Nutrition for the best school year yet
August 14, 2012
TAHOE/TRUCKEE and#8212; With a new school year fast approaching, there is no better time than now to get a head start on your childrenand#8217;s health for the year and by doing so, giving them a step up on success in school and life. In this multiple-part series, I will look at some of the factors that will help you and your children understand the connection between food/nutrition and behavior/health.
Research has confirmed what naturopathic doctors have long known and#8212; food choices you make for and with your children can dramatically effect their mood and behavior. Like every other system in the body, the brain needs good food. It uses 20 to 25 percent of the total energy you consume, and the better you feed the brain, the better it works.
Better eating builds better brains. There is a pecking order among the organs of the body. The most vital organs get first pick of the available nutrients in the bloodstream. Since a malfunctioning brain can take the rest of the body down with it, the brain gets VIP status when the body distributes nutrients.
Nutrition affects the brain in three ways:
1. The cell itself needs proper nutrition to carry on its functions just like any other cell in the body.
2. The myelin sheath covers the axon of the cell-like insulation covering electrical wires. It speeds transmission of electrical signals along the axons, the and#8220;wiresand#8221; of the brain. Deficiencies of nutrients that compose myelin, such as essential fatty acids, delay nerve-impulse transmission.
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3. The neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, carry messages from one cell to the other and effect mood as well as thoughts and actions. Some of the nutrients in the food we eat become part of the neurotransmitters that help us think. Neurotransmitters are probably the biological explanation for the food-mood connection.
What do we need?
Each one of these three parts needs specific nutrients to enable the whole circuit to function properly. If any of these areas are deficient in nutrients, the circuit, like a defective electrical wire, misfires.
When the cells of the human body and#8212; and the human brain and#8212; are deprived of the essential fatty acids (EFAs) they need to grow and function, the cells will try to build replacement fatty acids that are similar, but may actually be harmful. Levels of replacement fatty acids have been found to be higher in persons suffering from depression or attention deficit disorder. A diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids (such as EPA and DHA from fish oils) not only provides the body with healthy fats, but it also lowers the blood level of potentially harmful ones, such as cholesterol.
Smart fats are for growing brains. Fats can also influence brain development and performance. DHA is the primary structural component of brain tissue, so it stands to reason that a deficiency of DHA in the diet could translate into a deficiency in brain function. In fact, research is increasingly recognizing the possibility that DHA has a crucial influence on neurotransmitters in the brain, helping brain cells better communicate with each other. Some children with poor school performance because of ADD, have been shown to have insufficient essential fatty acids in their diet.
Nourish the teen brain
Even though the brain has completed most of its growth by adolescence, it continues to make vital connections. This is another window of opportunity for brain growth when a healthy diet is important. However, adolescence may be a period when there is a lack of essential fatty acids in the diet. There are several reasons for this deficiency: Adolescents tend to eat a lot of saturated fat foods and foods that contain hydrogenated fats. Young athletes often restrict their fat intake in order to keep fit and trim. When they cut out fat, in general, they also cut out healthy fats. Teen brains need more fish and fewer fries.
Join us at NaturaMed Natural Family Medicine in Kings Beach on Thursday Aug. 23, 6-7 p.m. for a presentation: Raising Healthy Kids. Childcare provided. Due to limited seating and a need to plan for childcare, RSVP required at 530-546-0400.
and#8212; Dr. Ann Sura is a naturopathic doctor at NaturaMed Natural Family Medicine in Kings Beach since October 2010, formerly from Arizona where she practiced for 10 years. Personalized preventative care is of the utmost importance in helping people achieve their health goals. With a background in massage therapy, physical therapy and a medical technologist, Dr. Sura incorporates a patient-centered, tailored approach to medicine.