Using Diet to Manage Learning Disabilities in Children

We live in a world with two opposing scientific paradigms. On one hand, scientific research continues to provide breakthroughs in modern medicine, helping to both cure and treat diseases that once had a bleak outlook. The list of diseases we are able to treat today far surpasses our ability at any other point in history.

Because of this, we have made tremendous advancements in understanding the inner workings of the human body. One of the by-products is an extensive knowledge of how bodily systems work together to complete essential functions. This gives us an unparalleled ability to holistically treat different ailments.

On the other hand, the advancements in modern medicine are breeding a culture of pharmaceutical dependency.

We are met with the continued perpetuation that we need to stay dependent on drugs to sustain a healthy life. This messaging—extensively funded by the pharmaceutical companies—reigns free across the nation, leaving little room for the effective holistic treatments to break through the noise. The results create a continuation of an unhealthy cycle. When we seek modern medicine to help cure ailments, often times a dependency forms, which can alter the natural body’s chemical balance. Then we seek medicine to adjust our chemical balance, perpetuating the cycle.

This leaves many individuals caught in the cross hairs of wanting to embrace and take advantage of the medical advancements, but unsure how to avoid the dependency and negative side effects from long-term use.

One of the most prevalent populations stuck in the cross hairs are families with children diagnosed with learning disabilities.

In my work, I see so many children that are over medicated and over diagnosed. Lacking knowledge of a better alternative, parents place their children on mood suppressants, Metadate, Adderall, Ritalin and other drugs in hopes of addressing the wide scope of learning disabilities.

These drugs come with a laundry list of negative side effects, which can range from any of the following:

  • Sleep disturbances or restlessness,
  • Loss of appetite,
  • Anxiety and increased heart rate,
  • Irritability,
  • Weight loss or weight gain,
  • Headache or dizziness.

For any parent wanting to equip their child with the tools to succeed in life, it can be a stressful time weighing the different medical treatments against the side effects.

If you are such a parent, I have good news. There is a better and more effective long-term approach.

The Role of the Gut in Learning Disabilities

As mentioned, our comprehensive understanding of the inner workings of the human body has never been more complete. One of the most notable advancements of late is Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s work with the GAPS™ (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Diet.

GAPS highlights a direct connection between the digestive system and the nervous system, called the gut–brain axis.

This is particularly important for children and adults suffering from learning disabilities because it creates a correlation between having a healthy gut and brain function. What happens in unhealthy guts is that the lining of the digestive track doesn’t stop toxins and waste products from entering the blood system. Once they enter the blood system, all the toxins and waste products are distributed throughout the body and taken to the brain.

When that lining of the digestive track doesn’t properly filter what’s going into the blood system, we call it leaky gut syndrome.

Leaky gut syndrome not only puts toxins into the blood system, it also can limit the absorption of different nutrients and vitamins. All these factors combined lead to many of the learning disability symptoms, including difficulty focusing, behavior issues, and more.

Treating Learning Disabilities with Diet

When approaching learning disabilities with a nutrition-based approach, there are two steps you must do simultaneously at the start. You need to repair the gut and remove the toxins from the diet. Once the digestive lining is repaired, you start integrating nourishing foods into the diet.

GAPS™ is a very healing diet for leaky gut. It works to both repair the gut and remove the toxins. It utilizes certain foods that have the power to restore the gut. These are foods like bone broth and fermented vegetables.

Once the gut is repaired, whole food diets such as GAPS™ replace toxic foods with nourishing components. This gives your child the tools necessary to increase their focus, retain information, and ultimately live a healthier life.

Why Diet Customization is Important

Keep in mind that toxins in the body do not always come from sources we deem “unhealthy.” Many times, they turn out to be in food that we thought was healthy, but your specific chemical makeup doesn’t process them correctly. When digestion is compromised, as in leaky gut for example, even the most healthful food becomes poison to the body.

Much like DNA, the chemical makeup of everyone is different. We are all different.

This impacts how your body uniquely processes different nutrients. Some bodies are able pull nutrients from sweeteners like honey. Others can’t afford to have honey in their diet.

Working with a professional who is well versed in the different learning disabilities and the whole food diets will help you identify the foods that are nourishing to your child’s unique makeup.

Support Through The Process

As a parent, you may be thinking that all of this sounds great, but how do I get my child to start eating fermented food and bone broth?

You’re right. It’s not an easy process. Which is where I come in.

I work with you and your family to make these changes easier. For your child, we take the baby step approach. This means slowly switching out foods and letting them grow accustom to new foods. This helps them not feel deprived while we create a diet that nourishes them body and mind.

