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I am reading the paper!

Dad likes to read the newspaper in peace. But for 5 year-old Hayley, it was her job not to let him “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, let’s play!”. Holding the newspaper up, Dad replied “Not while I am reading the paper!”. “Perhaps you could tidy your room” he added.

When Dad finished reading, he went into Hayley’s room and found her flicking through her colouring book, with the room still a mess. “Are you going to tidy…” Dad was interrupted by Hayley holding her book up “Not while I am reading the paper!” Daddy couldn’t help but laugh.

Nutrition is important in your child’s intelligence

Nutrition plays a major role in your child’s ability to concentrate, learn and achieve. Fast growing bodies need all the nutrition they can get. Even if your child already enjoys a good diet, they may still stand to benefit from improving their nutrient intake as many children are often lacking in some (or many) nutrients. These nutrients often include acetyl l-carnitine, fish oil, bacopa, folic acid and zinc. Each plays a crucial role in benefiting your child’s brain function.

Nutrition plays a major role in your child’s ability to concentrate, learn and achieve. Fast growing bodies need all the nutrients they can get. Even if your child already enjoys a good diet, they may still stand to benefit from improving their nutrient intake as children are often lacking in some (or many) these nutrients. Below are some nutrients that may be of benefit to your child.

Acetyl L-carnitine

A number of studies have shown a positive effect of acetyl l-carnitine (also known as acetyl levocarnitine or ALC) on cerebral blood flow and metabolism in the brain. In randomised, placebo controlled studies, ALC has been shown to enhance cerebral blood flow [1], as well as improve memory and response time. [2] Cognition is often affected in conditions of metabolic imbalance; ALC has also been found to improve this condition. [3-5]

Fish Oil

Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA is essential to brain development, whereas EPA appears to benefit behavior and mood. DHA and EPA up-regulate gene expression that is associated with neurogenesis, neurotransmission and connectivity. Endothelial nitric oxide (eNO) production is increased, enhancing brain acetylcholine levels, and suppressing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Both of these fatty acids generate neuroprotective metabolites. [9]

The findings from one study revealed that children at 4 years of age, who were born to mothers who had taken fish oil during pregnancy and lactation had better cognitive abilities. [8] In double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled studies, DHA and EPA combinations have been shown to benefit attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), [6] as well as mediating significant improvements in reading, spelling and behavior in children 5-12 years of age after 3 months of supplementation. [7] In light of this evidence, fatty acid supplementation may offer a safe and efficacious treatment option for children with educational and behavioral problems.

Folic Acid

Folic acid is known to benefit neural health and development. It is relatively common knowledge that the risk of having a foetus affected with neural tube defects is reduced by maternal folic acid supplementation. [10] Because of the risk of having an unplanned pregnancy is quite high, obstetricians/gynecologists and urologists now advise young women to improve their lifestyle [12] with the inclusion of folic acid supplementation; advice which is supported by the World Health Organization.

These benefits are also seen in children and adults. Low blood folate and associated raised homocysteine concentrations are linked to poor cognitive function. Not surprisingly, folic acid supplementation has been found to improve cognitive function. These effects may be related to folic acid’s ability enhance plasma DHA and EPA. DHA and EPA have been found to be beneficial in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, [11] collectively suggesting that the combination of DHA, EPA and folic acid may improve cognitive function.

Zinc

The effects of impaired nutritional status during one’s childhood may have long-standing consequences for children’s health and performance well into their adult years. Malnourished children have been shown to have decreased physical abilities and endurance, and poorer cognitive function and school performance.

Zinc deficiency is common, and lower levels are associated with poorer cognitive performance. Behavioral problems, including attention deficits, have also been associated with food insufficiency and malnutrition. [13] Low levels of zinc are also evident in children with behavioural disorders, including those with symptoms associated with ADHD. [14]

Bacopa

It has been suggested that bacopa may improve higher order cognitive processes such as learning and memory. [15] In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, independent-group study, 300mg bacopa daily was shown to improve the speed of visual information processing, learning rate, memory consolidation and anxiety relative to placebo following 12 weeks of supplementation.

