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Supplements and Nootropics for KIDS
I reckon we all know that vitamins and minerals are important for healthy growth and development in children. Ideally, kids and teenagers would get all the vitamins and minerals that they need from the food that they eat.
However, this isn’t always the case:
- Some children follow restrictive diets like vegetarianism or veganism and will have to supplement with, for example, vitamin B12, which is best obtained from animal sources. Kids who eat plant-based diets may also be at risk of deficiencies in calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin D
- Some children have a condition that affects the absorption of or increases the need for nutrients, such as celiac disease (an immune reaction from eating gluten) or irritable bowel syndrome. These kids may have difficulty absorbing especially iron, zinc and vitamin D
- Children who are extremely picky eaters may struggle to eat a variety of foods
- Our modern food supply and the soil that our food grows in has become severely nutrient depleted over the last couple of decades, leaving many of our foods a shell of the nutrient-rich powerhouses they once were
- Processed foods, junk food and sugar. The types of foods that kids are so exposed to are, politely, utter crap. Not only are they nutrient poor (and don’t get me started on a box of cereal that has tons of sugar in it claiming to provide your kids with vitamins and minerals!) but these foods leave kids with deficiencies when they replace whole foods in a child’s diet.
The Impact of Deficiencies
The majority of cognitive dysfunction in kids can be linked to poor nutrition. As an example, when iron is deficient (fairly common in children), dopamine function is affected which results in impaired concentration. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies (notably B vitamins, iodine, zinc and vitamin E) are linked to worse cognitive abilities and poor concentration.
Studies also prove conclusively that food choices affect hormones, brain chemistry & other chemical and biological functions in kids. Oh, and the small business for kids of, ehm, growing up! This is a serious issue of recent times: evidence shows deficits in specific nutrients (vitamins A, B6, B12, C, folate, iron, zinc and calcium) are associated with lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism and mental health issues starting earlier and earlier (known as the “Achievement Gap”). One in six kids has a neurodevelopmental disorder and more than one in 10 kids have ADHD. Depression, learning disabilities and behavioural issues seem to be rampant.
The harmful effects of a depleted food environment coupled with the artificial flavours, chemicals, preservatives, colourants and other toxins in food are scary.
Many parents would like to avoid prescription meds to address these challenges: side effects can be severe, and it makes it difficult to tell if you kiddo is just going through a normal stage of childhood or struggling with something more serious.
So understanding why some kids might be deficient (even when eating a whole foods diet for the most part) and seeing the detrimental impact on their health that this can have, let’s look at the vitamins and minerals that are most important for the growth and development of kids.
Which are the Most Important Vitamins and Minerals?
- Vitamin A: found in yellow and orange vegetables, dairy and liver. It is important for growth, skin, vision and tissue repair
- B Vitamins: found in red meat, poultry, fish and eggs allows the body to make red blood cells and regulate metabolic activities. Vegetarian kids in particular need to be mindful of their vitamin B12 intake.
- Vitamin C: found in strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli etc. It helps to strengthen tissue, muscles and skin and is potent for fighting off infection (just be careful to stick to recommended dosages to prevent nausea, diarrhoea and cramps!)
- Vitamin D: due to kids being slathered in sunscreen so much (I think probably too much too often), many children actually have a vitamin D deficiency. Until the late 1800’s, doctors weren’t sure what caused rickets, which is a condition that resulted in bones and cartilage of children not being properly mineralised, so the children weren’t growing properly. Eventually, scientists found that sunlight and cod liver oil (high in vitamin D) was the cure, which resulted in research showing that vitamin D deficiencies were at the root of the problem. Vitamin D also helps a child’s body absorb calcium, which is needed for strong bones to grow. Furthermore, vitamin D deficient kids feel tired and weak, so they can’t run around and play in a manner that further aids their development. Cod liver oil and sunshine for the win!
- Iron: important for kids, especially during periods of accelerated growth as it contributes to building muscles. This appears to be the most common nutrient deficiency in kids and can lead to cognitive and motor delays. Iron-rich foods include meat, dark meat of poultry, leafy greens and raisins.
- Calcium: helps bones grow and develop normally and improves hormone secretion, muscle function and nerve transmission. Dairy is a great source, as are meat products and sardines.
- Zinc: often, kids who struggle with inattentiveness and hyperactivity have lower levels of zinc in their bodies. Zinc is used for the maintenance of brain structure and a deficit has therefore been tied to psychological problems. Zinc also has a function to play with melatonin, which is important for the regulation of sleep and dopamine production, which in turn has been tied to hyperactivity disorders in children who are deficient.
- Omega-3 / fish oils: paediatric studies have shown that Omega-3 fatty acids can help children with reading and writing, developmental and coordination difficulties and ADHD symptoms. Supplementation has also shown improvements in attention and hyperactivity. In my view, a far better first line of defence than the pharmaceutical route!
Top Recommendations for Supplements for Kids
Your first priority should always be to maximise vitamins and minerals through foods as described above. However, if for any of the reasons already mentioned you believe that it is necessary to supplement, the below are some great tools that have been shown to generally be safe for children:
- Liver: Nature’s own multivitamin, liver has nearly disappeared from the modern diet. Let’s be honest, it’s not the sexiest thing to serve and good luck convincing the kids! I like to take desiccated beef liver supplements (grass-fed!) because I don’t want to cook with liver: it is the highest concentrated source of Vitamin A found in nature, has a high content of all B vitamins, including B12, it’s a potent, bioavailable source of iron, contains copper, zinc and chromium and is an all-round nutrient-dense superfood! A liver capsule is the first thing I would start with to send kids on the road to good health. SHOP HERE
- Mesquite: low GI and high protein, this powder is easy to digest by the littlelies
- Elderflower: has calming properties and also assists in easing inflammation
- Hemp: contains Omega-3 and all essential amino acids
- Tulsi / Holy Basil: good for the heart, good for blood sugar levels, good for stress, good for kids!
