Nutrients To Support Your Child's Cognitive Health
The human brain begins its development the first week of pregnancy and continues into young adulthood. Childhood—especially the early years—is a critical time in brain development because neurons are formed at such a rapid rate. Strong neural development in children shapes their future cognitive health, so the importance of providing optimal nutrition and key nutrients starts very young.
Besides probiotics, what other supplements are critical to a child’s developing brain? Just remember your ABCD’s.
This fat soluble vitamin is found in eggs, liver, beef and chicken. There is also a water soluble version of vitamin A called beta-carotene, this version is found in colorful fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes and mango. It's essential to the function of an area of the brain called the hippocampus, which is the learning and memory center of the brain. Vitamin A is only required in small amounts, so to ensure your child gets adequate levels you can provide them with these great food sources. Vitamin A also impacts the area of the brain responsible for appetite and growth, so it is important for overall development.
The B vitamins
These water soluble vitamins are abundant in the brain and nerve tissue. They produce the energy needed to develop new brain cells and also facilitate neurotransmitters, making them essential for every activity in the brain. B-vitamins can be found in various foods like eggs, whole grains, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens and avocados. Because these vitamins are water soluble it's important for your child to have different sources of B-vitamins at every meal, since they are not stored in the body.
The highest concentration of vitamin C in the body is found in the brain. As an antioxidant, vitamin C protects the brain from damage caused by free radicals. This keeps brain cells in their healthiest state. Vitamin C can be found in various foods like broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, turnip greens, bell peppers and sweet potatoes. These foods tend to be low on the interest scale for children, so it can be difficult for them to obtain adequate levels of this important vitamin. In order to ensure they are getting sufficient levels, smoothies are a great way to hide vegetables or you can always supplement with a chewable vitamin C.
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D is required to produce serotonin in the brain, making it an important component of good mental health. It also helps shape the structure and wiring of the brain, making it incredibly valuable in cognitive development. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, which means that it is absorbed in the body with fat and is also stored in the body. Some vitamin D rich foods include mackerel, salmon, portabella mushrooms and egg yolks. Another way to ensure adequate vitamin D levels is to spend time in sunlight. However with more time spent inside, living in the northern hemisphere and wearing sunscreen, these can all lead to lower levels. So, depending on your child's vitamin D levels you can supplement with a vitamin drop or chewable tablet, when required.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
How can we help kids with ADHD, concentration difficulties, low impulse control, or anxiety and depression? What can a parent do to help their child’s brain grow strong and healthy?
One area that has been well studied in the area of brain health is the impact of omega 3’s. Our brains are made up of 60% fat, so fatty acids like those found in omega 3’s are vital to optimized brain function. Fatty acids like EPA and DHA are essential components of cell membranes, they help your brain make serotonin and dopamine—the body’s “feel good” hormones, and they form part of the synapses between neurons which allow the brain cells to effectively communicate.
It is clear that lack of fatty acids will impair brain function and can lead to impulsivity, lack of concentration, and low moods. Several studies have shown that fish oil supplements have improved behavior in children, as well as their performance in reading, spelling, and memory. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association even recommends everyone, including children, eat fatty fish at least 2 times a week or supplement if they don’t eat much fish. The connection between our cognitive health and fatty acid intake is well-accepted.
So, remember to include a daily dose of essential vitamins and minerals as part of taking care of your child’s mental well being. Nourishing your child’s brain in the early years will go a long way in helping them reach their full potential for a lifetime.