One of the most common reasons for a child’s doctor visit is digestive complaints. Children can experience chronic abdominal pain, intermittent abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea and general discomfort from eating. These symptoms often cause them to miss school, leave school early or refrain from social activities. Parents may try at-home elimination diets such as removing gluten and dairy without complete or long-term success. Digestive complaints can be simple food sensitivities or a combination of food irritants along with an imbalance of good to bad digestive bacteria. They can also stem from emotional issues, anxiety, poor sleep habits or blood sugar imbalances. 

Addressing digestive issues comprehensively to achieve long-term success usually entails a combination of therapies and, in some cases, lab tests to solve the issue. 

Food sensitivities are a frequent cause of digestive discomfort. Sensitivities to food are different from food allergies; they are a less serious, but still an aggravating response to a food.  Symptoms, which can be anything from sinus congestion and headache to diarrhea and abdominal pain, can occur 5 minutes to 72 hours after eating which makes it hard to identify the culprit even with food journaling or elimination. The most effective way to assess food sensitivities is to have your child get an IgG and IgA blood panel to show reaction levels to a comprehensive list of foods, herbs and spices. This will assist in specifying exact food triggers for abdominal pain. When a child has chronic abdominal discomfort, food sensitivity testing is a first-line therapy to assess if dietary triggers are the cause. 

An imbalance of digestive flora and good gut bacteria can also cause digestive complaints. Imbalances can occur from antibiotic use, poor food quality such as processed and fast foods, stress and genetics. Supplementing with a high-quality probiotic can eliminate some pain and discomfort; however many times an additional supplement to reduce harmful bacteria, fungus, and yeasts is required. A supplement with herbs such as Oregon grape root, astragalus, wormwood, black walnut, clove, grapefruit seed and oregano can improve subclinical imbalance of good, healthy bacteria and reduce potentially harmful bacteria, fungus, and yeast. A combination of a good diet with a supplemental probiotic and anti-microbial herbs usually can eliminate the issue. 

Emotional distress is another common cause of digestive distress. Anxiety and depression, even in mild forms, can cause stomach pain, maldigestion and variations in bowel elimination. Even with a sound home environment, school has its own series of potentially stress-inducing factors; children experience stress in classroom environments, with homework and tests, in social relationships and pressure in extracurricular activities. Teaching children to self-regulate by reading, meditating, doing yoga and experiencing nature are associated with lowering stress and anxiety levels which, in turn, can reduce digestive issues. 

A combination of therapies is typically required for long-term success in eliminating digestive complaints. Seeking a moderator and health evaluator outside the home is beneficial to explore ideas and make suggestions for an effective and comprehensive treatment plan. 

Shannon Sinsheimer, ND, is a state licensed naturopathic doctor with a focus on fertility, family wellness and pre-conception health. She can be reached at Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert (760) 568.2598.

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