By Fred Ingham, Marigold Parent
On Monday May 20th, Dr. Miroslawa Witalis gave a second lecture about nutrition and wellness, building on the material she presented in April. The topic of this second talk was how our diet can influence our moods and behaviors in specific ways. In the first lecture, she focused on the role of cortisol in regulating alertness and energy. In the second, she spoke about the role of a hormone called DHEA. DHEA is a pre-cursor to the sex hormones testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. DHEA serves in a “restorative” function, and is somewhat complementary to cortisol. DHEA is part of what allows adults to get by with less sleep than children (who normally do not have much DHEA prior to puberty).
Dr. Witalis sees that modern diets and certain environmental toxins (especially those found in plastics) are causing children to show physical and behavioral symptoms linked to DHEA and its associated sex hormones. Aggressiveness and anxiety (testosterone), social problems (estrogen) and lack of concentration (progesterone) are indicators that there could be a hormonal imbalance at work. She has seen behavioral problems correlated with elevated levels of these hormones, and has found that dietary interventions can be an important aid in helping individuals and families to function better.
The keys to keeping DHEA in healthy bounds are to follow a diet that keeps cortisol levels in the normal range, peaking in the early morning and declining throughout the day. This means having a protein dense breakfast, a substantial lunch, and a light dinner, ideally 4 hours before sleeping. When we don’t follow this type of plan, cortisol levels can fluctuate irregularly, especially by dropping early in the day and rising at night. This pattern can stimulate production of DHEA, which can lead to elevated levels of the sex hormones. Another concern that Dr. Witalis raised was that elevated cortisol levels at night can actually be caustic to the brain, causing long term damage.
There are other things that seem to contribute to elevated levels of DHEA and its associated sex hormones. Many compounds found in plastics mimic sex hormones in the body, so Dr. Witalis recommended that we avoid eating off of or around heated plastics (like at a computer or in the car). Dr. Witalis also suggested that modern parenting practices could be contributing to the elevated levels of DHEA often found in children. In particular, the practice of engaging children with too many choices that are inappropriate to their age may be having a subtle effect. Young children do best, she said, when adults set the rhythm and expectations of the children’s day, and follow that consistently. This leaves the children’s minds and bodies free to develop in an age-appropriate way. If instead, we are frequently asking them to decide, on everything from what clothes to wear to what the family should eat for dinner, we’re essentially calling forth their adult selves too early, and they respond, in part, by producing elevated levels of DHEA, which can contribute to some of the their behavior problems.
So, if behavior problems are affecting your family, consider the role that diet and environmental toxins could be playing, as well as whether the child’s choice-making is being overly engaged. It may be that some simple interventions around how the family eats and makes decisions can bring significant relief.
Dr. Miroslawa Witalis is a Naturopathic Physician with a degree from Bastyr University and a Masters degree in Medical Technology from the Medical Academy in Krakow. She has taught pharmacology, lab chemistry, homeopathy, and Goetheanistic methodology in natural sciences and holistic medicine, and has served as a consultant to health care practitioners in Europe.