Back to The Classroom: The Best Supplements For Students
September means it’s back to the classroom and back to the grind. From a young child starting school for the very first time, to university students settling into their lecture theatres, and adults heading back to the office after a summer break – we could all use a little cognitive support to ensure the brain is functioning at its best this time of year.
In this blog, we’ll explore nutrients, vitamins and the brain supportive steps you can take to keep the cogs turning this autumn!
Nutrients and vitamins for children’s brain development
Childhood is a vital period of brain growth, with spurts of development identified at 2 years, 7-9 years and during mid adolescence.
Some of the key nutrients needed to support your little one’s developing brain are Omega-3 DHA, Iron, Iodine and B vitamins. Let’s explore these in more detail…
Omega 3 Supplements for Brain Health
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Its tissue content is thought to be important for brain development and it is recognised as being essential for normal brain function. Unfortunately, the body can’t produce its own DHA, so we need to make sure it is provided in our diets or via supplements.
Ever heard the saying “fish is good for the brain”? The best food sources of DHA are salmon, fresh tuna, trout, mackerel, and sardines. This means, to ensure adequate DHA intake, children need to eat oily fish at least twice a week. However, typical intake of these foods amongst children is low worldwide. If, like many, your little one is not regularly eating two portions of oily fish each week, DHA omega-3 supplements are a great addition to your back-to-school checklist.
The Role of Iron for Children
If a child does not get enough iron their mental development could be adversely affected, especially if they develop anaemia – a lack of healthy red blood cells. The most common cause of anaemia is a lack of iron in the diet.
There are two types of iron found in food: haem and non-haem. You can find haem iron in foods such as fish, white meat, and especially red meat (fun fact: red meat contains three times as much iron as chicken or oily fish!) Non-haem iron is generally found in fresh and dried fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, iron-fortified breakfast cereals, beans and lentils, tofu, nuts and eggs.
Haem iron is absorbed much more easily than non-haem. This means that those on a primarily plant-based diet – or those who simply do not eat a lot of meat – may be low in absorbable iron. If this is the case in your household, adding in an iron-based food supplement can help top up your little one’s iron safely, and support their healthy brain development. Iron also supports healthy energy production and healthy cognitive function.
- Iodine deficiency in children can have adverse effects on growth and body development, with many studies indicating that such deficiencies can also greatly affect children’s cognitive development. On the other hand, consuming good levels of Iodine can support healthy cognitive function, energy production, nervous system function, healthy skin and healthy growth in children. Good food sources of iodine include seafood, dairy products and beef liver.
- It is also vital that school age children consume enough B vitamins – which are typically found in leafy green vegetables, peas, broccoli, beans and pulses. B vitamins support the nervous system, contribute to normal psychological function and (in the case of vitamin B5) support normal mental performance.
Many diets are typically lacking in both Iodine and B Vitamins, so a multivitamin and mineral supplement which includes them could be beneficial.
- Mini Drops DHA (Omega-3) For children aged 0-5
- Mini Drops Iron For children aged 0-5
- Super Stars Omega-3 Liquid For children aged 4-12
- Super Stars Multivitamin & Mineral Chewable Tablets For children aged 4-12
Supplements For Studying Teens & University Students
At the other end of the spectrum, we find teenagers and young adults preparing for those all-important GCSEs and A-Levels, completing apprenticeships, or heading off to university and discovering their first taste of independence.
This group have many of the same concerns as the younger cohort, but in addition they are dealing with the emotional highs and lows of the teenage years and the transition to adulthood. Fluctuations in mood and mental performance at this age can be linked to hormonal balance, and therefore the most supportive nutrients and vitamins for university students or young adults may vary from primary school age children.
B Vitamins & Magnesium For Young Adults
Like the younger age group, B Vitamins are some of the best supplements for students, to continue to support their nervous system and psychological function during what can be a challenging time!
With many students “burning the candle at both ends” at this age – playing hard and working hard – it is easy to see why many appear to suffer from a level of “burnout”. Burnout is also known as adrenal fatigue, the symptoms of which will be all too familiar for many parents of teenagers: –
- Difficulty waking up and getting up in the morning
- High levels of fatigue each day
- Mid-afternoon slumps
- Feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed
- Cravings for salty foods
- A reliance on caffeine or sugar for energy
- Poor sleep patterns
- Brain fog
- Low blood pressure
- Dizziness & feeling lightheaded on standing.
Supporting the adrenal glands by alleviating the stressors that create this vicious circle whilst nourishing them with B vitamins is a great start.
