As the school year kicks off, many changes take place in families. New routines, classmates, schools, classes, bus rides and so forth can be a lot to adjust to for everyone. With those changes comes stress for parents, but especially for kids. Acting out, melt downs, depression or anxiety may be symptoms of the overload. Helping your child, no matter what age, cope with stressors is essential to help them with the transitions and challenges of life. Growing and developing strong minds and bodies requires good nutrition to manage these increased demands.
Stress of All Types
It’s not just the start of the school year that stress levels increase in kids. Children of all ages are vulnerable to the stressors that affect you as an adult. Natural disasters and current social events affect kids. Social stressors can take an enormous toll with bullying, cultural pressure, peer pressure, along with academic and extracurricular requirements and expectations. Add in family instability, financial stress, or traumas.
Stressors come from being too busy, pressure to be the best, or not enough “free or play time”. Being constantly plugged into technology and screen time without physical activity, verbal conversations, creativity, and time together with family takes a toll on the mental and physical health of children, teenagers, and adults too.
In addition, chemicals from the school environment like floor wax, new paints and carpet glues, formaldehydes from particle board, fire retardants, Round-up sprayed on the school playground, dust from electronics, blue light/LED light or other concerns bombard the central nervous system and rest of the body. These stressors challenge your body often in silent or subtle ways.
Preschoolers all the way up to college age students experience stress. The stress of going back to school tests many individuals and may manifest itself in several ways. Young children, who may not have the capacity to verbally express their feelings, may show increased shyness, introversion, crying or want to go home. They may be reluctant to go to school, refuse to participate or cling to you when dropped off at school or daycare. There may be aggressive behavior with kicking, punching, hitting, biting, screaming or disobeying rules. Bedwetting may occur. Tummy aches unrelated to stomach flu may frequently occur or there may be a greater tendency for a child to say that they don’t feel well.
Anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances and insomnia may occur. Overeating, stress eating of junk foods or even the opposite with skipping meals may manifest. Snarky replies, slamming doors, aggressive driving, seeking out alcohol, street drugs, vaping/smoking, extreme workouts, isolating or withdrawal may occur in older kids or adults in an attempt to deal with the stress.
Some of the first clues that nutritional needs are not being met are poor stress tolerance and behavioral changes. In order to manage life demands and many of these subtle clues at all ages, nutritional health must be adequate. A balanced array of macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and water) with micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, and cofactors) must be replenished every day to maintain optimal growth, development, and function.
Diets of a picky eater, fast-food/highly processed foods and beverages, high sugar, simple carbohydrate foods, or meals that are skipped create a stress response to the brain. The brain and body will not get the nourishment needed to cope with the academic, athletic and environmental demands of the day.
Adequate sleep, quiet time, quality family time, and play time are fundamental cornerstones for wellbeing. Dietary and nutritional status and fortification are just as important. However, no amount of sleep or family time, etc. takes the place of good nutrition and vice versa. There must be a balance.
Essential Nutrients for Growing Bodies and Learning
Children need several nutrients to grow and thrive mentally and physically. A child who has gotten off to a good start with vaginal birth, full-term, breast-fed, and well cared for in a healthy family environment has better reserves than those who haven’t been. However, even then, nutritional needs may still not be met. Here are some key nutrients to focus on for kids of “all ages”.
Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in children across the globe. If your child likes to eat dirt or ice, is frequently cold, looks pale, has frequent colds and illness, or gets tired easily especially after playing, they may need more iron. Lack of iron can also affect mood with anxiety, depression, loss of interest or attention, or irritability and adversely impacts cognitive function and learning. Iron is needed for thyroid function, growth, muscles, brain, mitochondria and energy, mood, and more.
Choline, DHA, and Phosphatidylserine
Choline, a B vitamin-like compound, impacts cognitive and behavioral health. Choline is the backbone for making the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is critical for learning, memory, movement, coordination, and motor skills, impulse control and obsession control. Acetylcholine is also critical for the brain-gut connection. It is needed for bowel movements and immune system function.
When a child tells you that they have a tummy ache, you are also getting a clue that their nervous system is stressed, because of the direct link between the brain, gut and the gut microbiome. Note the connection with tummy aches and stress. Your gut’s response to stress is intimately connected with the brain via the vagus nerve (cranial nerve 10) and several neurochemicals like acetylcholine.
