralose, things like artificial food dyes, high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, those types of things. All of that stuff, all of those chemicals really can have a negative impact on digestion, and gut health in general, and particularly, for the microbiome, so starting to make a shift away from those kinds of foods, and towards more of a whole foods diet, whole foods, meaning things that we eat that are in their natural form, so fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, and meats, and sea foods, and healthy fats like coconut oil, and avocado oil, and nuts, and those types of things.

                         And, that doesn't mean you have to do that overnight, but what we find is that kids who are eating more of a whole foods diet, and less of a processed foods diet, not only does their digestion improve, and they just feel better overall, it's a better way to support microbiome balance, and they just function better from a brain standpoint. Even basic changes, like if you're a family that drinks soda pop, or sugary juices, or sports drinks or things regularly, looking at shifting towards more water. Water is really important for supporting digestion, overall health, brain function, many kids are walking around mildly dehydrated, not even realizing it, and that has an impact not only on our gut, but also, on our brain function, so we can start making even simple changes with the diet that can be helpful.

                        And then, obviously looking at some things like probiotic supports, those good bacteria, how can we introduce more of those into the microbiome? Particularly, if we know that our child has a history of using antibiotics, or having other infectious issues, or things that may have gotten the gut microbiome out of balance, and certainly, there are supplements that we can use with probiotics in them to be able to help populate those. I like to use a lot of the spore formulas for supporting the microbiome, are great, and then, also, again, from a food perspective, introducing beneficial bacteria through more cultured, or fermented foods, which a lot of parents sort of balk at, and say, "Oh, you want me to feed my kids some kimchi, or sauerkraut, or things like that. My kid's never going to do that."

                        Well, here's the interesting thing, I find that the vast majority of kids will start to develop a taste or a palate for those as you introduce it slowly, and we don't want to be giving kids huge amounts of those anyway. Starting, especially, the younger the child with very small amounts, even just a teaspoon to at most a tablespoon of some of those types of fermented foods, but those do contain a lot of really beneficial bacteria, and are really a great way to help rebalance, and populate that microbiome with healthy bacteria, so not making the assumption that kids won't eat it, and the biggest thing is, as parents with any of these food changes to model them yourself, kids will go by what they see us doing far more than what we tell them, so if they see us eating more of a whole foods diet, if they see us choosing water over Diet Coke, if they see us incorporating something like sauerkraut or coconut kefir, or something like that into our diet, they're much more likely to be interested in that, and try that, so that modeling is big.

                         So, those are some things from a food, or nutrition perspective that I think are helpful. There's other areas we can talk about too, but I think from a food perspective, those are good starting points.

Andrea Wien: Yeah, and I mean, I think I just look at the typical kid's menu, you get the chicken fingers, you have the grilled cheese, maybe a burger, or a hotdog on there. None of those things are feeding any of the good microbes, and in fact, are just turning to sugar, and feeding the bad ones, so really, trying to work with your kids, and getting them in the kitchen I found is a great way to get kids more interested in eating foods that maybe they wouldn't touch otherwise, so that's a tip for people also is to get your kids cooking with you, and bring it into the kitchen, and make it fun.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: Absolutely. The more exposure kids have, the more comfortable they are with eating things. Particularly, if you're listening, you're like, "Oh, my kid is way too picky, they won't eat any of that." Well, then don't start with putting it on their plate to have them eat it at a meal. You start with things like having them help you prepare things, taking them to the grocery store, going to the farmers market, exposing them to what these different types of things look like, smell like, feel like, and as you bring them into more of those exposure experiences, they will start to feel more comfortable around those foods, and lo and behold, will start to eat though, so that's an excellent point.

Andrea Wien: And then, you mentioned different types of probiotics, spore based probiotics. Is that something that a parent can just go pick up at the drugstore? Or, are they needing to work with a practitioner to really get probiotics that, one, are targeted for kids, and then, also have the properties that are going to survive the stomach acid, and really go to work for the gut?

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: Yeah, it's a great question, and I think it's really challenging for parents even, they may learn some things about this, and it's like, "Well, where do I turn? What do I use?" You go to the store, you see a hundred different formulas, you're not quite sure what to do, and the tricky thing is, on the one hand, I say, okay, you can play around with some things that you may find at the store, but the tricky thing about that is, not everybody responds to things in the same way, and a probiotic formula that works great for one person may not be helpful, or may actually cause some negative symptoms for another person, so if you are going to play around with that on your own, you have to be a really good observer, always best to start really low with the dose to see how the person's going to tolerate that.

                       To me, the more effective, efficient route with doing these things is certainly to work with a practitioner who can help you identify what are the types of formulas that are going to be most effective for your particular child's situation, what are the doses that are going to be safest, and more effective, how to titrate that dose properly, the other things that you need to be doing in addition to that, but I do recognize and empathize with families who live in areas where maybe they don't have access to some of those kinds of practitioners, so certainly, it is something that you can cautiously experiment with a little bit, but certainly, it is best to work with a healthcare provider who's knowledgeable about those things, and can help you really hone in on what's going to be most effective in your particular case.

