Whether you’re at the beginning of your family's health revolution or somewhere in the middle, we all can use a little pep in our step or help to keep going. I know I definitely needed it! Finding the confidence to take charge of our family’s health and wellbeing is one of the toughest parts of being parents, so finding resources that can help us every step of the way is so important.
That’s why I am sharing this podcast today with Carla Atherton. Carla has written a wonderful book and has many resources for families around your Family Health Revolution. In this interview, she talks to us all about her own awakening to her family’s health revolution and what those steps can look like for you. We talk about how to reclaim your family’s health and she shares why she wrote such a comprehensive book and guide for all parents out there. You won’t want to miss Carla’s episode and make sure you grab her book in the links below!
The role of the vagus nerve in neurodevelopment and the health of our children couldn’t be more important. If the vagus nerve isn’t functioning optimally there can be a cascade effect on their health and development and there will be a major block to sustained progress in many interventions you may be using. Let’s review together the foundational role of the vagus nerve in our children’s health and development.
What is the vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve is the tenth (X) cranial nerve and is the longest nerve in the body. It originates in the brainstem and then, like its Latin name implies, it wanders through the body connecting to the organs throughout the entire body. The vagus nerve is a complex bidirectional system which means it is made up of both efferent and afferent nerves that link the brainstem to various organs. Efferent nerves are motor nerves that carry messages from the brain to the muscles and organs. Afferent nerves are sensory nerves that carry messages from sensory receptors back to the brain.
What is the vagus nerve's role in the nervous system?
The vagus nerve plays a role in the part of the peripheral nervous system known as the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which is responsible for automatic or involuntary physiological response throughout the body such as heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and digestion. The ANS is made up of three parts: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) and the Enteric Nervous System (ENS).1
The understanding of the importance of the vagus nerve continues to evolve. One of its most important functions is its role in the digestive system via the Enteric Nervous System and the body’s ability to appropriately switch between a Sympathetic nervous state (fight or flight) and a Parasympathetic nervous state (rest and digest).
One of the areas of keen study on the vagus nerve is its role in the gut-brain axis. Digestion is a north-to-south process in the body and digestion starts in the brain. For example, if your child is struggling with switching from a sympathetic state to a parasympathetic state, then they will likely have chronic digestive problems as the digestive cascade will not have been appropriately triggered which will lead to downstream digestive dysfunction.
In addition, the Enteric Nervous System is the nervous system of the digestive system. An example of the role of the vagus nerve to gut function is when the efferent vagus nerves send signals to the Enteric Nervous System which in turn send signals to the muscles of the digestive tract to initiate peristalsis (move the food along the digestive tract). If the vagus nerve is not functioning optimally this can result in several digestive challenges including but not limited to constipation.2
As the vagus nerve impacts gut function, it can result in gut dysfunction such as dysbiosis and leaky gut which in turn have been shown to have a significant impact on brain function.
What are the signs and symptoms of vagus nerve dysfunction in children?
Gastroparesis (in severe cases of vagus nerve impairment)
Requiring constant digestive supports (enzymes)
Low heart rate variability (HRV)
Poor or overactive gag reflex
A child that is having difficulty with toilet training
Delays in walking or crawling
What can you do to improve vagal tone in children?
This is a tricky one. Most of the typical suggestions that work would be difficult to implement with children, although the list below includes them as it really depends on the age and development of each child.
This list is not exhaustive and there is always debate over which methods are most effective and can really improve vagal tone and elicit positive neuroplasticity. There is evidence, however, that using a multimodal approach can have positive effects.3
Triggering the gag reflex
Vagal Nerve Stimulation – there are several different tools available these days that use electrical stimulation and/or vibration
If you want to learn more about the role of the vagus nerve and the gut brain axis, I encourage you to watch the free expert interview replays on The Anxiety Summit 5 with Dr. Navaz Habib, the author of the bookActivate Your Vagus Nerve: Unleash Your Body's Natural Ability to Heal and the interview with Dr. Datis Kharazzian, author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working.
I hope this introduction to the importance of the vagus nerve has been helpful. Take the next step and watch the expert interviews by signing up here.
I’m sure you’ve heard the words “holistic parenting” and “inflammation”, but do we really know what they mean? I know I have spent so much time learning about the ins and outs of my child’s health, but sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. That’s why I love bringing on guests to the My Child Will Thrive Podcast who can help us learn about the world of holistic health and wellness without feeling totally stuck in the process.
