What Fidgeting and Hyperactivity Could Mean for Your Child
Everyone has seen Fidget Spinners in the news recently – or your child probably has one, (I have three of them in my house!). Why are these so popular? Some of this is just a fad like Pokemon cards or bottle flipping, and some of it is because of real problems with children fidgeting, being hyperactive and struggling to pay attention to what we want them to be doing instead.
Fidgeting and hyperactivity can include;
- Constantly playing with items in hands
- Not sitting still, wiggling in chairs
- Getting up and down
- Swinging on chairs
- Constantly interrupting
- Not listening
It’s easy to dismiss these as normal childhood behaviours. Sometimes they are, but sometimes they’re not. Fidgeting and hyperactivity can be a sign that a number of the body’s systems are not functioning as well as they should be.
Why take a closer look?
If you are able to identify the foods your child is eating, that are known to contribute to fidgeting and hyperactivity and take appropriate action, you will;
- Help improve your child’s self esteem, because they won’t be getting in trouble all the time
- Help improve their ability to learn, because they will be better able to pay attention and focus on class activities
- Improve the quality of your relationship with them by avoiding the need to constantly nag them and tell them off
If you don’t address these known contributors to fidgeting and hyperactivity, you will most likely continue having to deal with the common challenges this behaviour causes, including;
- Your child getting in trouble
- Having to go into meetings with teachers over disruptive class behaviour
- Frustration at the dinner table
- Being late for school
- Fighting over unfinished homework
These problems can be symptoms of the nervous, immune and gastrointestinal systems not functioning well. They can be caused or compounded by what your children are eating, and you can make changes to help reduce these problems. Read on to learn what’s going on inside your child’s body and what you can do about it.
What’s Happening Inside the Body
There are three body systems that when under stress can lead to the fidgeting and hyperactivity that you are seeing.
The Nervous system
The nervous system is a network that sends messages between the brain and the body via the spinal cord. This is two way traffic. The body can send signals to the brain, as well as the brain sending signals to the body. Some food can trigger signals to the brain that cause it to release stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These are the “fight or flight” hormones that give us high levels of energy and alertness when we are in danger. You want this when you need to jump out of the way of a speeding car…but our kids don’t need them in these high levels in the classroom or at the dinner table. Imagine having a ball of energy like this inside you and being told to sit still and pay attention. That’s a lot to ask of an adult, let alone a child. If this happening on a regular basis it can have long term health effects.
The Immune System
The immune systems does more than just help protect our body from infection. It also sends signals to our cells and tissues instructing them to make repairs. If your child is irritated by, or intolerant of certain foods, the immune system will cause inflammation in the body as a protection mechanism. This can cause the nervous system to go into flight or fight mode because the inflammation means the body is under stress.
Gastrointestinal System (Gut)
The gut breaks down the food we eat and absorbs the nutrients from the food for the body to use. When the gut is not functioning well;
- There can be a lack of the nutrients needed for the nervous and immune systems to function properly
- The vital role that gut bacteria plays in regulating the nervous systems production of serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline can be compromised
- It can directly cause inflammation that triggers the stress response in the nervous system
For example, dopamine is produced by the nervous system and allows us to regulate emotional responses. Serotonin is responsible for maintaining mood balance and impulse control. An imbalance in these can make it more difficult for your child to sit still and concentrate at school. Again, they are being asked to do something that their body is not able to support.
So, you can see a healthy gut is vital in many ways and many of the children I treat have underlying gut health problems.
What Food Can Contribute to These Problems
There are many foods that can contribute to these problems. I have outlined some of the most common offenders below.
When your child eats a meal or snack high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, (such as muesli bars, sweetened yoghurt, or white bread) this raises their blood sugar which then causes a massive excretion of insulin from the pancreas to bring it back down again. This triggers the “flight or fight” response in the nervous system sparking off an increase of adrenalin – a ball of energy that can lead to hyperactivity and fidgeting, (not to mention anxiety and other behavioural problems).
Artificial colours have also been linked to hyperactivity in children. Here are some to look out for;
Quinoline yellow 104
Sunset yellow 110
Ponceau 4R 124
Allura red 129
Preservatives & Flavour Enhancers
Some preservatives that are commonly found in products marketed to our kids such as juice, sports drinks, crackers and bread have been linked to hyperactivity in kids. These include;
Nitrates, nitrites 249-252
Antioxidants 310-312, 319-321
Flavour enhancers Code
Glutamates including MSG 620-625
Ribonucleotides 627, 631, 635
Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein HVP
Textured Vegetable Protein TVP
Imagine What It’s Like for Your Child
So imagine your child has had cereal for breakfast, a muesli bar for recess, a ham & cheese sandwich for lunch with a juice box followed by afternoon tea of tiny teddies and a milo and you’re trying to get them to eat their veggies at dinner time……
This fairly typical diet contains a cocktail of sugar, additives, preservatives and artificial colours that set your child off on a rollercoaster ride that goes up and down all day.
Imagine a child who is on this rollercoaster ride, whilst trying to sit in their chair and concentrate on what the teacher is saying to avoid getting in trouble. It’s no wonder that by dinner time, when you have prepared a healthy meal for them, that they won’t sit still!
It’s also not just the man-made things we need to be on the lookout for. Common food allergens including dairy, nuts, eggs, soy, corn and gluten, can also trigger the “fight or flight” response. There are also the natural chemicals in some foods such as salicylates, amines and glutamate that can trigger hyperactivity in children.
What Else to Look Out For
Children suffering in these circumstances will also often be dealing with;
- Constipation, diarrhoea (or combination of both), bloating, cramps & tummy aches
- Headaches, rashes and disrupted sleep patterns
- Sore or aching joints
- Lack of appetite or always hungry
- Cravings for sugary or starchy foods
These symptoms, may be contributing factors for kids who are struggling with behavior, focus, and learning difficulties.
What Can you Do About It?
So you can see that fidgeting and hyperactivity (which often end up with parents and teachers nagging or punishing kids), can be the result of the body not working the way it should, and this is often caused by the food they are eating. If you are experiencing this and are serious about making a change, then the best place to start is by getting a clearer picture of what is going on. Here are the exact steps you can take to do this;
Download my Food & Symptom Journal (see link below) and follow the instructions provided. The journal is a valuable tool I use with my clients and provides an easy way to record your child’s food consumption and the signs and symptoms you are concerned about.
When you have completed the journal and have reviewed it to identify possible problems requiring further action, book into see a qualified practitioner (like me) and use the Food & Symptom Journal to help you in your discussions. You can also book a free 20 minute phone consultation with me if you’re not sure where to start.
In most cases, reducing your child’s consumption of processed foods is a good idea. In the case of Fidgeting and Hyperactivity you should focus on reducing your consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates, artificial colours and preservatives. If you are looking for tips on how to do this, join the discussion in my private Facebook group.
In most cases, increasing your child’s consumption of fresh whole foods is also a good idea. In the case of Fidgeting and Hyperactivity increasing your child’s consumption of foods rich in zinc, magnesium, omega-3, iron and B vitamins will help. If you are looking for tips on how to do this, join the discussion in my private Facebook group.
Without action, there can be no change. The steps above will help you, but only if you take those steps. In my Food & Symptom Journal I encourage my clients to be very clear about what changes they want to make and why they want to make those changes. This simple exercise can provide the clarity, direction and motivation necessary to help your children live longer, healthier and happier lives. Download the journal and make a start on your own “what and why” for change.