In this episode, I am speaking with Madiha Saeed, MD about parenting children with healthy brains and bodies in a changing world.
Table of Contents
In this podcast, Dr. Saeed and I discuss:
- Why today’s world demands a new style of parenting – a holistic, mindful approach – not merely copying our own upbringing.
- The epidemic of childhood chronic disease that we must recognize faces every typical American child (and those with similar lifestyle habits).
- How chronic inflammation is a child’s biggest enemy and which lifestyle habits put them most at risk from the problems associated with it.
- The ways in which diet, toxins and stress and too much screen time are affecting the way our children use their brains, making them prone to behavioral issues and further symptoms.
- The most effective place to start making positive changes to children’s lifestyles (especially when all else fails!)
- The most powerful thing you can teach your kids to do every morning, to set them up for a great day and a great life.
- Practical ways to educate your kids so that they make great choices all on their own (like eating the right foods, using stress-busting practices, spending time in nature and more!)
- Dr. Saeed’s thoughts about whether adults’ responses to Covid has been more damaging to children’s health and happiness rather than protective.
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Ari: Hey, this is Ari. Welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. Today’s guest is Ari Said, who is also known on social media as Holistic Mom MD. She’s a practicing board-certified family physician. She’s an international speaker and a best-selling author of several books. The Holistic Prescription, Your Guide to Healing Chronic Inflammation and Disease, as well as a bestselling functional medicine children’s book series, Adam’s Healing Adventures and the latest book, The Holistic Prescription for Kids, Parenting Healthy Brains and Bodies in a Changing World, which is what we’re going to be talking about in this episode.
There’s a lot of gold nuggets in here and I hope you enjoy it, especially important obviously for those of you with little ones like myself. Enjoy the episode. Welcome Madiha, such a pleasure to have you as always.
Madiha: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I can’t wait for our conversation today. Incredibly honored. [chuckles]
Why we need to invest in our children’s health
Ari: Yes. First of all, you have just published a couple of books related to children’s health. One is for children, one is for parents. Just give us the brief rundown of what books you wrote and a brief description of them. By the way, I haven’t read the children’s book, but I have read the one for parents and it’s awesome. I highly recommend everybody listening, go on Amazon right now. If you have little kid ads, go get these books. I strongly recommend them. I’m giving you the sales pitch front on my Madiha’s behalf.
Obviously I get no money from directing you to Amazon to go get these books. I just truly want to help her get the word out. The rest of this podcast we will continue the sales pitch, encouraging you to go get these books, but while also providing a lot of valuable content. So, Madiha give us the rundown.
Madiha: Well, specifically in today’s changing world, we need to parent our children completely different the way that our parents raised us. Unfortunately, the world that we live in today is not the same as what we grew up. I really wanted to create a series, a book with parenting combined with functional integrative holistic medicine.
My story really started with me as a family physician with multiple chronic health conditions. I one day walked into the daycare provider almost suffocating my 10-month-old to death, and I immediately picked him up and ran out. On that day, I made a solemn promise that I promise I’m going to take care of these kids the best that I know how. Then I had to take a step back because I’m like, “Wait, if me as a family physician can’t even take care of my own body without it falling apart, how am I going to take care of these kids?”
I really then dove into this science of integrative holistic functional medicine and parenting. First I learned the science of parenting and what’s going on in our children’s brains and how we as parents have so many tools in our tool belts to help mold our children’s brain for the better and their body for the better.
When I combined it with integrative holistic functional medicine, that’s when it blew my mind. You can actually use holistic parenting to help put a child’s brain, body back into balance. You can help alter their genes. You can help to help their body optimize the brain function, the organ function, tissue function, mitochondrial function, DNA function, function of every single cell in their body to help their body and the brain work the best that they can. So then they have less inflammation, more energy, optimal health, more vibrancy and trying to drive to change the world from the inside out.
It really starts with empowering and educating our children to be more mindful of their mind, their emotions, their body and soul. The kids know when their bodies are imbalanced and when it starts to go out of balance. Just like when we teach our clients and our patients when it starts to go out of balance, examine your life internally, externally and figure out where your imbalances lie. Then use that to try to figure out, “Where can I fix this?” That then increases resilience in any situation the kids are thrown.
That’s where this holistic parenting really takes the child’s brain, body and spirit into fruition to really try to help them educate and empower themselves. No matter what situation that they’re dealing with, they’re able to put their bodies back into balance.
The alarming increase of chronic illness in children
Ari: Okay. I have my parents in town visiting right now. They come from a very different generation as do your parents compared to you. They have different ideas related to parenting. There’s this inevitable thing also happens with my wife’s mother, this inevitable thing of their looking at their own childhood and the way their parents were with them and the way that they were with their kids as the standard.