I will also provide support to you throughout the process. Changing how you grocery shop and the types of meals you prepare can be overwhelming. We work together to make the transition easier for the whole family.

Contact me for your free 15-minute consultation to see how we can start your family on the path to holistic nourishing health.


More Resources:

Would A GAPS Diet Help You?

Would a GAPS Diet Help You?
Ironically, our “advanced” western medical establishment cannot always successfully treat some of the most pervasive issues affecting Americans today. Families go from doctor to doctor looking for answers for:

  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
  • Bi-polar disorder
  • Learning disabilities
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Digestive distress

Many of these families find great relief and even complete healing when they regard their disease through the lens of gut and psychology syndrome, an issue first identified by British neurosurgeon Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.

The basis of gut and psychology syndrome or GAPS™ is that when the bacteria or “flora” in the digestive tract or “gut” becomes compromised, the resulting toxicity can interfere with proper brain function. Effective nutritional therapy can re-balance gut flora to create a healthier overall physiology.

What’s in the Gut? You May Be Surprised
The human body carries around 4 to 6 pounds of bacteria or “flora.” We have more organisms living within us than we have cells in our body. It is a specialized, organized eco system, developed over years of evolution in our environment. Our gut flora has enabled us to adapt to our environment and the foods available.

When in proper balance, our gut flora supports our immune system. It synthesizes vitamins, aids digestion and elimination and detoxifies the body. Our beneficial gut flora also keeps pathogenic microorganisms in check by cleaning the intestine and fueling colon cells.

A newborn’s gut is sterile. As the baby passes through the birth canal, he swallows his first mouthful of flora. Whatever resides in mom’s vaginal tract colonizes baby’s gut.

In her book Gut And Psychology Syndrome. Natural Treatment Of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Depression And Schizophrenia, Dr. McBride explains that antibiotics, medications, bottle feeding, chlorinated water, stress, alcohol and pollutants can put the gut flora into an unhealthy state. She also points to unhealthy foods like refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods ferment in the gut. This fermentation supports pathogenic microorganisms but starves the healthy flora which in better conditions would combat those pathogenic organisms.

An imbalance in gut flora also impacts the enterocytes, the cells in the small intestine that carry out final digestion by absorbing nutrients, electrolytes and water. With unbalanced gut flora, the enterocytes weaken allowing nutrients and even food particles cross the gut lining and go into the blood stream in inappropriate sizes. Without nutrients broken into the form the body can use, the immune system is compromised and the body can even become malnourished.

When the pathogenic microorganisms running rampant in the gut move into the blood stream, toxicity and disease follow. A toxic brain can cause seizures, autistic behavior, migraine headaches, mental and mood disorders, learning disabilities and more.

The GAPS Diet
The goal of the GAPS protocol is to reestablish the optimal gut ecology, heal and seal the gut lining, and gently detoxify the body.

The diet removes all:

  • Processed foods
  • Foods that feed pathogenic microorganisms; and
  • Foods that cannot be broken down by damaged enterocytes.

It replaces those with:

  • Nutrient dense, whole foods diet that provides the building blocks necessary to rebuild and repair the entire body from the cell up
  • Healing foods like bone broths, fermented vegetables and dairy products
  • Fresh vegetables, proteins and animal fats

And supports those choices with the following supplements:

  • Therapeutic probiotics
  • EPA and DHA from fish oil
  • Other supplements based on individual need and level of toxicity

GAPS Diet Creator Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride
In the 1990s British neurologist and neurosurgeon Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s son was diagnosed with autism. With no effective treatments available, she began to explore the condition herself.

The changes she was making in her son’s diet seemed to ease some of his behaviors. Eventually, she obtained a second doctorate in human nutrition at Sheffield University in England. She is now recognized as one of the world’s leading experts in using nutrition to treat autism spectrum conditions, mood disorders, learning disabilities and digestive and immune issues.

Why The GAPS Diet Is Worth a Shot: My Perspective
The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that “about 1 in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)”. “About 1 in 6 children in the U.S. had a developmental disability in 2006-2008, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism”. The CDC also states that 4 out of 100 children have a food allergy, and children with food allergies are more prone to develop asthma and other allergic conditions. To this scenario, we add the hundreds of thousands of children suffering from delayed food sensitivities and intolerances.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of parents try treatment after treatment for these mystifying disorders with no results. I have personally seen amazing turn-arounds in the health and well-being of both children and adults after utilizing the GAPS™ diet. I had one client who, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, spent three months detoxifying and then re-balancing and rebuilding her body with non-processed, real, whole foods. Her rheumatoid arthritis abated and she is now able to live a normal, healthy life, and even play tennis again! Another client put her autistic son on the GAPS diet. Within six months, his head-banging and other autistic behaviors had diminished to the point where he could make eye contact, play with toys without engaging in distractive behavior, he is now seeking the company of other children and he is being a social butterfly.

