Back-to-school can be equally stressful and exciting for both kids and parents. What to pack in their lunch? What school supplies do we need? When is open house? It’s so easy to get caught up in the normal hustle before the school year starts that we tend to forget about things like immune support and anxiety reduction for the little ones. Naturopathic doctor* Becky Andrews’ essential back-to-school guide helps simplify the process and explain how a little natural support can go a long way!
Q: My child is feeling anxious about going to school. Is there anything that can help?
A: Absolutely! There are lots of things that can cause anxiety and effective management definitely involves figuring out what the true cause is. I divide anxiety into two main categories: “situational” and “chemical.” When there is a real stressor (something that would cause any normal person to experience stress or worry) I use the term “situational anxiety.” Children may be nervous about the unknowns of a new school, new teachers or meeting new friends. They may have anxiety about academic pressures and performance or have fears about being teased, bullied or just about fitting in. Making sure your child has a solid support network for all of those real stressors is important.
At other times, anxiety may have more organic causes that are reflected in imbalances of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. I call this “chemical” anxiety. Some neurotransmitters that are commonly low in anxiety are GABA and serotonin. Sometimes “chemical” anxiety can be caused by “situational” anxiety going on for prolonged periods of time. Chemical anxiety can also be caused by nutrient deficiencies, improper diet, genetics, as well as lack of sleep, sunshine or exercise.
There are many supplements that can help soothe short term situational anxiety. Some of my favorites are:
- Integrative Therapeutics’ Lavela WS 1265™: a lavender oil extract that performed well in clinical trials for relief of occasional anxiety.
- Herbal products that provide calming support for occasional anxiety:
- Gaia Herbs’ Serenity with Passionflower (combination of several western herbs, phyto-caps)
- Gaia Herbs’ Kava Kava Root (phyto-caps and liquid extract)
- Herbalogic’s Quiet Mind (Chinese herbal formula, liquid extract)
- Planetary Herbals’ Calm Child (combination Chinese, Western and Ayurvedic herbs for calming in a liquid extract, intended for children)
If you suspect neurotransmitters may be running low, it is often best to work with a practitioner for testing or other assessments to figure out where to focus your efforts. Some products that are frequently helpful are:
- Sabre Sciences’ iMagT: contains magnesium threonate and inositol. Inositol is a fundamental molecule that is used by the body for many things, one of which is modulating the activity of neurotransmitters. Magnesium threonate is a special form of magnesium that crosses the blood brain barrier and helps replenish magnesium levels in brain cells.
- Source Naturals’ GABA Calm™ and Pharma GABA products: sublingual GABA designed for rapid absorption.
- Natural Factors’ Suntheanine™: this green tea-derived amino acid helps calm the mind while enhancing important focus and anti-anxiety neurotransmitters such as GABA, serotonin and dopamine.
If anxiety is an ongoing problem, has been getting worse, or is accompanied by other symptoms (elevated heart rate, digestive issues, brain fog or poor concentration, depression, sleep changes, weight changes, etc.), I strongly suggest consulting with a practitioner. In some cases, anxiety can be due to endocrine imbalances or genetic issues (such as the MTHFr gene) that can make it more difficult to keep neurotransmitters in balance.
Q: My child struggles with focus and concentration. What can I do to help?
A: In many cases children struggling with focus and concentration are either anxious, tired, or are eating foods that impair brain functioning. Healthy proteins, healthy fats and lots of fresh fruits and veggies are vital to memory, focus and learning. As I will discuss below, a great number of “attention deficit” issues are actually related to diet. The most common culprits are highly-processed refined foods that are high in sugar and preservatives, foods with artificial sweeteners, refined wheat and/or corn products topping the list.
Many of the supplements for anxiety are also very helpful for focus as well, as many of these neurotransmitters also play a role in clear thinking. Some recommended products are:
- Sabre Sciences’ iMagT: as mentioned above, inositol also helps with mental focus, attention and memory.
- Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA found in fish oils are critical to optimal brain function. They enhance mood and help optimize cholesterol levels in the blood.
- Amino acids such as 5HTP and L-Tyrosine provide the raw materials for building neurotransmitters essential for focus and clear thinking.
- Biogenesis’ Eskaloft: a combination product with nutrient and amino acid support for mood and focus.
- VÄXA’s Attend is a homeopathic formula designed to enhance attention and focus.
- Horizon Naturals’ Alert Mind for Kids contains DMAE and phosphatidlyserine which are both considered memory- and focus-enhancing.
Q: How can I boost my family’s immune system to get ready for the school year?
A: Basic things like exercise, fresh air and plenty of sleep really boost immune function. Laughter and hugs also boost production of white blood cells and antibodies. Some of my favorite supplements for protecting against the back-to-school cold and flu are:
- Airborne®: developed by an elementary school teacher specifically to fight off that back-to-school cold and is now the trusted friend of travelers everywhere. High doses of vitamin C, zinc, Vitamin A, as well as herbs to boost immunity and fight off viruses, this effervescent tablet makes a delicious fizzy immune-boosting drink.
- NuMedica Immuno PRP spray is a direct source of immunoglobulins to enhance immune function.
- Vitamin C with bioflavonoids (many brands) is long recognized as a key nutrient in fighting off illness.
- Quantum Health or Nature’s Way Zinc Elderberry Lozenges are a tasty and effective combination of vitamin C, zinc and elderberry: all proven to help fight viruses.
- Standard Process Immuplex provides food-based nutrient and glandular support for a strong immune system.
Final word from Dr. Andrews: the importance of breakfast!
It cannot be overstated how important a healthy diet is for mood, energy and concentration. A balanced whole food diet will provide the necessary calories, healthy fats and nutrients for growing bodies and growing minds. Sugars, simple starches, refined and overly-processed foods not only cause health problems down the road, but provide no support for memory, concentration or keeping mood stable. Common food sensitivities (gluten, dairy and sometimes corn) can have profound negative impact on mood, concentration, behavior and energy. Encourage your family to take a minute for a breakfast of fresh fruits, healthy protein and even vegetables. Steer away from sugary cereals and pastries that will leave your kids’ bodies and brains hungry a few hours later.
Becky Andrews, ND* is available for consultation at the Central Peoples location. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Andrews*, click here.
*Naturopathic doctors are not currently licensed in the state of Texas.