The Right Choices Help Children Thrive
As youngsters head back to the classroom, parents can get their children off to a smart start by giving them key supplements. Here are some experts’ top picks.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Because the brain’s nerve cell membranes are made of fat, ingesting a healthy fat— DHA—helps them stay lithe and limber enough to successfully fire off neurotransmitters, sharpening kids’ mental abilities. “Attention, focus, processing efficiency, memory—they’re all dependent on cells working effectively, and DHA will help,” says Randall Neustaedter, a doctor of Oriental medicine and author of The Holistic Baby Guide. A contemporary study published in Clinical Pediatrics found that 4-year-olds that ingested 400 mg a day of DHA for four months showed improvement in listening comprehension and vocabulary acquisition skills.
Because finding an effective dose of pure DHA (at least 300 mg a day) can be difficult, Dr. Robert Rountree, co-author of Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child, recommends administering liquid fish oil in a daily child’s dose of 800 to 1,500 mg at a ratio of 60 percent eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) to 40 percent DHA. “Anti-inflammatory EPA can help allergies and inflammation from colds and other viruses kids get,” explains Neustaedter.
Algae can be a vegetarian substitute for fish oil, Neustaedter continues, but it contains only DHA, not EPA. Another vegetarian option, echium oil, internally converts to EPA at a oneto-one level, but not to DHA. Flaxseed oil is mostly alphalinolenic acid (ALA), which converts to DHA and EPA at a rate of only 3 to 7 percent.
Phosphatydylserine (PS). This form of fat facilitates communication among brain cells. “It’s a natural substance your brain makes,” notes Neustaedter. Already highly regarded for its ability to enhance memory performance in older adults, it may also improve attention, concentration, learning, behavior and school performance in youngsters.
PS is found in small amounts in foods like eggs and soy. Therefore, Neustaedter recommends dietary supplementation of 100 mg a day for children that could use a brain booster. The best PS supplements are made from soy.
Vitamin D. “It’s my top immune supplement choice for most children,” says Rountree. The vitamin is crucial for triggering the body’s natural immune system to react to and fight off infections. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that daily 1,200 international unit (IU) supplements of vitamin D3 reduced cases of seasonal flu in schoolchildren by more than 40 percent. Neustaedter recommends that school-aged children supplement with 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day. Unlike D2, D3 is natural and nontoxic, he says.
Probiotics. These “friendly” bacteria help reestablish beneficial intestinal flora to both assist digestion and immunity. “Eighty percent of the immune system is produced in the small intestine,” says Neustaedter. “Having a healthy small intestine will lead to a healthy immune system. Probiotics will go a long way to accomplishing that.”
Rountree recommends children receive a mixture of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria—at least 15 billion colony-forming units a day. A study by an international team published in Pediatrics showed that probiotic supplements may reduce the incidence of fevers, coughs, runny noses and other infections in young children.
Elderberry. “If kids get frequent colds, elderberry can be helpful,” notes Neustaedter, who suggests that children take such extracts according to label instructions for acute sickness during the cold and flu season. He considers it a worthy antiviral and immune system stimulant.
Elderberry’s immune-boosting potential may be due to its ability to enhance antioxidant activity. Several studies, including one issued by the National Institutes of Health, have shown that black elderberry extract may shorten the duration of a bout of flu.
Magnesium. “If kids have a hard time turning their minds off and going to sleep, calcium and magnesium will help,” Neustaedter advises. As a calming mineral, magnesium trumps calcium; because kids tend to need more calcium for their bones, the two nutrients are usually given together, adds Rountree. He recommends that children take 100 to 300 mg of magnesium daily, depending on their age and weight.
Lemon balm (melissa officinalis). To soothe anxiety, Rountree points to lemon balm as safe and gentle, yet effective. St. Mary’s Hospital, in Madison, Wisconsin, reports that researchers have found that lemon balm, in combination with other herbs like valerian, may ease restlessness, anxiety and sleep disorders. Kids can drink one to two cups of freshly brewed tea daily. For a tasty and convenient option, substitute glycerites; tinctures that use glycerin to extract the active constituents from herbs.
Pamela Bond is the managing editor of Natural Foods Merchandiser and former editor-in-chief of Delicious Living magazine.