The connection between nutrition and academic success isn’t widely discussed in the school or parent community, but it should be. It’s much more prevalent than you would think. When our kids struggle in school, we usually think they need extra time on a subject, differentiated instruction, tutoring, and other academic interventions. And while sometimes this is true, many times what they actually need is a change in their diet.
When we’re looking at nutrition to determine whether there may be a deficiency causing the child to struggle in school, there are a few key areas where we look.
When we talk about hydration, we mean WATER consumption. Not sport drink consumption. Water is how we truly maintain our hydration and when students are dehydrated, they may suffer from headaches or tiredness which will affect their ability to perform in the classroom.
But it’s not just about how MUCH water they are consuming. The QUALITY of water consumed matters too.
Although the United States has regulations in place to protect our water, the true quality of the water we consume varies throughout the country and depends heavily on the source and purification process used.
When the water contains contaminants such as agricultural runoff, heavy metals, industrial contaminants, etc., consumption over time can lead to neurotoxicity. And while symptoms of neurotoxicity can vary depending on the contaminant, there are many common symptoms to be aware of, the most common being inflammation which is associated with neurodegenerative disease. This inflammation can cause developmental delays, and sub-optimal brain development. We use only filtered water in our office and at home, such as Clearly Filtered. And in order to put the beneficial minerals back into our drinking water after filtration, we add trace minerals and electrolytes.
While there are many vitamins and minerals that can cause issues with a student’s ability to perform in an academic setting, we have chosen 3 to highlight here.
This inorganic substance is critical to our brain function, and with the rise of highly processed foods, is becoming less and less readily available in the standard American diet, leading to a large percentage of the population being deficient in Magnesium. This deficiency can worsen symptoms of ADHD. So, we highly encourage students with ADHD to seek out food sources high in Magnesium such as bananas, avocados, beans, and leafy green vegetables. Supplementation can also be an option, and many studies have shown magnesium supplementation to lessen the symptoms of ADHD. When looking for Magnesium supplements, be sure to pay attention to the type of magnesium. Personally, I like magnesium glycinate before bed. You can also try baths with magnesium flakes/Epsom salt to experience similar benefits.
Iron is another mineral that is critical to our brain health. A deficiency in Iron has been associated with hyperactivity, anxiety, and depressed mood. We highly encourage students experiencing hyperactivity or anxiety to seek out food rich in iron such as beef, tuna, turkey, leafy greens, spinach, beans, dried fruits, and blackstrap molasses. Adding these foods is the first step, but if numbers don’t stabilize, it is important to work with a functional or integrative doctor to find out why.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Chances are you have heard about the many benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids and they are essential to strengthen brain cells and decrease inflammation in the brain. When students are deficient in Omega 3’s, they may suffer from inattentiveness, and an inability to concentrate which directly affects their ability to perform well in a classroom. Students are encouraged to seek out food rich in Omega-3’s such as walnuts, flax, salmon, sardines, and anchovies. Parents may also opt to supplement Omega-3’s. It is important to source a high-quality product with EPA and DHA and since these fats go rancid quickly, make sure to keep your supplements in the refrigerator.
As you can see, a diet that is not well balanced or giving students the proper nutrition they need, can cause many symptoms that prevent them from performing to their academic potential. When we see symptoms such as hyperactivity, inability to concentrate, tiredness, etc. Many education professionals will go right for an academic evaluation to see if there is a learning disability. And many times, students will test as if they do have a learning disability because their symptoms are hindering their ability to perform. However, the root cause of that disability could be linked to their current nutrition.
What if a simple change in diet could help your child sleep better, be more alert, pay attention more, or even be happier? What if they didn’t actually need all those accommodations on their
IEP and other academic interventions and could perform at or above the level of their peers just by eating differently?
We believe that all symptoms stem from something. And we will work tirelessly until we find out exactly what that root cause is.