• Jennifer Kozek

Behavioral Therapy Can’t Fix This: Getting to the Root of ODD


According to the Journal of Pediatric Health, 20% of all children and adolescents in the United States have a diagnosable mental illness. This number accounts for approximately 15 million children. Canada has very similar statistics. Also, as reported by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry - at least half of those children with mental illness display conduct or oppositional defiant behaviors.

What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)?

The DSM-5, the bible of psychiatry, categorizes ODD as emotional and behavioral symptoms that last at least six months. Anxious, angry, and irritable mood: Often and easily loses temper – a pattern of hostile, disobedient, and defiant behaviors directed at adults and other authority figures. Often argumentative, refusing rules, and vindictive. Particularly challenging are severe conduct problems such as aggression and impulsivity that can be harmful and destructive. As a result, parents are eager to find effective mental health treatments that can quickly stop children’s disruptive behaviors before they become chronic or escalate to violence.

Typically, parents are encouraged to get parent training and seek out help from behavioral therapists and psychiatrists to prescribe medication. Eight million kids from 6 months to 17 years are on pharma drugs in the United States, and most parents are unaware of the deadly risks. According to 2018 statistics, 1 in every 11 children aged 3 to 18 in both the United States and Canada are on at least one medication to treat emotional and behavioral problems. Sadly, even toddlers are prescribed dangerous antipsychotic medications including, Haldol, Abilify, Seroquel, Zyprexa, Geodon, and Risperdal. According to a New York Times Article, Risperdal is given to infants still in the crib when the child’s seizure medication causes violent behavior. Moreover, young children are likely receiving multiple psychotropic drugs. “In one large-scale analysis, almost 80% of preschool children receiving antipsychotic medications also were prescribed other psychotropic medications to manage their symptoms.”

What's The Harm of Medication?

- Suppresses symptoms – never addressing the root cause.

- Depletes vital brain nutrients from the body such as vitamin B and calcium

- Studies suggest that early psychiatric medication use may later disrupt the development of brain cells in the hippocampus, region of the brain critical to memory, spatial navigation, & behavior.

- Side effects (as noted on package inserts) range from a loss of appetite to worsening of symptoms, tics, seizures, depression to psychosis to death.

Moving Away From Psychiatry

Conventional medicine is incredibly powerful for dealing with a variety of ailments, ranging from a broken leg to a heart attack. When it comes to more nuanced disorders, however, Western doctors are trained by pharmaceutical companies virtually ignoring underlying causes, dietary influences, and natural remedies—even when the latter aren’t only cheaper and more effective, but sometimes the only good option.

The ODD & Processed Food Connection

- Synthetic food flavoring and coloring made from petroleum, coal tar, and aluminum can cause many mental issues and behavioral disturbances.

- Food Preservatives like sodium benzoate, nitrates, and nitrites can cause increased hyperactivity and oppositional behavior. In a 1998 article, “How Additives Turn Your Little Angel into the Devil,” published in the Daily Record of Glasgow, Scotland, the author lists sodium nitrates as among the foods that can provoke many maladaptive behaviors in children.

- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a processed sodium salt used to enhance the flavor in food. It can overstimulate and damage neurons (nerve cells) in the hypothalamic region of the brain. Research points specifically to high levels of MSG in the brain as a contributing factor in hyperactivity, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms because it throws off the natural balance of GABA (calming amino acid) and glutamate and causes the drop of feel good neurotransmitters.

- Artificial Sweeteners such as aspartame are excitotoxins that can elevate the levels of phenylalanine and aspartic acid in the brain. Aspartame can inhibit the release of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain. It can also boost cortisol levels and the number of free radicals, increasing oxidative stress, which leads to many neurobehavioral symptoms.​

- Processed Sugar and blood sugar fluctuations as seen in hypoglycemia and diabetes, can lead to memory issues, aggression, hyperactivity, depression, and mood swings.

- Synthetic Pesticides are neurotoxic chemicals that are causing many ill effects, and our main exposure is from conventual (non-organic) produce and processed foods. Researchers have confirmed a link between the exposure to heavy metal containing pesticides and attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and aggressive behavior.

Psychiatry is the only branch of medicine that never performs any laboratory testing before prescribing potentially dangerous medication.

Yet, doctors of naturopathic medicine along with functional medicine MD’s will run a full battery of tests to help determine the underlying root causes of the mood or behavior before coming up with a unique treatment plan. Some of the most popular tests they run are nutritional panels, fecal gut analysis, urine neurotransmitter testing, heavy metal testing, metabolic panels, and food sensitivity testing.