Andrea Wien: Absolutely, and I have noticed too that kids can bounce back so much more quickly than adults. We notice the changes in kids so much faster than we would in someone who's had these issues maybe established for 20, 30, 40 years.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: Yeah, I completely agree with that. In fact, it's not unusual at all for me to see kids in the clinic, who maybe have had years of just terrible constipation, irritability, those types of things, and within even a week, you can see differences with that. I'm thinking about a little eight year old who was in, I think, I started seeing her for an intake about a month ago, was having a bowel movement every seven days or so, very irritable, melting down all the time. We just did a couple of basic interventions to get started, including a specific probiotic formula, some magnesium for her, a few other things that we did with some dietary changes, and four days later, mom emailed me saying, "I can't believe that she is having really comfortable bowel movements now. She's not having the pain, she's not withholding and avoiding."

                         Within the next week, the behavior started to improve, she was sleeping better, and they were in the clinic, actually, just yesterday and mom goes, "I feel like I have a different kid." We still have work to do in various areas for her with some of her learning issues, and things like that, but we now have a child just four weeks later who is much more workable, and able to focus, and work on some of these other issues without the chronic irritability, the meltdowns, the not sleeping at night, so you're absolutely right, that when we are targeting these types of things for kids, you can see rapid improvement in some of these symptoms.

Andrea Wien: Can we also talk briefly about just being sterile, and cleaning at home, because I think this is something that also parents don't really quite put together. We evolved for thousands of years outside, digging around in the dirt, not having running water to wash all of our vegetables, and things that we were pulling off of the trees, and ingesting a lot of organisms, and now we live in fairly sterile environments where we're perhaps using Lysol, or some cleaning products, and making sure that our homes are spotless. Is that a detriment?

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: It absolutely is, and this is another foundational area that parents can start to make some shifts in and positively impact health for the entire family. We over sterilize things. We've gotten into this idea, and I think part of it is really effective advertising on the part of some of these cleaning product companies making us think that every bacteria, or germ, or microbe out there is bad. We have to wipe them all out of our space, and what we've done is really eliminated a lot of the opportunities for exposure to beneficial microbes that help support our microbiome balance, so we've got some very interesting research related to this and kids.

                         One pretty recent study showed that cleaning products exposure, these antibacterial cleaning products promote obesity in children, and it's via the microbiome, so the more that kids are exposed to these antibacterial, antimicrobial kinds of cleaning products, the more it shifts the microbiome in a way that then promotes obesity, so that's one very interesting connection to think about. The other is there have been many studies done now on the benefits of children living around pets, farm animals, those types of things. As far as gut microbiome health, and health in general, we know that children, babies and kids that grow up around cats, dogs, other animals in the home, who live on farms, they have much lower rates of things like allergies, and asthma, and again, it's the gut microbiome that is playing the role there.

                        When you're exposed to animals, your dog coming in, and tracking some mud in, or licking your child's face, or whatever, and you're not sanitizing all of that away, that populates our microbiome on our skin, and our gut with really beneficial organisms, so while it certainly is normal to want to keep things clean, and wipe away dirt, and things like that, using just good old fashioned wet cloth with just plain water, or using some vinegar to wash with, or now there are a lot of companies making cleaning products that have things like essential oils, or things like that in them that make our home smell nice, that keep things clean, but are not sabotaging our microbiome health, so excellent point, and a simple shift that families can can make in their homes.

Andrea Wien: Great. Well, Dr. Beurkens this has been so insightful. Thank you so much for coming on to talk to us. If people want to learn more about you, learn more about your practice, listen to your podcast, which I know is great, and talks a lot about these behavioral issues in children and different root causes, how can they find you?

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: The best place to go is to my website drbeurkens.com and my last name is spelled B-E-U-R-K-E-N-S. At that website they can find the podcast, we've got all kinds of videos, articles, things that can help parents on their journey of understanding these types of things, and making changes. My book is available there, and there is something that people can download for free called The Five Keys To Unlock Better Behavior Naturally, gets into more detail on some of the things we've talked about today, and gives some really practical suggestions in a variety of areas for things parents can start to do right now, to support their kids, and move them in a more positive direction, so people are welcome to go, and access that as well.

Andrea Wien: Fantastic, and we'll also link to all of that in the show notes. Thank you so much for the time today, and we'll talk to you soon.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens: \Thank you so much for having me.

Andrea Wien: Thanks so much for listening. This episode was powered by drmicrobiome.com. That's drmicrobiome.com. I'm your host Andrea Wien, and you can listen to new episodes of The Microbiome Report every Thursday wherever you get your podcasts. We'll catch you next time.

 

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