Saturday, Jan 29, 2022

Autism, ADHD, Learning Disorders & Anxiety in KIDS: The Role of Neuro-Inflammation

We are in the midst of a childhood epidemic of autism, ADHD, learning disorders and mood disorders. Here is the reality:The National Autism Spectrum ..


We are in the midst of a childhood epidemic of autism, ADHD, learning disorders and mood disorders.

Here is the reality:

  • The National Autism Spectrum Disorder Surveillance System (NASS) Report of 2018 estimates autism's prevalence in Canada as 1 in 66 children. A gender breakdown looks like 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.

  • The Ontario Child Health Study found 6.1% of 4-16 year olds have ADHD, with the Quebec Child Mental Health Survey found slightly lower rates at 5.4%. ADHD can exist with or without hyperactivity (troubles sitting still, fidgeting), and with or without attention deficit (problems in school or at home).

  • Statistics Canada states that 3.2% of Canadian children have a learning disability.

  • Mental health issues such as anxiety impact children as well. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association 3% of children and youth experience anxiety.

    When you start to put all of those things together, it’s easy to see that our kids brains are suffering.

The ABC’s of Kid’s Brains

A: autism, attention problems, anxiety

B: behavioural issues, brain dysfunction

C: children can’t cope

Children are being diagnosed with various conditions, but these conditions all have one thing in common: NEURO-INFLAMMATION. The research literature supports the idea that inflammation is a driving factor in all of these conditions.


Inflammation can be triggered from a variety of sources such as environmental toxins, infection or the food we eat.  Regardless of the trigger, the mechanism behind inflammation is similar.  

 The immune system views toxins, infections and certain foods as something that is dangerous to your body, and it will react to exposure to anything it views as dangerous.  When the immune system is activated it stimulates the production of chemical mediators such as cytokines that can access the brain (cross the Blood Brain Barrier) and trigger the brain’s immune cells to release more chemical mediators.  Many of these mediators are inflammatory.  

The inflammatory mediators impact brains cells in a variety of ways and can impact the function of neurotransmitters, and neuropeptides, as well as lead to significant changes in brain activity, function (1), and plasticity (2). It’s this alteration in brain activity that is driving your child’s symptoms.


Diet can help to manage inflammation. A good starting point is to replace inflammatory foods with anti-inflammatory foods. The following charts include a NO! list of inflammatory foods, and a YES! list of foods that are good replacement options. In particular it is important to consume anti-inflammatory fats and a variety of fruits and vegetables that are anti-inflammatory. Berries, fatty fish like salmon, and even chocolate are excellent anti-inflammatory foods — but be careful that you aren’t choosing chocolate full of sugar! One of my kids’ favourites is a honey sweetened chocolate called Heavenly Organics. It can be found in many health food stores, or ordered online.


To print the NO! list click here! Use this list in combination with the YES! list to help your child make better choices.

Kids don’t want to be told that they can’t have their favourite foods. Instead talk to them about how some foods hurt their brain, while others help their brain work better. Kids know they are struggling, and they want to do their best. Food can be one way to help them achieve that. Focus on the YES! list. Ask your child to help you make a shopping list using the YES! list, or take them shopping with you to help choose items.


To print the YES! list click here! This is a great list to stick on the fridge for your child to look at. Spend some time talking to your child about how these foods can help their brain work better.

Try this delicious milkshake that combines the anti-inflammatory power of strawberries, cocoa and avocado.


1 cup frozen strawberries
1 ripe avocado
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup almond or coconut milk (or more if it’s too thick)

Place the ingredients into a blender, and blend on high speed until creamy smooth. Pour into a glass and add your child’s favourite straw.


While food can be a powerful way to mitigate inflammation, there is a deeper question that ultimately needs to be asked: why is there inflammation?

While diet can certainly be contributing to inflammation, there are many other factors that can contribute as well. Some of those factors include heavy metal or environmental toxicity. The health of the gut is another factor that can contribute. To bring down neuro-inflammation as much as possible, it is important to work with an integrative or naturopathic doctor who can guide you through the necessary testing to figure out ALL the inflammatory factors that need to be addressed.


  1. Replace the NO! foods with the YES! foods. Add the YES! foods to your shopping list, and pick them up on your next shopping trip. Print the lists for easy reference, and have them posted in the kitchen so that everyone in the family can see them.

  2. Have the whole family eat the YES! foods. They will benefit everyone, not just your struggling child (adult brains need the same foods if you want good memory and concentration as you age!) Your child is much more likely to eat the YES! foods if everyone else is eating them too.

  3. Book an appointment with an integrative, functional or naturopathic doctor to further explore factor’s contributing to your child’s neuro-inflammation. A specific dietary approach may be suggested based on test results.

You can also do a bit of research on your own if you want. This is optional — a practitioner can help you, but if you are the type of person who likes to delve into things then this is for you. There are a variety of protocols that are anti-inflammatory, and that address some of the contributing factors to inflammation such as toxicity and gut health. The GAPS diet, and a Paleo diet are options you could explore.


Picky eating is another sign of inflammation in the brain. Work with a nutritional consultant who has experience in working with picky eaters to ensure that your child gets all those amazing anti-inflammatory foods into their body.

Happy, Healthy Eating!


By: Tracey Reed
Title: Autism, ADHD, Learning Disorders & Anxiety in KIDS: The Role of Neuro-Inflammation
Sourced From:
Published Date: Mon, 18 Jan 2021 18:34:00 +0000

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