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As the daily pressures of homework assignments, tests, and extracurricular activities pile up, it’s important to set your child up on the right path. While a healthy diet, a consistent sleep schedule, and daily exercise will help keep your child on the road to success, there are extra steps that you can take to further support their cognitive health and a lifetime of learning.
Brain development begins in the first week of pregnancy and continues throughout childhood and into the adult years. Prenatal and childhood are critical stages of brain development because this is when neurons are formed at a rapid rate to shape the foundation for future cognitive health and function.
This sensitive time period relies on optimal nutrition and sufficient intake of several key nutrients.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Our brains depend on a sufficient intake of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) for optimal development. ALA can be changed by the body to EPA and DHA, which form the building blocks of brain cells and play vital roles in brain, eye, and nervous system development. DHA is especially concentrated in areas of the brain, responsible for learning and memory.
A diet that supplies ample EPA and DHA has benefits for cognition and social behaviour in children. Studies show that children who increase their ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid intake experience improved learning, attention, behaviour, and emotional health.1 Unfortunately, many children do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet alone. Deficiency can have significant effects on brain development, including changes in brain receptors and the pathways for brain chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recommends that children consume at least 150 mg of EPA and DHA per day. Health Canada recommends a minimum intake of ALA for children:
0–12 months: 0.5 g/day
1–3 years: 0.7 g/day
4–8 years: 0.9 g/day
9–13 years: 1.0-1.2 g/day
14–18 years: 1.1-1.6 g/day
Cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines
Seeds, such as flax and chia
Plant oils, such as flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil
Fish oil supplements, such as Children’s Omega-3 to support healthy brain function
Multivitamins and Minerals
Picky eating habits, allergies, and busy schedules are real life factors that can compromise a child’s nutrition. Adding a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement to the diet will help fill nutritional gaps and ensure that children are getting the complete range of vitamins and minerals needed for optimal growth and development.
Micronutrients play numerous direct and indirect roles in brain structure and function. For example, the brain contains high levels of iron that helps deliver oxygen to its tissues. B vitamins play important roles in energy, memory, and mental calmness, while vitamin C has been shown to help with cognitive health and well-being in students.[3,4] Many vitamins and minerals also support immunity, which ultimately leads to fewer sick days from school.
Children’s multivitamin and mineral supplements should be taken daily. Look for one that is formulated for your child’s specific age range and is free of artificial flavours, colours, preservatives, and sweeteners.
When the delicate balance of a child’s intestinal microflora is altered by antibiotics, the occasional illness, or unbalanced eating habits, can lead to uncomfortable digestive upsets, nutrient loss, and mood imbalances.
One of the best ways to help your child maintain a healthy intestinal flora is by including probiotic-rich foods in their diet and giving them a daily probiotic supplement. This will help them maintain healthy intestinal populations of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Enterococcus, and Saccharomyces species, while lowering the number of pathogenic microorganisms found in their gut.
Maintaining a healthy intestinal flora will also benefit school age children by supporting their immune systems. A regular probiotic supplement has been shown to help reduce the number of sick days from school due to ear, nose, and throat, respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal disorders.
When it comes to probiotics, a regular intake is important. This can be done with daily servings of probiotic-rich foods, such as cultured yogourt, sauerkraut, kefir, and tempeh, or a daily probiotic supplement. But just like children, not all probiotics are the same. Consult your health care practitioner to figure out which strains will best suit your child’s needs.
Webber Naturals offers a range of probiotic formulas designed for specific needs, including the following strains that are beneficial for children:
Lactobacillus: There are over 25 lactobacilli species. They support a healthy and balanced microflora, while helping to prevent intestinal infections and diarrhea caused by antibiotics.
Bifidobacterium: This is the main group of bacteria found in the intestines of healthy newborns. They can be taken for preventing and reducing antibiotic diarrhea and rotavirus infections, as well as immune defence.
Saccharomyces boulardii: This is a probiotic yeast that is especially helpful for maintaining and replenishing healthy microflora populations, as well as preventing and treating diarrhea in children.
Nutrition that lasts a lifetime
A healthy diet throughout childhood will have a lasting effect on a person’s physical and cognitive health. By helping your child meet their full nutritional needs now, you’ll be helping them reach their full potential for a lifetime.
- Kirby A, Derbyshire E. Omega-3/6 fatty acids and learning in children and young people: A review of randomised controlled trials published in the last 5 years. J Nutr Food Sci. 2018; 8(2).
- Derbyshire E. Do omega-3/6 fatty acids have a therapeutic role in children and young people with ADHD? J Lipids. 2017 Aug. doi: 10.1155/2017/6285218.
- Bryan J, Osendarp S, Hughes D, et al. Nutrients for cognitive development in school-aged children. Nutr Rev. 2004 Aug; 62(8):295-306.
- Oliveira IJ, de Souza VV, Motta V, Da-Silva SL. Effects of oral vitamin C supplementation on anxiety in students: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Pak J Biol Sci. 2015 Jan; 18(1):11-8.
- Foster JA, Rinaman L, Cryan JF. Stress & the gut-brain axis: Regulation by the microbiome. Nerobiol Stress. 2017 Mar; 7:124-36.
- Wang C, Nagata S, Asahara T, et al. Intestinal microbiota profiles of healthy pre-school children and effects of probiotic supplementation. Ann Nutr Metab. 2015; 67(4): 257-66.
- Cazzola M, Pham-Thi N, Kerihuel JC, et al. Efficacy of a symbiotic supplementation in the prevention of common winter diseases in children: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study. Ther Adv Respir Dis. 2010 Oct; 4(5):271-8.