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Biohacking For Kids
For obvious reasons, biohacking tends to focus on adults: we’ve started to witness some sort of decline, whether that is from decades of yo-yo dieting, inadequate exercise or drinking like a fish once we were old enough, or, alternatively, you could’ve lived the healthiest life possible, but the inevitable signs of ageing and wear and tear start catching up with us in our thirties. So, we go balls to the wall on incorporating collagen, red light therapy, cold plunges and the latest and greatest supplements.
Read More: Supplements & Nootropics for Kids
Ideally, I think, we would’ve all liked to have started looking after our health a little earlier. Prevention is better than cure, right? Yes! The beauty is that with all the new information that has become available over the last decade about health and wellness with an integrative, holistic and functional medicine focus, kids who start implementing “biohacks” from an early age are in a far better position than their parents were at that age, where we were taught butter bad-margarine good, meat bad, salt bad, sunshine bad.
Read More: The "Diet" VS "Fuelling" Mindset
That being said, kids are bombarded by screens non-stop, with recent studies showing the detrimental impact which this has on the creativity of our children. In addition, sugar basically has the same impact as highly addictive drugs on kiddie brains and with the pure variety and volume of sweets and snacks available these days, it’s hard to imagine that kids will never be exposed to these.
Parenting in the modern world is hard. Especially during times of work-from-home, how do we eliminate all screen time and all sugar from our children’s diets? I’d venture that it is nigh impossible. In my view, your best strategy is to eliminate the bad stuff as much as possible and make a concerted effort to introduce the good stuff as much as possible, as often as possible!
Here are the Top Biohacks for Kids!
Sunlight, Sunlight, Glorious Sunlight!
Unpopular opinion: I think we’ve been overdoing it on the sunscreen. Kids are slathered in sunscreen from the minute they step into the sun in the early morning. It comes from a place of great love, but sunscreen blocks the body’s ability to manufacture vitamin D. Kids with low vitamin D are at increased risk for reduced muscle function, poor bone health, and importantly, impaired mental and cognitive skills. Bright light from direct sunshine also boosts mood and concentration and ensures a healthy circadian rhythm. The importance of vitamin D from sunlight (food and supplemental form alone is insufficient) cannot be overstated for kids, hence this is the very first biohack on the list.
I’m not advocating for no sunscreen. Sunburn is not healthy by any stretch of the imagination, but try allow some play time in the sun without sunscreen, and when sunscreen does become necessary, natural options that don’t contain oxybenzone are a must. Astaxanthin or zinc oxide, combined with shea butter, jojoba oil, coconut oil etc are all great, safe and effective alternative options.
This ties in with getting sunlight but has a host of other benefits, especially the fact that it limits screen time. It’s funny that we even call this a biohack given that it is (and should be) such a natural state of being for children! Sadly, given all the time many kids spend indoors, it needs to be said. Benefits of playing outside:
- Fresh air: an undervalued biohack – by the same token, leave a bedroom window open if possible.
- Grounding: let your kids play barefoot, always! Grounding, as with adults, reduces inflammation, improves sleep, cortisol response and improves wound healing.
- Dirt for immunity: kids who play on grass, in mud and get exposed to pets have far better immune systems than kids who are constantly being sanitised, who stay indoors and don’t get dirty. Mud under fingernails, grass stains on faces and bugs in their hair are all parenting wins!
- Creativity and problem-solving: being allowed to explore and play hands down beats any iPad educational game that you can find. If your garden is small to non-existent, a park or jungle gym works just as well.
A simple yet very effective tool for parents to engage your children. Reading them a bedtime story improves their language development on multiple levels, stimulates their imagination, builds their vocabulary and encourages conversation and an enquiring mind. This seemingly small gesture is a bonding time with tangible health and brain benefits, not only a signal that it’s time for sleep.
This may be the hardest thing to get right with kids but also the most superior of all levers that you can pull as a parent to ensure your child’s health and wellbeing. Childhood is a developmental phase: the foods that are used to build and raise our kids are what the adult will be made of.
There’s a myriad of reasons why this is challenging: convenience, unavoidable birthday parties, time constraints, fussy eaters and the list goes on. There are also very good reasons why taking the punches on this front is sometimes important: for a child’s development to be optimised, what we put in is the most important variable, more so than the best school, the best educational toys and the best play time regime. The brain cells that are still being built and developed are either made of unhealthy foods or healthy foods, and it will determine your brain health for the rest of your life.
The top foods to limit include gluten, refined oils (vegetable oils like sunflower and canola oil), processed foods (sorry, no viennas!) and sugar. Making a switch is challenging (read %*!#@ hard!) but whole foods can and should taste good. I’m excited to see the next generation of kids who were fed bone broth instead of sugary baby food crap from birth!
PSA: cereal is not a breakfast food. It’s a dessert at best, and a bad one at that.
