Are you a parent or a caregiver of a child, interested in his or her health and wellbeing? If our children are to enjoy optimal health, they must eat well, sleep well, be well balanced emotionally (happy family life helps), as well as developing good nutritional habits. Your children trust you. When you take the kids out in the car, you make sure they’re buckled up. They count you, as their parent, to help them with their homework. When a toy is broken, they generally come to dad to get it fixed.

And what about their nutritional and dietary needs? They also entrust you. If you don’t care what your children’s health and well being, then who will? It’s one of your jobs as the caregiver to train them in the correct ways of living, leading to their optimal health and wellbeing. I have four children, aged between 5 and 11, and have always believed in the ‘first do no harm’ approach when it comes to health care of children.

Naturopaths often end up seeing many children with all sorts of health problems. Like many other practitioners of other disciplines in natural medicine, we often get cases of children who have been treated by various other practitioners, including the doctors and specialists. Many parents today prefer a less drug based treatment approach for their children, and can recognise the safe natural medicine treatments when it comes to complaints like recurring coughs & colds, acne, eczema, constipation, eating disorders, obesity, period problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, and the many other conditions affecting the younger members of our society. Conventional healthcare can be quick in making decisions which may affect the quality of a child’s life, particularly when the child becomes an adult. For example with children’s health:

  • Being placed on antihistamines or the more powerful steroidal drugs without dietary modification or adequate allergy testing. I have noticed that once we eventually do find and remove the allergic trigger/s, then treat with nutritional or homeopathic medicine, they feel much better. Many children and adults in this country suffer with on-going food allergies. There so many subtle signs and symptoms potentially generated by allergies in the diet, they can be easily mistaken for some separate disease such as arthritis, ‘irritable bowel syndrome’, or inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis, or Crohns disease, migraine headaches, this list is just too extensive! Asthma and eczema are classic examples having dairy intolerance as a trigger, especially with the young kids.
  • Bowel surgery in children. Did you know that the most commonly performed operation was in 1900 was actually was to take 12 inches off the bowel, to alleviate constipation? I believe that if poor digestion and constipation and/or diarrhoea cases in infants or young children were tackled much earlier by a naturopath, (and sensibly perhaps in conjunction with a doctor or pediatrician) the pain and needless cost of an unnecessary operation may have been avoided.An article I found in a nutritional journal some years ago, mentioned a ‘new breakthrough in allergy treatment’, it was for doctors to recommend the use of lactobacillus, or the ‘friendly’ forms of bacteria’, which appeared to help to prevent cases of ear, nose or throat disorders. Dr. Vogel, the famous Swiss doctor/naturopath, back in the 1950s noticed that chewing on the young leaves of the larch tree, gave relief from sore throats. Today we know why, the particular sugars found in larch (arabinogalactans) stimulate the proliferation of bifidobacteria in the digestive tract, feeding up certain cells, thereby stimulating the immunity & reducing the instances of allergies. Many children develop problems here, perhaps due to not having been breastfed, or for not long enough, and in many instances having been started too early ( some children at 4 weeks) on cow’s milk.
  • Routine prescribing (still) of antibiotic medicines, for sniffles, slight skin infections and minor trivial ailments of childhood which are easily remedied with simple home treatments such as tea tree oil, calendula cream or Echinacea herbal tincture, olive leaf extract, etc. Cases of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and even inflammatory bowel disease may appear to have their origin with routine antibiotics, the increasing amount of preservatives or other chemicals. Pharmaceutical antibiotics can cause intestinal permeability (by killing the layer of beneficial bacteria that reside in the mucous layer of the intestinal wall). The short-term use of pharmaceutical antibiotics (even when used way back) has been suggested as a major cause of IBS. The type of antibiotic most likely to contribute to is amoxicillin, one of the most commonly prescribed. And don’t we see a lot of IBS in adults and kids in the clinic, of age groups. Bifidobacteria when given to children improves the health on many levels, and is a smart option when supplemented from time to time. Choose a good brand, your health food shop or naturopath can guide you here.
  • The many cases of grommets or tonsillectomiesperformed annually. Again, we need to be looking at the foods (and vitamin/mineral deficiencies) with these children. I commonly find that the sugars, white bread, cow milk, bananas, ice cream and fizzy drinks need to go, before grommets are fitted. Many a child can be spared from this operation with the correct dietary modification, along with some Omega 3 Oil and a good quality multivitamin & mineral preparation each day. There is no doubt, when children eat more fresh fruits & vegetables, low fat meat choices, eggs, drink more water, have less cow’s milk & fizzy, ice cream and ‘junk’ generally, the incidences of ear nose and throat problems are much lower. This will particularly to be the case when the child has not routinely received antibiotic or other medicines like antihistamine or hydrocortisone medications for all manner of skin complaints.In homeopathy we call this ‘symptom suppression’, and is a likely cause for the more sinister chronic health problems developing in the future. Homeopathic treatment is highly successful with many ear, nose and throat complaints of children, but you may find this therapy more limited if the child has been medicated for some time, particularly with drugs such as steroids – inhaled or applied to the skin like hydrocortisone. The homeopathic remedy called Thuja is a classic for ear infections, particularly if they are left sided. I have found Thuja 30 to work in many cases.
  • The child has an underlying deficiency which was not picked up. This is a classic story, often found in naturopathic practice. On the MOH (Ministry of Health) website, according to the 2002 NZ National Children’s Nutrition Survey, “Children aged 11–14 years were at a greater risk of having inadequate selenium intakes than younger children. Older children were also having intakes of vitamins and minerals in general “less than satisfactory”. And I still have parents who tell me that their kids don’t need “to take pills” and that their diet is adequate to supply all the nutritional requirements.Medical practice does not generally focus on an underlying deficiency of any vitamin or mineral, apart from iron deficiency. Many children have deficiencies of several minerals, and trace elements particularly such as: iodine, selenium, manganese, molybdenum, cobalt, iron (older child), and zinc. It is interesting to often hear parents say how much better behaved their child has become, has improved sleep, better appetite, nicer skin or hair, or other positive feedback once we correct the underlying deficiencies.

