Meet The Experts is a series of interviews with professionals in the field of Child Development.
Karen has travelled from Dublin to Toronto to London to meet with people who have worked tirelessly to find new ways of treating children with sensory difficulties.
Dr Goodwin McDonnell is a practicing GP who along with a great many of the medical profession have committed themselves to help children and families who are living with autism and related life-challenging illnesses.
Homeopath with an Integrative Approach
Dr. Goodwin is not just a GP but also a homeopath and approaches his medical practice with an integrative approach where he looks at the whole picture and not just a single symptom. This thorough approach has yielded enormous success rates for children who live with Asperger’s Syndrome, hyperactivity disorders and similar related illnesses.
The key to his success with these patients appears to be related to treating gut disorders and dietary issues.
Watch Karen’s interview with Dr Goodwin McDonnell in the video below:
Transcript of Interview with Dr Goodwin McDonnell
I’m delighted to be here today in Dublin to interview someone that I’ve known for many years. An excellent practitioner and expert in his field in the area of biomedical intervention. He’s worked with so many children over the years and helped many children and adults achieve their greatest potential. It is with great pleasure that I introduce Dr Goodwin McDonnell.
KOC: So Goodwin, I have known you for many years and I’ve seen the amazing work that you’ve done with so many children. Parents often say to me, when I say initially about going to see you, they say “what exactly does he do”? So can you explain – I know you’re a general practitioner, you’re a doctor with many years experience – but you are also what we’ll call an integrative practitioner and maybe a practitioner in functional medicine- I’m not sure of the terminology either. I’d love you to explain what exactly you do?
Finding the causes of a child’s difficulties
GMD: I’m interested in finding the basic cause behind the problems. What I would normally do is look at it in such a way that you try to pick out the factors that influence the child’s development and development of speech and language. Normally it would be the standard medical history, then I would focus on certain areas like diet and nutrition. Then I would look at where the problems could be in the child. Normally, I’d start by checking the house, and I would look at the actual hair analysis first. That’s an easy one, assuming that all the bloods are done and there would be special influence with like. You’ll be looking at vitamin D, B12, folate and homocysteine if possible. The hair analysis is a very good way of working out if the correct balance is there for the minerals and also you get the toxic metals. The toxic metals would be of interest here because quite often you have a kind of gut dysbiosis where the flora would need to be adjusted if not perfect and it usually leads to some permeability in the actual gut wall. The main toxic metals you’ll be after here would be aluminium, arsenic, lead and cadmium. That’ll be the first easy test and it’s a hair sample, so no problem for the child.
The next one you’d look for would be an organic acid test which is a urine test. It has been developed in the states by Dr William Shaw about 30 years ago and what you’re looking for there is fungal markers, particularly candida applicants which would be the commonest one you’d come across. Associated with that would be another organism called clostridia. It’s a very good test. These include mitochondrial dysfunction which is the energy section of each particular cell, very common in children with autism or ASD. Then you get a look at the B vitamins and indirect measurements of vitamin D. It’s a urine test so again not very traumatic for the children.
Then you go back to the parents to check out where they live. Is there a problem here with mould and dampness in the house? again there’s a nice urine test for that. Where do they live? Are they involved in pesticides, insecticides, fungicides? Are they close to particular areas where there are lead mines, copper mines? That’d be the basic introduction and testing I could do.
Then the results come back. They have to go to two laboratories in the states; Great Plains Laboratories and Doctor Data. They’re very time-dependent. So we have a courier system all over Ireland and all England. They will collect from your door everywhere in Ireland. They guarantee overnight delivery to London and then within 48 hours, they’ll be at the laboratories. I’ve been using them for about 15 years, with rare mistakes.
Now all the tests, when they get to America, will be tested to see if they’re viable. I will know when the test comes back. and I send all the advances to the patients and then I’ll interview the parents again. They have the opportunity again to bring their child up, but it’s mostly explained to the parents what it is, where we’re going and if they want me to see the child again.
