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Children, Nutrition, Health and Behavior-Part One
Children: Nutrition, Behavior and Health—Part One
We all know that nutrition plays a big role in a child’s health. But how much of a role does nutrition play in children’s behavior? The answer is: much bigger than most realize. It may amaze parents to know that much of the undesirable behavior—which is also a sign of poor health—could be coming from malnutrition. When one thinks of malnutrition, one normally forms images of starving children in a third world country; but simply not getting enough of a certain essential vitamin or mineral (or other nutrient) could be considered to be malnutrition on a smaller scale, and could be impacting the child’s health (and behavior) in a significant way. This article will focus on some of the major nutrients needed by growing children, which they often don’t get enough of, as well as toxins and chemicals adversely affecting health, and their links to behavior.
I’ll start with the most obvious (to some) and significant nutritional factor impacting the health and behavior of children: soda. A physician friend of mine once said, “Soda is perhaps the worst thing for a child’s (or adult’s) health that is commonly consumed in mass quantities; even worse than smoking cigarettes.” I would probably agree. Soda has several things going against it: caffeine, sugar (lots of it), and phosphoric acid. Caffeine is an addictive substance because of its direct action on the brain, and is also destructive to the tissues of the stomach, eyes, nerves, and kidneys. It causes an immediate energy boost by stimulating the central nervous system to liberate energy from ATP stores and calcium in its stored form in the cells, eventually depleting the body of its stored reserves of energy. Think of caffeine as a teenager gone wild with a credit (or debit) card; except that it drains energy reserves instead of the bank account. Soda also contains nine times the amount of sugar that your body can metabolize. So in addition to causing huge spikes in blood sugar and causing your child to bounce off the walls (behavior), it puts a tremendous stress on the body. Sugar also creates an acidic condition in the body, along with the phosphoric acid, and depletes the body’s stores of alkaline minerals, as the body attempts to neutralize the acidic environment with alkaline minerals, such as calcium, sodium and magnesium.
Water is a highly overlooked, yet vitally important nutrient for health. It is the second most essential nutrient—second only to oxygen—that our bodies need, not only to survive, but to thrive. Amazingly, people commonly drink only enough water to get by—survive, but certainly not thrive—as evidenced by the fact that statistics say that at least 75% of Americans are dehydrated. How does this affect us, especially in regards to behavior? The brain is 85% water by volume, thereby requiring tremendous amounts of water to function optimally. Because the brain relies extensively on energy produced by hydroelectricity—energy is produced when water flows in and out of cells, in the same way that hydroelectric energy is produced by water flowing through a dam—dehydration severely stresses the brain. Dehydration also causes a severe depletion of brain tryptophan—the amino acid from which serotonin, tryptamine, melatonin, and indolamine are derived. You may recall that serotonin is known as the “feel good” chemical; and a deficiency of serotonin leads to a variety of brain disorders, such as ADD, ADHD, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other behavioral problems. It makes me wonder how many cases of ADHD might be due to something so easy to remedy as dehydration. Instead of relying on SSRI’s—serotonin-specific re-uptake inhibitors—the remedy could be as simple as drinking more water. One note of caution: drinking soda is NOT the same as drinking water; in fact, soda is a highly dehydrating agent, taking more water out of the body than it puts in. Thus, heavy soda drinkers are often very dehydrated. An easy way to determine if you or your child is dehydrated is to check the color of the urine—the more yellow (or orange) the color of the urine, the more dehydrated the person. A well-hydrated person’s urine should be clear to very light yellow. So how much water should a person drink per day? Many health experts agree that a person should drink half their body weight (pounds) in ounces. In other words, a 120 pound woman should drink roughly 60 ounces or nearly a half gallon (64 ounces) of water daily.