So I’m excited to share with you today the knowledge and the amazing energy that emulates from Dr. Madiha Saeed. Dr. Saeed takes us through holistic parenting, inflammation in our children’s health and how our children make decisions (and how we can help them make BETTER ones!) We also talked about her new book, “The Holistic Rx for Kids,” that just came out. Dr. Saeed is a joy to learn from and I can’t wait for you to hear her episode today!
When we are addressing such complex issues with our children’s neurological health we must always circle back to the foundations of health and how imbalances there may be the root cause of our children’s symptoms. Nothing is more foundational than looking at cellular health and in particular, cellular metabolism, the ability of our cells to make sufficient energy for the tissues/organs/systems that are made of the cells to do their jobs. After all, the brain is one of the highest consumers of energy in the human body!
Although there is still a need for more research, there are many indicators that we need to look at mitochondrial dysfunction as a key link to anxiety. Given the role of the gut-brain axis in brain health, it is not entirely surprising that the gut microbiome can both be impacted by poor mitochondrial health and disruption in the microbiome can lead to poor mitochondrial health. This bi-directional link between anxiety and mitochondrial dysfunction is the topic I discuss during my interview with Trudy Scott, CN for the Anxiety Summit 5.
What is the gut-brain axis?
The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication network that links the enteric, central and autonomic nervous systems. In a 2015 review article published in the Annals of Gastroenterology, the authors concluded that “Strong evidence suggests that gut microbiota has an important role in bidirectional interactions between the gut and the nervous system. It interacts with CNS by regulating brain chemistry and influencing neuro-endocrine systems associated with stress response, anxiety and memory function.”1
What are mitochondria and their role in the gut and the brain?
Mitochondria are descendants of aerobic bacteria that entered (literally and functionally) into a mutualistic partnership with ancient anaerobic microbes. “Nutrient metabolism is a function shared by both the microbiome and mitochondria. In recent years, it has become increasingly evident that the gut microbiome produces metabolites that influence mitochondrial function and biogenesis (i.e., mitochondrial replication within a cell to increase ATP production.)”2 Therefore if your child’s microbiome is out of balance (dysbiosis) then this, in turn, will negatively impact their mitochondrial function.
Mitochondria are responsible for the production of ATP, adenosine triphosphate, which is the body’s energy currency. It’s used to transfer the chemical energy needed for all metabolic reactions in the body.
Mitochondria are found in every cell—from five hundred to two thousand per cell, depending on the type of tissue the cell is found in and how energy-dependent that tissue is. Mitochondria even have their own DNA. (In other words, they are important.) The mitochondria break nutrients down to produce ATP, a process that generates free radicals within the mitochondria called reactive oxygen species (ROS).
Free radicals are oxidative molecules that must be neutralized by antioxidants or they damage cells and tissue. The body’s master antioxidant, glutathione, is the primary antioxidant that neutralizes reactive oxygen species to reduce oxidative damage to the mitochondria
Bottom line is if we have an imbalance of ROS and antioxidants this results in oxidative stress which impairs mitochondrial function.
What happens when mitochondria are impaired? How does this relate to symptoms of anxiety?
In the July 2019 issue of Trends in Neuroscience, a review article concludes that mitochondria are now being recognized as modulators in anxiety-related behaviour. There is a bidirectional link between mitochondria and anxiety.
Specifically, they state that: “Mitochondrial, energy metabolism and oxidative stress alterations are observed in high anxiety and conversely changed mitochondrial function can lead to heightened anxiety symptoms.”3
An increasing number of studies are revealing that several other mitochondrial-related functions, such as oxidative stress, apoptosis, neurosteroid production and mitochondrial biogenesis are also altered in individuals with high anxiety.4 A case study series published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry Clinical Neuroscience, case study series evaluating mitochondrial dysfunction present in various psychiatric conditions including anxiety also identified how mitochondrial dysfunction is reported to be present in 70% of adult patients reporting a major psychiatric disorder and 50% of children with a mitochondrial disorder have depression.5
Who here is feeling exhausted? I know it’s not just me! Raising children with mental health and neurodevelopmental challenges is often a dark and silent journey. Our kids have resources and support for their journey, but where do we gain the support we need to be our best self and caretaker?