It is also important to take a good look at lifestyle. Getting a regular amount of exercise – for example through joining a sports team – can be hugely beneficial. Not only will exercise support physical fitness, but it has also been linked to improved mental wellbeing and provides an often much needed break from the studying! Activities which promote relaxation, such as yoga or pilates, are also a good option.
Also, look to increase intake of foods which provide B Vitamins and Magnesium. Magnesium complements the work of B Vitamins by supporting the nervous system, energy production, nervous system and reducing tiredness and fatigue. For those that struggle to achieve the right balance of these nutrients, then natural supplements may also help.
The Gut-Brain Link
Before looking for supplements to help with memory, focus, concentration, or cognition, it may be worthwhile first thinking about the gut – let me explain…
“Student living” and “healthy diet” are not two phrases which often go hand in hand! Microwave meals, take-out and irregular eating patterns are all well-established features of the student experience. However, good gut health is key to a strong mental performance. This is because each one of us has a collection of endocrine (brain) cells which exist throughout our digestive tract and are in direct communication with the brain – essentially forming a ‘second brain’ in the gut! The gut influences our brain, and the brain responds: this is known as the ‘gut-brain axis’.
Some interesting facts about the gut-brain link:
95% of our serotonin (one of our ‘happy’ hormones) is produced in the gut by our resident bacteria and then sent to the brain
Production of dopamine (a neurotransmitter which is responsible for our motivation) is largely reliant on our gut flora
GABA (another neurotransmitter – this one reduces anxiety) is also synthesised by our good bacteria.
All of this means that taking steps to look after the gut can be a great starting point when looking to improve cognitive health in this age group. Naturally, the best first step would be to address the diet – reducing intake of sugar, artificial sweeteners, and processed foods, and eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, getting lots of fibre. However, for those who feel our diet is not up to scratch, a microbiotic can be a great way to top up on gut supportive bacteria.
Over the past few years, there has been a huge amount of research carried out to explore the gut-brain axis. This research supports the idea that supplementing with specific strains of microbiotic bacteria (often called ‘psychobiotics’) can be beneficial. The strains with the most robust research behind them are:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
Extra Support For Young Women
The monthly menstrual cycle can also be an added complication for girls and young women within this age group. Support can be found by enriching the diet with:
- Vitamin B6, which is vital for supporting normal hormonal balance and reducing tiredness.
- Iron. Iron is one of the best supplements for cognitive function for everyone, but it is particularly important for young women, who are often low in this nutrient. Did you know, menstruating women and those who exercise regularly are at higher risk of low iron, due to excess demand for red blood cells and therefore iron?
- The best vitamins for students will undoubtedly be those they can take easily and on the move! So Effervescent drinkable vitamins are a great, convenient choice. Try:
- For a daily microbiotic, try Bio360 Pro-Cognitiv with L.acidophilus, L.casei, L.rhamnosus and B.bifium plus B Vitamins & Magnesium.
- Iron Bisglycinate – a form of iron which is gentle on the stomach.
- Vitamin B6.
Best Brain Supplements For Adults
I want to end with a little advice for those supporting our younger generation.
Many adults will hopefully have had chance to destress and recharge their batteries over the summer months. However, getting back into the daily routine of school runs, work etc., can be a drain on the mental batteries, so taking supportive steps in the form of a healthy diet and lifestyle are a great idea to help you face these challenges with a positive frame of mind.
Food supplements can again be helpful. When it comes to adults, my top suggestions for brain health vitamins and supplements include:
- Fish Oil: Good for brain support due to the omega-3 fatty acid content. Fish oil supplements are a great source of both EPA and DHA omega-3’s, both of which support a healthy heart, whilst 250mg DHA daily also supports normal brain function.
- A good broad-spectrum multivitamin and minerals to complement a healthy diet and top up on those all-important B vitamins and magnesium.
- As winter approaches, with all the bugs that brings with it, some immune supporting nutrients such as vitamins C, D and zinc, to help us keep feeling our best.
- Fish Oil 1000mg – Providing Omega 3 DHA and EPA.
- Quantum Multivitamin – A high strength multivitamin and mineral with 22 different nutrients, including B Vitamin Complex.
- Beta Glucans Immune Support + – A comprehensive formula with Beta-Glucans, Elderberry and Garlic plus Zinc, Copper, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin D and Selenium.
Tim Gaunt BSc (Hons) CBiol MSB D.N. gained his degree in Biochemistry from the University of Lancaster in 1988. Tim has gained over 30 years’ experience in the field of nutrition, and also holds the position of chartered biologist which was granted by the Institute of Biology.