I believe that we have the knowledge to make our children the healthiest in history. I know, quite an ambitious claim when are all the statistics are pointing to the contrary. The educational tools are available for parents to implement and we need to increase the access to healthy food, water, and air through better policies. There is no question that our children are not as healthy as the previous generations. This is strongly correlated to the diet, lifestyle, and environment. Let’s take a look at the current statistics:
- Childhood obesity has tripled since the 1970’s. One in five school-aged children has obesity and two-thirds of adults in the United States today are obese or overweight.
- In 2009, 1 in 10 children had asthma and the rates have increased every year. From 2001 through 2009, asthma rates rose the most among black children, almost a 50% increase. Women were more likely than men and boys more likely than girls to have asthma (showing an estrogen connection). Look at our air quality and the asthma mystery disappears.
- Research shows that 43% in the US are now diagnosed with ADHD as of 2015. When researchers looked specifically at teenagers, they found the diagnoses had risen 52 percent since 2003.
- The gut and brain are connected, and therefore with digestive disorders, autoimmune disorders, and food allergies on the rise, we also see developmental disabilities increase.
- In the 1970s and 1980s, about 1 in 2,000 children had autism. In 1994, it was 1 in 150. Today, 1 in 68 has autism and 1 in 6 in the US has a developmental disability. The first born boys have the highest risk.
What is Happening??
You can trace most disorders to a simple concept of deficiency and toxicity. When you chart the statistics of chemicals, toxins and heavy metals unloaded onto our food and into the air, water, and homes starting in the 1960’s, and the explosion of high fructose corn syrup, cold cereal, and sugar consumption starting in the 1970’s, there is a clear delineation and degeneration of health.
Many of us had great-grandparents that grew up on farms with fresh food, cleaner air and water, that lived until their 90’s or over 100. Over the past 1,000 years, there has been a steady rise in life expectancy at birth. But in only the last 30 years, the rise in life expectancy at birth in the United States decelerated relative to this historical pattern, and gains in life expectancy at older ages are now much smaller than they were in previous decades.
Weston Price’s research in Nutritional and Physical Degeneration warned us that this would happen. He was able to show how quickly health could degenerate in one generation when indigenous people with a nutrient dense diet changed to a western diet high in white flour and sugar. The pictures of the children and their teeth when comparing the two diets is worth the purchase of the book alone. The epigenetic silver lining is that we can reverse these trends.
Epigenetics and Your Child’s Health
We often look at children differently when it comes to diet. Since they are kids, it seems okay for them to eat more sugar and have different meals than their parents, devoid of vegetables and usually a flour-based dish.
The problem is that they have growing skeletons and organs that actually require more than adults. For example, our brain at birth is 25 percent of the size it will reach. By the age of 2, our brain is 80 percent of its adult size. This is what makes breast milk rich in DHA and choline so important for the first two years of life. These bodies have to last them an entire lifetime, and the reason we are seeing health issues earlier with each generation is because of epigenetics.
Epigenetics is the study of how diet, environment, and lifestyle changes gene expression.The DNA code remains fixed for life, but the epigenome remains flexible. This can be changed for better or for worse. Epigenetic tags react to our environment, diet and predominant state of mind.
An example I like to use is a queen bee. In the bee kingdom, how does a queen bee emerge? A queen bee is actually a worker bee that gets royal jelly. This suppresses a DNA methyltransferase and extends life to 5 years vs. 40 days despite the same DNA as the other worker bees.
The positive idea with epigenetics is that these negative gene expression changes can be reversed. My genetic practice – Nutrition Genome – shows people how they can reverse disease trends in their family. It is an unbelievably powerful concept that not only improves your health but multiple generations after you.
Why is the ADHD Diagnosis Rising?
“Study drugs” are one of the most abused drugs in high school and college whether or not ADHD is diagnosed, and approved for children over the age of 3. Kids as young as 4 can be diagnosed based on guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics. These drugs manipulate norepinephrine and dopamine to increase focus and stamina, neurotransmitters that naturally elevate to healthy levels when we exercise, jump in cold water and practice deep breathing techniques. The difference is that one is a methamphetamine with numerous downsides, and the other is what we have done naturally since the beginning.
I personally think the increased statistics of ADHD may actually be due to a hasty overdiagnosis of the disorder and quick dispensing of drugs. If we increased exercise and took out the sugar, we would see the statistics plummet. The fact that boys are diagnosed twice as much as girls appear to point to the fact that many males have a much harder time sitting still and being quiet in a classroom setting. Hunting and looking out for predators for millions of years will do that. Yet, we still have children sit all day and expect them to retain a ridiculous amount of information while also staying quiet and suppress their natural evolutionary instincts to explore.
