Childhood Anxiety: Treating it Naturally!


Many more children struggle with mood disorders than ever before. With anxiety, depression, ADHD and suicidal thoughts on the rise, it behooves us all to reflect upon our current cultural setting, and to inquire about lifestyle changes that have occurred in the past 50 years. Children are most sensitive to the changes of the industrialized age and demonstrate anxiety as a response. 

Children have a unique experience with anxiety due in part to a limited ability to communicate complex emotions. Children often somatisize anxiety in the body as abdominal pain, irregular bowel habits, incontinence, bed wetting, grinding teeth, restlessness, nightmares, nail biting and skin picking. 

When addressing complex childhood emotions, a starting point involves establishing rhythm and routine. Children thrive on routine and consistency. Regular times of the day for waking, meals, snacks, exercise, fresh air, and time for hobbies set chemical and hormonal patterns and promote nervous system stability.  

Fresh air, exercise and unstructured free play time allow for emotional integration and release. Regular, informal meditation exercises improve children's ability to emotionally regulate, focus attention on specific tasks (like homework) and increase feelings of empathy towards others. Enhanced empathy translates as a decrease in bullying behaviours. 

It is imperative to address dietary triggers, such as: sugar, artificial sweeteners, colouring and flavouring agents, food allergies and intolerances, msg, nitrates, pesticides.

Frequently, children are deficient in key nutrients required for optimal brain function. Some examples include: DHA, iron, vitamin D, zinc and magnesium.

The digestive tract is heralded by naturopathic doctors as the second brain. This is because of the network of nerves supplying the gut and the high concentration of serotonin production that occurs here. Serotonin is a mood balancing neurotransmitter involved in the etiology of anxiety. Serotonin is targeted by the drug class SSRI's  like Prozac. A healthful diet coupled with SPECIFIC pediatric strains of probiotics is needed to strengthen our gut health and immunity.

Environmental allergies are a notable immune trigger that exacerbates anxiety. Examples of environmental allergens include: cat dander, dust mites, pollens and mould. These allergens trigger reactions in reactive children and may present as: hives, eczema, itchy skin, itchy eyes, allergic sinus infections and seasonal nasal congestion. The chemical produced during these reactions is called histamine, which stimulates the nervous system causing anxiety and impaired sleep. Remember the last time you took an antihistamine medication (like Benadry)? You probably fell asleep. So imagine, what the opposite effect would be with histamine levels gone wild!

Take Home Message

Routine fresh air, exercise, meditation, optimal diet, uncovering environmental allergies and food sensitivities, resolving nutrient deficiencies and promoting gut health are key to addressing some of the underlying causes of anxiety in your child.

The causes of anxiety are complex and multifaceted. There are serious causes of anxiety in children including abuse, neglect and mistreatment; these topics are outside of the scope of this article and may require immediate attention by a health care professional.

Naturopathic Medical Care Options:

-Testing for nutrient deficiencies

-Skin scratch testing for environmental allergens

-Blood testing for food intolerances

-Coaching and lifestyle strategies for long term success

-Education on optimal gut health solutions

To book an appointment with Dr. Luterbach please call 250-585-2150