I know it feels almost impossible to focus on our own health when we’re so distracted with helping our children with their healing journey, but this episode is your permission to do just that.
I brought Kris Rice on the My Child Will Thrive Podcast to share with us her tools and resources she created along her journey over the last 10 years of working with and raising a child with mental health struggles. I hope you enjoy this podcast and give yourself permission to get unstuck!
As parents, we’re all looking for the best therapies for our kids. Whether it’s finding the best doctor to work with, finding ways to improve development of their brain or digging into what small changes might help with regulating emotions and the autonomic nervous system (along with many more.) I started the Autism, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder Summit as a way for parents to learn from practitioners all over the world with different modalities that might spark some light for your child.
One modality that is enjoyed by adults and children alike is music. That’s why I brought on Alex Doman who is the founder of Advanced Brain Technologies and The Listening Program. Alex’s family has been working in this field for generations and he is passionate about using music to heal your child’s brain. In this interview that I’m sharing with you from the Autism, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder Summit, Alex explains to us the power of sound to shape the brain, to shape emotion, to influence learning and behavior.
If you’ve ever thought that treatments and therapies are the only thing you have time for, then you are not alone. Sometimes as parents we can get stuck in the trenches of our child’s healing and we think that this is the only way to get to the “good things in life.” After speaking with today’s podcast guest, I had a great reminder about not just looking to the future but also ensuring our kids have the good things in life right now. My guest, Genia Stephen, founder and podcast host at The Good Things in Life, discussed how we can change our perspective on thinking about what are the good things in life for our children.
Genia believes that therapies and treatments, while helpful and necessary, tend to focus on what we can change or fix about our child and she teaches on changing that perspective to focus on strategies that help our children build wonderful lives right now. She takes us through a few of those strategies and how to incorporate them into your life. I hope you enjoy this episode with Genia Stephen as much as I did!
One of the most common questions I get here at My Child Will Thrive is why do I need to keep a food journal for my child? Having a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder usually comes with a lot of frustrating nights searching the web to find something that may help your child and the idea of keeping a detailed journal can seem daunting. I remember spending countless hours researching ways to help my child and keeping a food journal was one of the best things I did not only for our family, but for our practitioners to get an inside look at what was happening in my child’s day-to-day food intake and digestion.
In today’s podcast, I share with you why keeping a journal is so important, why food, mood, digestion and hydration are so important to track and an upcoming implementation workshop I have where you can ask in-depth questions using my Food Mood Sleep and Poop Journal that is part of the My Child Will Thrive Tool Kit. I created this tool kit for parents just like you who want to gain confidence and clarity that they are making the best choices for their child based on their unique circumstances so that they can make forward progress faster.
I hope you enjoy today’s podcast episode about why you should be keeping a food journal! Let me know if there are any other topics you’d like for me to talk about on the My Child Will Thrive podcast.
As a parent of a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder, I was often overwhelmed by the options for therapies, tests and protocols that we should consider. It can be unnerving and have us question which path we should take for our child. Part of the process of determining the right path is being educated on these options. Having trusted practitioners to explain these therapies is crucial to our understanding of what to do next.
Photobiomodulation–low level laser therapy is one of the options to consider (and definitely one of my favorites) but it often brings up concerns about safety and questions about how it can truly help with brain function. This is why I reached out to Dr. Brandon Crawford to interview him for the Autism, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder Summit. Dr. Crawford is an expert in the field and is able to explain the use of Low Level Lasers in neurodevelopmental disorders and how this might be a good fit for your child too.
I decided I wanted to share this interview from the summit with the My Child Will Thrive Podcast listeners which is why I’ve released the full interview from the summit on the podcast this week, too.
When we work with our kids, it often feels like just that…work! When I come across an example of how we can get results without all the challenges that so many treatments and therapies entail I want to know more. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a person that developed his own simple and fun neuro rehab training program that can help you and your child with sensory processing, brain speed and other symptoms associated with autism and ADHD. On this episode of the My Child Will Thrive Podcast my guest, Trent McEntire, shares some of his favorite success stories that show you just how simple and effective this rehab program can be leveraging the power of neuroplasticity. The stories were so encouraging and heartwarming – make sure you listen right to the end to hear about them.
If you’re interested in learning more about brain speed and the power of neuroplasticity, I know you’ll enjoy this episode with Trent!