As a Certified GAPS Practitioner I have seen so many clients heal and regain their lives. I have seen children and families blessed with a second chance.

Getting Started on the GAPS Diet
There is enough information on the internet to make some strides in developing a diet of your own. If you or a loved one is suffering from ASD, bi-polar disorder, a learning disability, or an autoimmune condition, please get a copy of Gut And Psychology Syndrome and visit (I am not affiliated with that site in any way.)

If, however, you want to make sure to get started correctly, figuring in your own medical issues and goals, I can help with a GAPS consultation. It takes time, planning and dedication to implement GAPS. The protocol is strict and it is labor intensive. But the results are short of amazing. If you’d prefer to just check me out for a while, sign up for my newsletter or “like”my  Healthful Living Facebook page.

Healing allergies with the GAPS Protocol

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, an estimated 50 million Americans suffer from all types of allergies (1 in 5 Americans) including indoor/outdoor, food & drug, latex, insect, skin and eye allergies. Allergy prevalence overall has been increasing since the early 1980s across all age, sex and racial groups. AND allergy is the 5th leading chronic disease in the U.S. among all ages, and the 3rd most common chronic disease among children under 18 years old.

It is that time of year again, and my inbox is piling up with inquiries regarding alternative treatments for seasonal allergies. There is a lot that we can do dietarily to support the immune system during allergy season and rebalance it for the long haul.

The protocol I use the most in my practice is called GAPS. GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology/Physiology Syndrome. The protocol has 3 facets: a dietary plan, a detox protocol, and a supplemental regimen. The protocol is always tailored to the client’s biochemical individuality. Also, type of allergic response, medical and family history, as well as reaction to the GAPS protocol, are taken into consideration.

The diet part of the plan targets the digestive tract and it is rich in healing foods that help heal and seal the gut lining. Allergies are often caused by digestive imbalance and are often accompanied by leaky gut or gastric inflammation. Science tells us that 70% of the immune system resides in the gut, specifically in the Peyer’s patches of the small intestine. For this reason, any therapy that aims to rid the body of allergies, will be futile until digestive dysfunction is addressed.

Back to GAPS now… The supplemental regimen helps re-establish healthy gut flora, and correct nutrient deficiencies. The detox part of the plan uses gentle measures (juicing, epsom salt baths, enamas, etc.) to rid the body of toxins.

Please note that toxins are not just environmental. They are also simply by-products of our metabolism. People affected by allergies either have more toxic by-products and metabolites to deal with, or their bodies are so clogged that they cannot handle “regular” toxic load.

In a nutshell, the GAPS protocol helps the body detoxify gently, while rebuilding good health from the ground up.

Detoxification can seem scary. It is natural to become concerned especially because many of us don’t know what detoxification really is. Detoxification is an ongoing metabolic process. Our bodies are constantly at work to detoxify environmental toxins as well as endotoxins (toxins produced within the body itself). Detoxification is also a nutrient-dependent process. Several amino acids, anti-oxidants, cholesterol and bile are necessary to neutralize toxins and carry them out of the body.

Most people don’t realize that a healthy body detoxifies naturally.

People with seasonal allergies usually deal with environmental substances, that are recognized are toxic by the body. There are also dealing with organs of detoxification that are usually clogged by toxicity produced by a less than optimal digestive tract. In this case we talk about leaky gut, pathogenic organisms inhabiting the gut, and maldigested food that rots, ferments, and rancidifies in the intestines.

GAPS people are usually pretty toxic, that is why the nutritional therapy work is gradual and gentle.
Beware of detox diet fads, fasting regimens, and miracle pills advertised in the media. The GAPS protocol doesn’t use any detox pill or fasting. Only nutrient dense foods, gut healing nutrients, probiotics, epsom salt baths, and when necessary enemas, are used in the beginning. Also, reducing exposure to toxins is as important as detoxifying the body.

The GAPS protocol allows the body to gently detoxify by supporting the organs of elimination, providing precious nutrients necessary to detoxify, and bringing in natural chelators in the form of foods (fats, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals found in bone broths and vegetable juices, etc.) and detoxifying baths.

For more information on GAPS, you can log on to, or call me at 619.208.8159 to discuss is GAPS is right for you.

Francesca Orlando, NTP, CGP
Lead Instructor for the Nutritional Therapy Association, Inc.

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