What nutritional deficiencies, foods and additives can unbalance your child’s brain?

Nutritional deficiencies and/or malabsorptions can cause a variety of symptoms, in addition to weakening the body’s defences against serious illness. And even if we have no symptoms we may not necessarily be healthy.

A short attention span and impulsive, restless behaviour can be indicative of an individual chemical imbalance – caused by anything from nutritional shortages, to exposure to allergens or food additives – or can simply be the consequence of the typical Western diet of altered, adulterated, sweetened and refined foods.

The optimal diet

For a child (and in fact, for anyone) the optimal diet consists of fresh, live, whole foods – unprocessed foods – with nothing added and nothing taken away. The most healthful diet possible is grown organically without the use of insecticides, herbicides, artificial fertilizers, antibiotics or growth-stimulating chemicals.  Plants and fruits are picked only when completely ripe and their storage time minimized – and eaten raw or very lightly cooked wherever possible. If fresh produce is unavailable, frozen fruits and vegetables can be used. Cooking should ideally be minimal, on only a low heat, to avoid both destroying heat-sensitive enzymes and vitamins, and creating carcinogenic substances from burnt food.

Avoiding allergens, additives, sugar and salt

Allergens such as wheat, corn, beef, soy, egg, dairy, animal hair and pollen, can cause skin, respiratory or behavioural problems, and may need to be excluded from the diet. In addition, the wealth of artificial colours, flavours and preservatives in processed food should be avoided, particularly aspirin-like substances called salicylates.

Sugar ingested in place of a balanced meal has been shown to encourage aggressive and restless behaviour, while its impact is much reduced if it is eaten alongside substantial protein. Keep an eye on your child’s salt intake, especially in fast foods and processed foods such as crisps and salted nuts.

Nutritional Supplementation

Hair analysis can determine the levels of vitamins and minerals in the body.  

– B vitamins

B vitamins help to maintain the health of the nerves and proper brain function.  B1 (thiamine) optimizes cognitive activity and brain function. In studies, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) has been shown to increase blood serotonin levels and decrease hyperactivity, and memory-enhancing B3 (niacin) to reduce behavioural issues. Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) is known as the anti-stress vitamin because of its role in adrenal function, and it also helps with acne.

– Calcium

Low calcium levels can affect behaviour. Calcium loss can be caused by junk foods, excess salt and/or white flour, and oxalates (such as almonds, cashews and spinach). Note that there are many good dietary sources of calcium other than dairy (which is itself an extremely common allergen), for example fish bones and dark green leafy vegetables.  

– Iron

Iron deficiency is very common in children, especially during growth spurts and adolescence, and can cause irritability and poor attention.

– Magnesium

Lack of magnesium is often characterized by fidgeting and anxious restlessness; magnesium/B6 in combination have been shown to reduce anxiety and improve attention.

– Zinc

Zinc plays a crucial role in growth and hormonal regulation, particularly in puberty and during growth. It can help reduce acne and is involved in effective dopamine metabolism, thereby impacting attention.  

– Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)

Deficiencies of EFAs can cause deteriorations in behaviour requiring balancing  supplementation with omega-3 (fish, linseed and walnut oil) or omega-6 (evening primrose oil).

Toxins to avoid

Excess Copper

Excess copper has been demonstrated to inhibit the enzyme necessary for the production of serotonin, the brain hormone which keeps us calm.

– Heavy metals

Aluminium damages digestive juices and accumulates in the brain and nervous system. It leaches from cooking utensils, and is often present in toiletries. Lead is absorbed from paint and petrol. Phosphates  from processed and canned foods have been linked with aggressive behaviour.

If you would like to optimise your child’s nutrition, call into Healthright for advice, or consult a specialist nutritional therapist registered with BANT (the British Association of Nutritional Therapists).