ADHD and Autism

#127: Maya Shetreat-Klein, MD – Dirt Cure

by Mike Mutzel



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About Maya Shetreat-Klein, MD

Maya Shetreat-Klein, MD is an integrative pediatric neurologist with a medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Board certified in adult and child neurology as well as pediatrics, she completed the University of Arizona’s two-year Fellowship in Integrative Medicine, founded by Andrew Weil, MD, and now serves as faculty. She lectures internationally to medical professionals and laypeople on environmental health and toxins, and healing with food and nature.

Books Discussed in This Podcast

The Dirt Cure: Growing Healthy Kids with Food Straight from Soil

Connect with Dr. Shetreat-Klein

Related Podcast

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Show Notes

01:26 The Rise in Childhood Chronic Illness: There has been a dramatic increase in autism, ADHD and learning disabilities just since Dr. Maya was in medical school. Studies show that the rise is not just from better detection. Food allergies are more prevalent. Peanut allergies have quadrupled in a little over a decade.


04:26 The Brain is the Top of the Totem Pole: The longstanding approach to the brain is that the central nervous system is an inner sanctum that nothing can penetrate. We are now learning that the brain has its own immune system, which is connected to the rest of the immune system. There is the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system and the enteric nervous system of the gut, which contains enteric neurons.  The G.I. tract produces more neurotransmitters than the central nervous system. If there is a problem in the gut, the enteric nervous system communicates that to the central nervous system and we feel it in our brain. Data is building that what happens in the gut is impacting our mood, our cognition, out memory, our anxiety, our stress levels, and our sleep. These are also modulated in part by our immune system.


07:30 Digestive Tract/Immune System and the Brain: Our immune system is heavily influenced by our digestive tract. Dr. Maya sees the immune system as a social entity. It wants to meet and greet. The immune system is an information processing center. When the immune system is not receiving the social interaction that it needs, it starts to get paranoid and may react to things that are not problematic. In response to the perceived threat, the immune system releases chemicals called cytokines.  Dr. Maya thinks of cytokines as walkie-talkies, telling immune cells all over the body that there may be a problem. This can activate the immune system in the skin as eczema, or in the lungs as asthma, or in the gut as colitis, IBS, constipation, reflux or diarrhea. There are also immune cells in the brain called microglia, which are more than immune cells.  They are more of a nurse cell that outnumbers neurons 3 to 1. They protect the neurons. When microglia receives the signal from cytokines, they go into warrior mode, releasing inflammatory factors which can damage neurons. This can manifest as attention problems of ADHD, seizures, migraines, tics, Tourette’s, or PANDAS. They are all linked to the immune system.


11:58 Today’s Neurology: Dr. Maya sees neurology as open to many different causes. To the detriment of this openness is the pharmaceutical model of the magic bullet approach and the insurance model of the short visit, where there is no time to explore and ponder complex issues.  The stimulants given to children for ADHD and the like can negatively impact brain development. A study has found a possible link between long term stimulant use eventual Parkinson’s onset.


15:20 Gut Bacterial Diversity is the Key to Balancing the Immune System: The hygiene hypothesis, the idea that we are too clean, came from studies that showed that children who were raised on farms were less likely to have asthma, allergies and other allergic syndromes than children who lived in urban environments. People thought that farms are dirtier and must have more bacteria. Testing of bacteria levels showed that bacteria levels were similar.  The difference was that on the farm, there was far more bacterial diversity. The immune system is social and likes to have a variety of visitors. Recent data is showing that when people with celiac have more diversity in their gut, their symptoms calm. A study was done on the stools of indigenous people of the amazon. They were not exposed to pesticides and antibiotics, eat natural foods, are born vaginally, and live with dirt and the earth. Their stool had more bacterial diversity than any other documented stool sample. They don’t have these chronic diseases.


18:39 How Can We Ensure a Variety of Microbes?  Data shows that children in schools or homes where bleach is used regularly 20 to 30% higher risk of developing a chronic winter cough, flu and other illnesses. Our effort to disinfect may be causing illness.  Bar soap and handwashing is a good thing for preventing infectious disease.  Dr. Maya keeps a vial of essential oil with her. Essential oils have great benefit when dealing with dangerous and antibiotic resistant bacteria. Immerse yourself in natural settings. Be in nature. Get dirty. One teaspoon of soil has as many organisms as there are people on earth.


