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The Link Between Nutrition, Mental Health & Children

Dr. Karol M.D Article by: Dr. Karol M.D
Date: Jan 21, 2016 · Posted in: Children's Health, Lifestyle, Mental Health, Nutrition
The Link Between Nutrition, Mental Health & Children

 

There is a long history of over-diagnosis of mental illness in children. It all began in the 70's and 80's with the over-diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It turned out that most children diagnosed were just healthy children full of energy who needed an outlet for their energy (usually sports or an engaging brain game). There are many theories why childhood mental illnesses are over diagnosed. One theory is that its fueled by the pharmaceutical industry to put as many kids on prescription drugs as possible. Many parents are unaware of over-diagnosis and thus follow their doctor's advice (as most concerned parents would). At the same time, the pharma industry is making millions. However, this is only one half of the issue.

 

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Despite the over-diagnosing, the fact remains that a large proportion of children do struggle with mental illness. This often becomes apparent during the teenage years. One reason for this could be a poor (nutritionally speaking) diet.  As an example of this, I can tell you about a local high school in my neighborhood. I drive by this school quite often on my way to the grocery store. Each lunch hour I see a long line up of kids at two establishments across the street from the school. One of which is a chocolate shop and the other is a fast food restaurant. This gives you an idea of what is fueling these children: Sugar and junk food. Lack of nutrients can have a profound effect on behavior and brain function.

 

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The fact of the matter is that children’s brains are developing up until about 18 years of age. During this time, some of the most important nutrients are essential fatty acids, as they make up much of our brain composition. Junk food and candy provide none of these essential nutrients. The most important of the fatty acids are Lecithin (primarily phosphatidylcholine) as well as the essential fatty acids found in fish oils. Of course, equally important are nutrient-dense foods that provide a steady level of nutrients needed by the brain (complex carbohydrates and healthy fats i.e. coconut oil, olive oil and nuts) and not simple sugars that cause a “brain crash." Finally, we require a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals which are needed as co-enzymes and are essential to perform all the metabolic reactions in the brain. These can be provided by supplementation or by a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Without these coenzymes all chemical reactions in the brain (including those converting food into energy) come to a grinding halt. The consequences are mood swings, anxiety disorders, depression, and a higher probability of triggering more serious mental health conditions.

 

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The bottom line is this: from an early age, children should be taught about the fundamentals of proper eating and the dangers and risks associated with eating junk food and sweets (including soft drinks or other sweetened beverages). The good news is, if we instill these messages from early youth it will most likely “stick” with them for life.

Till next time,

 

Dr. Karol