Brighter Mind® For Children – Part 2
As children are rapidly growing and learning, and since they have even less of the willpower required to make good choices in a world full of processed junk, it is especially crucial that their bodies and brains be supplied with the nutrients they are likely to lack.
Food processing and other aspects of the modern diet have significantly degraded the micronutrient quality and quantity of the average American diet. Today, multiple lines of evidence demonstrate that children and adults frequently consume diets that provide suboptimal nutrient composition. These inadequate diets negatively affect the health outcomes of adults and children. For more information about this, please read part 1 of the Brighter Mind® For Children blog article.
In this blog post, I explore the vast evidence that nutritional supplementation greatly benefits children as well discuss specific nutrients to consider adding to their daily diets. You will learn a simple, three-step strategy to give your child a strong nutritional foundation for the rest of their life.
Also, my book, Brighter Mind®, offers detailed information and advice for people of all ages who wish to optimize nutrition, brain function, and overall health. It explores the extent of nutrient depletion in common “kid-friendly foods” in extensive detail. The book also covers individual nutrients beneficial for children in-depth – including research-based recommendations of Daily Intakes of specific forms of those nutrients. Also in its pages: detailed information on exercise and constructing a diet that helps keep the whole family slender and full of energy. It has a full recipe section and shopping lists that can help to get the whole family eating more healthful, whole-food focused meals. Many physicians have shared that they found the book to be a helpful time-saving teaching tool when offering advice to patients about how and what to supplement – and how to change eating habits for the better.
The Ultimate Head Start
Studies Support Nutritional Interventions for Children
Nutritional deficiencies have been documented in modern, industrialized populations, and numerous studies now detail the benefits of supplementing the diet of children with outright symptoms of nutritional deficiency. What about apparently healthy school children, with no outward signs of deficiency or illness? Would a high-quality multivitamin/multi-mineral supplement improve their health, cognitive function, or resistance to illness?
Investigators sought to answer this question by administering a supplement designed to ensure that healthy schoolchildren received adequate daily amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. After eight months, the supplemented schoolchildren experienced a significant improvement in nonverbal intelligence, while children given a placebo or no supplement did not. 24,25 In fact, the group of children who supplemented with the multivitamin/mineral formula gained 7.2 IQ points more than the placebo group in this category. 24,25 The researchers were stunned at these results, but even stronger evidence in favor of this type of intervention was to come.
Specifically: in a review article of 13 clinical trials that evaluated the benefits of nutrients on children’s intelligence, the researchers commented that “[t]he most striking finding is that the supplemented subjects performed better, on average, than placebo subjects in non-verbal IQ in all 13 studies, regardless of location, age, gender, race, formula, or research team composition.” 25 In addition, the mean net gain in nonverbal IQ across all 13 studies showed a nonverbal IQ increase of 9.8 points among 1041 children whose diets were supplemented with vitamin/mineral formulas. 25
Children Are At Greatest Risk – And Poised for Maximum Benefit
This information is especially important for physicians who practice pediatric nutrition. Long-term studies demonstrate that young children provided with a nutritionally enriched and stimulating learning environment are significantly less likely to exhibit anti-social or criminal behavior or mental illness in later life. 26 Similarly, proper nutrition, exercise, and cognitive stimulation in preschool children are very likely to result in better behavior and healthier, more stable mental outcomes one, five, ten, and twenty years later.26
Optimal brain nutrition for children means more and better information processing and assimilation, improved learning capacity, and even enjoyment of learning. The preschool years are especially potent in terms of learning ability – and yet, this stage of a child’s life is often characterized by a diet consisting mostly of white flour, processed cheese, conventionally produced ultra-pasteurized milk, and refined sugar. Again, the implications here for nutritionally oriented physicians are profound.
Optimal functioning of the central nervous system requires optimal availability of the following brain support nutrients. 27-34 However, the chemical and mechanical steps currently utilized to process foods through exposure to heat, light, water, milling, or chemicals will significantly reduce a food’s content of these same nutrients: 35-40
- Pantothenic acid
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E Iron
- Essential fatty acids
Even a marginal nutritional boost makes a difference. This is evidenced by the fact that some studies evaluating nutrient supplementation in children have utilized RDA levels of nutrients – levels far below those amounts utilized in the original study that produced the more impressive 7.2-point average improvement. 24,25 For example, a study that evaluated 245 Arizona school children for just four months (half the time of the original study) utilized a relatively weak nutritional formula. Although the length of time for which the supplement was given was shorter and the doses of nutrients were lower, the group of children taking the nutritional formula had a significant 2.5-point greater gain in nonverbal IQ than the placebo group. 24,25
Why do vitamins and minerals raise IQ in this category? The science demonstrates that:
- Vitamin and mineral supplementation eliminates the probability of sub-clinical deficiency of any of the brain-supporting nutrients that are so critical for optimal function; and
- Adding a multivitamin/multi-mineral supplement to the diet ensures that optimal intakes of nutrients are always present to support optimal mental performance.
