Special report by Ruth Sladek B HSc (Nat & Nut): Naturopath Kenmore Centre for Health
As school and uni students settle into the year it is a good time to review issues which can impact on academic performance. Concentration and focus can be a huge challenge of students of all ages. This can range from ADHD to general lack of focus, inability to concentrate and brain fog. As a Naturopath I see several causes as well as possible solutions for these problems. I have outlined a few common issues below:
- Diet: possibly the most important factor when it comes to optimum brain performance. Our brains preferred fuel is sugar. However refined sugar and carbohydrates (biscuits, sugary cereals, soft drink) will give us a spike of energy for a short amount of time but after that will leave our brains with no energy. This makes focus and concentration very hard. A drop in blood sugar has also been linked to a release of adrenaline which can cause restlessness and impulsive behaviour. A diet high in complex carbohydrate (whole grains , cereals) as well as adequate amounts of protein (meat, dairy products, nuts, legumes) can prevent blood sugar highs and lows and is able to supply out brains with a more sustainable source of energy.
- Nutritional deficiencies: Children are growing and developing and have a high demand for nutrients, however they can be fussy eaters so nutrient deficiencies are common. One of the most common nutritional deficiencies in school age children is iron. Low iron levels can cause decreased focus and a lower attention span. Studies on children with ADHD found low levels of zinc and magnesium in a large number of those children. Omega 3 (fish oil) is important for nervous system function and brain function. Low levels are associated with behavioural problems. Children with ADHD seem to have impaired ability to absorb and utilise omega 3, which makes their demand for it even higher. Most of our diets are low in omega 3. So a good quality Fish oil supplement can safely be given to most children in the recommended dose. For other nutrients a Naturopath or Doctor can organise tests to confirm nutrient deficiencies.
- Food sensitivities: A sensitivity to certain foods can cause either hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour after consumption or lethargy and inability to focus. These effects can be seen anywhere between immediately after consumption of the food to several hours after consumption of these foods. Foods commonly causing these reactions are: food colours, flavour enhancers, salicylates, sulphates, wheat, soy, eggs, corn. Dietary elimination of suspected foods can sometimes be helpful, however it can be difficult to pin point the offending foods. A Naturopath can organise testing for food sensitives.
- Herbal remedies: There are a number of herbs which can improve memory and focus as well help calm down the nervous system These herbs can be useful for students of all ages. Some of these herbs are Bacopa, Skullcap. Ginko biloba, Withania, Lemon balm and Gotu kola.
- Adequate Sleep. In this age of technological devices there are multiple distractions to getting enough sleep. Primary school age children and teenagers need 9-10 hours sleep a night, adults about 8. Even half an hour extra sleep has been shown to dramatically improve a child’s school performance.
- Avoid self-medicating. It is always best to seek advice from a well-trained professional to ensure that the products are both necessary and suitable for your individual circumstances. We use only the best quality products at the clinic ensuring that clients actually receive the intended dose of the target nutrient. We also use a range of high purity fish oil to suit the range of palates for all ages.