There is this presumption of that’s the right way to make a proper human. Is doing it the way that I did it in the way that was done for me. You mentioned something at the beginning of your answer a second ago, where you said right now we need to parent in a different way. How would you communicate the essence of that distinction?
Madiha: Well, we have to understand that these children that we’re dealing with today are no longer again, the children of our ancestors or what we were. Children are sicker than ever before. If we just look at the statistics, chronic diseases have quadrupled in children since the 1960s.
In 1994, one in eight children had chronic health condition. Now, 54% of American children are diagnosed with a chronic health condition. They say these numbers are continuing to rise by 80% just in a couple years. Just now look at our kids are getting bigger, obesity [crosstalk]
Ari: I want to pause just for a second, because this is so insane that it’s worth emphasizing this. 54% of kids have some chronic illness?
Madiha: Yes, 54%. They say by 2025, these numbers are going to increase by 80% of our American children are going to be diagnosed with a chronic health condition. Let’s just look what what’s been happening in these last couple of years.
Diabetes has doubled in children during this pandemic. Our kids’ brains and their bodies are getting sicker. One in every six American child has at least one-year developmental disorder like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, specific learning disorders, communication disorders, sensory processing disorders. ADHD has increased 167%. Now that’s craziness.
If you look at even just what’s going on with autism, they say, if we continue at the current trajectory, one in every four children will have autism by 2033. That’s craziness. Actually, if you just recently looked at the statistic, [chuckles] they say right now in California, one in 26 children have autism. This is craziness.
All of this is then being overlapped with all these other comorbid conditions with cancer being the leading cause of death between ages five and 14. Our kids are getting sicker and sicker. Unfortunately in this pandemic also they said that 20% increased rise of suicide and 40% rise in behavioral issues and then if you’re just looking at even what’s happening to– let’s just now look at during the pandemic, just let’s take a look at what’s going on in the pandemic.
Columbia researchers found that babies born during the pandemic the first year by the pandemic’s first year scored lower on the developmental screening tests of social and motor skills at six months of age. That was regardless if their mom had COVID during the pregnancies or not. I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen now to these children that are being born into the world today.
Unfortunately our children’s brains and bodies are have been hijacked and so when, unfortunately when our children are living imbalanced lifestyles, that is then leading to chronic inflammation, their mitochondria not working properly and therefore our children are just not making the correct decision because remember, there’s two main pieces of decision making and that is your prefrontal cortex and your amygdala.
Your prefrontal cortex is responsible for your rational decision making. It examines the full picture, weighs the risks versus the benefits and comes up with the rational decision while the other one is like the primitive, like the amygdala, the reactive part of the brain, is responsible for your primitive impulsive fight or flight type of decision making and to make a rational decision, we need to have both of these pieces working properly,.
But because our children’s brain aim and lifestyles and their bodies are completely out of balance– why? Because of the lack of diet variety, the increased junk consumption, the lack of sleep, the lack of nature, the lack of exercise, of play, the increase in toxins, negativity and the fear that these kids are dealing with on a daily base, all of that is leading to chronic inflammation and chronic inflammation that we know now, studies have actually shown that chronic inflammation is actually disconnecting our prefrontal cortex from our our amygdalas, even in our children.
Therefore, the amygdala is going crazy, making the decisions, making those fight and flight type of decision-making and our children are unable to use the full brain to make a rational decision, and when they’re unable to use their full brain, it’s like us versus you mentality, it’s more violent, more anger, poorer relationships and so much more.
This is why these children today because they’re sicker, because their brains are not working optimally we have to parent these children completely different. This is where even we’re thinking, oh, you’re talking about just diseases but even just behavioral issues we can start to recognize even if a child has behavioral issues.
There’s actually, they did a study at Harvard and Columbia where they looked at a group of 4,000 children. Researchers saw that those children with behavioral issues and functioning problems like emotional functioning problems at the age of eight, when they checked their blood at the age of 10, they actually had higher proteins. Two different proteins were higher. The CRP, the C reactive protein and the Interleukin six, which is a pro-inflammatory cytokine and that’s produced in response to infections and tissue injuries and unfortunately, now we know that all of those are actually associated with inflammation in adulthood.
Even just the behavioral issues are linked to inflammation, so because our kids are so their lifestyles are out of balance leading to their bodies not working proper increased inflammation, lack of– their mitochondria is not working, their DNA, all of the cells are just not functioning. The brains are not functioning. That’s then leading to children that are completely different to parent.
If we can try to give our children a balanced lifestyle, we can have balanced brain, balanced body and these four, therefore these children are easier to parent, so a little bit longer answer. [laughs]
Ari: No, it’s a great answer. I have to go here first before we move on.
Ari: Again, 54% of kids have chronic illness now. This is just madness.
The primary reason why neurodevelopmental issues have skyrocketed
Ari: I forget the exact numbers but a huge portion of kids have neurodevelopmental issues, ADHD, or autism. I know you answered this briefly but I want to go here again. Why? We need to focus on why the rates of these things have skyrocketed so much in just the last few decades. I think so much of the general population presumes these things to be just genetic.