Children and teens think faster and can concentrate longer; thus, they may consolidate even more information with optimal intake of vitamins and minerals.
Another important element of pediatric nutrient supplementation: the omega-3 (n-3) fats such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA and EPA are essential for children’s proper neural development. They are necessary building materials for nerve and brain cell membranes, and optimize the neural circuitry that translates into the child’s thought, movement, behavior, and learning. Deficiency of these n-3 fats, which is extremely common in both children and adults, will negatively impact a child’s focus, concentration and behavior.
In fact, a sizeable body of evidence demonstrates that lowered levels of n-3s like DHA play a significant role in a host of cognitive disturbances that affect children. 41 An excellent case can be made in support of the idea that ADHD in children is a manifestation of either a greater genetic requirement for dietary n-3s and DHA or of chronic under-consumption and a resulting DHA deficiency.42 More on this below.
A 3-Step Pediatric Nutritional Strategy
1. Nutritionally Supplement The Diet With A Good Quality Multivitamin/ Multimineral Formula
True, nutritional supplements are only supplements to a healthful diet, but this step is at the top of the priority list. Even with the best intentions and unlimited supermarket dollars, the science on the subject shows that it’s nearly impossible for parents to obtain all the nutrients needed for their child through food alone.
In fact: EVERY study that’s been performed to date has demonstrated multiple nutritional deficiencies in children who are faithfully consuming the American diet. Setting the foundation for a child’s health and mental performance will require nutritional supplementation – even if the child’s diet is “better than average.” This step will protect against nutrient deficiencies that can emerge with even a relatively healthful diet.
2. Supplement The Diet With Omega-3 Fats From Fish Oil
Omega-3 deficiencies have been identified in the scientific literature as a causal factor in ADHD.43-46 Children with ADHD have been reported to have significantly lower plasma DHA and DHA red blood cell concentrations when compared to normal (control) non-ADHD children.44 In studies conducted at Purdue University, the lipid profiles of 53 boys with ADHD were compared to a control group of 43 boys without ADHD. Boys six to 12 years old who had below-normal plasma DHA concentrations had a documented greater prevalence of temper tantrums, learning problems, and other behavior and sleep problems, as well as significantly higher levels of anxiety, hyperactivity and impulsivity. 45 The researchers found that subjects with ADHD had significantly lower concentrations of DHA in plasma and red blood cells compared to the control group. 44 The ratio of total n-6 to n-3 in the subjects with ADHD was significantly higher than in control subjects (P<0.002).
In this same study, a higher percentage of subjects with ADHD had essential fatty acid deficiency symptoms: eczema, dermatitis, dry skin, dry hair, excessive thirst, and frequent urination. The ADHD group had a significantly higher incidence of asthma, ear infections, and stomachaches compared to controls. These ADHD boys showed evidence of a negative feedback cycle between inadequate nutrition, chronic inflammatory reactions, and hyperactive behavior.
Furthermore, a recent randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind intervention over 15 weeks performed in a group of children aged seven to 12 years who exhibited ADHD-related problems with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity produced quite favorable results. Researchers found significant medium to strong positive treatment effects in the group given n-3 supplementation.46
3. Increase Consumption of Nutrient-Rich Foods
Most children would prefer to fill up on processed foods. This is certainly understandable, but parents need to be aware of the fact that this could well be interfering with their health in numerous ways. Parents can begin making a healthful change by first factoring in some whole, nutritious, unprocessed foods, and then work to completely substitute healthful whole foods for processed junk as often as possible.
For every food a child adores, parents can find or create a less processed version as a replacement. Here are some ideas for parents:
Processed Food à Healthier Alternative
- Sweetened packaged yogurt à Plain organic yogurt with a drizzle of maple syrup, low-sugar granola, or all-fruit preserves; or, for an ice-creamy treat, chop up frozen fruit and stir in.
- Fried chicken tenders à Chicken tenders brushed with orange marmalade and then breaded with seasoned nut meal, cornmeal, or oats and baked in the oven.
- PB&J on fluffy white bread à PB and all-fruit preserves on sprouted grain toast or whole-wheat pita.
- Crackers and cheese à Whole-grain crackers and sliced raw vegetables with healthy yogurt dip.
