MindCheck is the Weekly Wednesday Kids Mental Health series with Dr. Ray Pataracchia, N.D.   MindCheck provides in depth information on the orthomolecular approach to coping with mood and/or behavior disorders. The MindCheck Health Series is endorsed by the Mindful Network – ‘A Better Future for Children’s Mental Health’.


Kids – 15 Common Biochemical-Nutrient Imbalances


Ray Pataracchia ND  ©  2013


The puzzle that stumps us all

The inner workings of the human brain are diverse and unique.  If you aim to achieve optimal mental health and well-being for your children, there are several layers of imbalance that need to be considered.  I hope that this blog provides parents with a glimpse of the array of imbalances that effect kids, imbalances that we can do something about!


1. Kids with Low Thyroid States                  

This common syndrome is often seen in kids with fatigue, poor stamina, poor concentration and constipation. These kids have slow metabolisms.  Thyroid hormone is the ‘green light’ for all cells (including brain cells) at the DNA level to go ahead and manufacture proteins, neurotransmitters, and other important metabolites.  When kids encounter continuous stresses, their thyroid and adrenal glands weaken. Low thyroid function is common in behavior disorders (ADD, OCD, etc), depression, anxiety, and psychosis.  For more details, see Kids Mental Health Series – Part 3.


2. Heavy Metal Toxic Kids                

Heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, aluminum, etc.) act as free radicals and can destroy brain tissue.  Some heavy metals interfere with active thyroid hormone conversion or other important metabolic processes.  Heavy metals are widespread in our environment and industrial waste and household chemicals are common sources.  Kids may be exposed to the same heavy metal load as others in the family or neighborhood but retain metal more readily if they do not eliminate the metals efficiently (common in slow metabolizers).  For more details, see Kids Mental Health Series – Part 2.


3. Copper Toxic Kids                         

Copper can be detrimental in excess because in excess it acts as a brain stimulant and can cause overstimulation of the catecholamine neurotransmitter system resulting in anxiety, depression, paranoia, and other zinc deficiency symptoms (e.g. poor stress tolerance).  Reducing copper availability can be important for mood and behavior disorders because a dominant catecholamine neurotransmitter system can down-regulate the ‘opposing’ serotonin feel-good neurotransmitter system.  Copper is found in dental fillings/appliances, cigarettes, copper containing animal feed, plant sprays (of greater exposure in vegetarians), and copper-containing foods (shellfish, etc.).  These exposures are influential but copper retention and deposition commonly occurs when the metabolism burns out; in ADD kids or adults this slow metabolic phase typically follows a fast metabolic phase that the body cannot maintain.  After WWII, homes built with copper water pipes had the potential to leach copper out into shower and drinking water;  copper leaches out more readily in hard water areas where water softeners are used.  Note that homes with newer copper pipes (i.e. homes less than 10 years old) release copper more readily.  For more details, see Kids Mental Health Series – Part 2.

By contrast, we also see copper deficiency as a syndrome that influences behavior (mood, thinking, perception) – see section 11.


4. Under-Methylated Kids

Under-methylated kids basically do not make neurotransmitters on demand when needed during times of stress.  Fatigue and poor concentration are a chief complaint for these kids. This syndrome may be seen more commonly in kids with a family history of heart disease or strokes.  This syndrome is associated with B12 and folic acid deficiency and is often associated with a genetic inborn-error-of-metabolism (MTHFR allele mutation).  For more details, see Kids Mental Health Series – Part 2.


5. Kids with Poor Digestion                         

Digestive problems are common in kids.  Many kids suffer from constipation which results in the toxic build-up of undigested matter and the lack of nutrient absorption with the consequent depletion of nutrients — minerals, vitamins, fats and proteins which are essential building blocks and cofactors of hormones and neurotransmitters.  It is common to see kids suffering from undiagnosed food intolerances or gastro-intestinal conditions (H. Pylori, dysbiosis secondary to antibiotic use, diarrhea, alternating constipation with diarrhea, etcetera) that also need to be addressed.


6. Protein Deficient Kids                  

Most neurotransmitters are made from amino acids obtained from the protein in our diet.  Mental health and well-being improve when protein intake is substantially adequate; so this can be rectified by increasing caloric intake, improving appetite, or venting the diet toward consumption of high quality protein (meat, eggs) with meals/snacks.

You may notice kids having poorer stress tolerance during times when they are going through growth spurts; the bone matrix and muscle bodies are protein dependent so this puts great demand on growing kids to maintain a diet with substantial high quality protein portions.

Kids as well as adults can be protein deficient if they break down protein too fast (a catabolic process) – this is common in the fast metabolic phase of ADHD.

For more details, see Kids Mental Health Series – Part 4.


7. B3 Dependent Kids                                   

These Kids are so deficient in vitamin B3 that they are dependent on it.  This frank deficiency is quite rare in kids but vitamin B3 (niacin) reduces dopamine overproduction (common in psychosis, and to a lesser extent in behavior and mood disorders).  When excess adrenaline, dopamine and nor-adrenaline are not eliminated properly they break down and oxidize into substances (adrenochrome, dopaminochrome and nor-adrenochrome, respectively) similar in structure and action to LSD and mescaline; this ‘adrenochrome hypothesis’ was the first biochemical theory presented in psychiatry as a cause for schizophrenia.  For more details, see Kids Mental Health Series – Part 5.