21:44 Washing Vegetables: We need to be eating fresh food from soil. Shop at farmer’s markets, use CSA’s or grow your own food. Wash your vegetables, but you will still get traces of the bacteria and the soil. Power washing and waxing that is done to foods in the grocery store are not beneficial.


23:52 When to Intercede in a Child’s Illness: If you have an infant under 2 months of age, this does not apply. You should talk to your pediatrician and have your infant seen. In older children, fevers are important. Occasionally getting sick is important for the immune system. If you do not get the feeling that your child is toxic, let the fever run its course.  It is the body learning what to do when there is an organism and how to vanquish it and bring the body back into balance. Dr. Maya does not give her own children Tylenol, Advil or anything else unless the fever is over 104.  The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees.  She gives her children cool compresses with peppermint essential oil and cold water, maybe a warm bath. If they are uncomfortable, she may use yarrow tea or yarrow tincture in a small amount.  Yarrow helps you sweat without altering the immune system. It brings down the temperature.


27:24 ADD/ADHD Treatment Alternatives: ADD/ADHD diagnosis is sometimes given to children who are anxious or have some other social or learning issue. A breakfast of sugar laden cereal or a breakfast instigates a blood sugar crash in the middle of the morning. Sometimes it is diet or lack of quality sleep. It is not necessarily a brain disease. There may be some genetic elements to this, but there are a great many environmental reasons. Step number one is to clean up the diet of chemicals, artificial sweeteners, food dyes, preservatives, MSG, sugar (even in small amounts), and high fructose corn syrup. Step number two is to eat organic, if possible, to minimize food reactivity to chemicals. Children with higher rates of chemicals in their urine, have higher rates of ADHD. Medication is a last option after many other things have been tried. She uses botanicals and other things, but the diet is foundational.


33:03 Which Diet is best? Children who are healthy should be getting whole foods, fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, if they are having grains, pastured meat, plenty of fat, pastured eggs, etcetera. Children, who have damaged guts, could have food allergies. They could have problems digesting grains, so the SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) may be appropriate. If they have dysbiosis, sometimes a low FODMAP diet is effective. Most children (and adults) do very well with different whole foods with lots of fiber.


35:51The Importance of Phytonutrients: Plants produce phytonutrients in response to stressors, making them more resilient. Our bodies crave phytonutrients. It is what makes food delicious to us. We interact with them on a cellular level, helping our bodies respond to our environment.


38:35 Fecal Microbial Transplantation Therapy: In fecal microbial transplantation, fecal matter from an individual is given to an ill individual via enema or capsule. It is being done in major medical centers for things like untreatable clostridium difficile.  Some are using it for treating autism and other digestive tract issues.  Man-made products fall short of providing true biodiversity. The problem is with the health and gut of the stool donor. There are not many truly healthy people.


39:56 Helminth’s Parasite Therapy: Helminth therapy is being used and investigated for autoimmune disease, autism and allergy treatment. It is generally deactivated parasitic worms, usually their eggs, which is brought into the body to stimulate the immune system to look away from attacking self, redirecting to look at other. Early results are promising.  Dr. Maya is cautious. Some of her patients have had success and others not so much.


43:19 Dr. Maya’s Morning Routine: She always takes a few minutes of meditation, gratitude, and setting of an intention upon waking.  She tries to stay present and grounded as a mother of three children.  Part of her morning routine is to gather eggs from her chickens. She gets everyone breakfast and packs lunch. She and her family have tea. She is a proponent of herbal teas and also tries to have some apple cider vinegar in the morning.


44:35 Dr. Maya’s Favorite Nutrient or Botanical: As an herbalist, this is a tough question to answer.  She would bring along Thieves Oil. It is a combination of essential oils or she might go for Wild Milky Oats, one of her favorite tinctures for relaxation.


45:47 One Health Tip for America: Dr. Maya’s most heart-felt issues are controlling toxic exposures, the importance of being custodians of soil, and restoring wild environments. We need to be exposed to nature and we need to have healthy soil. We need to have fewer toxic chemical exposures.

  1. Thank you so much Dr! That was greatly informative. I was waiting for some feedback on the gluten free casein free diet many people are being directed to for children with symptoms associated with the autism spectrum.

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