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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine January 2001

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Improving thinking and behavior

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The emergence of school breakfast programs to promote better academic performance through good nutrition bears witness to the fact that food fuels the brain.

Besides disease prevention, an adequate intake of proper nutrients can also have positive effects on mental health, behavior and cognitive function. The emergence of school breakfast programs to promote better academic performance through good nutrition bears witness to the fact that food fuels the brain. According to the American Dietetic Association, kids who eat breakfast learn better, are more alert and attentive in class, and more likely to participate in activities. A study that analyzed how an improved diet might help academic performance found that a daily vitamin-mineral supplement raised children's IQ and non-verbal intelligence, which is closely related to academic performance.(36)

In the experiment, 245 children, ages 6 to 12, were given a supplement that met 50% of the US daily recommended allowance (RDA) for three months, or a placebo. Results revealed a significant difference of 2.5 IQ points between the intervention and placebo group. The researchers concluded that, “The parents of schoolchildren whose academic performance is substandard would be well advised to seek a nutritionally oriented physician for assessment of their children's nutritional status as a possible etiology.” Meanwhile, research that investigated the potential of multivitamin supplements to help mentally retarded children showed an increase of average IQ by 5% to 9.6% over a four-month period in supplement-treated children compared to negligible changes in controls; the supplemented group showed additional gains in IQ during a subsequent four-month period.(37)

The fact that food can also have an impact on hormones, serotonin levels and other neurochemicals suggests that it can affect emotions and behavior too, and that certain low nutrient reserves can adversely affect thinking and behavior. In attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), for example, while genetic and environmental factors certainly play a role in the development of the disease, nutrient deficiencies are common too. For example, a study of 116 children showed that magnesium deficiency was evident in 95% of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) subjects, as measured in blood serum, red blood cells and hair samples.(38) Oral supplementation with 200 milligrams of magnesium per day for six-months, on the other hand, has shown a significant decrease in hyperactivity among children with a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).(39) Likewise, research has demonstrated the success of a combined regimen of magnesium and vitamin B6 to improve behavior in autistic children, by eliciting both biochemical and electrophysiological changes.(40)

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"The parents of schoolchildren whose academic performance is substandard would be well advised to seek a nutritionally oriented physician for assessment of their children's nutritional status as a possible etiology."

Zinc, which is vital for metabolism among neurotransmitters, fatty acids, prostaglandins, melatonin and dopamine, has also been shown to possibly help attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.(41) In addition, some other research has suggested that supplementation with B vitamins, essential fatty acids, flavonoids and the essential phospholipid phosphatidylserine (PS) can improve hyperactivity symptoms when made part of an integrative therapeutic approach.(42) Essential fatty acids, in particular, seem to play a vital role in behavior. Research has shown that an omega-3 acid deficiency in some boys, ages 6 to 12, correlates to a higher frequency of behavior, learning and health problems consistent with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).(43) Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to the proper functioning of the nervous system, which may explain their effect on behavior.

The role and mechanism of many individual nutrients in the prevention and treatment of various health conditions that plague us today remain to be elucidated. What is apparent already from the mounting scientific evidence to date, though, is that there's an obvious need for adequate nutrient intake, and for assessing the areas where a typical North American diet may fall short in safeguarding our children's current and future health. Applying what we know so far, we can provide some guidance and foster the right dietary and lifestyle habits early on in life to offer people protection from a number of diseases from childhood right through to old age.

References

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18. Cancer Epidemiol Biomark Prev 1997;6:769-774

19. J Nat Cancer Inst 1997 Oct;89(20):1481-1482

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21. J Infect Dis 2000 Sep;182 Suppl 1:S5-S10

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26. AJCN 1998;68:447S-463S

27. AJCN 1998;68:2-S

28.Circulation 2000 Jul;102:374

29. Cardiol Rev 1999 Mar-Apr;7(2):101-107

30. Circulation 1999 Jan; 99:178-182

31. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2000 Sep;154(9):918-922

32. Lancet 1996;347:781-786

33. J Pediatr 1998;133:35-40

34. Am Heart J 2000 Feb;139(2 Pt 3):S63-69

35. J Trop Pediatr 1999 Jun;45(3):168-169

36. J Altern Complement Med 2000 Feb;6(1):19-29

37. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1981 Jan;78(1):574-578

38. Magnes Res 1997 Jun;10(2):143-148

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40. Biol-Psychiatry 1985 May;20(5):467-478

41. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol 2000 Summer; 10(2):111-117

42. Altern Med Rev 2000 Oct;5(5):402-428

43. Physiology & Behavior 1996;59:915-920



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