Back to school and the new routines that come with a new school year and back-to-school jitters are normal every fall. Thankfully the 2022-2023 school year will look more normal for most kids.
There are many different concerns that kids of all ages face going back to school including going to a new school, starting middle school, high school, university, preschool or kindergarten. These are big transitions and with the shadow of the pandemic still lurking, may cause added stress for some.
In addition to stressors of going back to school, other common stressors in children and adolescents include:
- Getting good grades
- Preparing for the future
- Body appearance
- Juggling priorities
- The Internet and social media: negative media, body shaming, and cyberbullying,
- Climate Change
- Peer pressure
- Stress of the parents affects the stress of the child – divorce, finance, illness, work
- Sleep deprivation
These stressors are adding to the increase in mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and sleep problems in children and adolescents.
Diet plays a critical role in the mental and physical health of children and adolescents, and ironically this is also a time when kids are on the run, and grab fast food or junk food snacks.
The brain does not finish developing and maturing until the mid- to late 20s and while the child’s brain is still under construction and adolescents are more sensitive than any other age group to junk foods. Food lacking in nutrients and packed with sugars and bad fats interferes with brain development in ways that impair their ability to think, learn and remember. In turn this makes it harder to control impulsive and risky behaviors, and increases a teen’s risk of depression and anxiety and other mental health problems. Nutritional psychiatry is the practice of using food and supplements as alternative treatments for mental health disorders.
Fundamental Building Blocks of Brain Development
The Importance of Protein
Protein is a macronutrient that every cell in the body needs to function properly. It carries out a variety of functions, including: ensuring the growth and development of muscles, bones, hair, and skin; forming antibodies, hormones, and other essential substances serving as a fuel source; supporting brain health.
Smoothies: Start the day off with a smoothie that contains berries, other fruits or vegetables, oat or almond milk, yogurt, protein powder and liquid form of omega-3. Talk to the staff at the Vitamin Shop about the best protein powders and omega-3s. Smoothies are an easy way to start the day with protein and extra nutrients for brain power.
Complex carbohydrates break down into glucose to be used for energy. The difference between complex and simple carbohydrates is that complex have longer chains of sugar molecules than simple carbohydrates. This means they take longer to break down and provide a more lasting source of energy than simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates break down quickly and produce a spike in blood glucose, providing a short burst of energy called the so-called “sugar rush” followed by an energy crash.
Examples of complex carbohydrates include brown rice, quinoa, barley, bulgar wheat, oats, spelt, and buckwheat. Vegetables, legumes, and nuts are also examples of highly nutritious sources of complex carbohydrates and all of these foods provide a great source of fibre which is extremely important in anyone’s diet.
Water and the Brain – Please drink – I need water to help me think!
Although water is not a nutrient or building block for the brain, it is crucial for brain health. The brain is approximately 73% water and it depends on proper hydration to function optimally. Negative effects of dehydration on cognitive performance have been shown in some studies.
More than half of all children and adolescents in the U.S. are not getting enough hydration —probably because they’re not drinking enough water and of the 4,000 children and adolescents surveyed in the study, one quarter of them reported not drinking any water at all. Even mild dehydration can cause health problems including headaches, irritability, poorer physical performance, and reduced cognitive functioning. Also, a dehydrated, shriveled-up brain does not function as well as one that is well hydrated.
The human body does not make vitamin C and it must be obtained from foods and supplements. Unfortunately, due to the current methods processing vitamin C is prone to degradation during fruit and vegetable processing often resulting in substantial loss of Vitamin C. Considering the many benefits of Vitamin C and the reported deficiencies in children, it is important to consider supplementation.
Vitamin C is available in chewable or powder form for kids and anyone who doesn’t like or can’t swallow tablets. Speak to the staff at the Vitamin Shop – there are several good brands of chewable vitamin C available.
The human brain is nearly 60% fat, and essential fatty acids (EFAs) are among the most crucial nutrients that determine the brain’s optimal function.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain function, energy, mood regulation, and help in treatment of depression, anxiety, and ADHD. They are primarily found in fish oils such as herring, salmon, mackerel, sardines, and halibut.
Omega-3 fish oil can easy be added to morning smoothies or by teaspoon. My grandkids call it their ‘brain juice’.
Vitamin D is important for brain development, bone and muscle strength and a strong immune system. Vitamin D deficiency is very common in children and adolescents so it is important to supplement especially in fall and winter months and even in summer but at lower doses.
Probiotics are beneficial in the treatment of stress related anxiety and depression and are very important for a strong immune system.
A multivitamin and mineral supplement for children helps provide the necessary building blocks for a healthy brain that may be missing from the diet. A good-quality multivitamin and mineral provides essential nutrients for the maintenance of good health.
It is difficult to always provide healthy meals for children with all the other demands on parents.
I recommend starting with the vitamins mentioned: vitamin D, C, a multivitamin as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Probiotics can be taken intermittently or daily for approximately 6 weeks post antibiotic use. These vitamins provide a solid nutritional foundation while you work to improve optimal health through healthy food and lifestyle choices.
Do your best and keep it simple. And start early to promote health nutrition with your children.
Supplement Tips for Back-to-School Stress and Anxiety in Young Kids
If your child is experiencing anxiety or depression these conditions can get worse when heading back to school based on all the added stresses and demands.
Vitamin C – During times of stress, the body’s requirement for vitamin C can increase 10–20 fold. Chewable, gummies, and powder available.
Lavender essential oil – Drops of lavender oil can be applied under the nose or on temples to help with anxiety and relaxation.
Melatonin – Many younger children are having trouble sleeping. Low dose melatonin can be very helpful and is safe for younger kids.
Probiotics – Help to regulate stress hormones via the gut-brain axis.
Supplement Tips for Anxiety and Stress Teens and Parents
In addition to supplements above, the following supplements can provide support for adolescents.
Adaptogens are herbs such as Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha, or rhodiola help to regulate stress hormones and protect from negative effects of stress.
Gaba-amino-benzoic acid (GABA), acts like a brake in times of increased stress. Low levels of GABA have been linked to anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
L-theanine enhances brains alpha waves (relaxation), reduces stress, helps sleep and reduces anxiety.
Talk to the knowledgeable staff at the Vitamin Shop about specific formulas or products.
Kids are like sponges and pick up on stress of the parents. For young kids it is up to the parents to be the calm and the lighthouse in their children’s storm and for teens, parents can support them and help teach them how to become their own lighthouse in their storm.