Screentime and Children

Children’s brains are much more sensitive to electronics use than we realize. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take much electronic stimulation to throw a sensitive and developing brain off track. Children who are over-stimulated can present as easily agitated and “revved” up, or depressed and apathetic.

According to Dr. Victoria Dunckley in Psychology Today, a child with these symptoms may be given a mental-health diagnosis such as major depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD, and offered corresponding treatments, including therapy and medication. But often these treatments have limitations and side effects, and the downward spiral continues.

Similar to how we treat in East Asian Medicine, the root cause of the problem can be over-stimulation from electronics. There are six physiological changes that produce mood disturbances:

  1. Sleep disruption and desynchronizes the body clock – Light from screen devices mimics day light, which affects melatonin levels. Stimulated by darkness, melatonin signals the body to sleep. If sleep is disrupted, other systems are affected such as hormonal imbalances and balance inflammation.
  2. Desensitizes the brain’s reward system – The chemical released by the brain is dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter. But when reward pathways are overused, they become less sensitive, and more and more stimulation is needed to experience pleasure. However, dopamine is also critical for focus and motivation.
  3. Screentime produces “light at night” – Animal studies have shown that exposure to light before bedtime, even if not looking at it, may cause depression.
  4. Induces stress reactions – Acute and chronic stress situations have shown to produce changes in brain chemistry and hormones can cause irritability. Hyperarousal affects the frontal lobe, which is where mood regulation occurs.
  5. Overloads the sensory system, fractures attention, and depletes mental reserves – Poor focus leads to aggressive and explosive behavior. High visual and cognitive input contributes to low reserves. Meltdowns become a coping mechanism for depleted reserves, as they are a temporary boost.
  6. Reduces physical activity and “green” time – Time outdoors in nature has been shown to restore attention, lower stress and reduce aggression.

Treating children with East Asian Medicine including acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition and other energy work, assists the nervous system in moving from sympathetic, or “fight or flight”, to parasympathetic, or “rest and digest.” We tailor treatments to the specific root cause of issues, while simultaneously treating symptoms. By allowing our bodies to enter a calmer state, we are realigned with our natural state of health, or homeostasis. This leads to happier, calmer and stronger children and families.

Acid Reflux in Children: Why Stomach Acid is Not the Villain

Many babies and children born recently are struggling with acid reflux. This is true of both breastfed and formula fed infants. So what’s really happening? Is too much stomach acid really the problem? Or is it something else? Let’s explore what it looks like and how acupuncture, herbal medicine and nutrition can help.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux in Children

While reflux is common in children, some parents may not even be aware that their child has it. Common symptoms of acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in children are: 

  • Frequent or recurrent vomiting 
  • Frequent or persistent cough
  • Refusing to eat or difficulty eating (choking or gagging with feeding)
  • Crying with feeding or after feeding
  • Heartburn, gas, or abdominal pain
  • Colic
  • Poor growth
  • Breathing problems
  • Recurrent pneumonia

Why Does Reflux Happen?

Children’s digestive systems are underdeveloped and therefore very sensitive. They have voracious appetites, yet their young digestive capabilities struggle to keep up. Also, reflux can occur due to eating too quickly, overeating, eating too close to bedtime, or eating while emotional. It’s also important to look at food quality as well - processed foods loaded with chemicals and preservatives are not easy for the body to digest, increasing the load on an already vulnerable system. 

Stomach Acid: From Zero to Hero

In the infinite wisdom of the human body, the stomach was designed to produce the acid that is necessary for proper digestion of food. Stomach acid has numerous important roles in the body: 

  • Breakdown of proteins into a form that they can be digested (called proteolysis).
  • Activation of the enzyme pepsin, which is responsible for protein digestion.
  • Inhibiting the growth of microorganisms that enter the body through food to prevent infection.
  • Signaling when the food (referred to as chyme) is ready to leave the stomach and move into the small intestine for continued digestion

Why Acid Reducing Medicines Are Not the Best Solution for Children’s Acid Reflux

A variety of medications such as antacids (Mylanta or Tums) or acid blockers (Zantac, Pepcid, Tagamet and Prilosec) are frequently given to work with GERD in children. However, these medications may have unintentional side effects. 

