While the family is enjoying the downtime from school break, the upcoming school year is in the back of my mind. I’m slowly starting to make lists for updating lunch boxes, checking clothing sizes, gathering school supply items, all the while wondering what the next grade level will be like for my kids.
“Preparation clears a pathway for success.” ~ Ron Kaufman
As a pediatric functional medicine provider, I recognize that each child has unique needs to optimize their mental and physical wellness. However, there are several general recommendations that many children and families can benefit from.
Lack of sleep impacts production of neurotransmitters like dopamine, crucial for its role in attention and focus. School aged children should be getting 10-12 hours of restorative sleep. Restless sleep, teeth grinding, snoring, waking up tired after adequate hours, are all signs that the sleeping hours are not “quality”. The body has not had the restorative opportunity to repair, heal and learn.
Prolonged screen time is associated with increased difficulty in attention, focus, emotional regulation and anxiety. Take into account screen time needed for school and set boundaries for when and what type of screen time is allowed in the home.
Artificial foods and dyes have a direct, negative relationship to behavioral health and cognitive performance. When hungry, go to the fridge first, aim for rainbow whole foods, read labels and avoid eating what you can’t pronounce.
Many patients and families notice improvement in mood, energy, digestion, pain and school performance by integrating the above considerations. If needed, there are more areas to investigate with a pediatric functional medicine provider.
In the functional medicine approach, we evaluate metabolic, nutritional, environmental or genetic contributors to your child’s symptoms or medical condition. We want to understand “root cause” and not rely solely on band-aids to suppress or mitigate symptoms. We want to support the body and mind in need, while also shifting towards fundamental healing and prevention.
Some major contributors to impaired school performance include nutrient needs, like zinc and magnesium. If nutritional needs are found, we can directly support, but let’s also consider why the needs are there! Is the diet lacking? Does the digestive system have trouble absorbing nutrients adequately?
Speaking of the digestive system, the gut-brain axis is a recognized, bidirectional communication mechanism between the gut and brain. The gut microbiota affect the production and breakdown of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and GABA. The neurotransmitters are responsible for mood and academic performance. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter for attention and focus.
When the body is under stress, dopamine production is hindered. Areas of stress include poor sleep, inflammatory foods/chemicals, food sensitivities, nutritional needs, yeast overgrowth, and inflammatory bacteria.
Objective testing can be so helpful to create a personalized plan for our young patients. Less guessing, more targeted interventions and supports so that you and your child can experience enjoyment and success in their academic programs.
Have a great school year!
Blair Cuneo, PA-C, is a Physician Assistant and Functional Medicine provider, certified through the NCCPA and the Institute of Functional Medicine. Before joining the Raleigh-based functional medicine practice, Carolina Total Wellness, she provided Family Practice and Urgent Care services in the Triangle for a decade. She has a B.S. in Radiologic Science from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a M.S. in Physician Assistant Studies from East Carolina University.
At Carolina Total Wellness she works with patients ages 3 years and older, especially enjoying when she is able to care for multiple members of a family. This partnership in the family dynamic emphasizes open communication, knowledge sharing and cultivation of individual and family strategies to create paths to wellness.
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