Choline intake is often insufficient during pregnancy and the Standard American Diet. Lactobacillus in a healthy gut microbiome helps make acetylcholine as do foods rich in choline (beef liver, wheat germ, eggs, beef, salmon and chicken) and the nutrients vitamin B2, B6, B12 and folate. You can learn more about choline in the article Memory Neurotransmitter & Gut Health Linked.
Omega-3 oils (EPA/DHA) are essential fatty acids needed by the brain. They must obtained everyday through the diet. The best sources are cold water fatty fish like tuna, salmon, herring, sardines, and other foods like walnuts, chia and flax seeds. Grass fed, pasture-raised meat and poultry will have a healthier balance of omega-3 oils than grain-fed sources. Kids may take supplements of mercury-free DHA fish oil.
Omega-3 DHA, choline, and the special fat or phospholipid, phosphatidylserine provides the structural foundation of the brain. These fats must be present for learning, comprehension, stress tolerance, mood, coordination, sensory, and motor skills.
Your nervous system needs all of the B vitamins to function. Cells need them for numerous steps involved with energy and neurotransmitter production, detoxification, growth, hormone function, coordination, strength, growth, bones, muscles, blood sugar, methylation, mitochondria, appetite, and tissue repair.
Taking one B vitamin by itself, e.g. vitamin B12, will deplete other B vitamins over time. If taking a B vitamin supplement, it is best to take a complete coenzyme B complex. Stress, imbalanced gut bacteria, caffeine intake, poor digestion, numerous medications, and more affect B vitamin need in all ages. You can learn more in the article B Vitamin Deficiency: Are You at Risk?
Calcium and Magnesium
Growing bodies need minerals for bone strength, muscle activity, physical energy and cellular actions. Finicky eaters or those who consume a restricted diet are at higher risk for inadequate intake of calcium and magnesium. Our Coral Calcium supplement is a great way to obtain both calcium and magnesium in powder that can be added to a water or into a protein smoothie. It helps keep your body in an alkaline state which is critical as too much of an acid pH in the brain can worsen anxiety, fear and stress.
Recent research estimates that at least 30 percent of children and 60 percent of adults fail to get adequate daily needs of magnesium. This has resulted in a public health crisis being declared related to inadequate magnesium intake. Stress and dietary challenges like sugar rapidly use up cellular supplies of magnesium. Adequate calcium and magnesium intake are both essential for energy production, mental focus, jumpy legs, growing pains, muscle cramps, strong bones, teeth and gums, muscle strength and recovery, mood and hormones, gut health, and more. Adequate mineral intake with B vitamins and omega-3 oils can go a long way to help stress tolerance in all ages.
When life is busy and meals are on the go, it is often hard to get enough quality protein. A protein smoothie with a banana or some berries is an easy way to get a quick tasty breakfast in. It can be very helpful for growing kids or athletes who want something for recovery and building strong muscles. Protein provides essential amino acids needed for neurotransmitter production and hormone transport.
We offer bioactive whey protein which is easy to digest from cows that are grass-fed, pasture raised for more than 300 days per year. Daily Protein and Daily Protein Plus do not contain any lactose, casein, sugar or other sweeteners.
Every Day I Worry About Something
A study published in the August 2019 British Journal of Health Psychology was titled “Every day I worry about something” as it pertained to children ages 7-11 years and their parents. Stress and pressure were evident in both groups with concerns about social minefields, pressures to thrive, fear of the unknown, and learning life’s lessons. It was evident that stress was having a palpable effect.
Whining, crying, melt downs, poor focus, tummy aches, moodiness, fatigue, and other stress responses are giant clues that support is needed. This applies to your three year old going to preschool or your twenty-something college student frantically calling you about classes or financial aid. It applies to you as you start back on the school schedule of getting kids out the door to school, extracurricular events and your own job with aging parents, or whatever the scenario might be. How well you manage the demands of the day depends on how full your bucket is with fortification versus a bucket full of stress and depleted reserves.
Helpful Tips and Resources
Get off to a good start every morning with a high protein breakfast and some basic supplements like Daily Energy Multiple Vitamin (12 and older) or Super Mini Multi (2-12 years old), PhosphatidylSerine and Daily DHA, and Coral Calcium. Other helpful supplements may include Stress Helper, Super Brain Booster, RelaxaMag, Pantethine, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Fisetin, Grape Seed Extract, Vitamin D, and many others.
Stress happens for everyone. Use other coping techniques too with exercise, prayer, meditation, breathing exercises, stretching, laughter, and talking with a friend as needed for balance. No matter what is going on and what your coping skills and tools are, when your nutritional status is optimal, you will find that it is much easier to handle what comes your way each day.