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Pave the way for a successful school year - top nutrients for cognition, focus and mood

4 min read

Well the kids are back in school (a collective phew from parents), but learning is hard work for our children and it’s a parents job to do everything they can to help them succeed academically and otherwise. After all promoting happiness, health, and focus at a young age can only stand them in good stead throughout their lives. Healthy habits begin early!

Omega 3 fatty acids

It’s generally well accepted that DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 essential fatty acid, is crucial for healthy brain and eye development in newborns - however its benefits don’t end at infancy. DHA and other essential fatty acids are important structural components of the skin, eyes and brain, and help to support the health and function of these organs throughout life.

Linked to cognitive performance are reports that supplements of the fatty acids may improve mood and behaviour. Several studies have reported that supplementation with EPA and DHA may result in improvements in behaviour and learning of children.

In one 2016 study out of Sweden, taking supplements with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids significantly improved children’s reading skills, with the greatest results in those with attention difficulties. These polyunsaturated fatty acids are so effective at increasing focus that some experts recommend them as a drug-free alternative for children and adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids (plant pigments with strong antioxidant properties) that have been found to support memory, improve processing speed and efficiency and may also impact academic performance – especially when consumed together.

A study from the Center for Nutrition Learning and Memory found that increasing intake of lutein and zeaxanthin significantly improves young adults’ visual processing speeds.

Vitamin D

Well known for its role in the development of bones and teeth, Vitamin D also plays a critical role in brain development. Evidence suggests that vitamin D’s involvement in brain function is reflected by the wide distribution of vitamin D receptors throughout the brain, affecting proteins known to be directly involved in learning and memory, motor control, and possibly social behavior.

In 2014, research showed that adequate vitamin D is required to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, where it shapes structure and wiring, and affects social behaviour.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is found in parts of the brain that are linked to memory, vision, hearing, language development and even complex learning. It is one of the most powerful antioxidant nutrients, and it has been shown to work as a complement to lutein in protecting DHA, the omega-3 fatty acid vital for cognitive function as mentioned above.

Iron - particularly important for girls

The number one mineral for cognition is iron - a number of studies have found that iron deficiency in children and adolescents is associated with lower scores in cognitive tests and it may be that iron deficiency during infancy has long lasting effects on cognition.

Anaemia is a condition in which the number of red blood cells (and consequently their oxygen-carrying capacity) is insufficient to meet the body’s physiologic needs. Anaemia is a global public health problem, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimating that it affects around 25% of the world’s population. It is especially prevalent in less developed countries but still remains a significant problem in the developed world.

Low intakes of iron are more common in girls aged 11 to 18 years, as is the prevalence of iron deficiency anaemia. This is because when girls reach puberty, there are increased losses from menstruation which puts girls of this age at greater risk of having low iron status.

The European Safety Food Authority has published its opinion that on the basis of the review of current evidence, iron contributes to normal cognitive development in children aged 3 to 18 years. Some evidence suggests that iron deficiency may be associated with poor cognition in school-aged children and there is a beneficial effect of iron treatment on cognitive development in anaemic children aged 3 years or older.

Multi-vitamin and minerals

If you're worried about ensuring significant levels of important vitamins and minerals are obtained through diet alone then a handy multivitamin might be the answer. Research has shown that a daily supplement of multivitamins and minerals may improve the brain function of children.

Research by British and Australian scientists, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that after 12 weeks of taking a multi vitamin and mineral supplement the attention scores of children were boosted. The 81 children involved had an average age of 11, and received no other dietary supplements during the 12 week period. Incredibly, the researchers observed improvement in attention task performance as soon as 3 hours post dose.

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.