- Beetroot powder: helps the body to absorb calcium and is good for tissue growth
- Cod liver oil: a rich source of Omega-3 and vitamins A and D
- Mushrooms: the following mushrooms have all shown to generally be safe for children in their recommended doses for children: Cordyceps, Turkey tail, Shiitake, Lion’s Mane, Chaga and Reishi.
Same as for adults: the dosage is key and will generally be lower for kids than for adults. It is important to consult a doctor before adding any new supplements to a child’s diet and as always, it is important to do your own research on a supplement within the context of your child’s own medical background and needs!
Nootropics for Teens
Calm down Linda, I’m not suggesting children and teenagers start experimenting with synthetic smart drugs like Modafinil to be the dux scholar by December! The truth is that natural nootropics are already abundant in our everyday lives, things like caffeine (proceed with caution for kids) or Omega-3’s.
But yes, it is important to remember that not every drug that is safe for adults is also safe for children because the brain of a child is still developing and maturing, so you do indeed have to be very cautious about the nootropics that are given to children. As mentioned, natural nootropics derived from plant or animal sources pose much smaller health risks than synthetic nootropics and have a stimulating effect on the brain which can improve mental focus and performance.
More and more children are being diagnosed with attention disorders and if you want to avoid prescription medicines, then there are studies showing that certain natural nootropic supplements may help improve focus and attention in children in conjunction with a healthy diet:
Ginkgo Biloba and Ginseng
Taken twice daily, 200mg of Ginseng and 50g of Ginkgo Biloba were shown in a study to reduce symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention. The study was performed on kids between the ages of 3 and 17.
Choline and Acetylcholine
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in brain functions such as memory, thinking and learning and deficiencies have been linked to learning and memory impairments. Acetylcholine can’t be taken as a supplement, so we can take supplements that increase the natural release of acetylcholine, such as foods containing choline or choline supplements. The National Institute of Health (Office of Dietary Supplements) provides dosage recommendations for all ages from birth. The food sources with the highest levels of choline for natural supplementation are beef liver (by miles), eggs, beef, chicken, fish (cod and tuna), shiitake mushrooms, dairy, peanuts, cauliflower, kiwi fruit etc. Read More: Tell-All Guide On Benefits of Choline
Omega-3 fatty acids
I’ve already touched on these but they’re a powerful, safe nootropic for kids. Given that the brain is largely made of fat, it makes sense that Omega-3 (both DHA and EPA) are essential for the development of a healthy brain.
Quick kiddie brain 101: children younger than 10 have a high concentration of grey matter in their brains, making their brains flexible so that they can be “moulded”, constantly forming new bonds and connections with high levels of neuroplasticity, so that children can learn how to navigate this world.
After 10 years old, the connections that were made are cemented and those not used are removed. This process forms white matter (like fat) and is called myelination. White matter boosts nerve transmission and is neuroprotective.
Omega-3 is needed for myelination to occur, for the development of new brain cells and the creation of grey matter early in the development of the brain (birth to 10 years). DHA plays a role in the development of the brain and EPA plays a role in mental function, so both are important.
Shop Here: O3 Plant Based Omega 3
This nootropic (an amino acid found in green and black tea and also in some mushrooms) is effective for children and adults in reducing hyperactivity in the brain, which promotes focus and clear thinking. It’s been shown to be effective for kids with ADHD. Read More: How Caffeine & L-Theanine Work Together for Cognition
Shop Here: NeuroActive L-Theanine
This traditional Ayurvedic medicinal herb has become extremely popular of late for relieving stress and anxiety, boosting muscle strength and improving blood sugar, inflammation, mood and memory. Studies are showing that there are benefits for kids too, namely memory enhancement, restoring calm and relaxation and even promoting growth! The main benefit for kids is the ability of Ashwagandha to enable them to handle physical and emotional stress, making is immensely useful for teenagers as well. Read More: The Best Nootropics for Brain Health
Phosphatidylserine is naturally produced by the brain and part of the neuron-building process. It is therefore important to allow the brain to develop in an optimised way (i.e. providing the raw materials to create new brain cells). Read More: Why Supplement with Phosphatidylserine
Shop Here: NeuroActive Phosphatidylserine 50%
Kids should ideally be getting all their required nutrients from food. However, the reality of our environment and the foods that kids are presented with don’t always make this possible. When supplementing, the following is key:
- Consult with a medical professional before supplementing, even for something as mundane as vitamin C.
- Dosage is key. It’s typically not recommended to supplement with more than 100% of the Recommended Daily Allowance for children as there can be toxicity issues (it is helpful to find a supplement that is specifically formulated for kids).
- Quality of supplement is key: consider the quality of the ingredients (do you trust the manufacturer) and check the ingredients (free of fillers, artificial flavours, colourants and preservatives)
Finally, remember that nootropics are not a quick-fix and should be used in conjunction with a healthy diet and plenty of physical exercise. When the above is adhered to, supplementation for kids can be a valuable tool to ensure that your kiddos live their happiest, healthiest best lives!
- 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.