Bothersome Berries and Hyperactivity

Written by Coriander Stone, Senior Brainstorm Health® Practitioner

Summer is here in the UK, which for many people often means an improvement in general health. However, for those with a phenol sensitivity, things can get tough around this time.

Many of the children we work with are sensitive to phenols; chemical compounds found naturally in plant products. These are often found in processed foods too, but summer may be an especially difficult time for phenol-sensitive individuals due to the nature of the plant foods which contain the highest amount of phenolic compounds.

Which natural foods are highest in phenols?

The highest phenol fruits include strawberries and raspberries, as well as apricots, cherries and plums, all of which are abundant at this time of year and which many children love to gorge on. Vegetables with particularly high levels of phenols include red, green and yellow peppers, radishes and tomatoes which are again, all classic summer foods, with children often loving their texture and crunch. Basil, mint and dill also fall into the “high” category and are often found in summer dishes.

The best way to know whether a food contains high levels of phenols is to look at the colour. The more brightly pigmented it is, the higher the phenolic load. If there is phenol sensitivity, it is good to remember that it is not necessary to remove ALL phenols but to aim to reduce the total load. So rather than eating strawberries or other berries daily, try to intersperse with other fruits and if they are consumed, keep the phenolic load low for the rest of the day.

When aiming for the optimal balance, consider green grapes instead of red and purple or make a fruit salad mainly comprised of the lowest phenol fruits, such as yellow apples, pears, mango, pineapple, cantaloupe melon, passion fruit, amongst others. You can always add a smaller amount of berries to avoid feeling deprived. Remember it’s all about load!

Why are phenols problematic?

Whilst natural plant phenols contain protective properties, have a powerful antioxidant effect and do not cause symptoms in the majority of people, potentially over 80% of ASD children have a deficiency in a key detoxification pathway called sulphation, which helps break down and eliminate phenols from the body. This is thought to be linked to increased intestinal permeability (or “leaky gut syndrome”), which is prevalent in ASD and therefore often leads to much higher levels of phenols in the system and therefore, an intolerance to them.

Symptoms of phenol sensitivity:

If you have a child who shows the following symptoms within 48 hours of eating phenol-rich foods, they may have a phenol sensitivity: –

  • Emotional extremes, such as euphoria or “Slap Happy”, followed by depression
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Red face/ears
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headache
  • Trouble falling asleep at night, night waking, and insomnia
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Night sweats
  • Aggression
  • Self-injury (head banging, hitting, or other self-injury)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Eczema or other skin conditions

What else can I do?

Any food or chemical that requires or uses up sulphate during its breakdown will make the situation worse. Common foods that can cause this problem include apple juice, citrus fruit juices and chocolate, so aim to avoid these as much as possible and especially on days that your child is eating foods high in phenols.

We often recommend soaking in a bath with Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate), which supports the sulphation pathway necessary for removing phenols from the body. We recommend adding 2 cups of salts to a bath and soaking for at least 20 minutes, 4 times a week. However, there are situations where Epsom salts are not tolerated, so it is always best to work with a qualified practitioner.

Supporting your child’s digestive processes is also crucial, as a deficiency in sulphate can reduce digestive activity. Magnesium and molybdenum are involved in the sulphation pathway, so we always look at supporting good levels of these nutrients with things like beef liver, leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds. Certain B vitamins may make the situation worse unless adequately supported with sufficient magnesium.

Where appropriate we also recommend specific enzymes that help break phenols down – this is when the child either accidentally eats high phenol foods or simply MUST because it is a food that is loved!

If you have any concerns about your child’s reaction to phenols, please book a discovery call with us to find out more about how we work.