I can’t tell you how many people I know who think autism, for example, oh, it’s just random. It’s just genetic. It’s not because of anything. It’s just the luck-of-the-draw genetics, and it’s just not true. We have recognize when the rates of chronic illness in kids who should be like 99.99% healthy, not 54% chronic disease.
The human body is meant to be pretty healthy until the age has past procreation ages where evolution doesn’t care that much about you, and then you’re much more susceptible to various diseases of aging, but kids before the ages of procreation should not be getting diseased. When we’re seeing incidences of all these dozens of different conditions skyrocketing in just a few decades, this is not genetics.
Madiha: This is not genetics.
Ari: What are the top three or top five biggest factors that are responsible for this in your opinion?
Madiha: I love that. I just want to bring that back because as a family physician, we were never taught to address the why. We were just taught to address the what, and then here we’re giving you a Band-Aid, but then in understanding the why, there lies the hope.
We can understand the root cause of all the suffering that we’re discussing, and we can help to put our children’s brains and bodies back into balance. How? Because by understanding that why, and it’s largely because our children’s lifestyles are out of balance. They’re eating more junk food than ever before and lack of diet variety. A lot of their food is off-balance and then specifically the environmental toxins and then the chronic stress.
I really feel that these pieces, specifically these three pieces, are largely contributing to our children’s brain and body not functioning, and then they’re making terrible decisions that is just adding to that, and then unfortunately because it’s really, really scary, our children’s brains and bodies have been hijacked because of their imbalanced lifestyles, and largely because of these pieces.
If we can help to educate and empower our children to be more mindful of these pieces, can you imagine where our children will be able to become and where they’ll be able to go if we raise mindful and educated children into adults? It’d be so powerful, but yes, these are the key pieces I feel that are really leading to chronic disease and chronic inflammation that’s throwing our children’s brains and bodies out of balance.
What is holistic parenting?
Ari: Okay. What exactly is holistic parenting, and then let’s talk about how we do that, let’s talk about some of the practical tools for parents to do that?
Madiha: Absolutely. We know we are mind, body, soul, and our children are our mind, body, soul. Holistic parenting helps to nurture a child’s mind, body, soul from the inside, out, giving them the skills that they need for emotional intelligence, enduring deep friendships, making correct decisions, help managing stress and being able to remain resilient all throughout adulthood, no matter what life throws at them.
Holistic parenting is all about raising mindful children, and this mindfulness allows us to see our internal and external world clearly, showing us how best to respond and be fully aware at multiple different levels of perception all at once. Now that’s a lot, but let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.
I know this probably happens in your household, it happens in mine but that’s when I’m like, oh my gosh, this is so powerful, we need to start to educate other parents that there’s so much that they can do as parents, as caregivers, as grandparents to help really truly empower our children, and because I feel like us as parents, when we’re given this beautiful baby, we’re not given really a handbook. It’s just like, oh, maybe if they turn out great, it’s by the luck of the draw, if they turn out terrible it’s the luck of the draw.
Madiha: That’s seriously all it is, but what I have been learning through all my things in parenting and the science of parenting and then integrative holistic functional medicine, combining both the worlds to raise mindful resilient children, it’s so powerful because when you give those children the life skills, they can then use that to, as soon as their body starts to get off of balance, they’re able to put their bodies back into balance.
Let me just give you an example and it’s so powerful. I know you probably have tons of examples with your own children but I walk downstairs, my seven year old is having sauerkraut for breakfast [laughs] and I was like, why are you eating sauerkraut for breakfast? Just questioning, you know, and he’s like, “Oh mama, I woke up this morning feeling a little agitated. I knew that probably it was from the organic sugar that I had at Nana’s house yesterday, and I wanted to help my gut bugs feel better, so then my brain feels better.”
Madiha: I thought the sauerkraut could help me put my you back into balance or walking into my 10- year-old who’s meditating on their own and when asked why they’re like, oh, I just wanted to put my nervous system back into balance.
Madiha: [laugha] This is powerful, but these are just simple life skills that we can teach our children. Just like we teach them to brush their teeth, wash their hands after they go to the bathroom, say a prayer before they eat things like that, we can empower them with these life skills that they can then recognize, as soon as their bodies are getting out of balance, I have these tools in my tool belt, that will help me feel better. That puts the child in control of their health. So much fun.
Ari: Yes, beautiful. Well, I have to say sauerkraut by itself, not an ideal breakfast [crosstalk]
Ari: However, amazing that you got a seven-year-old to willingly eat sauerkraut, and that they know that it’s good for their gut health and that they understand the connection between that and the brain. That is a job well done as a parent. I’m impressed.
