There is an expression in the nutrition world that goes, “no zinc, no think.’ Zinc is the second nutrient I always check for when working with children who have brain disorders because zinc is essential for proper functioning of the nervous system and for brain activity. It also has a key role in immunity and wound healing and is somewhere at the top of the list of most common nutritional deficiencies.

Zinc, along with B vitamins, is necessary for omega 3’s and 6’s to be converted into absorbable fats that the brain and body can utilize. Essential Fatty Acids without zinc becomes highly absorbable. The Lancet, a British Medical Journal, reported that dyslexic children were severely deficient in zinc compared to their non-dyslexic peers.

Research has found zinc to be directly correlated to IQ levels as well as behaviour. Zinc deficiency in animal studies have been shown to cause learning deficits in offspring. Children with ADHD often test deficient in zinc. This is concerning not only because zinc is a mood stabilizer, but also because a deficiency in zinc can instead lead to heavy metals being deposited in the brain.

Cadmium, lead, mercury and aluminum will instead take the place of zinc which can alter brain chemistry and has detrimental effects on brain function. It is not uncommon for children with ADHD, dyslexia or even autism to test as having high amounts of heavy metals in their body. Hair strand tests as well as blood tests are effective in detecting the presence of heavy metals.

Zinc is necessary for both the metabolism of the neurotransmitters dopamine as well as the hormone melatonin which regulates dopamine. Low dopamine has been found to play a prime role in the development of ADHD. Significant improvement in children’s symptoms of hyperactivity through zinc supplementation has been documented in numerous studies.

Because zinc is essential for proper immune and digestive function, its absence can also allow for gut dysbiosis to occur. Several previous articles explain how the gut and psychology syndrome has lead to the increase in children’s brain disorders. Zinc is by all means–a brain nutrient.

Signs of Zinc Deficiency

  • Poor immunity – If your child seems to catch every cold and flu going—this could be an indication that zinc levels are low
  • Slow wound healing
  • Acne and rashes
  • Poor sleep (zinc is needed for melatonin production)
  • Slow growth (zinc deficiency prevents the body from fully growing)
  • Loss of appetite, taste and smell
  • Allergies – Lack of zinc causes your body to release more histamine which can result in increased allergies (sneezing, runny nose, hives) as well as more severe reactions
  • White spots on finger nails
  • Hair loss (more common among adults)
  • Leaky gut – Zinc deficiency is more common among vegetarians as is leaky gut. Zinc is essential in healing and maintaining the health of the gut lining.

It is important to be cautious with supplementation of zinc as it is a mineral and can become toxic in high amounts. Start by increasing foods that are high in zinc before jumping on the supplement bandwagon.

Dietary Sources of Zinc:

  • Seafood such as mussels and oysters
  • Fish – sardines
  • Meats
  • Eggs
  • Liver
  • Poultry
  • Mushrooms
  • Pumpkin seeds

Other important brain nutrients are:

Iron 

Low iron levels is particularly common among children with cognitive disorders such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia. A brain that has insufficient iron has insufficient oxygen and therefore will have a much harder time concentrating and maintaining focus. Adequate levels of B12 is essential for absorption of iron. If low iron is an issue, obtain iron from dietary sources as iron supplements are hard on the stomach and have even been linked to increased cancer rates.

Dietary Sources of Iron:

  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Liver
  • Oysters
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Spinach and dried beans – This iron is non-heme and is not as bio-available as heme-iron which is derived from animals. Ensuring adequate intake of vitamin C helps to make non-heme iron from vegetable sources to be more absorbable by the body.

Selenium 

Selenium is sometimes an overlooked brain nutrient, but one that is often found to be low in children with ADHD and other cognitive disorders. Deficiency can lead to irritability, aggression and impaired cognition. Its role in brain health is crucial as it prevents and can even reverse the oxidation of fats (and your brain is 60% fat). It also increases circulation of the blood and more blood flow to the brain means better overall cognitive and neural functioning. Selenium is necessary for the proper development and overall functioning of the brain as it assists both in thinking processes as well as in the regulation of emotions.

References:

Optimum Nutrition for the Brain – Patrick Holford

Superimmunity for Kids: What to Feed Your Children to Keep Them Healthy Now, and Prevent Disease in Their Future by Leo Galland and Dian Dincin Buchman

The LCP Solution: The Remarkable Nutritional Treatment for ADHD, Dyslexia, and Dyspraxia by B. Jacqueline Stordy Phd, Malcolm J. Nicholl

Cure Your Child with Food: The Hidden Connection Between Nutrition and Childhood Ailments  by Kelly Dorfman

Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies: The Groundbreaking Program for the 4-A Disorders by Kenneth Bock, Cameron Stauth