Are you feeding your kid’s bad grades and behavior?

Carl Gilman · Wednesday, March 11, 2009
In a recent lecture, I outlined several nutritional causes of bad learning and behavior to a group of parents. Based on their reactions, I thought I would share some of the same information with you through the Index.

Let’s begin with a substance known as Cortisol. Cortisol is produced by the body in response to stimulants such as caffeine or adrenaline. Cortisol shifts the nervous system from a state of balance to a state of sympathetic dominance. This is what you may have heard as the “fight or flight” response. If you were trying to out run a bear, your body wouldn’t want to waste energy on digesting your lunch, so Cortisol shuts down the insulin response to increased blood sugar from food you had eaten. Your brain would not want to learn or memorize while it was trying to out run the bear, either. In these situations any new information is restricted to what are known as “snap shot” memories; small bits of information which may not relate to any other knowledge already learned. In short, Cortisol has a profound impact on the body’s systems and our ability to learn.

So, what does this have to do with your kid? Most kids today consume a high amount of sugar, caffeine and get too little exercise. Without the proper effect of insulin to process the blood sugar, (because Cortisol has deactivated it,) the body stores the excess sugar in fat. This is a primary factor in the massive increase in obesity in children in this country. Caffeine causes the adrenal glands to continually release Cortisol, keeping the sympathetic system in high gear all day, making kids prone to becoming overweight; having poor concentration and therefore gives them troubled learning. Being in a highly stimulated condition also leads to poor social interaction skills. I believe this is the reason the United States has a higher incidence of ADD and ADHD than other developed nations and is why we prescribe nearly 800 percent more drugs to treat them.

Sugar is regularly an ingredient in most processed foods and snacks. Why? Because it’s addictive. Mountain Dew, the most popular source of caffeine and sugar for kids and teenagers, contains seven and half teaspoons of sugar and ¾ of a shot of espresso’s worth of caffeine in every 12 ounce can. Diet Dew may save the sugar but its artificial sweeteners bring other, largely toxic chemicals into the mix. Energy drinks, also popular with teens, have even more sugar and caffeine.

Let’s talk other forms of sympathetic stimulation. Electronic games such as those played on Game Boy, X-Box and Playstation are adrenalin and Cortisol producing stimulants. So is texting on cellular phones. These also add to the problem.

If kids would exercise more and more regularly, most of these effects would be self limiting; they’d literally burn off all the excess stimulants, reduce the effect of Cortisol and the nervous system would naturally return to a more balanced state. What’s more, if taught to exercise at the correct heart rate, their bodies would start to use fat as an energy source and they’d lose weight.

By allowing your kids to eat sugary, caffeinated junk, you just may be feeding the problem and giving them permission to underachieve. Here’s what you can do to improve their performance even if you can’t detach them from the sofa and unplug their games.

• Make sure they eat more fresh foods and save the sugary stuff for only once in a while.

• Read labels and if you find something listed you can’t pronounce, don’t put it in your kid’s mouth.

• Shop mainly from the edges of the grocery store. Most of the best foods in the store are not found in the central rows.

• Pack you family’s lunches. If you take the time to do this yourself, you know what they’re eating at the mid-day meal.

• Work toward the habit of exercising for an hour a day. Walking is great and easy to do for most people.

Dr. Gillman can be reached at the West Liberty Chiropractic Center at 627-4787

He is available to speak to groups of any size on a variety of topics.

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