Bacopa’s neuroprotective properties have also been revealed. Bacopa and folic acid in combination have been used to improve cognitive functions (including memory), anxiety and depression. [16]

Reference

  1. Postiglione A, Soricelli A, Cicerano U, Mansi L, De Chiara S, Gallotta G, Schettini G, Salvatore M: Effect of acute administration of L-acetyl carnitine on cerebral blood flow in patients with chronic cerebral infarct. Pharmacol Res 1991, 23(3):241-246.
  2. Arrigo A, Casale R, Buonocore M, Ciano C: Effects of acetyl-L-carnitine on reaction times in patients with cerebrovascular insufficiency. Int J Clin Pharmacol Res 1990, 10(1-2):133-137.
  3. Corbucci GG, Melis A, Piga M, Marchionni A, Calvani M: Influence of acetyl-carnitine on some mitochondrial enzymic activities in the human cerebral tissue in conditions of acute hypoxia. Int J Tissue React 1992, 14(4):183-194.
  4. Corbucci GG, Menichetti A, Cogliatti A, Nicoli P, Arduini A, Damonti W, Marchionni A, Calvani M: Metabolic aspects of acute cerebral hypoxia during extracorporeal circulation and their modification induced by acetyl-carnitine treatment. Int J Clin Pharmacol Res 1992, 12(2):89-98.
  5. Corbucci GG, Menichetti A, Cogliatti A, Nicoli P, Ruvolo C: Metabolic aspects of acute tissue hypoxia during extracorporeal circulation and their modification induced by L-carnitine treatment. Int J Clin Pharmacol Res 1992, 12(3):149-157.
  6. Kidd PM: Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior, and mood: clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids. Altern Med Rev 2007, 12(3):207-227.
  7. Richardson AJ, Montgomery P: The Oxford-Durham study: a randomized, controlled trial of dietary supplementation with fatty acids in children with developmental coordination disorder. Pediatrics 2005, 115(5):1360-1366.
  8. Helland IB, Smith L, Saarem K, Saugstad OD, Drevon CA: Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics 2003, 111(1):e39-44.
  9. Whalley LJ, Fox HC, Wahle KW, Starr JM, Deary IJ: Cognitive aging, childhood intelligence, and the use of food supplements: possible involvement of n-3 fatty acids. Am J Clin Nutr 2004, 80(6):1650-1657.
  10. Kondo A, Kimura K, Isobe Y, Kamihira O, Matsuura O, Gotoh M, Okai I: [Folic acid reduces risks of having fetus affected with neural tube defects: dietary food folate and plasma folate concentration]. Nippon Hinyokika Gakkai Zasshi 2003, 94(5):551-559.
  11. Das UN: Folic acid and polyunsaturated fatty acids improve cognitive function and prevent depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease–but how and why?Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2008, 78(1):11-19.
  12. Kondo A, Kamihira O, Gotoh M, Ozawa H, Lee TY, Lin AT, Kim SR, Lin HH: Folic acid prevents neural tube defects: international comparison of awareness among obstetricians/gynecologists and urologists. J Obstet Gynaecol Res 2007, 33(1):63-67.
  13. Fanjiang G, Kleinman RE: Nutrition and performance in children. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2007, 10(3):342-347.
  14. Arnold LE, Bozzolo H, Hollway J, Cook A, DiSilvestro RA, Bozzolo DR, Crowl L, Ramadan Y, Williams C: Serum zinc correlates with parent- and teacher- rated inattention in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol 2005, 15(4):628-636.
  15. Stough C, Lloyd J, Clarke J, Downey LA, Hutchison CW, Rodgers T, Nathan PJ: The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2001, 156(4):481-484.
  16. Jorm AF, Rodgers B, Christensen H: Use of medications to enhance memory in a large community sample of 60-64 year olds. Int Psychogeriatr 2004, 16(2):209-217.

Healthy eating keeps your children happy – 10 simple tips

During the year, balancing work commitments and your children’s schooling and other activities, life can get rather hectic. Therefore it is hard to ensure that your children get all their nutrient requirements in their diet. Here are some food tips on how to keep your children happy and healthy.