Madiha: That’s what we just need to educate. Then that really comes back by role-modeling these type of behaviors. If we can role model these kinds of behaviors, and have constant conversations with the kids that every hug, every stimulus, their sleep, their social, that you can help them understand that, “Oh, wait, you’re a little bit more agitated today. Let’s look back at your lifestyle and figure out why that could be.”
Then again, educating them about the foods that they put in their bodies, the importance of sleep, the stress management, and help them– In my house, we like to create a healing routine. We’ve incorporated these core foundations of holistic parenting, of functional integrative holistic medicine into our daily routine.
The kids wake up. They do their gratitude every morning because they know the importance of that. They know to listen to their body whether they want to eat breakfast or not. Even some stuff like that, what they need. That’s to go outside and pick things up from the garden, getting their sunlight in the morning as best as possible when it’s not below zero. Even then, they get their coats on. They run outside [laughs] ice skating.
Currently, we’re ice skating on the road. [laughs] Any way we can get them to get those sunlight and these key foundations into their daily routine, and that’s all what holistic parenting is all about.
Ari: Wonderful. Let me ask you this, do you have it broken down based on to some extent developmental phases? For example, I have a two-year-old and a five-year-old. My older sister has a 17-year-old, who is dealing with very, very different behaviors and ways of being and interacting with the world, compared to my two little kids. Do you have different suggestions, for example, for little kids, two to five-year-olds versus teenage years?
Madiha: Yes and no, because all of it is all about– the basics really apply for everybody. To try to have the basics of– I call it the foundations of holistic parenting, digestive health, detoxification, the four S’s, stress, sleep, social, and spiritual health. In that case, it’s very similar. When it comes to what you’re specifically doing with your two-month-old, obviously, they’re a little bit different versus a teenager because we know that the newborns are born with very low microbial diversity and that gradually increases as they get older.
The first like 36 months of life is really important to help them grow because an infant gut microbiome really undergoes dynamic changes within the first 36 months of life. Really trying to optimize that. If you can just by focusing on the foods that they’re eating, obviously, a two-month-old is breastfed versus non-breastfed, because that’s going to make a big difference in the gut microbiome. What toxins that they’re exposed to at that age because remember, kids, younger kids, we have those that are crawling now are exposed to totally different toxins, especially on the ground, that the older kids might be exposed to.
Depending on what each child is– their age development and what their exposure risks are, is really how I’ll parent that. If we can focus on, again, the digestive health and the detoxification and four S’s, stress, sleep, social, and spiritual health, with each one of these age groups, it can be super powerful because there’s so much that we can do. I feel like I get this a lot. As a mom, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I just found this out now. You told me the first 36 months is critical, but now I have a teenager that’s like, ‘Oh, my God, have I totally lost it?'” No, because you can start to then adjust the lifestyle, and that will then adjust the internal biology, no matter what age or demographic. It really does start with that.
To understand that even with a child, with a younger child, the things that they’re exposed to on a regular basis– this is why it’s a yes and a no because again, it’s very similar to adults. They did a study on the gut microbiome, where researchers, they took like 400 infants, and the boys, they checkd their gut microbial composition. Those boys with higher bacteria, which is called bacteria bacteroides, at the age of one were found to actually have more advanced cognition and language skills one year later.
That’s because that bacteroides is one of the few bacteria that actually produce this metabolite called sphingolipids, which is really instrumental in the formation in the structure of the neurons in the brain. Now you’re like, “Okay, but how are we going to get these bacteroides?” We know that C-section deliveries obviously depletes them. Then there’s so many factors that are similar to even as a teenager if we can get them, but, for example, that will really positively influence their gut microbiota. That is having a high fiber diet. [laughs] Being exposed to nature and green spaces, and living with a pet.
These are very similar things that can actually optimize a child. Even you have like a one-year-old or a younger child’s gut microbiota, but very similar to somebody who’s older. Obviously, being breastfed is something that hopefully a teenager would not be doing. [laughs] What’s really powerful is there’s so much that you can do at each and every age. I know that’s what I go through in my book. At the back of the book, I actually go through like two months’ visits.
This is the stuff that you can do at each age, to help them optimize their brain and their body function. I’ve separated that out, well, child-wise, so like 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 9, 12, 15, 18. Things like that. Yes, there’s so much that we can do. If we can focus on the main core, like the foundations of holistic guarantee the digestive health and detoxification, the four S’s, stress, sleep, social, and spiritual health, it’s super powerful.
Ari: Let’s get practical right now.
Madiha: Yes, love practical.
Ari: I’m going to you a scenario, and I want you to imagine I’m one of your patients. You’ve got to guide me how to solve my problem. Here’s my problem. I’ve got a 10-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. I know nothing about health or nutrition. I’ve never studied it. I’m just a physicist, and I’ve never read a nutrition book in my life or learned anything about health. We all eat Kentucky Fried Chicken, and we watch football and drink beer and watch TV most of the day for several hours and my kids play video games and eat candy bars and typical standard American diet stuff.
