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Natural Awakenings Milwaukee

Building Blocks for Healthy Brains: Simple Steps Help Kids Develop Optimal Function

Jul 31, 2011 10:05PM ● By Dr. Scott Theirl

Many parents wonder what is necessary for optimal brain development in children. Although there is no single answer for all kids, caring adults can integrate some core building blocks into their family’s lifestyle.

Add Fish Oil Supplements

Supplementing children’s daily diets with 1 to 2 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils ensures an important balance for the brain. According to the journal Nutrition Reviews, which cited 116 studies, adequate intake of these fatty acids is crucial for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Several large-scale studies have found a clear association between low blood levels of EPA and DHA and an increased risk of depression, violence and suicide. DHA also protects against oxidative damage, which is associated with cognitive impairment. Parents should shop for a brand that has a third-party certification of purity, omitting heavy metals and other chemical pollutants.

Consume Less Sugar

Another step parents can take is to reduce their children’s sugar intake. A recent World Health Report found that consumption of vegetables and fruits by both adults and youth continues to be below recommended levels, with only 21.4 percent of youth eating at least five servings each day, while consumption of refined grains and food high in added sugars has been rising. A 2006 study in the American Journal of Public Health reported that high sugar intake in teens, represented by the consumption of four or more sugar-laden soft drinks per day, increased mental distress, hyperactivity and behavioral problems. Other research, such as that of Esposito and Giugliano, published in the European Heart Journal, indicate a link between high sugar and starch intake and inflammation, which can reduce metabolic efficiency and lead to problems in the immune, circulatory and nervous systems.

Get Enough Sleep

Ensuring that children get plenty of sleep is also imperative. Research published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that most kids need between 9 to 12 hours of sleep nightly, and some need as much as 14 hours during certain periods of development.

Exercise to Stimulate the Brain

Because brains are sensory driven, light, sound, touch, taste, smell, balance and movement (proprioception) stimulates them. The Cerebellum and Cognition: International Review of Neurobiology (Jeremy Schmahmann) and Neurodevelopmental Disorders of Childhood (Melillo, Leisman) support that proprioception is the most powerful sensory stimulus, because the brain and nervous system are wired to obtain and maintain body movement and coordination against the constant stimulus of gravity, continually fine-tuning our joint and muscle receptors.

Hydrate for Cognitive Performance

Adequate fluid intake is vital for all the body’s systems, including the brain. Research published in Nutrition Reviews indicates that a loss of just 1 to 2 percent of body mass related to dehydration can lead to decreased cognitive performance in young adults.

Encourage Healthy Detoxification

The body eliminates toxins via the colon and bladder and by sweating, and this normal detoxification process helps both body and brain run smoothly. A well-balanced diet and plenty of exercise help ensure healthy perspiration, regular bowel movements and urine that is clear to light yellow in color.

Watch for Food Sensitivities

Food sensitivities can cause multiple immune responses such as gas, indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The gut plays a large role in immune function, and a suboptimal immune system also influences the brain. Sensitivities that cause difficulties digesting dairy (specifically the milk protein, casein) and gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and some oats) are common. Studies published in the journals Pediatrics and Lancet note a link between gluten sensitivity and problems with brain function, including learning disabilities, difficulty staying on task and memory dysfunction.

There are a variety of ways to test for food sensitivities, including markers in the blood, urine and stool. Researching those with a health care practitioner or eliminating suspected offending foods for three months and noting symptom changes in a diary can be useful.

Employing all these simple steps as building blocks can help children develop healthy brains.

Dr. Scott Theirl is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, Diplomate-American Chiropractic Neurology Board and Fellow-American College of Functional Neurology, in private practice since 2000. His office is located at GreenSquare Center for the Healing Arts, 6789 N. Green Bay Ave., Glendale 53209. For more information, call 800-385-1655 or visit