Looking at the Gut-Brain connection
KOC: You’re looking at all of the pieces of the jigsaw. What you’re describing is very different from what a general practitioner or an MD would do. So where is the difference? Can you, for parents, explain the additional pieces that you do.
GMD: Well, the additional pieces would be with the gut-brain connection. We have an excellent laboratory in Cork run by Professor John Cryan, who several years ago showed that if you alter the gut you can change the behaviour of animals. The studies were done on germ-free mice. In other words, the mice have no germs, they reintroduce the germ and it affects their anti-social behaviour – their anxiety, and then you clear the bug out and the mouse returns to completely normal. Professor John Crime is available on youtube and he’s written an excellent book.
KOC: That’s fascinating isn’t it, because for me, working with children, or for you working with children, because so many of the children that I see, whether they’re on the spectrum, whether they’ve ADHD, whatever is going on, so many children now are presenting with significant anxiety. In addition to that, becoming dysregulated quite easily and agitated, irritable, having meltdowns. So what you’re describing there is that when something was introduced (when a germ was introduced) to the gut of the mice, who had no issue beforehand, their behaviour completely changed, but when that germ was then removed again they went back to normal. It’s one piece of research and there’s a lot of research out there.
GMD: This was originally done about six or seven years ago but there are people in America in Caltech University and then the girl in Japan also. They’ve replicated all these and life has moved on hugely. I mean also they can put the connection between where is the gut-brain? They know the gut-brain comes through the vagus nerve which is the 10th cranial nerve. It goes all the way from the brain right down and it has its separate nervous system called the integrated nervous system which connects the brain with the heart – all the way down your digestive organ, right down to the rectum. They know that the feedback comes from the gut up to the brain to the actual vagus nerve. Also, the information can cross the blood-brain barrier, the blood-brain barrier can be affected particularly by candida Albicans which is the fungus that quite a lot of these children have. That’s the way they reckon that this can be sorted out
KOC: It’s fascinating Goodwin. I have so many families, like yourself, that I would see or be concerned about the child’s behaviour. I’d be concerned about the way the child is presenting – presenting with speech and language difficulties, maybe finding it hard to interact and engage, having very regular meltdowns, all of that kind of thing, maybe behaviour that’s very difficult to manage. People are often surprised when I suggest it could be to do with the biomedical end of things. There could be possible intolerances, allergies, and toxicity in their system and I’d like to look at a referral to somebody like you. When they go to see you, they’re so thrilled with what they find and the results. What would you say are the main red flags for parents that they should watch out for that may mean that you, or someone like you, is who they need to see?
GMD: The first thing they would look for is to go back into the family history. Now obviously from a dietary point of view, being in Ireland, there’s quite a lot of celiacs here, it’s only one or two per cent but there’s quite a lot of adults and children who have this kind of non-celiac gluten sensitivity and the safest way to find out is just do an exclusion for a short period. I’ve had several patients who’ve only gone out the door about a week or two and they’ve noticed that “my child is starting to do words”, calming down, and then they’ve done it before they’ve even got started.
Examining for gluten intolerances
KOC: Is that a big one then good because I know, as you say, so many people are intolerant to the whole gluten end of things and would you recommend that kids, if there is a concern around the dietary end of things and particularly if the child is coming up as if they’re on the spectrum, that it may be worth looking at a gluten-free and casein-free diet?
GMD: It’s a very good idea and it would be part of our protocol. We would start by telling the parents to go into their history, find out what’s actually there and then say, this is a trial [to test for intolerances]. 20 years ago when we were doing it, it was extremely difficult but now gluten-free and casein-free foods are available everywhere and there is no problem with the calcium because they’ve got almond milk, coconut milk, and you can use the oatmeal some of the time. You can use the soya milk as well but they feel it has a bit of an estrogenic effect. But there is plenty out there. All the foods are available in every single supermarket. The only problem with the food is that you have to watch the percentage of fats because the taste isn’t very good, so they add a lot of fat and they add sugar – you just need to turn over the packaging and check what’s going on. There are multiple books and multiple cookbooks all about gluten-free cooking.