The Role of Vitamins, Minerals, and Omega Fatty-Acids in Psychiatry

Studies show that the brain is one of the greediest of organs and need many nutrients to work optimally. According to the Journal of Integrative Medicine Insights, ninety years of research demonstrate the relevance of dietary nutrients for mental health. It was observed that irritability and mood problems were more prevalent in people with nutritional deficiencies. Some of the essential nutrients for brain health are omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and trace minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and others.

The Gut – Brain Connection

Our emotions are largely governed by the state of our digestive system – the house of our immune system. Our small intestines are considered our “second” brain. The enteric nervous system has more neurons than either the brain or spinal cord. And most do not recognize that ninety-five percent of the bodies feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin is found in the bowels. So, we are literally treating the wrong organ.

Leaky Gut Syndrome

When the bowels become permeable from medication, a poor diet, toxic substances, pesticides, and other assaults, food molecules enter the bloodstream and do not get absorbed. When this occurs, the body and the brain do not receive the nutrients they need. A leaky gut can lead to many mental health issues. A highly permeable gut wall allows passage of all sorts of antigenic proteins, toxins, and pathogens into the circulation, which are driving factors in the cognitive symptoms and abnormal behaviors. Also, food sensitivities can develop as the immune system attacks the food particles that have entered the bloodstream, thinking it is a foreign invader. The most common food sensitivities causing mood and behavioral issues are gluten, dairy, corn, nuts, eggs, and soy.

Food Sensitivities if left untreated, can disrupt healthy blood sugar levels, cause brain fog, and cause many psychiatric symptoms, including some that mimic ODD.

The Microbiome and The Mood

The human body hosts an enormous abundance and diversity of microbes, which perform a range of essential immune and metabolic functions. Microbiome diversity and healthiness has come into focus as a significant factor affecting mental health. In 2016, the authors of an article in the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry noted, “the gut microbiome can influence neural development, cognition, and behavior. Recent evidence suggests that changes in behavior alter gut microbiota composition, while modifications of the microbiome can induce depressive-like behaviors. In 2018, the PLoS Journal demonstrated that individuals with ADHD, impulsivity, anxiety, and alike had a reduced microbiome diversity compared to healthy controls. And, another study revealed that the gut microbiota has a direct effect on levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, and dopamine.

Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders (PANS/PANDAS)

PANS/PANDAS should be ruled in/out when looking for root causes of psychiatric disturbances in both children and adults. Although many mainstream doctors don’t yet recognize this phenomenon, psychiatric disorders can be associated with untreated Streptococcal infections, Lyme Disease, mold exposure, Epstein Barr, and other illnesses. Typically, a person displays a rapid onset of psychiatric symptoms such as OCD, tics, angry outbursts, sensitivities to noise, developmental regression, handwriting regression, repetitive thoughts and behaviors, and defiance. Although it is believed that there are many “soft signs” leading up to a final flare, some soft signs include chronic illness, ear infections, red ears, stomach aches, colic, and anxiety. An increased viral or toxic load cross over the blood-brain barrier causing the immune system to overproduce antibodies with increased inflammatory response in the brain. This causes brain encephalitis. Antigens attack the dopamine receptor in the Basal Ganglia, causing fluctuation in dopamine leading to OCD, tics, and other neuropsychiatric symptoms. Many allopathic doctors that do recognize PANS/PANDAS will often use antibiotics, steroids, and psychotropic medication to kill the pathogens, and reduce symptoms. However, the medications kill all microbiomes in the gut - including the ones that are there to help. I recommend finding a PANS literate doctor of naturopathic medicine, homeopath, herbalist, or functional medicine doctor that will work at boosting the immune system instead. The goal is to support the body in handling the antigens, aid the detox pathways and organs, support the adrenals, heal the gut, and reduce inflammation naturally. Often herbals, anti-inflammatory diets, homeopathy, and holistic therapies are successfully used without the need for long antibiotic treatments and synthetic medications.

A great resource I highly recommend to better understand PANS/ PANDAS is the book Brain Under Attack: A Resource for Parents and Caregivers of Children with PANS, PANDAS, and Autoimmune Encephalitis.

Learn more about my family's healing journey (including everything that has worked for me and many of my clients) in my book Healing Without Hurting. And to receive more info on how you and your family can overcome ADHD, apraxia, anxiety and more without medication SIGN UP HERE.

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