Where do I begin? How do I get started? How would you take me through understanding I can’t make a gigantic shift overnight. What would be your top three or top five things that you would have me implement over the next few months?
Madiha: I love that. It’s all about educating and empowering. Again, I’m going to keep on saying this because the fact that if we can really educate the parents and the children of exactly what’s going on with the food that they’re eating, the toxins, their stress, and where those are all located in their lives and how it’s actually influencing them, and then even going down maybe their symptoms, are you fatigued all the time. Are they angry? Are they irritable?
Start off with those basics, with their full symptomatology even– then obviously, going down in-depth with their lifestyle and figuring out exactly where those pieces are. Then where I would really dive into again, while educating and empowering them is by starting with gratitude. That’s probably one of the most powerful things that I have seen over the years, is that if I can start with gratitude, that can help shift an entire household to be more positive and make the right decisions.
Because science has proven that gratitude and optimism strengthen the connections between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. That then improves your overall health and well-being. Specifically, if they’re living in this world right now, which is bombarded, overly bombarded with negativity and fear, we have to now consciously change our subconscious from instead of thinking negative all the time to thinking more positive.
Incorporating gratitude and words of appreciation of like, “Thank you for doing this. I really appreciate you for doing this.” Teaching your family all about the importance of just immediately when you wake up in the morning, say 10 things that you’re thankful for every morning, super powerful. Have everybody do that because that will then change our subconscious from instead of thinking negative– slowly, it does take time, to thinking more positive. When you’re doing that, it’s really powerful because now you’re waking up on the right side of the bed ready to make better decisions about your health and your wellbeing and everything. Because now you’ve woken up on the right side of the bed like the world is yours, we got this.
Otherwise, people are mostly woken up and like, “Crap, I got to do this again.” If we can try getting gratitude every single solitary morning– I even do evening and night. On top of that, also, while the kids are helping me with their lunches, or we’re doing things together– In my house, obviously, my youngest is six years old, and my oldest is 14. The 14-year-old, obviously doesn’t sing the gratitude song but the younger ones love the gratitude song like, “I thank you for my eyes. Thank you for my ears. Thank you for another beautiful day.” They’ll just go on and talk about it. It will just be like one of those quick things that we’ll do in the morning to talk about all the things that we’re thankful for.
Madiha: Yes. Then the other thing is, obviously, we know that food is medicine. To help a child and a family read labels to recognize that there’s all the things that we’re actually putting in our bodies. That we know that these nutrients regulate every single chemical reaction in our children’s bodies.
Studies have actually shown that those children that eat a rainbow wholefoods packed with color and fiber and nutrients and minerals and good fats actually have healthier brains, they’re less violent, they have better behaviors and bodies. If we can educate our children about focusing on foods that’s going to help their bodies and not hurt their bodies, helping them read labels of what things they’re actually putting in their bodies and what those things actually do–
What I’ve done, since my kids are really young, is that we go to the grocery store with them. They look at the labels, “Oh, mama, my friends are all eating this. Oh my gosh, this has blue number one in it or yellow number five in it. Oh my gosh, let’s go back and see what that does.” Then they will research it. They”ll probably only have to do it once or twice and then they’ll be like, “No, I don’t want anything to do with that.” In my house, we call these foods, exactly what there are they’re junk and their chemicals. Then they’re like, “Mama do you want?” Then they’re like, “I don’t want anything to do with these chemicals.” Then to help them understand what happens when you put these foods in your body what is going to happen, talk to them about the gut microbiome and understand what’s going on there.
In my house, it’s like we want to feed our good bugs in our belly, “Good foods, mama.” To keep them nice and strong. Then also we also talk a lot about insulin resistance and what happens with the blood sugar. When it goes into your bloodstream, how’s it going to get into the cell because it needs a key called insulin and insulin if we feed it lots and lots of junk food, that key is not going to work properly. That’s going to lead to a state called insulin resistance, leading to all these symptoms and we don’t want anything to do with that.
I really help educate and empower the children to eating tons of vegetables like colorful, the rainbow at every different meal. They put their plates together themselves, which is really a lot of fun. They make their lunches now themselves. They do all of that themselves and empowers–
In my house, I don’t have anything that they can’t eat in the house, which is really important and I’ve provided them with those alternatives. If they want chips one day, I have the cassava flour chips or the cassava flour taco shells if they want tacos, or if they want pasta, we have lentil pasta that I’ll make once in a while. The kids never feel deprived, but it’s really about stocking up for success and then making sure that you educate them about why they’re doing that.
Then if they do eat something, because they’re mindful, because we’re having these conversations on a regular basis, they’re able to recognize immediately when their bodies are starting to go off balance and they’re like, “Oops, that was probably it and it’s probably this food.”