  1. Involve your child.A child is also more likely to eat what they help prepare, so encourage them to get involved in simple tasks, for instance making sandwiches. And try to diversify the choices they are allowed to make. This way they are less likely to get bored with their food. Also try to encourage your child to make decisions about what they eat. For instance, ask your child to choose what fruit they may prefer to pack in their lunchbox.
  2. Start with a good breakfast.Breakfast is an absolute must for children, and preferably a healthy one that includes complex carbohydrates and protein to keep them going. A healthy breakfast is associated with a better attitude towards school, improved memory, concentration, and learning. This also helps prevent hunger and reduces the risk of over-eating later in the day.
  3. Be organised.Plan your child’s lunches in advance and include the required ingredients in your shopping list. The more organised you are, the better the chances that your child’s lunchbox will be stocked with healthy food, rather than relying on processed foods, or the school canteen.
  4. Use quality carbohydrates.Include low glycaemic index (complex) carbohydrates in meals. This assists children to maintain their stamina. Such foods include multigrain or wholemeal bread, or you can use a high fibre white bread if your child doesn’t like bread with seeds. Also include other complex carbohydrates such as pasta, rice and potatoes.
  5. Include lean protein.Use lean meats such as fish (fresh or canned), chicken, and red meats including beef, lamb and pork, with the fat removed. These are preferable to smoked and boiled meats like ham, salami, pastrami, corned beef or devon as these are often treated with preservatives. Oily fish, such as tuna, is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA. DHA provides the building blocks for brain and eye development, health, and function. Other protein alternatives you may include are peanut butter, hummus, and white cheeses such as ricotta and feta.
  6. Be sneaky, but not too sneakyCut vegetables up really small and put them in a stew, soup or pasta. Line your salad sandwiches with a bit of avocado, hummus or tomato paste or serve some veggies up as a puree. Avoid masking the taste of fruits and veggies, with sugar and chocolate. While it might be a short-term fix, it encourages them to develop a sweet tooth while they are developing the rest of their taste buds. This might make it harder for them as they get older to enjoy anything that isn’t packed with sugar.
  7. Stay fresh.Try to only use fresh foods in meal preparation. And for your child’s lunches, keep them fresh by wrapping sandwiches in plastic wrap or snap-lock plastic bags. Keep it cool and free of bacteria by freezing drinks such as milk, watered down juice or water and use the frozen drink bottle as an ice brick in their lunch box.
  8. Limit the “lolly” drinks.Try to provide your children with water or skim milk, and avoid soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit juices or cordial. Unless your child is lean and very active, they don’t need the sugar-loaded empty kilojoules that are contained in these drinks.
  9. Snack on fruit.Fruit is sweet and tasty, and a much healthier alternative to potato crisps, biscuits, chocolate and lollies. Other fruits that are easy to eat are mandarins, grapes, cherries, apples and pears, or cut and wrap fruit such as oranges, mango, kiwi fruit and pineapple.
  10. Be creative.Be adventurous with your fruits and veggies; make them look exciting and fun! Experiment with the grater to make carrot strings; help them make a sandwich face using different fruit and veggies. Place fruit on a skewer (sharp ends cut off) or an icy-pole stick, to be dipped into vanilla yogurt. Warm homemade mini pizzas are also a strong favourite. But keep your creativity and designing simple so it can be easily replicated. Otherwise they might start expecting it every meal and refuse to eat a potato because it’s not designed like a spaceship.

Following these tips will help to ensure that your children are living on a balanced diet. A child’s diet is reflected in their behaviour. A child with a poor diet is less likely to develop properly, mentally and physically, and have behavioural problems, with difficulty in learning and concentration. This can lead to other problems later in life.
A balanced diet is the best start and support you can provide for your child’s development.

Environmental Factors influence our brain development

Abstract:
Our brains shape and reshape themselves based on our experiences and on how we use them, especially in infants and children, whose neural systems are developing at a phenomenal rate.

A child’s environment plays a big role in their development. Exposure to different activities exercise the analytical and creative sides of the brain are important. Growing in a safe and happy environment is also crucial for your child’s long-term development. The more exposure to these activities, the better developed your child’s brain and neural systems will be in coping with what life has to offer.

