A New Insight to the Brain and Nutrition Puzzle

Why You Might be Losing Your Mind

Recent Discovery

Is there anything new in nutrition that you haven’t already  heard? This week I listened to a neuroscientist talk about the research on glucose and the brain. It’s possible your school cafeteria is hurting your kid’s academic performance. It’s also possible your own brain is in trouble. How? Many who are unwilling to read the research claim that what you eat doesn’t matter very much. They are wrong.

Let’s take the simple (ha!) subject of sugar and your brain.

Is your school cafeteria helping or hurting your kid’s academic performance? Many who are still unwilling to read the research claim that what you eat doesn’t matter very much. They are wrong. Many early studies were not done with a strong experimental protocol or they were done on malnourished kids. But more recent ones have used the “gold standard” in research (blind studies, large sample sizes, cross-over design) and they have found that school nutrition does matter.

Here’s what I learned that was new…

We know that our brain runs on glucose and oxygen. We know the hippocampus needs glucose to learn, but too much is bad. The form of sugar matters to your brain and there are six types of sugar. The two worse forms of sugar are high fructose corn syrup and concentrated fructose. Every single product that lists fructose as an ingredient might be contributing to problems. High fructose sugar impairs memory, but not learning. Moderate-high levels of fructose in your diet will impair neurogenesis (the birth of new neurons). On-going fructose consumption may damage the liver.

Recently, two large and high-quality studies (both randomized, double-blind) used a total of 780 typical, healthy school aged children. All were given either a combination of vitamins and minerals, a supplement of omega-3 essential fats EPA and DHA, or the vitamins and minerals with the omega-3 fats, or a placebo on 6 days a week for 12 months.

At the start of the trial, the children were tested for blood levels of all of these nutrients, all of which significantly improved when they were retested after 12 months. The schoolchildren on the vitamins and minerals had significant improvement in tests of verbal learning and memory. (Osendarp SJ et al., Am J Clin Nutr. 2007).

Another study was testing diets for an eight-week trial comparing a low carb high fat diet (LCHF) with a conventional high carb low fat (HCLF) weight loss diet. Researchers found that the people on the low carb diet lost more weight than those on the low fat diet. But they also had better processing speed in the tests–their brains worked faster! (Halyburton AK et al., Am J Clin Nutr. 2007).

Hint…DO NOT listen to the naysayers. They are behind in their science. Yes, nutrition does matter!

Applications

Moderation, as usual, is the key. This research DOES NOT SAY avoid fruits. It says, in general, less fruits are better than more fruits. It says that concentrated fructose (in products and large numbers of fresh fruit) are not good for you. An apple a day is still okay. A banana for lunch is just fine. But vegetables may be better for you than fruit. Fruit sticks or dried fruits are concentrated fructose (bad).

There are many ways educators can reduce the effects of the poor diets that some kids are eating these days.

  1. Role model. Eat well and talk to kids about your own decisions in class when it’s appropriate. Avoid being “too preachy”, but remember – you are an authority figure to most kids.
  2. Include nutritional information to parents in any of the open houses or school newsletters or school websites. My favorite book for kids is Brain Foods for Kids by Nicola Graimes. For adults, learn about how nutrition affects your own brain in The Edge Effect by Eric Braverman.
  3. Do class research projects. Divide your class randomly in half. Each does something different. Use simple tasks to measure pre and post. Let students discover the difference on their own bodies and mind.
  4. Include nutritional information in units on science, the body, health and physical education. There are plenty of ways to slip it into the curriculum.
  5. Work with the school cafeteria staff. Provide a few snippets from the best books. Let them ask you for more information.

Brain-based education says, “Be purposeful about it.” Now, go have some fun and make another miracle happen!

CITATIONS:
Anand,P. Ajaikumar B. Kunnumakara,1 Chitra Sundaram,1 Kuzhuvelil B. Harikumar,1 Sheeja T. Tharakan,1 Oiki S. Lai,1 Bokyung Sung,1 and Bharat B. Aggarwal1,2 (2008) Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes. Pharmaceutical Research, Vol. 25, No. 9, September, pgs. 2097-2018.

Edmonds CJ, Burford D. Should children drink more water?: the effects of children show improvements in cognitive performance from baseline to test after having a drink of water. Appetite. 2009 Dec;53(3):469-72.