By contrast, vitamin B3 and C deficiency (not dependency) is also an important consideration for kids mental health and well-being – see section 12.


8. Vitamin B6 and Zinc Deficient Kids                     

B6 and zinc deficiency are associated with poor mental health, stress intolerance, poor dream recall, acne, white spots on the nails and joint problems. B6 and zinc are involved in the basic protein manufacturing processes of transamination and transcription, respectively. Without adequate B6 and zinc, neurotransmitter manufacture is compromised.  Zinc is involved in over 200 enzymatic reactions in the body.  Zinc is depleted in times of stress or when heavy metals are present.  For more details, see Kids Mental Health Series – Part 4.


9. Hypoglycemic Kids                                   

Hypoglycemia is a low blood sugar state.  Hypoglycemic kids are often tired after meals and constantly hungry.  Many kids do not eat 3 meals a day and if they do, they eat a predominant portion of carbohydrates.  The carbohydrate dominant North American diet releases sugar to the bloodstream way too quickly; spikes in sugar are followed by sharp drops and the sharper the drop the greater the effect on the brain.  In this state, brain cells that demand a constant and substantial sugar/energy supply (due to their high metabolic rate) are effectively starved rendering kids (and adults) prone to mood vacillation, irritability, addiction (e.g. sugar ‘addiction’) and in extreme cases, criminal behavior (also associated with heavy metal excess).  For more details, see Kids Mental Health Series – Part 4.


10. EFA Deficient Kids                                   

Essential fats (EFA’s) are important components of brain cell walls and are involved in neurotransmitter electrical activity.  Sixty percent of the dry weight of our brain is fat.  EFA’s are needed to prevent unavoidable oxidative stresses that break down nerve cell membranes and compromise mental health.  Heavy metals cause oxidative stress and destroy brain tissue.  A dopamine rich brain is prone to oxidization.  Oxidized metabolites can be neurotoxic (and hallucinogenic).  For more details, see Kids Mental Health Series – Part 4.


11. Copper Deficient Kids                

Without copper, mood and motivation can be disrupted.  Copper is needed for catecholamine neurotransmitter production and executive brain functions.  Physical copper deficiency signs/symptoms include small cherry red round bulges on the skin (cherry angiomas), frequent bacterial infections, bleeding gums, and easy bruising.


12. Vitamin B3 and C Deficient Kids                       

Vitamin B3 is one of the few methyl acceptors in the body.  As a methyl acceptor, vitamin B3 can limit, in a regulated fashion, neurotransmitter over-production.  Vitamin B3 is involved in cellular energy production. Vitamin B3 and C are anti-stress nutrients.  Both are also physiological antagonists of copper which is a cofactor in catecholamine production.  Kids with a family history of schizophrenia also typically do well on vitamin B3.  Irregardless of family history, more and more orthomolecular pratitioners are finding viutamin B3 picotal in mood and behavior disorders.  Vitamin C’s free radical scavenging capability is associated with improved mental health.  For more details, see Kids Mental Health Series – Part 5.


13. Magnesium Deficient Kids                     

Magnesium deficiency is extremely common in kids.  Magnesium deficiency is associated with anxiety, sleep disturbance (problems staying asleep), clumsiness (dyspraxia), depression, muscle cramps/tension, blood pressure changes, and bladder enuresis (bed wetting).  The bone matrix is magnesium dependent so here again we see great demand for a nutrient during childhood developing.  Too much fiber (phytates) and too few vegetables (magnesium is the central ion of chlorophyll, plant pigment) will deplete magnesium.  For more details, see Kids Mental Health Series – Part 3.

14. Calcium and Vitamin D deficient Kids              

Most kids have fast metabolisms and calcium deficiency is common in kids with fast metabolisms.  Calcium is plentiful in almost all foods, not just dairy unilaterally.  Vitamin D works in the body to maintain calcium levels. Calcium is useful to maintain outer bone structure.  Vitamin D is useful in the formation of the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin.  In the winter months when we are exposed to less sunlight our vitamin D levels drop and we get ‘winter blues’.  Vitamin D works with thyroid hormone at the cellular level to maintain a high metabolic rate.  For more details, see Kids Mental Health Series – Part 3.


15. Iron Deficient Kids                                  

Iron deficiency is quite common in kids.  Iron deficiency symptoms/signs include fatigue, poor attention and cognition, difficulty swallowing pills/food and a sallow complexion.  Copper toxic patients often exhibit iron deficiency because these minerals are physiological antagonists. Iron deficiency is more common in young women entering puberty due to menstrual period blood iron loss.  Iron is needed for thyroid hormone production. For more details, see excerpts in Kids Mental Health Series – Part 4 and Kids Mental Health Series – Part 2.


Our Brain Assessment Questionnaire

Our brain assessment questionnaire available for prospective clients may be of interest to give parents a handle on the potential biochemical-nutrient scenario at play in their child.  This assessment tool is also useful for adults.


Disclaimer Note: Principles discussed herein are not intended for patient self-prescription; herein provisions of information are not to be considered as advice.