deficiencies, heavy metals and poor gut health affect behaviour and development of children

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How deficiencies, heavy metals and poor gut health affect behaviour and development of children


Have you taken your child to the doctor and been told that there’s nothing wrong, but in your heart, you know that their health could be better? Are they struggling in school, regularly tired and grumpy, struggle to pay attention or have poor immune health – even though they are eating a decent diet, getting enough exercise and play in?

A behavioural or developmental issue with your child can have an underlying cause from their environment, diet or lifestyle. However, what has also become clear to me as a holistic nutritionist, nutritional therapy practitioner and mother of 3 children is that all of these things can be seemingly on point but there can still be niggling issues with their health or quality of life.


Does your child have any of these symptoms?

  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Frequent bouts of illness
  • Fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Low energy 
  • Learning difficulties 
  • Trouble paying attention 
  • Hyperactivity
  • Inattention
  • Impulsivity
  • Poor memory 
  • Low motivation
  • Trouble regulating emotions 
  • Sleep problems
  • Slow growth
  • Anxiety

These sorts of issues and more can be the result of an accumulation of toxic heavy metal such as aluminium, mercury or lead, low levels of nutrients such as iron, zinc, selenium or potassium for example, an imbalance of key ratios of minerals, poor gut health, poor absorption, food intolerances or another nutritional related issue.

All of these issues can have a major impact on health and affect how well your child feels.

If your child is struggling and their doctor says they cannot find anything wrong, it is a good idea to get a full nutrient panel test from a reputable lab. The best way to see some immediate health improvements is to do a hair analysis test for nutrient deficiencies. Hair analysis is non-invasive and provides an overall mineral status unlike blood.

These issues could be caused by a number of issues related to nutrient deficiencies, poor gut health or toxins, adrenal insufficiency, poor thyroid function. Correcting these can often have a profound effect on health in less than a month of following the personalised protocol.

They are required for thousands of processes in the body and gut health is also fundamental to overall health.  In clinic I find combining both in practice gets the best results. For example minerals can chelate heavy metals, they can also improve digestion, gut health, energy and mood.


Minerals are essential for health

Minerals such as selenium, zinc, iron, calcium, phosphorus, molybdenum, magnesium etc are the spark plugs of life, they are required for thousands of processes in the body.

To highlight their importance, lets talk about zinc, one of my favourite minerals. Zinc is involved in strengthening the immune system, fighting inflammation, as well as the formation of neurons and synapses in the brain. This mineral is also correlated with helping with depression and skin health (Tardy et al., 2020).

Another really important mineral is magnesium. It plays a critical role in the production of ATP known as the energy production powerhouse of our cells. Low levels of magnesium contributes to oxidative stress, muscle cramps, fatigue and impair physical performance and more (Tardy et al., 2020).

A consistent low mineral pattern can divulge if there is an issue with low stomach acid levels, insufficient enzymes to improve the digestion and absorption of nutrients.


Good gut health is essential for optimal wellbeing

Gut repair and boosting beneficial microbes that are low or missing also forms a crucial part of improving deficiencies and overall health.

Improving gut health can improve behaviour, mood, skin, inflammation, sleep, balance hormones and more.


Deficiencies and aggressive behaviour in children

Research shows that when deficiencies are determined and corrected juvenile delinquents were significantly less violent and had improved brain function (Schoenthaler, et al., 1997). Subsequent research has replicated similar findings in reducing aggressive and antisocial behaviour in prisons in the Netherlands, Britain, USA & Australia.


Diet and depression

Many research studies show that improving the diet with key nutrients improves brain health and function.

A study published in 2017 shows that major depressive disorder can be put into remission with dietary changes. After 12 weeks of consuming a modified Mediterranean style diet 32% of participants in the study no longer suffered from depression (Jacka, et al., 2017).

Although there are many observational studies on the connection between mood and diet, it was only in 2017 when one of the first randomised controlled trials was conducted to determine if dietary habits can improve mood. Crazy it was only done recently!

A study conducted by the CDC in June 2020 found that 63% of young adults were experiencing depression or anxiety. What you think and feel affects every facet of your life, this is a major issue affecting the youth of today.


Gut health and autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Multiple studies demonstrate that poor gut health can exacerbate autism symptoms. It is common for children who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to have an underdeveloped microbiome or gut dysbiosis. Their bacterial profile has been shown to be distinctly different from neurotypical children. Dysbiosis can affect the regulation of neurotransmitter pathways. Due to this, ASD children commonly have trouble with the biosynthesis of neurological pathways resulting in them being depleted. This can affect cognition and result in irregular brain activity (Chen, Xu and Chen, 2021).

