Is your child having difficulty concentrating?

Brain health, attention and alertness can be affected by food allergens, as well as diets deficient in key vitamins, minerals, and fats, and dehydration, especially in the summer months. There is now definitive evidence that the excess of sugar, artificial flavours and preservatives in processed foods and drinks have a hugely detrimental effect on children’s behaviour.  

Food intolerances and allergies

The most common food allergens are gluten, dairy, eggs and soy, and they can cause not only digestive problems but also behavioural changes. Many food intolerances can escape medical testing (e.g. gluten intolerance is not diagnosed by the tests for the more severe gluten reaction known as coeliac disease but can nonetheless cause serious and cumulative health problems). Consider having your child thoroughly tested by a naturopathic practitioner or eliminating these known allergens one at a time for two weeks and measuring the impact on the symptoms that are concerning you.   


Consider having your child tested for nutritional deficiencies and review the nutritional content of their meals. As a rough guide, half the plate should be filled with fruits or above ground vegetables, a quarter with protein, and a quarter with carbohydrates (including grains and below ground vegetables). Whole grains, rich in fibre, prevent blood sugar levels from spiking and then plummeting which can greatly impact brain function and behaviour.  Three important brain supporting minerals – zinc, iron and magnesium – are found in lean meats, poultry, seafood and nuts.

Avoid processed foods and drinks as much as possible. Not only do these contain high quantities of sugar (look out for high-fructose corn sweetener, dehydrated cane juice, dextrin, dextrose, maltodextrin, sucrose, molasses, and malt syrup) which is linked to hyperactivity and inattention, but also refined salt (sodium chloride), salt and unhealthy fats.  Many contain extremely low levels of nutrients – to the extent that vitamins are sometimes added back in after the harsh refining and processing removes these from the source food, as happens with processed cereals. They also typically contain high levels of artificial flavourings, colours and preservatives, which have been strongly linked to behavioural problems – and may cause strong allergic reactions.

Nutritional supplements

Omega 3 oil provides alpha linolenic acid, which can be metabolised by the body to create the fatty acids DHA and EPA. These are important additions in any diet, and especially for children as DHA contributes to the maintenance of normal vision and normal brain function.  The best quality oils are obtained by eating wild cold water fatty fish (sardines, tuna, and salmon), and organic nuts and seeds, or their extracted oils which have been cold pressed, are solvent and additive free, and nitrogen sealed to ensure freshness. For vegans, flax seed and hemp seed are both incredibly rich sources of omega 3 essential fatty acids, and are additionally rich in omegas 6 and 9.  Pumpkin seed oil provides additional fatty acids, and also several carotenoids, including beta carotene and lutein. 

Avocados are the highest fruit source of vitamin E, an important nutrient that acts in synergy with essential fatty acids and contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress.  

The ideal daily supplements to support overall brain health are Omega3 oil plus either a targeted brain support multivitamin with minerals formulation including B vitamins, iodine, iron (for cognitive function), magnesium (calming) and zinc (for attention), which all contribute to normal cognitive function, or a general multivitamin with minerals.

Bio-Strath, a Swiss B vitamin formula, has also been used in many studies on vitamin B and attention.  An extract made from French maritime pine bark, pycnogenol was found to sharpen attention, concentration, and visual-motor coordination in students after one month.


Studies show that water consumption can improve cognitive performance, particularly visual attention and mood, and especially when a child is already dehydrated i.e. complaining of thirst.  In addition many headaches are caused by dehydration.  Teach your child to drink plain water regularly throughout the day, and that if their urine is not almost clear they are dehydrated and their brain needs more water!

Healthright recommends an unprocessed diet with lots of fresh rainbow vegetables, fruits and whole grains, supplemented with brain-specific nutrients, plenty of water to drink, daily exercise – preferably in the fresh air and around nature, time for rest and adequate sleep, and limited exposure to blue computer light – especially during the hour before bedtime.