My nine-year-old does that. He actually had some sinus issues. As soon as he’ll have certain foods, for him, it was the avocado, the banana, the higher histamine type of foods, other type of foods, he’ll be like, “Oh, no, mama that bothered me right now, so I’m not wanting to try that today.” They’re having these conversations, they’re listening to their body, they’re reading the ingredients, and then making up their own thought-out decisions with that food.
Then the last, obviously, we do the same thing with toxins. The toxin stuff that they’re putting on their skins. We talk about that but right now if we can try to teach and empower our children, the importance of stress management. That is going to be critical because currently, they’re literally growing up in a world of chronic stress. Now science has proven, they did actually a study in just 2020. Stanford did this study, they showed that chronically stressed or anxious children, the brains are fear centers, from the right amygdala sends signals down to the decision-making prefrontal cortex that makes it harder for the child to regulate negative emotions. So if we can try to incorporate some sort of stress management techniques into their daily routine–
Again, just like we teach them to brush their teeth, my kids have special specific times for prayers and meditation and going out in nature. We’ve incorporated these into their daily routine, and it’s probably been one of the most powerful things that I’ve done is by creating some of these routines to help them. What works for one person doesn’t work for the other so to recognize, nature is incorporated into their daily routines. Every day they’re getting some sort of nature, so we know that that helps the child’s brain and body and the adults’ on the inside out. Because we know that it de-stresses us, it lowers inflammation and boosts the immune system, it restores our brain connections, it leads to higher prefrontal cortex activation, it improves sleep, at least a better mood, all of that. I make sure that if I don’t want crazy kids, I make sure that’s incorporated into their daily routine for hikes or whatever we’d want to do.
In my house, we do a lot of meditation and prayer that we do together and that we know is really powerful. To have these pieces, and then there’s laughter and play. We know for kids, that specifically play is super important. Actually, it improves your immune function, it lowers the blood pressure and increases BDNF that enhances the development of noradrenaline and dopamine systems in the child’s brain that is vital for them to learn and grow new hippocampal function. Things like that, that we can incorporate.
Obviously, the stress management also comes into making sure they’re optimizing their sleep and the environment that they’re living in because we know love does heal. We know that kids are not sleeping so that also comes in under that stress management piece. If we can get the kids to focus on tons of gratitude, like you said three or four, so I’m giving three or four so tones of-
Ari: No, it’s great.
Madiha: -positivity and then they focus on their foods and what they’re putting on and inside their bodies. Then finding some way to lower their stresses, thereby optimizing their sleep and getting their nature and their sunlight and all of the pieces is really important.
I find that if you’re going to start somewhere, starting with that gratitude is really important because I feel like a lot of us know that we’re supposed to do these things. We know we’re supposed to be exercising, we know we’re supposed to be eating well, we know these things but unfortunately, because of our lifestyles and the environments that we’re living in, it’s disconnecting that prefrontal cortex from the amygdala. Therefore, we’re making irrational decisions.
If we want to do anything to start is to start with gratitude because that in and of itself will help to build those connections and help you make better decisions throughout the day.
Ari: Excellent. I love that. What do you do about screens, kids on screens, on computers, on phones, video games, TVs, do you have any amazing holistic parenting tips for parents who struggle with kids who are addicted to screens?
Madiha: Yes. Well, again, it comes back to that education piece. Just like what we’re consuming, I help the kids understand their labels and how that affects their body, I help the kids understand blue light and the effects on EMFs, but specifically, the harms of blue light, what that is, and then how that these children, we’re doing more, especially with this pandemic and online schools and the kids are in front of their television, and there’s less activities outdoors, that they can do less, but there are some, but where they’re being exposed all of this extra blue light.
I talk to them about what that is, and then how that can obviously disrupt our sleep, it leads to more learning problems that can actually cause increased body mass and suicide and depression. Then actually, I even showed them, I know this is scary, but I showed them the study, whereby JAMA in 2019, that was published in JAMA Pediatrics, where they actually did brain scans that revealed that these toddlers had spent more time in front of these screens actually had lower myelination, or this white matter integrity in their brains and that then actually lowered their literacy and their language skills.
These are the kinds of things I’ve talked to the kids about, about the importance of, literally now I think in 2018, the WHO, the W-H-O actually added gaming disorders to an International Classification of Disease, [laughs] that’s craziness, and now with porn addiction, that is really widespread, unfortunately, again, having these really open conversations with their children. We know that these things are addicting, we know that this is something that you’re going to have to deal with. Again, that’s where the mindfulness comes into play, right? To help them understand, “Okay when you’re doing this for so long, how does that really make you feel?”
Then they’re like, “Well, that makes me feel like all my time was gone. I wanted to do all these things, but I couldn’t do it, or it was hurting my eyes.” Specifically, my kids with the blue light glasses [laughs] they’re like, “Oh, my God that was leading me to have headaches and stuff and this is why, oh, I should have worn this.”