A fascinating and somewhat weird study conducted by Arizona State University gave autistic children faecal matter transplants from neurotypical children with astounding results. At the two year follow up period there was a 59% reduction in their gastrointestinal symptoms and 47% decrease in ASD symptoms from baseline (Nirmalkar et al., 2022).


How do heavy metals accumulate in the body?

Over the last 100 years mass manufacturing, and other industrial activities have increased significantly. As a result, we are now exposed to much higher levels of heavy metals in our environment. The heavy metals most commonly affecting health are lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium (Balali-Mood et al., 2021).

There are a number of ways these can accumulate in the body. It could be in the air, water, toys, old paint, food, metal fillings or transferred from your mother’s or even grandmother’s exposure. It is often difficult to pinpoint exactly where the exposure is from.

But the good news is we can tell if it has accumulated in the system with a hair analysis.


How did this happen to my child?

It can be hard to pinpoint, but often issues occur from a combination of diet, lifestyle and environmental factors. It could be from something as simple as a combination of picking up a parasite in a creek, mum having metal fillings, too many rounds of antibiotics and too much sugar in the diet.

In practice I see commonalities in the patterns of deficiency, insufficiency and excess passed on from mother to child. Nutritional status of the mother is inherited by the child (Kundakovic & Jaric, 2017). Of course, mothers make a concerted effort to do their best nutritionally for their growing baby. It is often issues that are out of their control or hidden issues such as poor nutrient absorption from bacterial or viral overloads, chronic inflammation, low stomach acid or digestive enzymes.


It is important to test not guess

Before commencing any supplement regime, it is important to test in order to find out what you may be deficient in and what you may already have high levels of. Testing provides critical information, there is such thing as taking too much of a good thing, especially if you already have adequate levels. For example, some people shouldn’t be taking magnesium – even though it’s touted as the miracle mineral. Some slow metabolic types have incredibly high levels of magnesium and adding more in can result in negative symptoms worsening. Minerals and vitamins work in synergy, taking a vitamin or mineral affects has a knock-on effect.

The tests I use are affordable as far as functional tests go and offer value for money due to the insights they provide to improve quality of life. Contact me today to find out more.



Balali-Mood, M., Naseri, K., Tahergorabi, Z., Khazdair, M. R., & Sadeghi, M. (2021). Toxic Mechanisms of Five Heavy Metals: Mercury, Lead, Chromium, Cadmium, and Arsenic. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 12.

Chen, Y., Xu, J. and Chen, Y. (2021). Regulation of Neurotransmitters by the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Cognition in Neurological Disorders. Nutrients, 13(6), p.2099. https://doi:10.3390/nu13062099

 Jacka, F.N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R. et al. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Med 15, 23 (2017).

Kundakovic, M., & Jaric, I. (2017). The Epigenetic Link between Prenatal Adverse Environments and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Genes, 8(3), 104.

 Nirmalkar, K., Qureshi, F., Kang, D.-W., Hahn, J., Adams, J.B. and Krajmalnik-Brown, R. (2022). Shotgun Metagenomics Study Suggests Alteration in Sulfur Metabolism and Oxidative Stress in Children with Autism and Improvement after Microbiota Transfer Therapy. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 23(21), p.13481. https://doi:10.3390/ijms232113481

Sally H. Adams, Jason P. Schaub, Jason Nagata, M. Jane Park, Claire D. Brindis, Charles E. Irwin. Young Adult Anxiety or Depressive Symptoms and Mental Health Service Utilization During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of Adolescent Health, 2022; DOl: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2022.02.023

Stephen Schoenthaler, Stephen Amos Walter Doraz, Mary-Ann Kelly George Muedeking, James Wakefield Jr (1997) The Effect of Randomized Vitamin-Mineral Supplementation on Violent and Non-violent Antisocial Behavior Among Incarcerated Juveniles, Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine, 7:4, 343-352, DOI: 10.1080/13590849762475

 Tardy, A.-L., Pouteau, E., Marquez, D., Yilmaz, C. and Scholey, A. (2020). Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence. Nutrients, [online] 12(1), p.228. https://doi:10.3390/nu12010228

About nutritionist Chrissy

Chrissy is a university qualified nutritionist who graduated with honours at La Trobe University in Melbourne. One of her favourite hobbies is to read the scientific literature on longevity, epigenetics, gut health, nutrients and how to optimise health. When she’s not reading, writing or working she’s with her 3 children outdoors, doing yoga, lifting weights or jogging the streets of Noosa or cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Chrissy has overcome some debilitating chronic health issues (low mood, adrenal fatigue, insomnia, very bad acne to name a few) with the power of nutrients and correcting gut health, at 39 she now feels better than she did in her 20’s.