Did you know that about 70% of the body’s immune system is in the gut? The ‘bugs’ that live in our bellies and the food we eat provide information to our immune cells and have an enormous impact on our health and the health of our children.
Supporting the gut is fundamental to health. Parents are surprised to learn their child has poor digestion and these symptoms are there to warn us of a deeper digestive issue. In many cases kids have moderate to severe digestive inflammation that presents as bloating, eczema, gas and the like while others have aggression and attention issues.
Many of the symptoms listed below are treated in isolation and digestive issues are not always tested when these symptoms are present. However, any of the below issues may be a sign of a problem that starts in the gut.
1. Picky Eating
This is a common thing among children of all ages and many parents are told this is normal. We cannot expect children to appreciate a 5-course meal, but we can expect them to eat more than those 5-10 foods. When many parents are told that their children are being stubborn, an underlying digestive issues may cause picky eating.
2. Abdominal Bloating
A bloated or distended stomach is usually an uncomfortable condition, regardless of the cause. It can be worrisome to parents if their child’s stomach appears distended without an obvious reason, and young children may find it difficult to articulate what they are feeling. Abdominal bloating may be present due to gas buildup or constipation which are treated with medication. However, the underlying cause often starts in the gut and must be treated to reduce or eliminate abdominal bloating.
3. Excessive gas
Passing gas on a daily basis is normal. The average child passes gas at least 10 to 12 times a day, and even up to 23 times a day can be normal. If your child is passing gas more than this amount, this may be a sign of excessive gas and the underlying cause may be the sign of a more serious digestive issue.
Anger and irritability are among the most common reasons parents consult mental health professionals. Anger and severe disruptive behavior are the most common reasons for child psychiatric hospitalization. These children often go straight to mental health professionals and bypass testing for issues that may start in the gut. Again, the symptoms are treated, but the underlying cause in the gut remains. Along with mental health treatments, it’s critical to have an irritable child tested for more serious digestive issues.
5. Aggressive Behavior
In children with ADHD, the most common of them, impulsivity and poor decision-making can lead to behavior that’s interpreted as aggressive. The children often receive medication and mental health treatment, but the cause of this aggressive behavior may start in the gut. Again, it’s critical to have a child that exhibits aggressive behavior tested for digestive issues.
6. Decreased Appetite
Has your child turned into Ms/Mr Picky overnight? Have they always had a limited selection of food they will eat? Are they now refusing to eat foods that used to be their favorites? Is your child losing weight as a result of decreased appetite? Picky eating is not “normal” and is usually due to pain they feel. If weight loss is present with a decreased appetite, it is a sign of a serious digestive issue and much more than just stubbornness or picky eating.
7. Trouble Gaining Weight
During infancy and childhood, children gain weight and grow more rapidly than at any other time in life. However, some children do not gain weight at a normal rate because of poor nutrition resulting from digestive issues. Poor nutrition is sometimes called a growth deficit or failure to thrive and is a sign of a serious digestive issue that needs to be addressed.
8. Trouble Falling or Staying Asleep
According to surveys of American parents, 20-30% of young children have significant problems going to bed and/or awakening during the night. This often goes untreated and some children are even given harmful medications or supplements that could throw off their natural hormonal balance. If your child is having trouble falling or staying asleep, consider testing them for digestive issues first. You may be surprised to find that the problem actually starts in their gut.
If your child is constipated, their stomach may appear bloated and be firm to the touch. The best way to determine whether your child is constipated is to take note of the frequency and consistency of her bowel movements. If the bowel movements are not daily and/or appear particularly hard, they may be constipated. Constipation may stem from poor eating habits or a more serious digestive condition.
10. Large Volumes of Stool
The amount a child eats may not be correlated to how much stool they produce. Digestive disorders cause large, bulky stools even in children who don’t eat a lot. The size of your child’s stools has more to do with how well they digest foods than how much they eat. Some gastrointestinal disorders also cause poor food breakdown and absorption, which leads to large, bulky stools.
At one time or another, many children have had heartburn (an uncomfortable feeling in the chest) after eating. When these symptoms happen often or aren’t tied to certain ingredients, they might be due to gastroesophageal reflux (GER) — also called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This can cause vomiting and irritability. And in older kids and teens, GER can lead to heartburn, and stomach and chest discomfort.
12. Bed Wetting
Children who wet the bed are not lazy, willful, or disobedient. Bed wetting is most often a developmental issue and a sign of an underlying disease starting in the gut. Consistent bed wetters should be tested for underlying digestive issues.
Inattention in children is not always a result of ADHD. It may simply be a result of a chronic medical condition like hypothyroidism or digestive disease. It’s critical for parents to consider the various causes of inattention in their children in order to determine the best treatment.