Healthy Brain Development & Focus
With September comes back-to-school time, and kids must shift their brains from leisure and relaxation to attention and focus on their classes and studies. Some children have an easier time than others at concentrating on schoolwork, but regardless of their attention spans there are some integral nutritional supplements from which all kids may benefit.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are termed this for a reason since they are absolutely necessary for health and cannot be manufactured by the body. Every cell in the body has a requirement for these fats and the list of their functions is too long to list here. The most well-known benefits are as anti-inflammatories and for brain health. Sixty percent of our brains are composed of fat, so the next time your child calls his little brother a “fathead,” rest assured that it is not an insult! The primary fat in the brain is the omega-3 fatty acid Docosahexaenoic Acid, known as DHA for short, and it is so vital to child brain development that it is a primary constituent of human breast milk. This fatty acid is linked to cerebral development during pregnancy and in the first few months after birth. Breast-fed babies have been shown to have proven IQ advantages over babies fed formula without DHA. As children grow older, they can benefit from DHA contributing to optimal memory function, visual acuity and maintaining a positive mental state. Omega-3 fats have been shown to improve verbal speech, attention, and learning and behavioral skills in children. There is persuasive evidence that children with ADHD have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids and studies have confirmed that maladjusted children have significantly lower EFA blood levels as well. DHA is found famously in fish oil, and a wide range of supplements is available including a vegan source from algae which is where the fish obtain this fat. Flax oil is a wonderful source of omega-3 fatty acids also, and although not containing DHA, it does contain a precursor fat which the body may convert into DHA. For optimal levels of DHA, it may be wise to choose a DHA supplement in order to make sure the body is easily supplied.
Another brain-supporting nutrient is phosphatidylserine, or PS, a naturally-occurring component of cell membranes. PS has been involved in numerous clinical trials showing improved mental processes such as learning and remembering information and maintaining concentration.
Most people have heard of the herb Ginkgo biloba with relation to brain health, but there are also lesser-known botanicals which may benefit learning and concentration/focus in children. An herb from India, Bacopa, has been used in that country’s medical tradition for millenia. Bacopa has been clinically proven to support brain function with faster information processing, increased learning rates and reduced test anxiety. Additional studies have shown Bacopa to significantly reduce ADHD symptoms in children. Bacopa is traditionally used by students as young as six years old to enhance mental function and thus do better in school. This herb has a long, safe history.
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