KOC: That’s interesting, Goodwin. First of all, there’s a lot of gluten-free products out there at the moment which are fantastic and casein-free, and, interestingly, a question that parents always ask me is, “oh my god, but how would he cope without gluten” or “how would he cope without dairy”? But as you say, from a calcium point of view, and of course this is critical, the child can get that from many other types of milk that won’t have that same impact on their behaviour or on how they’re feeling in general, so that’s fantastic. Also, the other factor here is to keep an eye on gluten-free products so that there aren’t too many fats or sugar.
Adjusting a child’s diet
GMD: If I was treating somebody, all the protocol would be to go gluten-free, casein-free for three months, if possible six months Quite often the parents break it and they will see the sudden change in the behaviour. [During this time] you would use your fish oils, the cleanest ones you can get. From the initial testing, you’d have their vitamin D levels. Being in the northern hemisphere, our Vitamin D levels are particularly low, so you can supplement and they’ve got basic drops or sprays very easily. Where the reference level should be varied hugely. I like to get them to above about 100 nanograms.
Based on the results, you’d work out which type of probiotics you would go for. There are lots of excellent new ones at very good value. You’d adjust the diet as required. Parents can come back to find out what they can have [food types]. You would send them away [with your advice] and then you would recheck, assuming that there’s either a fungus or a parasite or mycotoxins. Fungus Aspergillus are the commonest here [in Ireland]. Unfortunately in Ireland, a lot of the older houses don’t have any DPC. The drains are leaking and people assume that if you just get rid of the damp and then cover it up [that’s enough] but no, unfortunately. There’s an excellent test in the Great Plains Laboratory for that. You don’t see what the problem is but it’s challenging the children hugely.
KOC: They’re sensitive, to begin with, and then you add this into the equation, it just makes them even more sensitive.
GMD: There are no red flags for us unless you go and ask them where they live. What’s the room like? Is it cold? Is it north facing? How old is it? Then you can say, “I think it’s worth looking at…”. I pick one [a case] up every six or eight weeks
KOC: It’s fascinating Goodwin. You know when you say about the different tests and the different things to look at in terms of kind of physical things that parents can see that might be going on with their child- diarrhoea, constipation – would that be something they should look out for – the different type of stool or unusual stool sample.
GMD: In the stool example, with diarrhoea and constipation and the bloating and then if there are any outside signs of fungal infections and then quite often you can look at their faces, see these kinds of dark patches under their eyes and then they have this kind of wrinkles, demi morgan lines okay, they’re pretty obvious. You can check their tongues. The bloating, constipation. Then you can often see the skins get are very rough and they have fungal infections anywhere from their head to their toe
Foggy Brain Symptoms
KOC: The way I see it reflected in the speech therapy clinic is that they come in exactly like that – pale dark circles under their eyes – but find it hard to focus and then find it hard to listen to what someone’s saying. They find it hard to tune into you. There’s a dark cloud over them and they’re coming in and out, and you know sometimes, they’re with you and sometimes they’re not.
GMD: “Foggy brain”. I always ask the parents to take a picture of their faces, so they’re able to remember, and then go back and recheck an old picture. I’ll say four or five years ago – then the answer usually comes out. You can also check the parents.
KOC: Of course, I mean you know parents can have an issue with this as well. They’re living in the same house and they’re eating the same diet.
KOC: The different tests that you do Goodwin, they’re so detailed. you’re taking a full history. you’re doing all of that and you’re doing all the usual stuff that a doctor or GP / an MD does, but in addition to that, you are doing this testing if and when required. So that’s something that a lot of doctors I presume aren’t doing?