When stomach acid production is low, dysfunction throughout the digestive system can occur, leading to numerous symptoms and disease processes. The body is designed to keep the food in the stomach until it reaches the proper pH level. Therefore, when stomach acid production is low, food sits in the stomach for a longer period of time without the nutrients being broken down properly. At the same time, the low stomach acid promotes an environment that is more friendly to the growth of microorganisms, which are fed by the carbohydrates that become fermented from sitting in the stomach for too long. Eventually, excessive pressure from the bacterial overgrowth and poorly digested food results.

Once the stomach empties its contents, the small intestine also responds to the pH level. Enzymes are not released and large, undigested food particles can pass through the lining of the small intestine, leading to a leaky gut. Undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream where your body’s immune system recognizes them as foreign invaders. This triggers a systemic immune response that can lead to food sensitivities, inflammation, and autoimmune disease

Low stomach acid has been linked to:

  • Heartburn
  • GERD
  • Indigestion and bloating
  • Burping or gas after meals
  • Excessive fullness or discomfort after meals
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Chronic intestinal infections
  • Undigested food in stools
  • Food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities
  • Acne
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Mineral and nutrient deficiencies (including iron and/or vitamin B12 deficiency)
  • Dry skin or hair
  • Weak or cracked nails
  • Asthma
  • Depression
  • Osteoporosis
  • Any autoimmune disease diagnosis

A Holistic Approach to Treating Acid Reflux in Children

Treating acid reflux in children involves a comprehensive approach that not only supports a child’s vulnerable digestive system, but also helps to make them stronger.

Reflux in children is treated effectively and safely with adjustments in diet, and assistance from acupuncture and herbal therapies. 

Here are a few tips to incorporate at home:

  • For breastfed infants, proper feeding position and amount is very important. For those of you who are local in Denver, places like AmaryllisThe Family Room and The Mama’Hood offer classes and support. For formula infants, it’s important to find a formula that is easy to digest. Organic brands are best to not expose children to modified foods and hormones.
  • Wait 30 minutes before putting your child to sleep. A full tummy before bed can create restlessness. 
  • Cutting back on refined sugars, often found in foods packaged for children is a huge step towards improving reflux. Studies show a low refined carbohydrate diet was reliable for helping with reflux. 
  • Research has shown certain probiotic strains are helpful with emptying the stomach more quickly. 
  • Gentle clockwise massages around the belly button supports children’s digestive systems, connects parent and child in a beautiful bond, and feels nourishing.  
  • Encourage slow eating surrounded by warmth and love. 

With gentle nurturing and guidance, acid reflux can resolve naturally and effectively.

 

Indrio, F., Riezzo, G., Raimondi, F., Bisceglia, M., Filannino, A., Cavallo, L. and Francavilla, R. (2011),Lactobacillus reuteri accelerates gastric emptying and improves regurgitation in infants. European Journal of Clinical Investigation, 41: 417–422. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2362.2010.02425.x

Leonard J, Marshall JK, Moayyedi P. Systematic review of the risk of enteric infection in patients taking acid suppression. Am J Gastroenterol. 2007;102(9):2047–2056

Wright, J. & Lenard, L. (2001). Why Stomach Acid is Good for You: Natural Relief from Heartburn, Indigestion, Reflux, and GERD. Lanham, Maryland: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.

Yancy, W. Improvement of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease after Initiation of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet: Five Brief Case Reports. Journal of Alternative Therapies. Dec 2001; 7

Acupuncture for Allergies

Seasonal allergies are quite common, and characterized by episodes of nasal congestion, watery nasal discharge, sneezing and irritation of the eyes and throat. It can be caused by hypersensitivity to pollen, grass, dust, fungus, animal dander and saliva, fumes and food substances.

Allergies and the Immune System

Allergy symptoms are a response to an exterior threat to the immune system. In East Asian medicine, part of the immune system is what we call Protective qi. Protective qi acts like a suit of armor, preventing external environmental pathogens and substances from entering the body. If our protective qi is compromised and weakened, this leaves us vulnerable to the environmental influences.

The Immunity and Digestive Connection

Protective qi is created by our digestive system – mainly the Spleen and Stomach organs in Eastern medicine. Modern research also validates this finding with studies confirming 60-70 % of our immune system is located in the gut through the vast network of lymphatic tissue. To support our protective qi, it is important that we nourish ourselves with foods that work with our individual body types and constitutions. Incorporating a lifestyle that will strengthen our Spleen and Stomach qi supports our protective qi, and leaves us less vulnerable to allergies.