Edmonds CJ, Jeffes B. Does having a drink help you think? 6-7-Year-old. drinking water on cognition in children. Appetite. 2009 Jun;52(3):776-9.
Jacobson, JL and S. W. Jacobson. 1996. Intellectual impairment in children exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls in utero. New England Journal of Medicine 335 (11):783-9.

Jacobson, JL and S. W. Jacobson. 1997. Teratogen Update: Polychlorinated Biphenyls. Teratology 55:338-347.

Patandin, S., C. I. Lanting, P. G. Mulder, E. R. Boersma, P. J. Sauer and N. Weisglas-Kuperus. 1999. Effects of environmental exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins on cognitive abilities in Dutch children at 42 months of age. Journal of Pediatrics 134 (1):33-41.

Stewart, P. J. Reihman, E. Lonky, T. Darvill and J. Pagano. 2000. Prenatal PCB exposure and neonatal behavioral assessment scale (NBAS) performance. Neurotoxicology and Teratology 22 (1):21-9.

Rogan, WJ, B. C. Gladen, K. L. Hung, S. L. Koong, L. Y. Shih, J. S. Taylor, Y. C. Wu, D. Yang, N. B. Ragan and C. C. Hsu. 1988. Congenital poisoning by polychlorinated biphenyls and their contaminants in Taiwan. Science 241 (4863):334-6.

Ross AP, Bartness TJ, Mielke JG, Parent MB. A high fructose diet impairs spatial memory in male rats. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2009 Oct;92(3):410-6.

Szinnai G, Schachinger H, Arnaud MJ, Linder L, Keller U. Effect of water deprivation on cognitive-motor performance in healthy men and women. Am J Physiol.Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2005 Jul;289(1):R275-80.

Schwabe L, Szinnai G, Keller U, Schachinger H. Dehydration does not influence cardiovascular reactivity to behavioral stress in young healthy humans. Clin Physiol Funct Imaging. 2007 Sep;27(5):291-7.

Valtin, H. (2002). “Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.” Really? Is there scientific evidence for “8 x 8”? American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 283(5), 999–1004.

vom Saal FS, Hughes C. (2005) An extensive new literature concerning low-dose effects of bisphenol A shows the need for a new risk assessment. Environ Health Perspect. Aug;113(8):926-33.

Walkowiak, J. A. Wiener, A. Fastabend, B. Heinzow, U. Kramer, E. Schmidt, H. J. Steingruber, S. Wundram and G. Winneke. 2001. Environmental exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and quality of the home environment: effects on psychodevelopment in early childhood. Lancet 358 (9293):1602-7.

Photo by x-ray delta one

11 Responses to “A New Insight to the Brain and Nutrition Puzzle”

  1. Dan Schmidt says:

    The article mentions the importance of role modeling for our children. I am glad our First Lady Michelle Obama has taken on the issue of diet and nutrition. She is a mother of two and definitely a role model for many. We have a real obesity problem in the United States and too many of our kids have a poor diet and do not get enough exercise.

  2. Elaine says:

    I teach in a Kindergarten in New Zealand and we have quite a strict healthy lunch policy. Thank you for giving us the research to further inform our families about keeping their children healthy and ready to learn.

  3. Diana says:

    Don’t forget, the only fuel the brain utilizes is glucose! All calorie courses are converted to glucose when the brain needs fuel.

  4. Carole Snider says:

    As usual, your information is so relevant for educators. I especially like the reminder to model for our students. I will share the information, but I will certainly work diligently to demonstrate my belief in the importance of good nutrition.

  5. Denise says:

    Thank you for sharing the information. I learned something new about fruit. I did not realize that fruit sticks and dried fruits are not nutritious.

  6. Meggin says:

    Wonderful news! Thanks for sharing I will pass it on. I so look forward to your newsletters. : )

  7. Eric Jensen says:

    Please feel free to do so… if we can get credit using a link to our site that would be great.

    Thanks,
    editor

  8. jean Blaydes says:

    This is very pertinent information for our schools and for our parents to know. I have shared your article with others because of its importance. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

  9. Jonathan says:

    A quick question: It appears that your in-text citations do not match your reference list (no Osendarp or Halyburton in the latter). Could we please get those references? I’d like to read further.

    Thanks, as always, for the great information!

  10. joanne mcenroy says:

    Thank you for sharing this research based information. In addition to insights for schools, I want to send in our next parent newsletter.

  11. Widad says:

    I would like to thank you for sending me this important article.
    This article gave me an entrance idea to explain “the digestive system and food” lesson in grade 7 .

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