How Can Naturopathic Medicine Help People with Down Syndrome?

Updated: Aug 29, 2019




Whether you're the proud parent of a brand new baby with Down Syndrome or the seasoned parent of a feisty teen with Trisomy 21, naturopathic medicine can help your child live a longer healthier life.

But how?

Glad you asked.

Naturopathic medicine can help individuals with DS thrive in a number of ways. First off, if you don't know what naturopathic medicine is, then take a look at the linked post to get an explanation.

Naturopathic medicine can help people with DS through a number of different modalities like diet, lifestyle modification, supplemental and nutrition support, and herbal cognition enhancement. Just to new a few.

One of essential jobs of a naturopathic doctor is to address the root cause of a disorder, not just the symptoms, and encourage healthier lifestyle choices through education and support. I do this in a number of ways.

When I work with a client who has Down Syndrome, I have to take a number of factors into account. Are there any underlying nutritional deficiencies? How is sleep? Exercise? Support system? How is the body responding physiologically to the environment? How is the immune system reacting to possible antigens? Is there an immune system Th1 or Th2 dominance? Are there any thyroid deficiencies? Adrenal deficiencies? Amino acid deficiencies? How is cognition affected and is it exacerbated by underlying conditions like the ones above?

That's just a fraction of what I have to look at when working with a client with DS. As you see, there's a lot involved.

While it's not just lab tests and vitamins and/or endogenous (substances produced by your own body like CoQ10) supplements, all of these modalities do play a big part in helping me understand the bigger picture.



Diet and Nutrition

Correcting nutritional deficiencies through diet and vitamin supplementation can make a huge impact on the lives of individuals with DS. Many people are aware that Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome) is a genetic condition.

I don't claim that naturopathic medicine can somehow cure Down syndrome. No form of medicine that I'm aware of can do that.

Personally, I don't think that DS needs a cure, per se, since it's not a disease but rather a collection of physical features and intellectual challenges that an individual faces.

But people with DS do have a large number of nutritional deficiencies.

It takes a lot of nutrients to make all of those extra proteins coded for by the 3rd copy of chromosome 21. In essence people with DS are making more proteins and using more vitamins and minerals than typical individuals because their bodies have an extra set of instructions that typical individuals don't.


For example, if you were working in a factory and you had to produce say, 100 toy cars, before the end of your shift, you would be able to do that easily provided the materials are there to begin with. If you only had enough raw material to make 50 toy cars instead of 100, the production of the factory would be slowed down and stopped altogether if more materials weren't given to you quickly.


This is what it is like for an individual with Down Syndrome who isn't receiving the proper nutritional support.

Some of the most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies associated with Trisomy 21 include:

zinc, selenium, folate, vitamin A, and calcium (to name a few).

Adapting a diet early in life that is rich in dark leafy greens, fresh vegetables, whole grains (in moderation), fresh fruits, and lean proteins gives a great start towards life long health for people with DS. Often, even with a healthy diet, additional nutritional support is needed just because of the extra demands that the extra copy of chromosome 21 places on the body.




Lifestyle Modification

People with DS would do well to increase physical activity, just like the rest of us. Studies show that most people with Down syndrome don't participate in adequate amounts of exercise due to a lowered exercise capacity [1].


There is speculation that this is due to low muscle tone and part of the "pathology" of Down syndrome itself. In my experience, a reduced capacity for exercise in individuals with DS is linked to subclinical or overt hypothyroidism (low thyroid function), folate deficiency, and/or mitochondrial dysfunction.


The thyroid gland is responsible for our growth, development, and metabolism. You can learn more in this interesting infographic: DS and the thyroid. Folate is a B vitamin responsible for many functions in the body with DNA replication being one of the most important. Mitochondria are the energy powerhouses of the cell. Our mitochondria help to produce the energy, in the form of ATP, for our bodies to function efficiently.


Up 10 63% of people with DS tend to have thyroid problems [2], and many, if not most, have mitochondrial dysfunction [3]. People with DS also tend to be chronically folate deficient which could exacerbate, if not be the cause of, cognitive decline [4].


Often these three factors are working together against the health of a person with Down syndrome so telling him/her to exercise more without giving him/her the tools to do so won't give you the desired result. In fact, increasing physical activity can lead to lowered levels of folate in the blood stream [5].


While increasing physical activity is important, make sure that your child with DS has the proper physiological support before starting on a rigorous work out routine.




Supplements

Many individuals with DS need the extra boost that supplements give when it comes to optimizing their health. While a good quality multi-vitamin along with a healthy whole foods diet is ideal, there are many other supplements that contribute to the overall health of people with DS.


Supplements like CoQ10 are essential to your child's health. Check out this post about CoQ10 and why your child with DS needs to take this supplement. Other supplements like glutathione, thyroid regulating herbs, and mitochondrial supporters like R lipoic acid, taurine, and carnitine are extremely helpful for giving your child the best chance to thrive.




Other

There are many other ways naturopathic medicine can help your child with DS from identifying food sensitivities and correcting digestive issues to exploring ways to create more meaningful relationships with peers. There's just too many too count! And what's best is that all of the information you will receive during your visit with your naturopathic physician will be personalized to your child!


There is no "one size fits all" in naturopathic medicine and that's one of the reasons why it is so special.


In conclusion, naturopathic medicine can help your child thrive in ways that you would have never dreamed possible. While it is unrealistic to believe that naturopathic medicine can somehow cure your child of DS, you child can have the life he/she always dreamed of by taking that first step and contacting your naturopathic doctor.





References

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3012449/

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2683266/

3.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6016872/

4.https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fncel.2017.00161/full

5.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4819126/

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