- Fish sticks à Wild-Alaskan Salmon baked with sweet soy and maple syrup glaze.
- Tuna salad sandwich à Wild-Alaskan Salmon or shrimp salad, free-range chicken salad, or egg salad – made in same way as tuna salad.
- Sugary breakfast cereal in the mornings à Go high-protein with complex-carbohydrates in the AM to help the child focus in school. Try eggs and whole-grain toast or corn tortillas with sliced fruit; a protein smoothie; or even a turkey burger.
- Ice cream or sugary popsicles à Fruit pops made with no-sugar-added juices, fresh fruit pureed with a small amount of juice or plain yogurt, or protein smoothie; spirulina or other green food powder can be added if the kids don’t mind the color.
24. Benton D, Roberts G. Effect of vitamin and mineral supplementation on intelligence of a sample of schoolchildren. Lancet 1988; 1:140-143.
25. Schoenthaller SJ, Bier ID. Vitamin-mineral intake and intelligence: A macrolevel analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Alternative Complementary Med 1999; 5:125-134.
26. Raine A, et al. Effects of Environmental Enrichment at Ages 3–5 Years on Schizotypal Personality and Antisocial Behavior at Ages 17 and 23 Years. Am J Psychiatry 160:1627-1635,
27. Jeffery DR. Nutrition and diseases of the nervous system. In: Shils ME, Olson JA, Shike M,
Ross AC. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 9th Ed. Wliiams & Wilkins, Baltimore,
28. Korol DL, Gold PE. Glucose, memory and aging. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1998; 67(Suppl):764S-771S.
29. Hall JL, Gonder-Frederick LA, Chewning WW, Silveira J, Gold PE. Glucose enhancement of performance on memory tests in young and aged humans. Neuropsychologia 1989; 27:1129-1138.
30. Benton D, Owens DS. Blood glucose and human memory. Psychopharmacol 1993; 113:83-88.
31. Manning CA, Parsons MW, Gold PE. Anterograde and retrograde enhancement of 24-h memory by glucose in elderly humans. Behav Neural Biol 1992; 58:125-130.
32. Benton D, Owens DS, Parker PY. Blood glucose influences memory and attention in young adults. Neuropsychologia 1994; 32:595-607.
33. Watford M, Goodridge AG. Regulation of fuel utilization. In: Stipanuk MH. Biochemical and Physiological Aspects of Human Nutrition. WB Saunders Co., Philadelphia, 2000, 384-407.
34. McGrane MM. Carbohydrate metabolism – synthesis and oxidation. In: Stipanuk MH. Biochemical and Physiological Aspects of Human Nutrition. WB Saunders Co., Philadelphia, 2000, 158-210.
35. Williams AW, Erdman JW Jr. Food processing: Nutrition, safety, and quality balances. In: Shils ME, Olson JA, Shike M, Ross AC. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 9th Ed. Wliiams & Wilkins, Baltimore, 1999; 1813-1821.
36. Hoffman CJ, Zabik ME. Effects of microwave cooking/reheating on nutrients and food systems: A review of recent studies. J Am Dietet Assoc 1985; 85:922-926.
37. Fillion L, Henry CJ. Nutrient losses and gains during frying: A review. Int J Food Sci Nutr 1998; 49:157-168.
38. German JB. Food processing and lipid oxidation. Adv Exp Med Biol 1999; 459:23-50.
39. Slavin JL, Jacobs D, Marquart L. Grain processing and nutrition. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2000; 40:309-326.
40. National Research Council. Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th Edition. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, 1989.
41. Cott J, “Omega-3 fatty acids and psychiatric disorders,” Alternative Therapies in Women’s Health 1, No. 13 (1999): 97-104.
42. Arnold LE, et al. “Potential link between dietary intake of fatty acids and behavior: pilot exploration of serum lipids in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder,” J. Child Adol Psych 4, no. 3 (1994): 171-182.
43. Burgess JR, Stevens L, Zhang W, Peck L. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2000 Jan; 71(1}: 327-330.
44. Stevens LJ, Zentall SS, Deck JL, Abate ML, Watkins BA, Lipp SR, Burgess JR. Essential fatty acid metabolism in boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1995; 62:761-768.
45. Stevens LJ, Zentall SS, Abate ML, Kuczek T, Burgess JR. Omega-3 fatty acids in boys with behavior, learning, and health problems. Physiol Behav 1996; 59:915-920.
46. Sinn N, Brian J. Effect of Supplementation with Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Micronutrients on Learning and Behavior Problems Associated with Child ADHD. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. 28(2):82-91, April 2007.