In our fast-paced 21st century world where everything is available in an instant and distractions are everywhere it can be a real challenge for children and teenagers to stay focused and concentrate in a learning environment. The concern and uncertainty of these past months has added to the pressures on young minds too, with increasing numbers of children and teenagers finding it difficult to achieve and maintain a sense of calm and balance. Nurturing healthy growing minds that are able to learn well, be resilient in the face of adversity and have reserves of inner calm has become a high priority in our busy modern world.
Focus on Focus
Clearly, environmental factors have a part to play when it comes to nurturing healthy growing minds; factors such as helping children and teenagers to set boundaries around digital distractions, finding time to get moving regularly and building in opportunities for unplugged calm are absolutely key. And there are nutritional factors to consider too; the brain is a hungry organ and needs feeding well to perform at its optimal best. There are key nutrients and ingredients that can specifically help to support vital cognitive functions such as focus, concentration, learning, memory, calm and balance in children and teenagers.
Let’s take a closer look.
Top 2 nutrients to help growing minds thrive in a busy world:
At the top of the list is magnesium; a mighty mineral that is a co-factor in over 300 enzyme reactions in the body, including many involved in energy production, sleep, calm and a balanced stress response. Magnesium’s vital role in energy production is highly relevant for cognitive functions such as concentration, focus, learning and memory; this is because the brain is one of the body’s largest consumers of energy. Without enough energy, the brain cannot function optimally, and magnesium is required to fire these processes. Not only is magnesium needed as a foundation nutrient to support concentration, memory and focus, this mighty mineral is also essential for calming things down. In fact, magnesium is often nicknamed ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ for the many roles it has to play in helping to support a balanced stress response, good quality sleep and for calming the nervous system. As you are probably starting to realise, magnesium is a pretty vital mineral for growing children and teenagers! Sadly however, a typical Western diet is often lacking in magnesium; in part because much of the soil in which our food is grown has become low in this important mineral. In addition, modern day processing techniques strip magnesium from our food. And factors such as chronic stress, infection, poor sleep, exercise, salt, caffeine and fizzy drinks all increase the risks of magnesium depletion too. Magnesium is found in higher amounts in wholefoods cooked from scratch, leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans. Instead, many children and teenagers reach for refined and processed convenience foods, and sugary drinks and snacks, which means they’re unlikely to be getting enough of this important mineral. Whilst increasing the magnesium content of children and teenagers’ diets is always the first port of call, it may also be useful to add some extra magnesium in supplement form to ensure they’re consuming enough to meet these extensive needs. And this may be even more important if they have periods of intense learning ahead, such as exams and tests, or are going through a growth spurt which puts additional pressure on energy production processes. Magnesium is best supplemented in glycinate form, as this is well absorbed and tolerated by even the most sensitive tummies. A powdered supplement is beneficial as many children struggle to take tablets or capsules, and allows for flexible dosing too.
2. B Vitamins
B vitamins often work together in the body and are typically referred to as the ‘B complex vitamins’. They are found in differing amounts in food sources such as whole grains, leafy green vegetables, vegetables, meat, fish and dairy products. B vitamins are water soluble and most can’t be stored in the body, which means they must be regularly supplied by the diet. B vitamins are intricately involved in energy production, and like magnesium, are required to nourish the energy hungry brain to support optimal cognitive processes such as concentration, memory and focus. Of particular note is vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) which is not only involved in energy production but also helps to support the structure and function of brain cells, is involved in the production of many brain signalling messengers (neurotransmitters) and needed to make stress hormones too. In fact, B vitamins are often nicknamed ‘anti-stress’ nutrients for their powerful ability to balance mood and calm the nervous system. Low levels of B vitamins can influence memory, cognitive function, energy levels, mood, anxiety and the ability to cope with stress. Similar to magnesium, many B vitamins are lost during refining and processing techniques and thus can be lacking in a typical Western diet. It is important therefore to pay particular attention to regular dietary intake, especially during the childhood and teenage years when B vitamins are in high demand. B vitamins can be safely supplemented as a group, and this may be particularly helpful to support the increased needs of growing minds.