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Foods that Feed the Brain and Improve Behavior

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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognized there is a link between diet and children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other neurodevelopment conditions.  In the November 2012 issue of their journal, Pediatrics, entitled Improving Health Care for Children and Youth with Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders they cite, “Many individuals with ASDs have symptoms of associated medical conditions, including seizures, sleep problems, metabolic conditions, and gastrointestinal disorders, which have significant health, developmental, social, and educational impacts.”

It has been found that many children diagnosed with an ASD or other neurodevelopment conditions such as ADHD/ADD, have what is known as a “leaky-gut.”  This means nutrients consumed are not being fully absorbed into the gut and are leaking into the bloodstream.  Thus, these children may have essential vitamin deficiencies.  Leaky guts are typically caused by food intolerance, which results in inflammation in the gut lining.

Simple dietary changes can improve your child’s behavior and optimize their brain’s function.  Foods that help feed the brain include:

  • Protein:  Amino Acids that come from protein make neurotransmitters that help the brain cells to network and communicate.  Foods such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts and seeds are all protein rich foods.
  • Fatty Acids:  Many children that have ASD’s or ADHD/ADD often have low blood levels of essential Fatty Acids, particularly the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid EPA.  Fatty acids are needed for the synthesis and function of brain neurotransmitters.  Many children lacking in these, have trouble controlling movement, learning, memory and attention.  Fatty Acids can be found in mackerel, salmon, herring, nuts and seeds.  In some cases a supplement may be needed as well.
  • Vitamins:  Key vitamins that help with brain function include, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6 and vitamin D.
  1. Zinc:  is essential for neurotransmitter function and can be found in wheat germ, liver, beef, pumpkin seeds and dark chocolate (very high % cocoa powder).
  2. Magnesium and Vitamin B6:  Studies have found that children given a combination of Magnesium and Vitamin B6 have had improvement in behavior.  Magnesium is known as a mood balancer and facilitates absorption of Vitamin B6.  Magnesium can be found in dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale), nuts, seeds, fish, beans, lentils, whole grains and avocados. Vitamin B6 supports serotonin production is found in high quantities in seeds, nuts, fish; yeast extract spread (Marmite), herbs and spices, rice and wheat bran.
  3. Vitamin D:  helps cognitive function of the brain by activating and deactivating enzymes in the brain and helps neurotransmitter synthesis and nerve growth. In addition, Vitamin D protects neurons and reduces inflammation. Vitamin D can be found in cod liver oil, fish, fortified cereals, eggs, and various dairy and soy products.

Identifying foods causing intolerance can be key to improving your child’s behavior and overall health.  Many nutritionists will recommend trying an elimination diet to determine the food sensitivities.   Certain foods such as refined carbohydrates, gluten, casein, sugar and artificial additives are often the culprits.  These can all contribute to inflammation in the gut lining.  It is important to remember that each individual is different and what works for one child may not work for another, but diet can improve the cognitive function of your child’s brain.





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