The thing is, it’s really educating and empowering the children. You can sit with them together and make those decisions, those rules and regulations together. That’s what I’ve– It’s specifically with discipline. That comes through what discipline is. Discipline, I know it sounds like it’s a bad word, but it actually comes from the root word to teach.
That’s a range of ways a parent can interact and teach their child so they can understand what is expected of them and then the child will make really good thought-out decisions. It’s a set of these tools and these guidelines that a child can help them set up and allow their prefrontal cortex to take full charge over their amygdalas because kids’ brains are still developing so they need that structure. If we can have it with the child and the family, or into one role model these good behaviors, [laughs] specifically when you talked about screens, in my house, when I’m on a screen, my kids know why I’m on that.
“Moma’s on this trying to finish this work,” or I’m doing this to pay these bills, or I’m doing this for this, so there’s having this constant communication that I’m having with the child. Then treating that, even though their brains are not adults, we know that, they’re going to go crazy sometimes because their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed, but then treating them like them and giving them enough credit, and having that real-life consequences. Even then setting those family rules together, sitting down together and say, “You know what, you saw the consequences of these things, of these actions and you saw how it affects your brain. Did you want that?”
They’re like, “No, so what do you think is a good time?” Then sit down and making sure that, in my house, we have a simple rule that you want to make sure it’s you get your work first, and then you can play. Then we have a specific time that they can watch some television that they want to, maybe an hour of television a day, but so far, this is my blessing, I’m very thankful that I don’t, in my house, we still have, the kids don’t have iPads. They don’t have iPhones. They don’t have different types of screens that they can do. They go to school, and then I want them to because this is a key time in development for their brains, I want them to interact with them, we play more games together.
We do more interactive things, we go to the library and spend hours there.
Then their time gets filled up with all these things but then, because everybody in school is doing it, and there they feel like they’re being left out, to sit down and come up with these actionable steps that they can take in rules and regulations and [unintelligible 00:45:24]. If they were to pass that then to have those real-life consequences but I really find that if you can work as a family to come up with those rules, it makes life so much easier.
Ari: Excellent. I love this great, great content, very, very important. I have one more question to you. It is what’s going on in the world right now, with COVID and all of the stuff around that. Kids are playing some role. Obviously, you mentioned earlier suicidality among kids has increased tremendously, especially on teenagers during the COVID era, especially during lockdowns.
We can consider the effect of, for example, masks and how that might relate to development, social development, and interpersonal development in very young kids who are not seeing faces clearly. There’s many, many aspects of this that we could talk about. I’m sure we could talk about it for two hours, just this one thing.
Let’s just keep it very light and practical in terms of what would you say are your top tips for parents to little kids right now during this era of how to keep their kids, well, I guess I need to ask you, what is your perception of the threat of COVID to children and if you perceive that to be a significant threat, then what do you think people should do to bolster their kids’ immune health to protect against that and do you have any other tips for parents to kids during this time?
Madiha: Yes to all of that. It’s a big problem, it is a really big problem. We know that suicide has increased. We know that our children’s mental health, this is no secret, we know was it 70,000 physicians and practitioners I know from the American Association of Pediatrics came together, just a couple months ago, and said that we have a national emergency of our children’s mental health. We know that that’s a problem.
Then now on top of that, if you start looking at the recent statistics, with diabetes doubling in children, the weight drastically increasing. Even after the kids get COVID, they are now at increased risk of diabetes and other autoimmune issues. Yes, this is a risk that our children are going to be dealing with and are dealing with currently.
Now how are we going to mitigate some of that? I really feel that a lot of that does come from all these things that we talked about, if we can try to help just with these simple things, and it doesn’t take a lot because that fear is probably one of the biggest, that fear, the uncertainty, especially if our kids are being masked, and that–
It’s like that constant fear that they’re dealing with all the time that something is out of balance. Then if they’re listening to the news, “Oh, my God, something’s out of balance. There’s something out to get us. [laughs] The world is out to get us.” The kids are living in this constant fear that, I don’t know about you but when I was growing up, I didn’t even know what was going on in the world. Really, technically, I was just playing in my cul de sac, I was having fun.
Ari: I remember being a little kid and my parents being obsessed with politics and who the next president was going to be in the elections coming up and all this stuff. I remember thinking like, “Why do you guys care about this? Nothing changes. This president, that president, either way, I’m just playing in the street, skateboarding, and building jumps for my BMX bike, and hanging out with my friends and playing video games. Nothing seems to change. I don’t get why you guys are obsessed with who the next president is.” [laughs]
Madiha: Unfortunately, our children are seeing a totally different side of that now, where they’re seeing the threat here and they’re seeing their lives being changed and is it going to be in-person school, is not going to be in-person school, can I go to football? Can I not go to football? This is a constant uncertainty in their lives.