The Spleen and Stomach Lifestyle

Our modern lifestyles are tough on our Spleen and Stomach qi. They are affected by eating greasy, fried, sugary foods, over-working/over-thinking, skipping meals or eating while distracted by work, emotions, or TV/phones. In order to keep our bodies healthy and functioning optimally, here are a few recommendation.

Ways to enhance Spleen and Stomach Qi

  • Acupuncture assists in building immunity, decreasing inflammation, assisting digestive motility and boosting your energy.
  • The Spleen loves predictability – regular meal schedule and downtime in between meals. Snacking or grazing puts additional stress on the system.
  • Chew your food! Not chewing thoroughly uses additional energy to break down the food particles.
  • Pay attention to posture while eating – being hunched over your food impairs the function of the digestive organs.
  • Be weary of over-eating. This overloads the Spleen and it spends more qi trying to sort through the heavy load.
  • Light exercise like walking, even after meals, is a great idea.
  • Foods that support the Spleen include:
  1. Soups and stews
  2. Root vegetables
  3. Orange and yellow squash
  4. Chicken and eggs
  5. Beef
  • Foods that harm the Spleen include:
  1. Sugar – sugar is in everything in our modern processed diets. In small amounts, sugar is ok, but consume as little as you can (this includes honey, agave nectar, and other sweeteners).
  2. Unhealthy fats – fried foods, hydrogenated oils, and vegetable oils are difficult for the Spleen to process, leading to phlegm in the body. Dairy can also fall into this category if it is pasteurized and homogenized. Fermented dairy like yogurt and kefir is better. Raw milk is also safe, and contains beneficial enzymes and bacteria. Healthier fats include butter (especially grass-fed), coconut oil, and olive oil.
  3. Uncooked and cold foods – cooking your foods lightens the load on your digestive system. (Ice cream is the triple threat – cold, high sugar, and dairy). Otherwise, your body needs to warm up these foods in order to break it down and extract the nutrition. Steaming or stir-frying vegetables is beneficial, and the net effect of cooking is better nutrition.

7 Things I Wish More People Knew About Depression

By Dr. Kelly Brogan for MindBodyGreen

We have been told that depression is always caused by a chemical imbalance and cured by a chemical fix—a prescription. More than 30 million Americans take antidepressants, including one in seven women, and one in four women of reproductive age. Millions more are tempted to try them to end chronic, unyielding distress, irritability, and emotional “offness”—trapped by an exhausting inner agitation they can’t shake.

Leaders in the field are beginning to accept that this is not the whole story. Science is leading us to explore the way the human body interacts with our intellect. Your body reacts to certain things positively and certain things negatively. These are "symptoms" of great causes.

I believe depression is a meaningful symptom of a biological mismatch with our lifestyleswe eat poorly, harbor too much stress, lack sufficient physical movement, deprive ourselves of natural sunlight, expose ourselves to environmental toxins, and take too many drugs. I believe that inflammation is the language the body speaks, expressing imbalance, inviting change. We usually suppress these symptoms with medication. That, to me, is like turning off the smoke alarm when your house is on fire.

Let’s get the facts straight:

1. Depression is not necessarily the result of a chemical imbalance.

Inflammation is a manifestation of irregularities in the body. The medical literature has emphasized the role of inflammation in mental illness for more than 20 years. It takes an average of 17 years for the data that exposes inefficacy and/or a signal of harm, to trickle down into your doctor’s daily routine. This time lag problem makes medicine’s standard of care “evidence-based” in theory but not necessarily in practice.

 

A study by Jeffrey R. Lacasse and Jonathan Leo explains,

There is no scientifically established ideal “chemical balance” of serotonin, let alone an identifiable pathological imbalance. To equate the impressive recent achievements of neuroscience with support for the serotonin hypothesis is a mistake.

With direct proof of serotonin deficiency in any mental disorder lacking, the claimed efficacy of SSRIs is often cited as indirect support for the serotonin hypothesis ... The fact that aspirin cures headaches does not prove that headaches are due to low levels of aspirin in the brain. 

So, if you think a drug can "fix" you, you will be disappointed. It's the equivalent of putting a bandage on a bullet wound.

2. Antidepressants have the potential to irreversibly damage your brain's natural ability to regulate itself.

Antidepressants have been shown in scientific studies to increase our risk of liver damage, bleeding, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and reduced cognitive function. The dirtiest little secret of all is the fact that antidepressants are among the most difficult drugs to taper from.

