A Look at How Nutrition Affects Learning and Focus of Kids with Neurological Disorders

Today, I’m pleased to share with you a conversation I had with Dr. Robert Melillo about the connection between what we feed our children and their behavior, especially for children with brain imbalances.  It goes deeper than not feeding our children too much sugar to make them hyper.

dr melilloThere has been a lot of interest and research in this area by parents and doctors alike. Robert is also the author of The Disconnected Kids Nutrition Plan which was just released this week.  This is a good read for further investigation into the correlation between nutrition and behavior in children.

AOM:  Is there a direct correlation between what we feed our children and behavior? Specifically with children who struggle with brain imbalance, behavior, learning, emotional or sleep issues?

Dr. ROBERT MELILLO: There is a direct correlation; however it really depends on the child and the level of imbalance in their brain and body.

The more out of balance or dysfunctional the brain is, the more out of balance and dysfunctional the gut and the immune system will be. The brain controls all of our systems, including the digestive and immune systems.

The digestive system can be impacted in several ways when the brain isn’t working optimally or is immature.

•  There is reduced blood flow to the gut which reduces: absorption of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

The reduced blood flow also causes a breakdown of the stomach lining, a.k.a. “Leaky Gut”. Larger undigested proteins get through the lining into the blood system when the stomach lining becomes more porous; this triggers an immune inflammatory response.

Cytokines, inflammatory chemicals trigger inflammation in the brain and body. The cytokines will affect the child’s behavior and ability to learn more than anything else. The imbalance in the brain exacerbates this because this it causes an imbalance in the immune response.   This imbalance can make your child more prone to chronic infections (i.e. ear infections).

Or it may make the immune system too strong and the child develops sensitivities to foods and chemicals in their environment. Both of these situations will affect the child’s behavior.

•  Another way the digestive system can be impacted is by a reduced production of secretions including digestive enzymes that are necessary to chemically break down food, including proteins.

• A reduction of secretion of stomach acid affects digestion and also impacts the PH balance in the gut. This allows bad bacteria and yeast to flourish, while also affecting the child’s ability to absorb B Vitamins.

AOM: Throughout your book, The Disconnected Kids Nutrition Plan you provide stories of actual clients of the Brain Balance program.


Can you tell us some of the telltale signs of how sensitivities present themselves?

Dr. ROBERT MELILLO: Food sensitivities are not like food allergies that provide obvious severe physical symptoms, they can be difficult to identify. If a child has a food sensitivity to gluten or dairy, often the child exhibits behavior, learning, emotional or sleep issues. Most parents do not realize their child even has a food sensitivity.

Food sensitives don’t present a cause and effect relationship as it may take a couple of days to show signs.

You can’t just look at a child and know that they have a food sensitivity. The only way to tell if your child has a food sensitivity is to eliminate foods and then reintroduce them as described in my book.

Of course, you may have heard of blood tests too, however they are not 100% accurate.

I believe every child that has a behavior or learning should go through an elimination diet and food challenge.

AOM: Is it known what some of the probable or possible causes for common neurological disorders like autism and ADHD? I know that you believe that foods do not cause neurological disorders, even though nutrition choices can help improve the function and health of those that suffer from neurological disorders.

Dr. ROBERT MELILLO: There are many possible causes, I discussed genetic and environmental risk factors in, Autism The Scientific Truth… 2013

Usually, there is no specific injury, pathology or genetic mutation, it is a functional imbalance that is correctable.

Generally, something causes a developmental delay in the brain during a specific stage of development that affects certain areas of the brain. This delay leads to a developmental imbalance in the brain where certain areas are more mature and stronger than other areas. The developmental imbalance is reflected as an “unevenness” of skills that can reveal themselves in academics and/or behavior.
AOM: Tell us how the elimination diet can help lead to dramatic improvements for a child struggling with neurological disorders.

Dr. ROBERT MELILLO:  Kids are often called picky eaters because they don’t want to try new foods and want only their favorite foods.

Parents are faced with the task of figuring out if they just have a picky eater or if there is a larger underlying problem? By modifying your child’s diet, inflammation could be reduced and behavior could improve, but ultimately the primary problem is still the brain imbalance.

A brain imbalance may lead to food sensitivity and an inflammatory response. Eliminating the food may stop the trigger but it doesn’t address the root cause in some cases.

Many see very dramatic and positive improvement in symptoms and improve behavior, learning , concentration, sleeping and emotional regulation simply by eliminating these inflammatory foods.

AOM: Can you tell us about some of the common sensory issues a child might have while eating? What sort of proposed solutions work?

Dr. ROBERT MELILLO:  The most common sensory issues a child might have while eating has to do with taste, smell, and tactile sensations.

Most children that have behavior and learning issues also have an abnormal, diminished or completely absent sense of smell.

These children will judge food by the way it looks, how it feels in their mouth, or by the  temperature of the food, not by the taste and smell of the food.  This explains why they are often called picky eaters and resistant to trying new foods.

You can’t “make “ a child eat when their brain is telling them not to. The answer is to get their sense of smell to return to normal, not by behaviorally managing them.

Smell activities can help stimulate children’s brains and improve their smell and taste. This results in a child being more open to trying new foods. Another result is often an improvement in social skills.

AOM: How did Zac Brown, a Grammy-award winning musician get involved with your book, The Disconnected Kids Nutrition Plan? Is he personally connected with neurological disorders?

Dr. ROBERT MELILLO: Zac and I first met before he even had a record deal.  He had become aware of our Brain Balance Centers in Atlanta. He was already developing plans for a special camp in the Atlanta for both typical kids and kids with disabilities like Autism.

Zac Brown

When Zac was a kid, he went to a summer camp that had typical and disabled kids in the same cabin. His camp experiences inspired him to start his own camp someday to help kids. When he heard about what we were doing, he wanted to incorporate some of my ideas into his camp.

Zac requested that I work with him and I was happy to do it.  Soon after we first, he released his first record “Chicken Fried” and the rest is history.

Zac has been on a mission to raise 50 million dollars to build Camp Southern Ground. I wanted to help raise money for the camp and help kids and families. Therefore, all of the money from this book will go to his camp.


This is a lot to digest!  Learn more on the topic with  Dr. Robert Melillo’s newly released book, The Disconnected Kids Nutrition Plan.

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Founder and Lead Blogger at Akron Ohio Moms
Cindy is the top Akron Blogger with her own take on awesome brands for families, where to vacation for families, a beat on local activities and family fun, a knack for getting moms to share , and a house that is always 2 weeks away from a complete remodel!
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