Ari: I think I gather a bit of your sense of things based on what you just said, but maybe I’ll state my views on this more directly. That there are some people who I think are living in a reality of “COVID is incredibly deadly to my children. I need to do everything possible to protect them. They should be masked. They need to be social distanced. We need to do testing. I’m going to vaccinate them as soon as possible because COVID is the thing I need to protect against. We need to be watching the news. We need to be paying attention. What’s the latest variant?”
All that, that’s their reality. That’s the reality of the parents. That’s also what the kids are then soaking up. As you were just alluding to, then the kids are learning to be operating in fear.
Ari: On the other hand, there are people, I’m certainly, obviously, much more in this camp, that is, especially with regards to children, young healthy people, young healthy adults included more broadly, that the responses to COVID are vastly more harmful to health than COVID itself.
Madiha: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Ari: I wouldn’t know if you agree with me on that but–
Madiha: Yes. I am completely– Agree. It’s our responses to COVID that is more problematic because we know what stress does to a child. We know that how it destroys the microbiome. We know how it weakens the immune system. We know how it increases insulin resistance.
Now, just look at what’s going on with the food that we’re eating. All the stuff that’s crap is gone. That’s then leading to, again, no further issues. I am in the same boat as you that I feel like, one, our children are more resilient than we think they are specifically in this time that the effects of COVID, the more the fear-mongering that’s going on, the stress is actually leading to a lot of these other chronic health conditions. That stress and that fear is actually more detrimental to our children than probably the infection itself. I’m in that same boat.
Madiha: If we can try to educate and empower our children, my kids, obviously, don’t watch the news, they don’t do any of that, but again, with these simple things that we talked about in the book and these children’s books to help empower them that in these changing worlds, in these times that there’s so much that we can do to help optimize our immune system. That’s where the hope and the power comes. We have to stop playing this, the fear mentality and the disease model to focus on hope mentality and the health model.
Ari: Beautiful. Beautifully said.
Madiha: Remember, your perspective. Your perspective can either be your pain or your perspective can be your power. Now, we need to educate and empower the world to change our perspective from a perspective of pain to a prospective of power.
There’s so much that we can do that’s in our toolbelt to empower the new generation optimize our immune system so that no matter what life throws at us, [chuckles] we are able to be resilient through all that even despite in a changing world.
Ari: Beautifully said, my friend. I really enjoyed connecting with you. I enjoyed this discussion as with our last one. It’s always a pleasure. Your energy, your enthusiasm, and your passion is infectious. I hope to have a conversation with you every day because it just makes me happy.
Ari: Tell us, obviously, amazon.com to find your books. Let people know where they can follow your work or wherever you want to direct them, I’ll emphasize again for people. If you are a parent of children of any ages, go to amazon.com, get Madiha’s books. They are brilliant, wonderful, and so important. This is a matter of the health and happiness of your child. What could possibly be more important than that?
Madiha: Absolutely, especially if we’re looking at where the world’s going, this is an absolute need today to get all of us working. That’s why I love the work that you’re doing to try to educate and empower families and people and practitioners to really get this message out that there’s so much that we can do in our own toolbelt for hope.
That’s what I’ve tried to do in my own little household also. I feed a family of eight on a daily basis. On weekends, it can go up to 20. If I can do it, anybody can do it. In my house right now, we have three generations educating people about health and wellness.
HolisticMom MD. That’s my own brand. My children actually started their own podcast where they’ve interviewed the biggest names in holistic functional integrative medicine. They’re actually interviewing Jason and Colleen from MindBodyGreen just in a couple of weeks which is craziness.
Ari: Nice. That’s great.
Madiha: [crosstalk] last week. They’re called The Holistic Kid Show podcast where kids are empowering other kids. On Amazon, obviously, and then with my books and iTunes and Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts for The Holistic Kid Show podcast. Facebook, actually, we started. This is for the other side of the world. We started a Holistic Urdu MD channel to educate [chuckles] people on the other side of the planet on the importance of health.
Madiha: Lots of different ways.
Ari: Yes. Wonderful. Thank you so much for the work you’re doing, my friend. I really appreciate it.
Madiha: [unintelligible 00:55:36]
Ari: I know so many people do. Thank you. It’s very important and keep it up. I know you have a series coming for your kid’s book. I’m looking forward to the next chapter.
Madiha: Yes. We got two out so far. Two out so far. Now, I’m just waiting though. The next one’s actually on gratitude.
Ari: Beautiful. Thank you, my friend. Always a pleasure. I hope to connect with you again very soon.
Why we need to invest in our children’s health (01:14)
The alarming increase of chronic illness in children (5:25)
The primary reason why neurodevelopmental issues have skyrocketed (13:14)
What is holistic parenting? And what can you do now? (17:03)