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Childhood Mood & Behavior Disorders - A Functional Medicine Approach - Luke's Story

In one year, this 10-year-old has made significant behavioral improvements, has stopped two of three medications, is no longer experiencing insomnia or constipation, and is thriving at school.  Read today's blog to hear his story!


I first met nine-year-old Luke* and his mother in late 2016. Luke had been diagnosed with a variety of psychological and neurological disorders, including ADHD, PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified), Anxiety, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), and a sensory processing disorder.


Since the age of five, Luke had been evaluated and treated by a variety of psychologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, and pediatricians, as well as a number of occupational and physical therapists. By age nine he was on three different prescription medications for mood and attention.

At that first visit, Luke’s mom described him as "consistently inconsistent". She illustrated a child who on one day would appear happy, calm and content, while the next day appeared ”tormented" by irritability, anger, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and anxiety.

I also learned that Luke had suffered from both chronic interrupted sleep and lifelong constipation. At times he would go 5–7 days without a bowel movement, and his mother would notice worsening behavior during these times. Complicating matters, his multiple psychiatric medications only seemed to worsen both his sleep and constipation.

After hearing Luke’s story and performing an examination, a comprehensive laboratory evaluation was ordered which included testing for:
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • inflammation
  • blood levels of heavy metals
  • thyroid function
  • food allergies and sensitivities
  • micronutrient testing
  • functional stool testing
Prior to our first visit, Luke's parents had already implemented changes to his diet by eliminating additives and preservatives, most processed foods, sugar, soy, and conventional dairy products. I asked them to expand upon this and completely remove gluten from his diet.

I met again with Luke and his mother in early March 2017 to review the results of his testing. With the exception of low Vitamin D, Luke’s blood lab results were overwhelmingly normal. His stool testing, however, was not.

Luke’s functional stool testing revealed several abnormalities, including:
  • poor digestion, with evidence of high levels of protein and fat in his stool
  • bacterial dysbiosis, an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria in the gut
  • low microbial diversity
I recommended they add both fish oil and vitamin D with specific dosing recommendations given. We also initiated a protocol to rebalance his gut which included:
  • continued food restriction, avoiding gluten and other inflammatory foods
  • chewable digestive enzymes with meals
  • pharmaceutical-grade probiotics
  • an herbal blend to reduce the overgrowth of “bad” gut bacteria while still promoting the growth of “good” gut bacteria
Off one medication and behavior improved!

Luke’s mother and I followed up via email in May after completing the herbal gut protocol. I was thrilled to learn of the progress that Luke had made! He had been off of Concerta (a medicine for hyperactivity and attention) for 2 months and was experiencing less behavioral problems. I advised them to continue the probiotics, enzymes, fish oil and vitamin D, and we added magnesium.

Off two medications, sleeping well and regular bowel movements!

b2ap3_thumbnail_GUT.jpgBy August 2017 Luke was down from three to only one medication. His mother reported that he was sleeping well and was having daily well-formed bowel movements! While Luke was still often impulsive and defiant, overall significant behavior improvement had continued since his initial visit.

In November Luke’s mother and I touched base after he had been back in school. She reported that he was “loving school” and was excited to report that he had not had any behavioral or academic problems. His anxiety and impulsiveness had improved. and his mother commented that “he looks really healthy”.

To follow up our gut protocol, we repeated Luke’s Functional Stool Testing, as well as a Urine Organic Acid Panel (which can give us a wealth of information without another blood draw). His stool testing had significantly improved, with better microbial diversity however he continued to show signs of poor digestion and bacterial levels, while much better, were still trending toward imbalance.

Using this follow up information we were able to “tweak” his current program, adding back digestive enzymes (which had been phased out), and repeating a one-month herbal program to further balance gut bacteria. We also added back L-glutamine to further heal and strengthen his small intestinal lining.

His diet restrictions have loosened slightly, but key concepts remain in place, including a whole food diet, and keeping sugar and processed foods to a minimum. They have identified significant gluten intolerance with increased anxiety and agitation, as well as a slightly less pronounced sugar intolerance.

Through the use of a thorough history, appropriate laboratory testing, and evidence-based Functional Medicine protocols, Luke has made significant behavioral improvements, has stopped two of three medications, is sleeping well, having regular bowel movements and thriving at school. I look forward to seeing his progress continue over the years to come!

*patient name has been changed to protect privacy

Carin Nielsen, MD Integrative MedicineI use an Integrative/Functional Medicine approach with my patients to treat a variety of chronic medical conditions, including both adult and childhood mood and behavior disorders. Rather than focusing solely on the use of prescription medication, consider addressing potential "root causes" of you or your loved one's symptoms, such as nutrition, gut health, toxicities/impaired detoxification, hormone imbalance, deficiencies and more. If you are interested in learning more or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact our office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 231-638-5585.
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