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Improving cognitive health

With exams just around the corner for many kids, supporting a child’s cognitive health can be very helpful when it comes to studying. Diet (that includes water!) plays a significant role for many reasons when it comes to cognition. Blood sugar imbalances being one of those reasons. After stuffing down two ice buns at break time and not having a clue what my following class was about, I know first hand how much of an impact it can have on their ability to focus when learning. Obviously this doesn’t just apply to school children. In adult life we experience this too when our diet is not well nurtured.

Nutritional Therapy helps to address many imbalances that can lead to poor cognitive function and the key causes will be different depending on the individual. Besides diet and our level of hydration, other lifestyle factors play an important role such as lack of sleep, poor breathing, lack of exercise and stress. In this post I am going to explain some of the links between our digestive health and our ability to concentrate. Our ability to digest food, absorb nutrients and the health of our gut microbiome have many direct and indirect impacts on our cognitive health.

Cognitive functioning of the brain includes a set of processes that occur within the brain and allow us to receive, transmit, transform, store and/or perceive information from the environment. 

Cognitive functions include:

  • Memory 

  • Attention 

  • Perception 

Cognitive health is similar to cognitive function, but there’s a key distinction. It’s your ability to carry out your cognitive functions well. That includes being able to concentrate on tasks, think clearly, and remember information.

The most obvious connection to digestive health is the fact that we need proper nutrition to be able to obtain energy and nourish the functioning of our body and all it’s constant workings. The enzymes that are released throughout the digestive system help break down the food that we eat. This system of enzyme release and efficiency can break down for many reasons and many of us are suffering from some level of poor digestion. Our body needs these macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) for cognitive function.

About 70 percent of our brain is made of fat. Fat is very important for proper brain function, but it needs to be the right kind of fat. We need to get enough omega 3-fatty acids because these are the essential building blocks of our brain and they're important for learning and memory. The brain's primary source of fuel is carbohydrates. Those carbohydrates are broken down into sugar in a form called glucose. Your brain uses glucose as its main source of energy. Proteins in our diet affect brain performance because they provide the amino acids (simply put, protein is made of amino acids) that make up our neurotransmitters. Think of neurotransmitters as biochemical messengers whose job it is to carry signals from one brain cell to another. These brain cells then transmit various signals to the different parts of the body to carry out their individual tasks. The better these messengers are fed, the more efficiently they deliver the goods.

Micronutrients are also very important when it comes to brain health and cognitive function.

For example, Vitamins B1, B6, B12, B9 (folic acid) and D, choline, iron and iodine exert neuroprotective effects and improve intellectual performance.

If we can’t digest these nutrients effectively then you can see how our cognitive health is affected. As well as our ability to digest is our ability to absorb. When our digestive health is not optimal we can have issues absorbing nutrients.

The gut microbiota is the system of microorganisms in a person's gastrointestinal system. This includes many bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other organisms. This microbiota releases molecules which can bring about physiological changes within the brain. It has been observed that differences in or interventions of the gut microbiota have resulted in alterations in cognitive performance. An important way of improving cognitive processes and performance is by supporting the the human gut microbiota and digestive health.

Gut health plays a key role in how we feel emotionally as well as physically. Gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters (remember it is those chemical substances which allow messages to pass between nerve cells) such as serotonin, dopamine, GABA, norepinephrine and acetylcholine. All of these can affect mood, motivation, focus and reward.

I am a registered Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist and Naturopath, specialising in clinical paediatric nutrition and digestive health. My goal is to empower families, supermums and kids towards improved health and well-being. If you are interested in starting Nutritional Therapy for yourself, your family or your child then please contact me for more information/FREE discovery call or you can check out my services on my website.

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