Nurturing a Child’s Brain
Article by Sharon Erdrich
The Neuroplastic Brain
By the time a child is five years of age, their brain has reached 90% of its potential growth, and yet this is just the beginning of their many years of school, and further social and intellectual development! This development throughout childhood (and even adulthood) is possible due to the wonder of neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is a term that describes the process by which millions upon millions of synaptic connections between neurons are being constantly broken down, formed and strengthened. The years between birth and adulthood are a time of intense brain development and neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity and the evolution of our brain’s wiring in childhood and adulthood is shaped by our experiences, and strengthened through repetition of actions and experiences. The shaping of neural pathways contributes to the crucial development of an individual’s personality and life potential. For our school-aged patients, supporting their capacity to develop new synaptic connections is vital for supporting their developing intellectual capacity, but also for helping shape their behavioural and emotional maturation.
Learning and Behavioral Difficulties in Children
The incidence of learning and behavioural disorders in children is increasing. One in 10 Australian children are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), and learning difficulties such as dyslexia are increasing as well. This increase in incidence is linked to a variety of factors, including:
- Genetic and epigenetic factors.
- Maternal stress, which during the prenatal period has a significant impact on neurological and endocrinological development in the foetus.
- Sub-optimal nutrition both pre- and post-natally, which interferes with crucial developmental periods.
- Food intolerance can also contribute to behavioural and learning difficulties.
- Poor gut and immune development, which may affect the developing brain due to increased oxidative stress and inflammation.
- Home stress, school stress, abuse and/or neglect, which strongly predispose children to cognitive and mood problems.
As parents, you can team up with a natural healthcare practitioner to address many of these factors – we can help by providing nutritional strategies and dietary protocols to support healthy brain development, investigate potential food intolerances and support gut immunity.
Support Mental Focus and Behaviour with Fish Oils
Support of children’s neurological function and brain health has to start with the basics: a fish oil supplement and a multivitamin and mineral formula. The omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA are vital for the developing brain, from pregnancy to childhood and throughout adulthood. Liquid fish oils are availabe in palatable flavours to ensure children can easily take this essential building block for the brain. Research shows that behavioural disorders are associated with essential fatty acid deficiencies, and multiple trials show that omega-3 supplementation benefits a number of behavioural disorders including ADHD, autism and aggression.4
Micronutrients for Cognitive Support
To support the production and metabolism of the chemical messengers between neurons – the neurotransmitters of the brain – key micronutrients are required. These neurotransmitters are vital for learning and brain health in children as they complete the brain circuitry required for learning, memory, understanding and communication. Altered function of neurotransmitters can affect cognitive function and behaviour. For example, reduced levels of dopamine and noradrenaline in the prefrontal cortex are implicated in ADHD, leading to the characteristic symptoms of inattention and impulsive behavior. Several key nutrients are required for production of these neurotransmitters, including zinc, magnesium, iron, B vitamins, folate and vitamin C. Another key brain nutrient is iron, which is essential for neuronal energy production in the brain. Iron is commonly deficient in children, leading to lethargy, irritability, apathy, fatigue, inability to concentrate, inattention and decreased IQ.5 The Metagenics Children’s Multivitamin and Mineral formula provides all these essential nutrients required for general wellbeing, and to support healthy brain development in a great tasting, powdered formula.
School and Your Child’s Brain
Knowing how crucial healthy brain function is during childhood, it makes sense to address your children’s health and discuss with a health professional strategies to support their neurological health. Every aspect of children’s health has an impact on their social, physical and intellectual development.
To help children get the best from school, make sure you take the opportunity to discuss the benefits of Omega 3 fish oils and our top quality Mutivitamin and Mineral supplements. Attention to diet is and lifestyle is also important. As a parent, you are in the strongest position to model this and support your children. Bringing a non-compliant child to an appointment with a practitioner can be extremely helpful to get them “on board”.
(with thanks to Health World for the basis for this article)