Technology has displaced this exploring and hunting instinct along with the natural neurotransmitter boost for focus and concentration. Now, it is funneled into quick, fast moving images on a screen that instead promote addictive behavior, a short attention span, and defiance. Without the freedom to move all day and try to survive in the environment, many children struggle to adapt.
Exercise and Nutritional Deficiencies for Children
A very interesting hypothesis on mood disorders is that our modern lifestyle lacks certain physiological stressors that have been experienced by primates through millions of years of evolution, including changes in body temperature (e.g. cold swim), and this lack of “thermal exercise” may cause inadequate functioning of the brain. Certain genetic variants predispose some individuals more than others to the sensitivity of a deprivation of these stressors.
Exercise has been a proven way to increase norepinephrine 1.5 to >20 times basal concentrations depending on the type of exercise and intensity. If you have a child that struggles with focus and concentration, the more intense exercise the better. Cold showers and deep breathing (think mindfulness techniques being used in classrooms) also increase norepinephrine in the brain, creating a natural anti-depressive effect and improved focus.
Multiple studies Texas A&M found that working at a standing desk improves the brain’s time management, fact retention, comprehension skills and focus. A school in San Rafael, California became the first to ditch the chairs and incorporate standing desks. They even have a “fidget bar.” Studies show allowing kids to move during the day can improve grades – up to 15 percent – and help kids burn up to 25 percent more calories.
In the book Rest, the author points out dozens of famous accomplished writers, mathematicians, scientists and artists in the past and present that only work 4 hours a day, while spending the afternoon to take long walks. The science presented in this book behind walking and how it affects your brain is truly remarkable.
Magnesium deficiency is typified by a number of reductions in cognitive ability and processes and in particular a reduced attention span along with increased instances of aggression, fatigue, and lack of concentration. Other common symptoms of magnesium deficiency include becoming easily irritated, nervousness, fatigue and mood swings.
Magnesium deficiency has been found in 72% of children with ADHD, and 95% in another study. Magnesium deficiency may be more common in males than females and plays a very important role in testosterone and estrogen metabolism, relaxation and stamina. Magnesium, vitamin C, and copper (too high or too low is a problem) are the major co-factors needed to modulate dopamine and norepinephrine.
Zinc and Iron
There is now evidence to suggest that ADHD may be associated with low zinc and iron. Several authors have also found an association between low serum ferritin and ADHD. It is also of interest that vitamin C is needed for iron retention. This finding is of considerable interest given the fact that iron and zinc, as well as copper, are essential cofactors in the production of dopamine and norepinephrine.
A 2010 study found that serum zinc levels have been found to be significantly lower in ADHD children compared to controls in several controlled studies around the world, including Poland, Turkey, Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Approximately 66% of those with ADHD were found to be deficient in zinc.
Robust correlation has also been found between serum zinc and attention ratings, but not hyperactivity. Another study found that zinc supplementation improved specific cognitive abilities, thereby positively influencing the academic performance of schoolchildren, even those without marginal zinc deficiency.
One study showed that following a long period of vitamin C deficiency, depressed levels of both dopamine and norepinephrine were reported. Vitamin C deficiency in guinea pigs is associated with significant increases (∼25%) in dopamine levels and similar relative decreases in norepinephrine, presumably because normal amounts of dopamine could not be metabolized into norepinephrine.
In the animals with the most severe vitamin C deficiency, neurotransmitter levels never normalized. However, with only slightly higher brain vitamin C levels, dopamine and norepinephrine contents slowly returned to control levels.
What this means is that bringing vitamin C levels to normal could perform an action similar to Adderall by producing and maintaining proper dopamine and norepinephrine levels. Instead of spiking the neurotransmitters and tricking the receptors, you are producing and maintaining it as the body was designed to do.
Infancy, childhood, and adolescence are times of rapid neuronal growth, synapse connections, and gray matter expansion (memory, emotions, speech, decision-making, and self-control). All are associated with brain DHA accumulation. Due to our massive drop in seafood consumption, EPA and DHA for children’s brains has also plummeted. In infants, DHA is important for optimal visual and cognitive development and in animals, low brain DHA results in impaired learning and behavior.
In seven studies, five reported that DHA status or supplementation improved measures of school performance including learning ability, reading, and spelling as assessed by sub-tests of cognitive abilities.
Probiotics and the Microbiome
I wrote in-depth about the gut microbiome in the article Mental Health Starts in the Gut, Not the Brain. One major imbalance that occurs as a result of poor gut flora is between the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA. Glutamate is stimulating and in high amounts, damaging to the nervous system. GABA is calming and inhibits excess glutamate. One of the major discoveries using the Nutrition Genome Report is seeing the variation of people’s genes that can lead to a susceptibility of elevated glutamate and low GABA.