While you might call it “going through withdrawal,” we medical professionals have been instructed to call it “discontinuation syndrome,” which can be characterized by fiercely debilitating physical and psychological reactions. Moreover, antidepressants have a well-established history of causing violent side effects, including suicide and homicide. In fact, 5 of the top 10 most violence-inducing drugs have been found to be antidepressants.

3. The effect is not a cure.

Even if we accepted the proposition that these drugs are helpful for some people, extrapolating a medical cause from this observation would be akin to saying that shyness is caused by a deficiency of alcohol or that headaches are caused by a lack of codeine.

4. Most prescriptions for antidepressants are doled out by family doctors—not psychiatrists.

Eleven percent of all visits to a primary care doctor are for psychiatric purposes. Many people who take antidepressants don't meet the medical criteria for a bona fide diagnosis of major depression.

5. Your body's symptoms might not be telling you you're depressed.

Many different physical conditions create psychiatric symptoms but aren’t themselves “psychiatric.” Two prime examples: dysfunctioning thyroid and blood sugar chaos. We sometimes hear that to heal these symptoms, we need to “cure” the brain, but in reality we need to look at the whole body’s ecosystem: intestinal health, hormonal interactions, the immune system and autoimmune disorders, blood sugar balance, and toxicant exposure.

6. Changing your lifestyle can enhance your body's powerful self-healing mechanisms used to fight depression.

Dietary modifications (more healthy fats and less sugar, dairy, and gluten) and natural supplements like B vitamins and probiotics are a start. Minimizing exposures to biology-disrupting toxicants like fluoride in tap water, chemicals in common drugs like ibuprofen and statins, and fragrances in cosmetics will also encourage your body's healing process. Harnessing the power of sufficient sleepand physical movement and behavioral techniques aimed at promoting the relaxation response is the third crucial element of self-healing.

7. Depression is an opportunity.

It is a sign for us to stop and figure out what’s causing our imbalance rather than just masking, suppressing, or rerouting the symptoms. It’s a chance to choose a new story, to engage in radical transformation, to say yes to a different life experience.

 

Kelly Brogan, M.D. is a Manhattan-based holistic women’s health psychiatrist, author of the book, A Mind of Your Own and co-editor of the landmark textbook,Integrative Therapies for Depression. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from MIT in Systems Neuroscience. She is board certified in psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine, and integrative holistic medicine, and is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. She is on the board of GreenMedInfo, Functional Medicine University, Pathways to Family Wellness, NYS Perinatal Association, and Fisher Wallace, Medical Director for Fearless Parent, and board member for Health Freedom Action and the peer-reviewed, indexed journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. She is a mother of two.

Stress and Children

Going back to school can be a stressful time for children and families. Routines. Schedules. Homework. After school activities. Transitional times are unsettling, stressful and chaotic. Stress is unavoidable in life, both the exciting and difficult kinds. While inescapable, teaching children ways to manage stress helps with long-term resilience and success. However, recognizing stress in kids can be challenging, and often looks like something else. What does stress look like for kids? And what can you do you help?

Stress in Children

Children, especially small children, have under-developed communication skills, therefore display stress differently than adults. Children tend to internalize stress, and physical symptoms arise. Signs of stress can often times be confused with children’s mental health disorders. It is important to look at stress in your child’s life, and their ability to handle these situations. Some signs of a child’s reaction to stress include:

  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches
  • Nausea
  • Nightmares
  • Bedwetting
  • Clinginess
  • Frequent Crying
  • Hyperactive
  • Inactivity
  • Changes in Appetite

How Can You Help?

Building a strong family unit is key to managing stress. An encouraging, nourishing, and supportive unit creates a foundation where stress can be faced. We are not alone in our stress. Below are some tools that help make a strong unit, while decreasing stress.