Brain and neural system

The brain operates on the “use it or lose it” rule. With the establishment of new connections with each other through the formation of new synapses, the brain also ‘prunes’ away neural connections that are not used. This can lead to ‘over-pruning’. Some areas of the brain, such as those which help us see clearly, become less “plastic” or changeable when the pruning is over. This has led to tremendous concern about providing what the brain needs to prune and organize itself correctly before the “windows of opportunity” close.

For example, surgeons now remove congenital cataracts as early in infancy as possible. A delay can interfere with the development of neural connections between his eyes and brain, preventing the child’s ability to see. Ongoing research is investigating the secrets of how the brain turns on and off its ability to alter these neural connections.

The power of early experiences

Our brains shape and reshape themselves in ways that depend on how we use them. Learning a language is a nice example of how experiences contribute to each person’s unique pattern of brain development. The ability to speak and to understand speech requires minimal exposure to a language. However, which language a child learns to speak depends on the language he/she experiences, and their brain will adapt to this specific language. When an infant is 3 months old, their brain can distinguish several hundred different spoken sounds. This is substantially more than are present in any language. Over the next several months, however, the brain will organize itself more efficiently so that it only recognizes those spoken sounds that are part of the language that he/she regularly hears. For example, a one-year-old Japanese baby will not recognize that “la” is different from “ra,” because the former sound is not used in Japanese. During early childhood, the brain retains the ability to re-learn sounds it has discarded, so young children typically learn new languages easily and without an accent. When a child is 10 years or older, plasticity for this function is greatly diminished; therefore, most people find it difficult to learn to speak a foreign language as well as a native speaker if they only begin to learn it in adolescence or adulthood. More importantly, early experiences can determine how proficient a child becomes in his or her native language. Researchers found that when mothers frequently spoke to their infants, their children learned almost 300 more words by age 2 than did their peers whose mothers rarely spoke to them.

Infants need to interact directly with other human beings. They need people to talk to them about what they are seeing and experiencing, for them to develop optimal language skills. Unfortunately, many parents are under the mistaken impression that talking to babies is not very important because they are too young to understand what is being said. To ensure that disadvantaged children obtain experiences that support optimal development, a new consensus is emerging about the importance of intervening with families in the first months and years of a child’s life. Psychologists have long known that children of poorly educated, low-income parents often don’t reach the same intellectual levels as children of well-educated, wealthy parents. Studies have provided new insights into why this is so. Parents who are preoccupied with a daily struggle to ensure that their children have enough to eat and are safe from harm may not have the resources, information, or time they need to provide the stimulating experiences that foster optimal brain development. Infants and children who are rarely spoken to, who are exposed to few toys, and who have little opportunity to explore and experiment with their environment may fail to fully develop the neural connections and pathways that facilitate later learning. Despite their normal genetic endowment, these children are at a significant intellectual disadvantage. Fortunately, intervention programs that start working with children and their families at birth or even prenatally can help prevent this.

Emotional development and the infant brain

One of the most fundamental tasks an infant undertakes is determining whether their needs are being met, and they are not, then how can they be met? Infants constantly assess whether their cries for food and comfort are ignored or lovingly answered, whether they are powerless or can influence what adults do. If the adults in their life respond predictably to crying and provide for their needs, the infant will be more likely to use these adults as sources of safety and security. With his/her safety taken care of, he/she can focus their attention on exploring, taking in all the wonders of the world around them. If, however, their needs are met only sporadically and pleas for comfort are usually ignored or met with harsh words and rough handling, the infant will focus their energies on ensuring that his or her needs are met. They will have more and more difficulty interacting with people and objects in their environment, and their brain will shut out the stimulation it needs to develop healthy cognitive and social skills.

Children who receive sensitive, responsive care from their parents and other caregivers in the first years of life enjoy an important head start toward success in their lives. The secure relationships they develop with the important adults in their lives lay the foundation for emotional development and help protect them from the many stresses they may face as they grow. Researchers who have examined the lives of children who have succeeded despite many challenges in their lives consistently found that these people have had at least one stable, supportive relationship with an adult (usually a parent, relative, or teacher) beginning early in life.

