Balance – Concentration in children
Definition & Symptoms
When we speak of concentration, we are referring to the ability to focus perception, imagination, and/or thinking on a particular situation or thing over a longer period of time. A healthy person is able to devote his/her attention to a single thing and usually also to maintain their focus over a longer period, without becoming distracted by background noise.
School and everyday life can be especially challenging for children in terms of concentration, attention, and memory. They are faced again and again with tasks which require them to think creatively, learn new things, and constantly keep their attention focused. Due to the hectic situations, stress, and time pressures which we face every day, we are expected to accomplish more and more. For children, this is often completely overwhelming.
Concentration demands great effort and energy on the part of children. This energy is limited, which means they require frequent breaks to relax and recharge. It is, therefore, critical that they are provided with sufficient breaks while learning to ensure that they are well-balanced and relaxed and have sufficient oxygen flowing to their brains. Nevertheless, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and being adequately hydrated are also necessary for children to be able to concentrate well.
Children who exhibit lack of concentration are not intentionally inattentive. Additionally, there are children who suffer from medical disorders, such as ADD (attention deficit disorder). These children require medical or therapeutic support from a specialist and special attention. In both cases, things like brain function, concentration, and memory depend on many factors. Listed below are some of the most important factors which influence concentration and memory performance in children:
- Learning, practicing, memory training
- Environment (family, friends, teachers etc.)
- Stress (reduces brain and memory performance significantly)
- Restorative sleep (new information is processed even at night)
- Physical activity
- and a balanced diet (containing sufficient micronutrients)
Parents can do a lot at home to improve their child’s concentration and, thus, improve their learning ability, whereby they are more likely to be able to perform to their full potential. Most children who suffer from issues with concentration can be helped by making lifestyle changes.
Natural remedies and their effects
The organ which requires the most energy of any other organ in our bodies is the brain. It takes this energy in the form of sugar – more specifically, glucose. Therefore, it is important that children get enough carbohydrates with meals – for example, from whole grains -- as these are broken down slowly by the body and converted into sugar or glucose. These are used to continuously supply the brain with energy and help to improve concentration.
Simple carbohydrates, which are quickly available for use by the body, such as those found in soda, white flour, and ready-made products, should be avoided if possible or - at the very least - limited. Candy does not make a good source of energy. It may lead to a short burst of energy, since its consumption causes a sudden spike in blood sugar levels. However, after a short while these levels drop significantly, resulting in feelings of fatigue and/or food cravings.
A well-oiled brain
For improving memory and concentration, a balanced diet is indispensable.
Fatty acids play a key role here. It is critical to distinguish good fats from bad fats. While consuming saturated fats and especially hydrogenated fats (found in potato chips, ready-made products, etc.) in excess increases a number of risk factors, unsaturated fatty acids are essential to life. This is because healthy fatty acids form the basis of healthy cells and the foundation of healthy cell metabolism.
Even in the 1950s, Dr. Johanna Budwig had already identified though her lipid research how important a sufficient supply of healthy omega-3 fatty acids is to our health. Consequently, the wrong types of fat have detrimental effects on our cellular health.
Omega-3 fatty acids are responsible, among other things, for the fluidity of our cell membranes and enable the exchange of information between cells. Both of these properties are critical in learning and memory tasks.
The brain is made up of 97% fatty acids. Ingesting these highly active, polyunsaturated fatty acids daily may, thus, contribute to improved cognitive function.
Particularly high quality, natural, gently pressed oils make ideal sources of healthy fatty acids. Taken in individual combinations, they can exhibit positive effects on the function of nerve and brain cells. Children in particular benefit from the daily intake of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Of all the vegetable oils, flax seed oil contains the most ALA -- with its content making up about 60%. ALA, which is essential to the body, is one of the omega-3 fatty acids. It is a key component in synthesizing cell membranes, in particular those of our blood vessels and blood cells. Hence, the ALA contained in flax seed oil constitutes an important building block for our cells. Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for the synthesis of all types of cells. They fulfill important functions in metabolic processes, particularly those relating to inflammation.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
With regard to brain and brain metabolism, the most important omega-3 fatty acid is docosahexaenoic acid. DHA is an integral part of our cell membranes and is mainly found in brain cells and in the cells which make up the retina in the eye. DHA makes up to 97% of the omega-3 fatty acids in the brain and as much as 93% of those in the retina.
Algae oil extracted from specially cultivated algae is one high grade source of herbal DHA. Our bodies depend on an adequate supply of DHA for fortifying memory skills, concentration, and optimal communication between nerve and brain cells. The better the supply of these cells daily with an adequate intake of these important building blocks, the better signals can be transmitted from cell to cell. Since our brains are the main controlling force over our bodies, this ability for cells to communicate is, of course, of utmost importance.