  1. Parental/Guardian Self-Care - Parents often forget that taking care of themselves means taking care of their family. In order to provide a stable foundation for the family, parents need to manage their own stress. You cannot give from an empty cup! Deep breathing, exercise, planning, journaling, and acupuncture are some examples of helping to manage stress.
  2. Vigorous Exercise – A study released in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2013 discovered that exercise reorganizes the brain to be more resilient to stress. Outdoor activities and exercise creates an opportunity to spend more time with your children, open lines of communication and manage stress.
  3. Sleep – Lack of quality of sleep in children (and adults) can increase the likelihood of anxiety, depression, poor grades and school performance, fidgeting in class, and physical pain. Children ages 5-8 need the most sleep, between 10-11 hours. Ages 9-12 need 9.5-10 hours, and teens 13-18 need 8.5-9.5 hours.
  4. Listen – There are times when your child just needs to be heard. It may not be necessary to give advice at that time, and it’s important to not be critical about his/her problems.
  5. Gentle physical touch – A wonderful, warm hug can help to melt stress quickly by releasing de-stressing hormones and calming the nervous system. Touch is a terrific healer. Massage also has similar effects.
  6. Nutrition – A healthy body is one that can handle stress more effectively. Schedule regular meals and snacks times to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Reduce processed foods, and increase fruits and vegetables.
  7. Celebrate Failures and Mistakes – Everyone makes mistakes and faces obstacles. Celebrating these situations emphasizes that while we all make mistakes, they are opportunities in disguise to learn and grow.
  8. Teach Stress Relieving Exercises – Breathing and counting techniques, qi gong, walking around, squishing play-dough, coloring, and guided meditations are a few examples.
  9. Acupuncture – A study from the Journal of Endocrinology in 2013 has shown that acupuncture can improve resilience to stress by slowing down the body’s production of stress hormones. For those who are needle shy, we use needle free techniques too!

We are constantly put to the test and under pressure to perform, both as children and adults. Working with our stress sets us up for long-term success, and can strengthen the bond with the family unit. Even though going back to school can be a stressful time, navigating these transitions with de-stressing techniques creates more ease.

Acupuncture has 'similar mode of action to psychiatric drugs'

Written by Markus MacGill via Medical News Today

Researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) in Washington, DC, say the animal study "provides the strongest evidence to date on the mechanism of this ancient Chinese therapy in chronic stress."

Lead investigator Ladan Eshkevari, PhD, associate professor in the departments of nursing, and pharmacology and physiology at GUMC, says:

"The benefits of acupuncture are well known by those who use it, but such proof is anecdotal.

"This research, the culmination of a number of studies, demonstrates how acupuncture might work in the human body to reduce stress and pain, and, potentially, depressionEmot."

Dr. Eshkevari, a nurse anesthetist and licensed acupuncturist, adds:

"We have now found a potential mechanism, and at this point in our research, we need to test human participants in a blinded, placebo-controlled clinical study - the same technique we used to study the behavioral effects of acupuncture in rats."

Dr. Eshkevari and her team applied electro-acupuncture to a powerful acupuncture point called stomach meridian point 36 (St36).

The researchers found that this blunted activity in the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis - the chronic stress pathway associated with chronic pain, the immune system, mood and emotions.

Affecting the HPA via acupuncture reduced the production of stress hormones. "Some antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs exert their therapeutic effects on these same mechanisms," Dr. Eshkevari says.

She has already shown that pre-treatment with acupuncture prevents increases in HPA hormones caused by cold-induced painful stress in rats, and that the beneficial effects were long-lasting.

Traditional medicine put to scientific tests

The controlled animal study had four arms:

  • A group of rats getting acupuncture via electro-acupuncture (a device that ensures equitable distribution of electro-stimulation)
  • A group receiving sham acupuncture (not at an acupuncture point)
  • Placebo arm not getting any acupuncture
  • Control group with exposure to neither stress nor acupuncture.

Two studies examined different times of application - the first, having acupuncture regularly, and the latest study examining acupuncture during a stressful event - which, Dr. Eshkevari says, "is how acupuncture is most often utilized clinically."

Electro-acupuncture delivered to the St36 acupuncture point minutes after the rats were exposed to chronic painful cold was as effective in preventing elevation of stress hormones as it was with pre-treatment with acupuncture.

The new study also used a drug to block acupuncture's effect on the HPA system - production of stress hormones equalized in all the treatment groups. "This confirmed that electro-acupuncture does affect the HPA system," concludes Dr. Eshkevari.

"This is the first report linking the effects of electro-acupuncture at St36 to chronic stress-induced depressive and anxious behavior in animals" - acupuncture appeared to prevent stress-induced release of hormones, as well as reduce depression and anxiety-like behavior in the rats.

"This work provides a framework for future clinical studies on the benefit of acupuncture, both before or during chronic stressful events," Dr. Eshkevari says.