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Optimizing children’s brains and wellness with nutrition

Editor’s note: Summit Daily News provides the Rocky Mountain Remedies section for health care providers who advertise in the health section; it is a venue for them to share personal and professional viewpoints and tips.All parents want to do what is best for their children. Most ensure kids’ safety at home and outside, read to them, play with them, get them to bed on time, and give them adequate discipline and responsibilities. Yet when it comes to eating, kids are often finicky and want nothing but macaroni and cheese, pizza, chicken fingers, sugar cereal or cookies and milk – and we usually let them have it. Then we begin to notice how often our kids have to go to the doctor. They suffer recurrent ear infections, runny noses, stomach aches and allergies, are labeled with psychiatric diagnoses such as ADHD, and then develop once-rare autoimmune diseases. Doctors standard of care is to prescribe a round of antibiotics, or a stimulant drug or some other drug that will combat persistent symptoms. In a study of more than 200,000 preschoolers in three different health care settings, about 12 percent were prescribed stimulant drugs, and 90 percent of these prescriptions were for Ritalin®. From 1991 to 1995, the use of Ritalin® tripled in 2- to 4-year-olds, and by 1997, 2 million U.S. children were being treated with stimulants. We assume that it’s par for the course in raising children today. But what is happening in these children is not normal for humans, or any other species that eat a nutrient-rich diet. Well-intentioned parents are unknowingly inflicting health risks and mood and behavior problems upon their children – without ever suspecting it. It doesn’t have to be this way. Scientific inquiry has proven that the human immune system, body and brain are capable of intelligent self-repair and development, as well as powerful self-defense against invading microbes and chronic disease development. The body just needs the proper tools to be able to perform these tasks. Recent advances in understanding the physiological and biochemical roots of childhood illness, mood and behavior issues allow for most problems to be managed with nutritional therapies that don’t have the adverse side effects of the prescription drugs. Preliminary research presented this year at a continuing education seminar in Boulder proves that nutrients which support the membrane integrity of the brain and nervous system are effective in optimizing proper mood, learning potential and behavior. These nutrients include various essential fatty acids, phospho-lipid components, healthy cholesterol and proteins (amino acids), antioxidant and B-vitamins, zinc and phytochemicals that improve brain circulation. For immune system enhancement, vitamin C has well-proven effectiveness, as well as antiviral and antibacterial properties. Other nutrients for the immune system include phytochemicals from many traditionally used herbs for antiviral, bacterial or fungal effectiveness, immune stimulation and many of the nutrients listed above. Children are far better served by using nutrients first and turning to pharmaceuticals only as a last resort. Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) and healthy cholesterolIt may be beneficial to think of omega-3 EFA’s as an essential nutrient for kids – one worth supplementing. In studies that compare children with ADHD symptoms, temper tantrums, learning disabilities and sleep disturbances with those who don’t have symptoms, the children with problems are more likely to have low levels of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and the saturated fatty acid AA (arachidonic acid). Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) also support the immune system and decrease inflammation. Is it any wonder that the same developed countries that have diets lacking in sufficient omega-3 essential fatty acids, have rampant heart disease, arthritis, other inflammatory disorders and diseases afflicting the brain and nervous system? Read labels: fried oils, anything with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (even if they came from a good omega-3 source, such as sunflower seeds) have the opposite effect of the omega-3’s in your body. When present in excess, even the essential fatty acid omega-6 oils can lead to pro-inflammatory eicosanoids that can be harmful to the brain and its function. And yes, I said healthy cholesterol. Moderate amounts of unoxidized cholesterol (that means runny yolks on the eggs) and even the saturated fat arachidonic acid (which you will find in butter, and grandma’s chicken soup), are necessary for proper brain and immune function. People need to know where to find these essential fats and which ones to moderate. The preponderance of promotion for junk food and lack of education about nutrient-rich foods is killing us. General nutritional and dietary considerationsIron and zinc are two minerals that have been researched for their effectiveness in learning, brain health and immune function, but proper dosages of these is important, since excessive doses of iron can be harmful. Recently researched, are nutrients phosphatidyl-serine, phosphatidyl-choline, and glycerol-phospho-choline (GPC), which make up nerve and brain cell membranes and appear vital to neurotransmitter systems, brain metabolism, connections between brain cells and fluidity of the membranes. B-vitamins, which can be found in whole grains and raw green vegetables, along with proteins such as carnitine, facilitate the cell’s mitochondria in creating energy. They also have been studied for their roles in brain health. Antioxidant vitamins (C, A, E, selenium, and alpha lipoic acid) are important for maintaining not only a healthy immune system but also healthy brain membranes. Finally, herbs can help the immune system and brain health. Echinacea and goldenseal get the most attention, but there are many other herbs whose phytochemicals act as either antimicrobials – such as osha, oregon grape, unsea lichen, garlic and onion – and those that stimulate the immune system – such as astragalus, reishi and shitake mushrooms. Others are great for improving blood flow to the brain such as ginkgo, gotu-kola, rosemary and ginger. And still others strengthen brain membranes, such as the bioflavinoids and flavones found in any colorful fruits and vegetables. The basic guidelines are the usual “eat your vegetables,” have unroasted seeds and nuts (peanuts don’t count) and wild cold-water for your omega-3 oils, supplement some fish oils/cold liver oil and minimize or eliminate the bad stuff (processed sugar, nutrasweet, high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated and fried oils, to name a few). It is an issue of vital importance that parents, teachers, and school administrators understand that the modern diet most children are eating today is laying the foundation for not only our children’s current mood problems, behavior problems and chronic ill health, but also adult-onset cancers and other diseases. The Summit County School district has also gotten the message; our school district has a nutritional wellness coordinator and has a goal of having a wellness policy in place by 2006-2007. Summit County is also home to some of the best in family physicians, pediatricians and complementary and alternative practitioners who recognize the importance diet and nutrition play in overall health and wellness. Combining what I know as a naturopathic doctor and father, my goal is to better educate parents, so they can give their children the greatest gift of all: a healthy, happy and long life. Health talk:Who: Justin Pollack, board-certified license as a naturopathic doctor.What: Nutrition for kidsWhen: 6-7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21Where: Alpine Natural Foods, FriscoCost: Free


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