Supporting healthy brain development

It is now clear that what a child experiences in the first years of life, profoundly influences how their brain will develop and how he/she will interact with the world throughout life. Parents play the most important role in providing the nurturing and stimulation that children require, but they need information and support to develop good parenting skills. In the past, extended family members were often close by, offering good advice and acting as role models for inexperienced parents. Young families today often live far away from grandparents and other family members and rely more on community resources for information and support in parenting. There is much that communities can do to help families promote their children’s healthy brain development.

Exercise and neural development

More evidence is coming to light suggesting that physical activity, in particular aerobic exercise, may provide a beneficial influence on selective aspects of brain function. Studies suggest that aerobic exercise can improve a number of aspects of cognition and performance. Exercise might not only improve the physical health of children, but also improve their academic performance. The positive effects of aerobic physical activity on cognition and brain function have been demonstrated at the molecular, cellular, organ system and behavioural levels, indicating that physical exercise is a lifestyle factor that might lead to increased physical and mental health development during childhood and throughout life.

Exercise targets many aspects of brain function with broad effects on overall brain health. The benefits of exercise have been best defined for learning and memory, neuroprotection and alleviation of depression. Exercise strengthens and reinforces the underlying systems that support plasticity including neurogenesis, metabolism and vascular function, thereby increasing synaptic plasticity by directly affecting synaptic structure and neural connectivity. Such exercise-induced structural and functional change has been documented in various brain regions but has been best-studied in the hippocampus, which is considered the memory centre. A key mechanism mediating these broad benefits of exercise on the brain is induction of central and peripheral growth factors which lead to structural and functional change. Additionally, exercise benefits brain development, maintenance and function through reducing peripheral risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, conditions which can lead to brain dysfunction and neurodegeneration. A common mechanism underlying the central and peripheral effects of exercise might be related to inflammation, which can impair growth factor signaling both systemically and in the brain.

So, through growth factor regulation and reducing peripheral and central risk factors, exercise assists successful brain development and function through childhood, and throughout life.

Music and neural development

Although still controversial, studies suggest that music therapy can be effective in assisting children in stressful situations, decreasing anxiety, blood pressure, heart rate and changes in plasma stress hormone levels. While music therapy has been found to be useful in a wide range of clinical settings, similar learning mechanisms are involved in learning music and languages.

The structure of music is complex, consisting of a small set of elements that are combined to form a structure according to grammatical rules. As with language, different systems use different elements and rules for combination. It has been suggested that everyday exposure to music may create, culture-specific brain structures and representations. With this in mind, it is possible that exposure to music and music training may lead to increased cortical tissue development, assisting language acquisition, as well as encouraging skills such as attention and executive functioning.

Summary

So as your child grows up, encourage them to stimulate and use their brain in all different types of scenarios. There is no need to force them to understand calculus or write a symphony, simply make them aware at a young age that they can use their brain to solve and understand things. Just think of the brain like a muscle, the more it is used, the stronger it becomes, but it’s also important not to overuse it as the brain needs time to relax and recover. So balance their time allowing them to also switch off and just enjoy being a child. Creating a loving, supportive and encouraging environment for them to challenge their thinking capacity and ability to ask questions will have substantial benefits on their brain function later in life.

Reference

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  3. De Bellis, M. D., Keshaven, M. S., Clark, D. B., Caseey, B. J., Giedd, J. B., Boring, A. M., Frustaci, K., & Ryan, N. D. (1999). Developmental traumatology. . Part 2: Brain development. Biological Psychiatry, 45, 1271-1284.\
  4. Field, T. M. (1995). Psychologically depressed parents. In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of parenting: Vol. 4. Applied practical parenting (pp. 85-107). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  5. Fletcher, K. E. (1996). Childhood postraumatic stress disorder. In E. H. Mash & R. A. Barkley (Eds.), Child Psychopathology (pp. 242-276). New York: Guildford Publications, Inc.
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  7. Huttenlocher, P. R., & Dabholkar, A. S. (1997). Regional differences in synaptogenesis in the human cerebral cortex. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 387, 167-178.
  8. Kaufman, J., & Charney, D. S. (1999). Neurobiological correlates of child abuse. Biological Psychiatry, 45, 1235-1236.
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