Q: I have two sons. The older one is 14 and becoming very aggressive, can’t concentrate on his school work and is getting into fights. I am worried about him – and that his brother will follow in his footsteps. Is there anything I can do to help?
A: I am seeing this kind of thing very often now. It’s a real shame. Kids nowadays get a bad press, but most of the problem with hyperactivity, aggression, poor learning ability etc is caused by what they are putting into their mouths – or, more specifically, what they’re not putting into them!
Your eldest son is 14; the age of puberty. His body hormones will be raging at the moment and this is the age when behaviour difficulties often arise. Most kids – and parents – nowadays are suffering from quite severe mineral deficiencies. This is obviously caused by eating the wrong things, but we must also remember that even if we do eat lots of fruit and vegetables, the soil they are grown in no longer contain the same amounts of nutrients as they did 50 years ago. The other major difference is the sheer number of agrochemicals such as pesticides used. Both of these factors have a huge influence on our bodies – and we are starting to see the results of these in our children. Eating organically will go some way to solving these two issues.
The most important mineral at puberty is zinc. Even by government standards, most of us are not even getting half the level we should. During growth spurts and puberty, there is a huge need for zinc, so if a child starts off with a low level, he or she won’t meet the need for it in puberty. This would then show in problems with behaviour, learning ability, sleep problems, food disorders, skin problems such as acne and eczema, poor immunity (eg. constant colds, tonsillitis etc), growth problems and reproductive system problems such as monthly period difficulties for girls.
Check your children for signs of zinc deficiency. These include white spots on fingernails, a white coating on the tongue and a loss of smell or taste. Other mineral deficiency signs are cracked lips or corners of the mouth, sore tongue, thin hair and anaemia.
Obviously, then it is vital that you ensure your sons have enough zinc, as well as all the other vitamins and minerals so they can achieve a good supportive nutritional balance. First, you need to ensure they are eating good food. High zinc foods include pumpkin seeds, the darker meat on chicken, fish and brazil nuts. Make sure they’re not eating rubbish, especially at breakfast time. A hot bowl of porridge or fibre based cereal with some fruit on would be perfect. Add in a good quality juice or smoothie for extra zing. Give them fresh unsalted nuts and raisins, fruit and plain popcorn to snack on. Don’t assume they won’t like natural foods – often kids surprise us by being more adventurous than their parents! Hide vegetables if you have to – add sweet potato into your normal potatoes for mash, make soup with added linseed oil, do casseroles with lots of veggies hidden in a tomato-based sauce or gravy. Make fat chips out of other root vegetables like turnip or parsnip by giving them a light olive oil coating and baking them in the oven. Cut down sugar, fizzy drinks and white foods like bread, pasta, pastry, biscuits and cakes. And be careful to avoid additives and colourings.
The other key nutrient for children is fatty acids, especially those from fish oil. The fatty acids are vital for brain health. Make sure they eat plenty of oily fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel and tuna. Or give them a good quality supplement. You do have to choose your fish and fish oil supplements carefully, though, as the cheaper varieties often contain the harmful chemicals such as dioxins and PCBs that are being pumped into our seas. Go for the best quality you can afford and choose a supplement you are sure has been certified as non-toxic.
To make absolutely sure of their nutritional health, I recommend a supplement programme for kids including a children’s multi vitamin, fish or linseed oil and a probiotic. This will do them a power of good if you buy good quality items. Don’t go for cheap stuff as you certainly will get only what you pay for. If they won’t take them, split the capsules and hide it in their food!
If you need more convincing, there have been several interesting studies recently linking the importance of nutrition and behaviour. The results of a long-term study of over 1,500 children in Mauritius were published recently in the American Journal of Psychiatry (Nov 2004). Signs of malnutrition were assessed at age 3, IQ tests scores were taken at ages 3 and 11, and anti-social, aggressive and hyperactive behaviour was assessed at ages 8, 11 and 17.
Over 350 of the children showed signs of vitamin and mineral deficiencies at age 3. They were found to be more aggressive and hyperactive at age 8, had more social problems at age 11 and a greater tendency to break rules and get into fights at age 17 than those children who hadn’t shown deficiency signs at the beginning. The results were independent of the education level and economic status of the parents.
In another study carried out by the Pfeiffer Centre, published in the journal Physiological Behaviour, Oct 15 2004, 207 patients with aggressive behavioural disorders of different types were evaluated and treated nutritionally. After 4-8 months, carers reported that 92% of those who had complied with the treatment programme had significantly reduced the number of assaults and a massive 58% had completely stopped assaulting people.
The authors of the first study concluded that ‘Nutritional deficiencies during the formative years may make for aggressive or ‘hyperactive’ children in later childhood or adolescence.’ I couldn’t have put it better myself!