Advice Column, Health

How Drained Is Your Brain?

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Of paramount importance in dealing with ADHD and other learning and behavioural issues, is nutrition. Granted, it may not be the only factor to consider, however, it certainly is a fundamental component and before we can correct deficiencies, we need to explore what needs to be cut out in order to halt the brain drain.

Preservatives, colourants and artificial additives

While not all additives are potentially harmful, many studies have shown how they trigger and exacerbate symptoms of hyperactivity, poor memory, depression, mood swings and intolerances. It’s important to become aware of which chemicals and pesticides your child is exposed to on a daily basis, as the consequences of long term exposure  are unknown and the benefits of any medication and supplements that your child is taking, will be diminished if they are constantly exposed to chemicals that may well be triggering their behaviour.

It’s advisable to buy foods with short ingredient lists and to ensure that you recognize real foods in them. Watch out for marketing claims. If the label boldly states that the food is ‘free from artificial colourings’, then check that it’s not crammed full of other preservatives or additives.

Sugar

Not only is there zero nutritional value in sugar, but alarmingly it upsets the absorption of other important nutrients, suppresses the immune system, and this results in a sluggish foggy brain. Many children are particularly sensitive to sugar because they do not metabolize it properly. In these cases hyperactivity, unruly behaviour and aggression is very common.

The first step is to ascertain how much sugar the child (or anyone for that matter) is consuming throughout the day. Slowly start cutting down and where possible, replace with stevia or xylitol but NOT artificial sweeteners. When a diet is high in sugar and refined carbs, the brain does not get a steady flow of fuel, and this will impact on concentration, memory, learning ability, mood and overall mental functioning.

Caffeine

This is a stimulant which affects the nervous system and causes mood swings because it influences the body’s ability to control blood sugar levels. It is a diuretic, which depletes vitamin B, zinc, potassium, calcium and iron levels, all of which are vital nutrients for cognitive function. Caffeine is found in tea, coffee, chocolate, chocolate drinks and several carbonated and energy drinks. Remember that many of these drinks have high sugar and chemical contents, which when combined with the caffeine will not only have a negative impact on mental function but can lead to anxiety, depression and other mood disorders. Caffeine acts as an appetite suppressant and if taken in the morning, breakfast could be refused and then the brain will not get the fuel required to function for morning lessons.

Heavy metals

Heavy metals such as mercury (from amalgam fillings, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and fish from polluted waters), aluminium (cookware, foil and food packaging), cadmium (cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes), and lead (water pipes and exhaust fumes) accumulate in the brain, creating toxicity and affecting its chemistry. Again there is a link to memory, concentration and a number of behavioural issues. Pectin in apples, algae, garlic, onions, eggs, carrots, methionine, cysteine, selenium, zinc and vitamin C help with the detoxification of these toxins.

Carbonated sugary drinks and processed fruit juices

There is an average of 6-8 spoons of sugar in a can of fizzy cool drink. Many of these drinks contain artificial sweeteners and other chemicals and are high in phosphoric acid which affects calcium absorption. Most fruit juices are completely refined  and processed with quick sugar release that will affect blood sugar balance. Many are sweetened and have added chemical ingredients for texture and flavour, which is not only unhealthy but also impacts on behaviour. These juices are also very acidic in nature and should not be included in lunch boxes. Diluted freshly squeezed juices are preferable and most important is water consumption.

Water

A lack of water impairs short term memory and the ability to calculate and to focus on writing. Dehydration leads to tiredness, headaches, mood swings and lethargy. It is recommended that juices, fizzy drinks and milk are eliminated and water and unsweetened herbal teas are introduced. There are many fruity flavoured teas that have a naturally sweet taste and can be served cold as iced teas.

Damaged fats

Trans fats and hydrogenated fats, which are damaged fats from frying foods, are found in processed foods. Look out for these on all food labels and avoid them like the plague, as they go directly into the brain and create chaos, leaving the child feeling muddled and unable to process information. These lethal fats also affect the functioning and absorption of the essential fats.

Cutting out these brain drainers will go a long way in improving your child’s mental abilities and overall wellbeing. These simple steps will assist your child to better focus on their schoolwork and so result in a happier and healthier child.

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