Ep 204: ADHD Triggers and Emerging Solutions

Dana Kay, author of Thriving With ADHD, joins us to talk about the traditional solutions to ADHD and the emerging science behind the likely triggers of the growing epidemic. She’ll walk us through natural solutions to remedy ADHD, chronic pain, and more. 

If you've enjoyed Talking to Teens, we'd love if you could leave us a five-star rating, and if you have time, a review! 

Full show notes

More and more kids are being diagnosed with chronic illnesses these days–anything from allergies to severe depression. You may have experienced this with your own teen, whether it’s constant trips to the psychiatrist for changes in anxiety meds, or endless food sensitivities that seem to come out of nowhere. In 2018, research revealed that 54% of kids are chronically ill, up from 15% a few years before. This means that chronic illness is growing among young people at a rapid rate…but why?

The answer lies in our guts. We might view our digestive system as having one function–food in, waste out–but the truth is a lot more complicated. Our guts contain the mechanisms that monitor our immune system, regulate our bloodstream and even control our mind’s function! The food we put into our gut doesn’t just affect our digestion…it shapes our long term physical and mental health!

This week, we’re talking to Dana Kay, author of Thriving With ADHD: A Guide to Naturally Reducing ADHD Symptoms in Your Child and founder of the ADHD Thrive Institute. Dana is a holistic health expert who focuses on educating parents about gut health. She helps families understand that a better diet can relieve symptoms for a myriad of health issues among children–including ADHD and other mental disorders. She’s worked with over one thousand families to create better overall health for chronically ill kids!

In our interview, Dana breaks down the function of the gut within the body, and why so many kids suffer from conditions that result from poor gut health. We’re also discussing what dietary changes can be made to heal our guts, and how we can convince our kids to change their diets for the better.

Why We Should Rethink Our Diet

Although we don’t always think about our digestive tract as central to our body’s long term health, it’s actually immensely critical to our physical and mental wellbeing. It contains 80% of our body’s immune system, billions of nerve cells and trillions of bacteria! It controls what enters our bloodstream–and therefore our entire body. Plus, it has a direct channel of communication with the brain. 90-95% of the body’s serotonin and 50% of the body’s dopamine are produced in the gut, meaning that our guts manage our moods, emotions, and cognitive function, says Dana.

Dana explains that the typical American diet is full of substances that are pretty harmful to our guts. Packaged, processed, and convenience foods are chock full of artificial preservatives and chemicals that aren’t a natural part of our diet, and therefore damage our bodies. These foods break down the lining of the gut, which regulates the bloodstream, says Dana. As this lining breaks down, it no longer restricts toxins from flowing through our bodies, and doesn’t retain water and other important nutrients that are essential to the body’s function.

When these toxins enter the bloodstream, our body tries to reject them, leading to inflammation. This causes a multitude of issues, including stomach aches, allergies, inattention, poor emotional regulation, brain fog, constipation–the list goes on. This means that when kids are suffering from serious anxiety or depression, diet can ultimately be the cause of the issue, as well as the solution, Dana explains. If we can focus on helping kids create a better daily diet, we can stop these chronic mental and physical health issues and get kids back on the right track.

So what changes can teens and parents make to our diets to create a healthy mind and body? Dana and I are giving you a dietary breakdown on how to heal your bodies and minds.

How To Have a Healthy Gut

It turns out that lots of the food we eat on an everyday basis is actually pretty terrible for our gut health, says Dana. The worst three? Gluten, dairy, and soy. Dana explains that gluten is the most harmful, as it destroys the lining of our guts most severely and causes intestinal leaking. Dairy is central to the American diet, but awful for our gut. And while soy seems easy to cut out, Dana explains that there are a surprising amount of food products that list soy as an ingredient. In our interview, we talk more about how soy mimics estrogen production and can be really harmful for growing teens.

Sugar is also not the best  for our gut health, Dana explains. Sugary foods tend to be very artificial and refined, which is damaging to the intestinal lining. If the gut is in poor health and fails to deliver dopamine and serotonin to the brain, kids will seek these chemicals out anyway they can–including eating sugar. They can quickly get caught in a cycle of eating sugary foods every time they need stimulation or a pick-me-up, which can even lead to a serious sugar addiction, especially for kids with ADHD, says Dana.

Instead, Dana recommends kids eat fruits and veggies, grass-fed animal proteins and healthy fats. These foods don’t cause damage to the intestinal lining, and can even help it regrow! Dana also recommends only drinking natural spring water, and replacing artificial sweeteners with natural ones like honey, maple syrup and dates. Although it might be outside your family’s comfort zone, making these substitutions in the family diet can totally transform your quality of life, Dana says.

But even if we’re ready to make a change, it doesn’t mean our families are. Plus, eating healthy comes with other obstacles…and how do we even know what exactly our kids need? Dana and I are covering all of these challenges as well.

Making the Change

As the mom of a child with ADHD, Dana wanted to change her family’s habits to improve her son’s health…but found herself struggling when she tried to do it all in one day. She recommends that parents make these dietary changes slowly or increments, to warm kids up to the idea of giving up gluten, dairy and certain sugars! Teenagers aren’t likely to listen if you try to force them to adopt this new diet, says Dana, so you’ll have to get them to buy into it. Once they realize that this healthier diet makes them more social and focused, they’ll likely want to eat healthier all the time.

Dana recognized that eating healthy isn’t cheap–even though we wish it was! However, she explains in the episode that spending the extra money on healthier foods is likely to save parents a lot of time and energy in the long run. When kids are feeling better both mentally and physically, they’ll need much less medical care–and won’t have tantrums and meltdowns on a regular basis, says Dana. Plus, there are other things we can do to lighten the costs, like meal planning and buying in bulk. Dana and I get into these cost-savers further in the episode.

If you’re not sure where to start, Dana recommends taking some tests. Functional lab testing can help teens locate weak points and stressors in their bodies, whether that’s in the immune, digestive or nervous system. It can also be helpful for kids to complete a food sensitivity panel to discover what foods irritate their body–this helps doctors target inflammation and even diagnose certain mental issues like ADHD or anxiety. In our interview, Dana and I talk about even more tests kids can take to start them on a journey to better gut health.

In the Episode…

Dana shares a lot of fascinating facts about how essential gut health is to our overall well being! On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about:
  • What we should know about GMOs
  • Why school cafeteria food needs to change
  • What pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know
  • Why we should monitor kids’ zinc levels
If you enjoyed listening, you can find more from Dana at adhdthriveinstitute.com or on Instagram @adhdthriveinstitiute. Thanks for listening and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Follow us on Social Media! We're @talkingtoteens on Instagram and TikTok

Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Ep 204: ADHD Triggers and Emerging Solutions
Broadcast by