GMD: Well yes, but it’s slowly changing here now. People are looking at probiotics and gynaecologists are big into it. A lot of gastroenterologists are choosing probiotics. If you’re lucky enough to be able to do the stool testing, it gives you an idea of where you need to go to see if there are any other bacteria in the system. What are the inflammatory markers like? You can also look at the prebiotics which are the foods that feed the probiotics. There’s a list where you don’t need to buy expensive prebiotics, you can also just adjust the foods that work for them and then it’s a very easy way of actually doing it. All that’s available is in the stool test. The inflammatory markers are the standard ones that are used in the hospital, and quite often if the immune system is stressed, you can measure the immunoglobulin responses in the urine and the stool test again, secretory IGA, which is again the defence system from your mouth down to the rectal passageway. All that’s available in the stool kit. There are webinars on the sites which are available to all the patients to go back and reread it, which I encourage them enormously to just look at, read it and then I’ll go back over the whole thing.
KOC: Where would they find that Goodwin? Is that when they have the testing done and all that.
GMD: They can go to the Great Plains Laboratories [website] and see what the abnormalities are, they don’t have to understand them, but they can just see the marker that they’re outside the range either high or low. Then they can go on their webinars in each section describing everything. They’re all fully referenced.
Rates of Autism / ASD and ADHD
KOC: You work with children, with all types of children, and adults with all types of challenges and you have done so for many years. What would you say, looking back over the years, about the dramatic increase in the rates of autism, ADHD and all of that? What’s your opinion on all of that?
GMD: Well I mean they’ve done the figures every year and in between the period of 2008 and 2018 it’s gone from 1:125 to, it’s now down to 1:58 and it’s getting more prevalent everywhere. There’s a genetic factor, because there are four boys for every girl, and they know that different countries have huge rates – like Japan has an enormous rate. Europe is catching up and they feel that, yes, there’s a genetic effect. They know there are just several hundred genes, they reckon there’s about 50 at the moment that are strong influencers. There’s a hundred plus that is weak in influence. Then you’ve also got the environment. You’ve also got the pesticides, insecticides and fungicides and that’s one part that at the moment you can’t correct. But they have this new Crisp Cast 10, where they can take out chunks of the gene and replace it with normal patches from other parts. That’ll be the first part to look at. and then you can work out where you need to focus your attention. On genetics, there’s not much you can do at the moment, but certainly, you can tidy up the diet, the fungicides, the pesticide, the insecticides, and adjust the idea of keeping the sugar to as low as you can get, and you’ve got the alternatives like stevia or agave and it allows you give the child the actual sensation of the sugar, which they will all look for, and they just adjusted in the diet.
Looking at our children’s environment
KOC: Just something that you were saying there in terms of the genetic end of it, the genetic component. I was reading Dr Martha Herbert’s book, you had recommended her to me, The Autism Revolution, and it’s very interesting. She was looking back at the research and she said they haven’t found one gene marker. So she said a lot is going on in the environment that we need to look at that is having an impact on these kids. By looking at all of that, it can make a huge difference to these children.
GMD: It is huge because it’s multi-factorial. You have to look at it from the family history, the genetics, you’ve got to look at the environment, the pesticides, the insecticides and fungicides, and the dynamics within the family. If there’s a family history, you can pick that up and you know there’s the genetic part. As to how much, nobody knows, they’re still working away. It cost them a billion to work out the human genome the first time around but they’re now down to about five or six hundred and you can do the 23 – several ones are known. You can see what are the tendencies with the actual genomic information.
KOC: You know both you and I see so many children who you know have been told that they’re on the spectrum and thankfully, in some cases certainly, and I think in a growing number of cases, they’re not actually on the spectrum, because once they get your treatment, once they get the biomedical end of things tackled positively, the whole situation becomes much more positive and the child starts showing changes and that foggy brain and that kind of tuning in and tuning out and engaging and not engaging, it completely changes.