    Every child in NZ needs Omega 3 Oil, I am emphatic about this one. If you have a child who is not taking a fish oil supplement regularly, do yourself a favour and supplement him or her for 3 months daily. I see the results in the clinic with kids all the time, they all improve in some way, they all appear to gain some advantage from Omega 3 it seems. More outstanding results we get when the child is taking a good fish oil, as well as a multi once daily for about 3 – 6 months.

    “We hear so much about teaching our children how to be critical thinkers, to be responsible, to respect themselves, and to consider the long-term consequences of their actions. In what area of life do we have more ample opportunity to develop those skills than in choosing how we ourselves eat and care for the health of our bodies”?

Diet and Kids

It is easier to manipulate the diet of the younger ones, ever noticed? I’m sure all you parents of teenagers can relate to the fact that it can be quite challenging to have that much control in your teenager’s diet. But, if you start with healthy eating habits, nutritional supplementation, and homeopathic & herbal medicines at an early age, I’m sure that you will find that it is much easier for your teenager to accept or continue this way of living, or to adopt a more natural way of eating. I do find that some parents are so hard on their kids ‘to eat everything organic or raw’ or ‘as spray-free as possible’ that the kids end up rebellious, and may end up turning their back on anything healthy. Please remember, kids are kids, they occasionally want to eat junk foods, have sweets and also have what their friends eat from time to time.

Having clinically assessed and tested many children for nutritional deficiencies, I have seen many children that are quite deficient in one mineral or another. The vitamin deficiencies today are less common than mineral deficiencies, but folate and B12 would rank high. Typically we may find an adolescent girl who does not eat red meat, is fatigued, often acutely unwell & pale. A blood test is required: check iron, ferritin, folate & B12 here. So what do kids like to eat? Well I can answer that quite simply, they will eat what you eat or are used to eating. We have always eaten a predominant vegetable and fruit, rice, nut and seed diet, along with plenty of fish, egg and beef. So that is what our kids eat too. We have always drunk water, and that is what they do too. But we like a takeaway meal like most Kiwi families, and I think balance is important to remember here, not fanaticism.