The probiotics bifidobacterium and lactobacilli both produce GABA in large amounts. When you take antibiotics, eat sugar or sucralose (50% destruction of gut bacteria), your good bacteria gets wiped out and glutamate rises while GABA sinks. This affects mental health and the probability of neurodegenerative disorders goes up.
Diversified sources of fermented food, getting your hands in the dirt and consuming prebiotics (a type of fiber found in different vegetables and nuts) are the key to a diversified gut. If you are using probiotic supplements, rotate different strains to promote diversity.
Lithium is present in higher amounts in mineral water and certain foods. However, these amounts have been depleted in our water and food supply. Lithium has been used successfully for decades in treating bipolar disorder and depression and has been inversely related to aggression, suicidal and homicidal violence. One study also found that young US children with autism and their mothers had unusually low levels of lithium compared to neurotypical children and their mothers.
Epidemiological studies of lithium in drinking water reported that 9 out of 11 studies found an association between higher levels of lithium in local water and “beneficial clinical, behavioral, legal and medical outcomes.” Studies in Texas, Japan, Greece, and Austria all found that areas with higher lithium had lower suicide rates. Researchers are so convinced that lithium is a missing link that they are considering fortifying grain products and supplements to help lower violence.
Elemental lithium, in trace doses, has been shown to improve mood in weeks. Lithium appears to promote the health, growth, and resilience of brain neurons, reducing stress-induced damage. Too much, however, can affect thyroid function. Adding Trace Mineral Drops in drinking water is an easy way to get trace amounts of lithium.
Anger is linked to brain injuries and elevated levels of dopamine and adrenaline (which can happen from ADHD drugs). The vitamin co-factors to modulate these are vitamin C, magnesium and copper. Vitamin C modulates low dopamine to the right level while magnesium lowers elevated chronically elevated adrenaline levels. Excess copper levels will cause anger and ADHD symptoms. Vitamin C chelates excess copper and zinc lower high copper levels.
Best Multivitamins for Children (4-12)
When you look at a lot of reviews for children’s multivitamins, the main accolade will be “my child loves the taste!” While important, this shouldn’t be the main positive attribute. Children also love the taste of cotton candy but will spit out broccoli. This isn’t the best gauge for nutrition and children need to develop other tastes beyond sweet if they are going to adopt healthy eating habits as teenagers and adults. Remember to take your multivitamin with food so that you absorb the carotenoids and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Here is what you want to look for:
-Organic, Certificate of Authenticity and third party testing showing exceedingly low levels of heavy metals
-No sucrose or glucose syrup in the additional ingredients. Stevia, xylitol or monk fruit are acceptable sweeteners.
-No copper in the form of cupric oxide
-Contains magnesium and calcium for growing bones (most multivitamins do not contain much of either) in a 1:1 ratio or higher in favor of magnesium
-B12 in the methylcobalamin form
-Folate in the methylfolate form, not folic acid. This form is found in broccoli.
-Contains iodine and selenium to protect the thyroid and other glands
-Vitamin E should contain mixed tocopherols
-Beta carotene should be food based and contain mixed carotenoids
Best Multivitamins for Children
My PaleoEdge plan for children includes a multivitamin, fish oil or cod liver oil, magnesium and Concentrace Mineral Drops in water for small traces of lithium.
Serving Size: 30 servings
I keep trying to find a product doing a better job than Naturelo, but they swept this category as well. In fact, I decided not even to add the other contenders because they really can’t compare to this one.
-Sweetened with xylitol, stevia, and monk fruit
-No sugar or artificial flavors
-Uses methylfolate from broccoli instead of synthetic folic acid
-Uses methylcobalamin instead of cyanocobalamin
-125mg of calcium and magnesium in a 1:1 ratio
-Full spectrum natural carotenoids
-Vitamin E with mixed tocopherols
-600 IU of vitamin D
-80mg of vitamin C
-Contains choline and phosphatidyl-l-serine for brain health
Notes: Some children will need more than the 2.2mg of zinc and 80mg of vitamin C
Virgin cod liver oil contains vitamin A, vitamin D, EPA and DHA. This is a good one to use during the fall and winter to protect against colds and the flu. Vitamin A helps the immune system, digestive system, skin, eyes and learning and memory skills. If your kids don’t eat eggs, liver or dairy, they are not getting enough vitamin A. It is a liquid and has a palatable taste, even for kids.
The Children’s DHA are chewable and contain EPA and DHA. Nordic Naturals has a good reputation for thorough testing and purity.
There are children that are going to need more magnesium than what Naturelo provides. If your child is very active, can’t relax, experiences anxiety, has trouble concentrating and sleeping, magnesium can be a miracle worker.
This product is in a flavored powder form that you mix in water, making it easy for kids.
What about Teenagers?
After age 13, teenagers can begin to use adult formulas found in my Best and Worst Multivitamins article.