I think for me and as a practitioner, it shows how much of it is environmental and how much of it is down to the foods, the intolerances and all of that kind of thing.
A Multidisciplinary Approach to Treating Difficulties
GMD: Absolutely, and the thing is it needs to be multidisciplinary. We’ve been talking about the biomed base, that is a factor – it’s a small factor. You need input from the paediatrician, you need the speech and language therapist, and maybe the play therapist, and that way, by putting everything together you can get the best result. No one piece fixes the problem. If you’re lucky, you might get it all going a wheat one but that’s extremely rare.
KOC: As we always say, you’re always looking at all the pieces of the jigsaw. It’s rarely one piece that’s going to sort everything out. I mean that’s true with nearly everything in life, isn’t it? It’s rarely one small answer. it is the combination. It’s the multidisciplinary team and as you say, from the paediatrician to an integrative practitioner, like you, speech and language therapist, or maybe craniosacral therapist, if required, the dietitian or nutritionist.
I think that’s what this channel is all about. It’s about getting really good information out there to families because of what I’ve seen over the last 20 years plus, and have had the great fortune to work with you and people like you who are so ahead of their time, that it’s the change that we see with the children as a result of that. Years ago when I worked within the health system and it was all very set in the way that things were done, I wasn’t seeing those changes until we started looking at things like the biomed, the sensory integration piece and all of the other pieces. That biomed piece, you say it’s a small piece. I think it’s a huge piece. For me, looking at kids, if that piece isn’t addressed by someone like you, I can do very little. I can’t go anywhere.
GMD: The Biomed, it’s a reasonably restricted area. You can easily do it and you can see the response. You can converse with the other therapists and they would say look, suddenly we’ve woken up in the last two months. We’re sleeping better. If we have any exams, allergies, the gut is okay, diarrhoea settles down, home is a hundred times nicer, and they’re okay. They all have meltdowns every so often but there are approaches for everything.
KOC: What would you advise a family where they’re concerned? They feel that their child’s behaviour isn’t what it should be. The child may have pale dark circles under the eyes, may be prone to diarrhoea, constipation and their behaviour is a little bit unusual or whatever. What would you advise them to do?
Advice on where to start
GMD: First of all, assuming that they’re in school, the special needs person in the school would gear them to where to go. If it’s a sensory issue, then they’ll go towards the ascension integration team or the OT. If it’s speech and language therapy, it’ll be picked up in HSE, so they will go there. Then you can decide, okay we’re getting so far – then you can have a chance to look outside the box to see where we can go. For the parents, there are lots of good Facebook pages where everybody knows about everybody, what they’re doing. They can bump into the biomes there or some of the practitioners know what’s going on. Then the speech and language therapists, I know quite a few of them. They will know because the symptoms and signs are so obvious, they will say immediately go to the Biomed or they go to music therapy or therapeutic listening. They would say look, I think there’s a bit more going on here, we need to dig a bit deeper.
So from the functional point of view for me, that’s my argument. I’ve been doing it for a long time. When I look after adults, I have a fair idea where to go and the testing – the first 10 years we were kind of running blind on symptoms and science. Now we can go and check how effective the therapy is. What’s the level of whatever the markers are? Have we got them in the normal range? Then once they’re there I’m able to send them back to the speech and language, the OT, the play therapist – then that way I’ve sorted my section. I’m lucky I got the easy part in my corner.
Usually, it’s pretty effective now of course everybody has tough cases. Yes, they go on a long time but there are lots of new ideas and ways to get at it. In the last 20 years, it has improved incredibly. Access to the information [is available] and especially to the guys who’ve done all their work on the gut-brain connection, that’s been exploding in the last 10 years and it’s going to keep going at an enormous range.
Where to get more information
KOC: Two questions Goodwin. Everyone’s looking online now for information. If someone wanted to find out more about this area, are there specific people who should be looking up? Are there specific websites that you might recommend? If they wanted to find somebody like you, where would they look?