Here comes the big one – you must try to set a good example yourself. How can you expect your child to develop good lifestyle habits, to have an awareness of drinking water and eating high quality meals, when you down 2-3 cups of coffee or tea each day, drink wine several nights a week, get to bed at or later than 11.00pm and never exercise? Your kids are a product of your lifestyle, your values, and the habits which you have developed over the years, both good and bad. Ok, you decide what is right for you, but remember, when you do as a parent or caregiver, you also decide what is right for your kids at the same time.

NZ Food NZ Children

The 2002 NZ National Children’s Nutrition Survey makes interesting reading, about the trends in NZ with children and nutrition. Even though the survey was conducted a few years ago, the information is still quite useful and relevant. Here are some bullet points coming from the summary:

  1. Girls aged between 11 – 14yrs are more prone to lower iron levels in their diet than girls of other age groups, notably among Mäori and Pacific children.
  2. About 20% of 5–14-year-olds are overweight. About 10% of 5–14year-olds are actually obese. A particular worry is the disparity here with regard to Mäori and Pacific children who have appreciably higher rates than NZ European and other children. In fact, 71% of Pacific girls are overweight or obese, aged between 11 – 14yrs of age.
  3. Iodine status of children was indicative of deficiency.
  4. Children aged 11–14 years were at a greater risk of having inadequate seleniumintakes than younger children
  5. Children aged 11–14 years have intakes of vitamins and minerals in general “less than satisfactory”.

According to the 2002 National Children’s Nutrition Survey document: “It is clearly an urgent public health requirement to find ways to increase physical activity and to decrease intake of energy dense foods (particularly those containing saturated fats and sugars such as hot chips and sweet drinks) without compromising intake of essential nutrients”. Well, I am all for this one. I think for starters, we need to give the fast food companies the boot in terms of sponsorship for our children’s sporting events. When my son signed up for soccer for the upcoming season, he came home with a plastic drinking bottle blatantly covered in a popular take-away company’s logo.

It really is time for a change, we need to stop waving these logos, vouchers and crappy take-away toy incentives around our children. We are only reinforcing to them that ‘take-away is ok’ What are you doing about this take-away tragedy in terms of yourself and your family, are you part of the spiraling ‘fat kid epidemic’? Do you continue to support companies who continue to undermine the health of ourselves and our children and ultimately our nation? Perhaps you are like me, amazed at how many chubby & fat children we see at the swimming pool, the beach, the park, and various places where we go with the kids. Were there fat kids when you were young? Of course there were, but nothing like the numbers we have today. We live a life of electronics and too much convenience today, and although we have become busier at work, we’ve become lazier in the kitchen.

I reckon our home-made burgers are the best. Much better value for my family for the following reasons:

  • We make the burgers together, the message is clear to my children: eat generally what you prepare yourself, you have more control over the ingredients, you decide what goes in your burger. You also decide how your diet shapes your waistline, and you save a bundle as well, take-away food can be expensive.
  • By showing your children they can produce good quality nutrition, you are investing not only in the future of their health & wellbeing, but potentially for future generations to come. I still remember my grandfather who ate one apple every day, my father also ate one apple every day and taught me to do the same. I have in turn taught my 3 sons that an apple a day is an important part of their daily diet, but I have told them to chew the apple seeds as well and to eat the whole apple core, discarding the stalk only. My boys now tell their school friends how important apples are, and to eat the skin and the pips.

So you see, results can be far reaching. Are you teaching your children that to get nutrition, that you simply go out and buy a burger for lunch? What will they be teaching their kids, and their grandchildren? Think about it, there is a subtle yet potent message here. After all, your kids love and trust you, for you are their primary health & wellbeing mentor. Teach them well.

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Eric Bakker is the clinical director of The Naturopaths and holds a Bachelor Degree of Science majoring in Complementary Health Care, as well as separate diploma qualifications in Naturopathy, Herbal Medicine and Homeopathy. Eric has 20 years clinical experience in natural medicine, and received post-graduate natural medicine training in Australia, India, America as well as New Zealand. Eric has four children and lives in the sunny Hawkes Bay

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