Have you ever experienced a moment when your child just doesn’t want to pay attention? No matter what you try, they keep getting distracted by this or that or the other? Parents know proper nutrition can have a positive effect on a child’s health, but many aren’t aware that it is also essential for proper growth, development, and mental focus.*
Like the heart, stomach, and liver, the brain is acutely sensitive to what we consume. In the same way, the types of foods children eat are critical for encouraging healthy brain development, focus, and cognitive skills.
The brain is composed of billions of nerve cells known as neurons. Neurons allow the brain to communicate with the rest of the nervous system, a complex network that organizes, explains and directs interactions between you and the world around you.1 The nervous system is predominantly composed of fats, or ‘lipids,’ that are derived from an individual’s diet and need to be supported. These fats encapsulate –or myelinate– the neurons, to help secure the impulses that make up our nervous system.
The brain also contains neurotransmitters, which are created from amino acids. Some of the amino acids that create neurotransmitters can be made in the body, but others must be derived from protein in the diet. If your child is not getting an adequate amount of amino acids, their body may not produce enough neurotransmitters, and this could potentially affect his or her ability to focus.
For the nervous system to function properly, it needs to obtain the proper macronutrients and micronutrients. It’s necessary to ensure your child is getting the right vitamins—like B6, folate, and B12—as well as the essential minerals and nutrients needed to boost focus, concentration, and productivity.*
With many studies linking children’s nutritional status to academic achievement and the ability to stay focused and alert in the classroom, parents need to be more aware of their children’s nutritional needs.2,3 In fact, providing children with a nutritious breakfast improves both their daily and long-term academic performance.4 To remain healthy, focused, and alert, children need different amounts of the following essential nutrients*:
Dimethylglycine (DMG) is the N,N-dimethylated derivative of the amino acid glycine, and it has been studied as a dietary supplement in children with communication or behavior disorders.5 As an immune system modulator, DMG supports circulation, oxygen utilization, brain health, liver health, cellular structure, cardiovascular health, as well as joint comfort and hydration.* A deficiency in DMG may leave someone feeling moody, apathetic, unmotivated, and unable to relax.* 6
Nutritional insufficiencies can have adverse effects on brain development and neurodevelopment in children, thereby impacting their ability to learn to function socially.7 Parents can look to betaine—a component of many foods, including wheat, shellfish, spinach, and sugar beets—as a nutrient to help lower homocysteine levels – an amino acid-based hormone– and potentially support heart health.*8 Betaine helps the body better use amino acids, the building blocks brain chemicals need to stay relaxed and focused.*
Vitamins: B6 (Pyridoxine), B12 (Methylcobalamin), and Folate
Vitamins perform several essential functions in support of the processes described above, including helping incorporate fatty acids into the brain and converting amino acids into neurotransmitters.* Vitamins are vital for promoting and maintaining positive brain health, and deficiencies in essential vitamins are often implicated in problems related to focus in children.*9
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is involved in more bodily functions that almost any other nutrient. It affects both physical and mental health.* B6 is necessary for normal brain function and optimal function of the nervous system.* A deficiency in B6 can result in anemia – Sideroblastic anemia is a rare disease in the United States, affecting fewer than 200,000 people– low mood, fatigue, inability to focus, and impaired memory or memory loss.*10
Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin) is active in the growth and protection of the nervous system, and it is essential for the improvement of cognitive performance.*11 A vitamin B12 deficiency expresses itself by a wide variety of neurological manifestations such as skin numbness, poor coordination, and reduced nerve conduction velocity.*
Folate, also known as folic acid, is considered a brain food, and it is necessary for energy production and the formation of red blood cells.* It also strengthens the immune system by aiding in the proper formation and function of white blood cells.* This nutrient may also help with feelings of low modd and anxiousness.
Magnesium is a vital catalyst in enzyme activity, especially with those involved in energy production.* It also assists in calcium and potassium intake and maintaining a normal body temperature.* A deficiency of magnesium interferes with the transmission of nerve and muscle impulses, causing irritability and nervousness.*12 Supplementing the diet with magnesium can help mood troughs, dizziness, muscle weakness, and twitching.*
Maintaining a healthy brain is important for maintaining optimal focus in your child. Exposing kids to different kinds of food early on and focusing on nutrients like vitamins B6, B12, folate, magnesium, betaine, and DMG will greatly impact their health, academic accomplishments, and ability to focus—both now and in the long run.*
1- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2019). https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Know-Your-Brain#Image%201
2- Meyers, A.F., Sampson, A.E., Weitzman, M., Rogers, B.L., & Kayne, H. (1989). School Breakfast Program and school performance. Am J Dis Child, 143(10), 1234-9.
3- Chandler, A.M., Walker, S.P., Connolly, K., & Grantham-McGregor, S.M. (1995). School breakfast improves verbal fluency in undernourished Jamaican children. J Nutr, 125(4), 894-900.
4- Powell, C.A., Walker, S.P., Chang, S.M., & Grantham-McGregor, S.M. (1998). Nutrition and education: a randomized trial of the effects of breakfast in rural primary school children. Am J Clin Nutr, 68(4), 873-9.
5- DeFilippis, M. (2018). The Use of Complementary Alternative Medicine in Children and Adolescents with ASD. Psychopharmacol Bull, 48(1), 40-63.
6- Lee, M.Y., et al. (2017). Effects of sarcosine and N, N-dimethylglycine on NMDA receptor-mediated excitatory field potentials. J Biomed Sci, 24, 18.
7- Gow, R.V. & Hibbeln, J.R. (2014). Omega-3 fatty acid and nutrient deficits in adverse neurodevelopment and childhood behaviors. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am, 23, 555-590.
8- McRae, M. P. (2013). Betaine supplementation decreases plasma homocysteine in healthy adult participants: a meta-analysis. J Chiropr Med, 12(1), 20-25.
9- Taylor, M.J., Carney, S., Geddes, J., & Goodwin, G. (2003). Folate for depressive disorders. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, CD003390.
10- "Sideroblastic Anemia - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf." 8 May. 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538287/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2019.
11- Allen, L.H. (2009). How common is vitamin B-12 deficiency? Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 89, 693S-696S.
12- Gröber, U., Schmidt, J., & Kisters, K. (2015). Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy. Nutrients, 7(9), 8199-8226.
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