GMD: Well, there’s a few of us. There’s a lady in Cork who does, I’m in Dublin here. There are quite a few people who look at the gut but don’t necessarily look out towards autism.
There are lots on Autism Ireland and all the sites that are there, they will point them in that direction. and they see your speech and language therapists. I mean you can go into other neutrino clinics they’re very up to speed and the paediatricians know what’s going on.
The information is there but you can go to any of the therapists. Specifically, there are lots and lots of books, nowadays you can just walk into the library and you can pick what you like. you can have the completely down-to-earth ball medical answers, or you can have the whole integrative approach, where everybody’s included, and this is everybody, There isn’t one solution.
KOC: You’ve recommended some amazing books to me over the years. I have said Dr Martha Herbert’s book, The Autism Revolution. I think that whether a child has autism or they don’t have autism, I think if there’s any sense that something is going on on the biomedical end of things, I think that is a great book to look at.
GMD: That’s a good book. She’s had that book out for a long time and she works at Harvard University. She gives nice, small, not too many big words, easy to read, and it’s well-referenced [book].
KOC: There’s another one you recommended by Kenneth Bach, I think, who’s a DAN! doctor.
GMD: That’s the site I forgot to mention. You can just go on to the DAN! site. It’s all included there. It’s very similar to what all of us do and what Martha Herbert does. The only thing is that there are a few areas that are not available in Ireland which are chelation. It’s for people who are interested in it, but from our point of view, it’s not included in our practice and we wouldn’t do it. If someone specifically is looking for it, there are people in the United States who can do it and supervise. Dr Cave is one of the people but several people do it. Unfortunately, going to the United States gets expensive, that’s the biggest problem with it. From a medical-legal point of view, we’re not allowed to go near it.
KOC: It’s good that you mentioned it because people have mentioned it to me over the years and I don’t have a full understanding of it, so it’s good that people hear this is the situation in Ireland with that. If it is something that you’re interested in pursuing or finding out more about, this is where you need to look. Just to make it clear for people that the DAN! doctor stands for “defeat autism now”.
GMD: That’s a very good site, it’s very geared towards the parents and the general public.
Understanding ASD and fulfilling your potential
KOC: I know we’ve talked a lot about autism today but a lot of what we’ve discussed is true for so many kids presenting with so many things, whether it be any kind of developmental challenge, it’s right across anything.
GMD: I’m much happier with [the term] ASD. Autism in the past has had lots of bad connotations that the children are kind of completely deranged, but in a matter of fact, by using the spectrum you cover a large amount. For example, dyslexia – we have three dyslexia children. Do they cause any problems? Do they have any problems sleeping at nighttime? No. Can go to school perfectly okay? People have their perception autistic kids are running around the place all the time, they’re destructive at home and disrupt the family. but that doesn’t apply for most of them and most of the ASD children can finish their school, attain a very good result, and most of them can go to university. They have special skills because they see the world from a different perspective from everybody else. They pay extreme attention to detail. The obvious examples are most of the IT people, they came up with an idea that everyone thought was crazy and it’s amazing.
KOC: It’s so lovely to hear that because you know that’s exactly the way I would feel – that there’s so much potential for these children and parents often come in feeling like there’s no hope, there’s nothing left. What you’re saying, after more than 30 years of working with children, those who are on the spectrum, who aren’t on the spectrum, right across the board, is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s so much positivity.
GMD: There’s so much backup in education nowadays that you can regulate them so they’re reasonably okay. Then to have the potential to learn, to absorb the information and the world is their oyster. There are now people like google looking for kids who have got ASD for their roots. They know their routines. They have their patterns and they will follow it and if they see any quirks in the system, they’re the first people to spot. It’s amazing.
KOC: Goodwin, thank you so much for meeting with me today. It’s been so interesting and it’s always lovely to meet you and to hear the amazing work that you’re doing. So thank you