When selecting a source of healthy fatty acids, their quality is paramount. Only then - as Dr. Johanna Budwig pointed out again and again – can our cells receive the full benefits of the electron richness found in the oils. A great importance must be attached to the selection of the seeds, the crop rotation, the extraction, and any further processing. Therefore, Dr. Johanna Budwig clearly defined and documented quality standards. For the extraction of oil, she developed a very gentle process, the "Original Dr. Budwig pressing method" – which is still known under that name today.
Nutrition and Co.
Particularly in children, special attention should be paid to the nutritional composition of their daily diet to optimally facilitate their various growth stages and long-term health.
An unhealthy diet and a lack of exercise have been proven to have detrimental effects on children’s ability to concentrate. They often lack motivation, are easily distracted and/or listless. Parents should pay attention to the proper nutritional composition their children’s diet.
It is of vital importance to compensate for a lack of polyunsaturated fatty acids. At the same, unfavorable fats, such as trans fats, and an excess of omega-6 fatty acids should be avoided. Healthy fats, such as ALA and DHA, should be integrated in a varied, balanced lacto-vegetarian, wholefood diet.
Furthermore, cells require adequate hydration (water, herbal tea, very diluted juices) for fast transmission of information between themselves and across synapses.
A healthy start to the day
In order to improve the energy state in all our cells, Dr. Johanna Budwig recommended a breakfast which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and sulfur containing amino acids; for example, a Budwig Cream with shredded flax seed and fresh fruit.
The Budwig Cream combines high-quality flax seed oil with quark (cottage cheese may serve as a substitute.) Flax seed oil contains a remarkably high amount of the vegetable omega-3 fatty acid ALA. Low-fat quark, on the other hand, is rich in sulfur containing amino acids. Together they form a powerful unit: the positively charged amino acids from the quark and the negatively charged fatty acids from flax seed attract one another. In this unit, the quark acts as an "omega-3 protector." The omega-3 fatty acids from the flax seed oil are protected from oxidation and are thereby able to enter the human body to a large extent unchanged and, therefore, are much more available for use by our cells and their membranes.
A breakfast which includes flax seed oil and DHA-containing algal oil with quark provides the body with sufficient energy in the morning and supports good concentration throughout the day.
The brain requires carbohydrates, which can slowly be broken down into glucose, to supply it with energy. Carbohydrates from a full and balanced breakfast can fulfill the brain’s energy requirement by being broken down in the body over a longer period of time, resulting in improved concentration and retention skills.
Missing out on a nutritious breakfast has significant, negative effects on the ability to concentrate and retain new information. Eating simple carbohydrates which are quickly accessible to the body and, therefore, rapidly used up, such as those in white rolls or croissants and jam, leads to a spike in blood sugar. This type of increase only raises energy levels temporarily. Blood sugar levels drop just as suddenly as they jumped, which often results in food cravings and/or a desire for something sweet. Potion size tends to increase, which means that more calories are being consumed overall.
Take good care of your digestive tract!
Whether our cells actually benefit from the food we consume each day, depends largely on our intestinal health. The decisive factor is our intestines’ ability to absorb the nutrients that we eat. Dr. Johanna Budwig, thus, recommended daily consumption of fresh sauerkraut juice or sour milk to maintain our intestines and their intestinal flora. Furthermore, the regular consumption of dietary fiber plays an important role in healthy bowel function. Therefore, an integral part our daily diet should include 1-2 tablespoons of shredded and fortified flax seed, blended into a Budwig cream, made of quark and flax seed oil, or in Muttersaft (pure, unfiltered, unsweetened first-press juice of a fruit or berry) such as Fermentgold.
A Mexican study revealed that supplementing omega-3 fatty acids had a beneficial effect on children’s brains. Researchers demonstrated that children who took omega-3 fatty acid daily possessed significantly better concentration, attention and memory skills than children who were not given an omega-3 supplement.
In cases where children are presenting deficits in any of these areas, supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids should always be considered.
A total of 55 Mexican children, aged eight to twelve years, took part in the project. They were divided into two groups, which were made up of 25 and 30 children.
The group which included 30 subjects was administered a daily dose of omega-3 in the form of capsules which contained 180 mg DHA and 270 mg EPA.
The placebo group, which had 25 subjects, received the same amount of fatty acids daily, but in the form of soybean oil.
After as little as 12 weeks, it was found that more than 50 percent of the children supplemented with omega-3 showed a significant improvement in eleven of eighteen neuropsychological functions. Compared with the placebo group, 70 percent of the omega-3 children demonstrated notable improvement in concentration, memory, and attention. In other words, the study showed that a regular intake of omega-3 fatty acid can have a decidedly positive influence on brain function.
Clinical significance of neuropsychological improvement after supplementation with omega-3 in 8-12 years old malnourished Mexican children: a randomized, double-blind, placebo and treatment clinical trial.