Education is key from a young age. It helps to explain to children why something is bad for us and why something is good for us. If food can be viewed as fuel to strong bodies and minds, it goes a long way towards winning the battle.
Protein is Important
The importance of protein (preferably animal protein) cannot be overemphasised. It is crucial for growth and repair in children. Eggs are an excellent source for children.
Limited Use of Devices
I’ve already touched on this, and I’m not saying avoid devices at all cost. Technology is here to stay and should certainly be used, appropriately. But extended use has a detrimental impact on reasoning skills, creativity and development for children. It’s highly addictive and there are no long-term studies showing what amount of usage is appropriate for what ages. As such, minimise use as much as possible!
Keep the Wifi off where possible
There are simple devices which automatically switch your wifi off at night and switch it back on in the morning. Alternatively, do it yourself. More and more research is convincingly showing the harm that electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure is doing to us, and particularly to children where the brain is not yet fully formed.
There is a lot of heated debate on this one. Fluoride is a mineral naturally found in many soil, water and food sources and a popular additive to toothpastes to fight cavities and strengthening teeth. However, there are concerns with ingesting too much fluoride, especially if kids swallow their toothpaste accidentally (ingesting too much fluoride before the age of 8 can result in dental fluorosis, which can result in an adverse effect on the natural development of adult teeth, stomach pain and possible intestinal blockage). The biohacking community in general recommends avoiding fluoride in toothpaste, especially where there is low risk of dental decay.
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Board games (like chess) and games like Lego are excellent tools for brain development. Board games create new neural pathways which help the brain develop better and building with Lego or Duplo or something similar helps with problem solving abilities. Letting your kids play with these kind of games regularly is a massively beneficial way to boost their brain functioning.
At the breakfast table or before bedtime, it’s a lovely habit to ask your kids what they’re grateful for. Not only does this foster an awareness of the blessings in their life, but it also results in higher levels of happiness and optimism in children. A daily gratitude regime has also been shown to result in less stress, better stress management / coping and improved self-esteem. On a physical level, daily gratitude has been directly linked to fewer physical problems and improved sleep. Plus, kids say the darndest things, you may just hear the cutest and most insightful statements of your day!
To the extent possible, ensure that your water is filtered (and remineralised with quality sea salt). Especially upon waking, making sure that kids consume enough water has massive health benefits for the whole day.
Strong values and relationships
Humans are social creatures. We crave community, love, friendship and connection. We even live longer when these aspects are part of our daily lives. Hugging our kids, teaching them strong values to guide them through life, not abdicating to teachers and teaching them the power of friendship and strong relationships will make all the other biohacks work better and easier.
Below are some additional considerations for optimising little people:
- Have their genes tested. Knowing early on which factors, dietary and otherwise, to be aware of can be instrumental in raising healthy children
- Blue-light blocking glasses. It’s all about how you sell it to your kids, and this might not be one that they’re willing to incorporate, but it is, same as with adults, so beneficial before bedtime, especially if screens cannot be avoided. Shop TrueDark Range here.
- No shoes as much as possible!
- Let your children taste and touch things. Kiss the dog and lick the floor. Push through the cringe and let them get down and dirty with nature.
- Avoid excessive antibacterial soaps: it hurts their immune systems. Good ‘ol natural soap and water will do the trick, and even then, don’t overdo it.
- Increase your kids’ time with other kids: gymnastics on dirty floors with other kids is a winner. Team sports is a winner. Play dates and interaction with other kids engages children in a way that neither a parent nor a game can do, so it’s good to encourage this kind of social behaviour.
- Unpopular suggestion: use it or don’t use it, but there are some Neanderthals suggesting that kids don’t need to bathe or shower every day, nor do you need to be doing excessive laundry. I’m not suggesting your kiddo goes to school looking like a laundry basket, but perhaps we could take the gas off the obsession with cleanliness just a little bit and see what that does for overall health and immunity. Again, each to his own.
The Final Word
I hope that the advice in this article gives you some ideas to make parenting easier and more effective, rather than leaving you frustrated and yelling at me that if I take the iPad away and suggest a carrot instead of a Twinkie that chaos erupts, the likes of which literally makes grown men cry!
Small changes go a long way and hopefully, kids on less sugar are far friendlier, more patient and sleep better. Let’s optimise the little people to give them the best shot at health, happiness and wellness in an already challenging environment!
- Thea is the founder of Neolaia – Biohacking SA and passionate about all things biohacking, functional medicine, holistic and ancestral wellness. She enjoys the occasional triathlon, is fanatic about yoga and the gym and loves n=1 biohacking experiments more than anything else! Learning about the latest in scientific research for health and wellness and applying this knowledge is what makes her happiest!
This information does not serve as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is for informational purposes only and does not provide a comprehensive explanation of the different compounds. Always consult your doctor first when making any changes to medication or supplementation.