If you have been in Organico recently you will probably have heard us talking about Magnesium powder; many of us are taking it and we are huge fans of it’s ability to help deal with tension and stress, sleep better, get rid of muscle cramps, boost low mood and help with weight loss. In this article though I am going to focus on the role magnesium can play in children’s health, specifically their emotional health.
Over the last 15 years in Europe and the US more and more children are being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). What concerns me is that the advice given to parents can be very disempowering, and centered around medication. They will most likely be told to keep calm and carry on, accept the condition and the prescription for strong mood-altering drugs that goes with it. If they are given lifestyle changes to make they will be vague at best. They might go home wondering how this situation came about, and perhaps think it odd that there were few children given this diagnosis back when they were growing up. But rarely are they encouraged to examine their daily life and routines to see where simple changes could be made that might help their child to recover balance naturally.
Recently I have been reading about magnesium and its role in preventing and calming ADD and related disorders. Healthy levels of magnesium, it turns out, are not just important for building strong bones and teeth but are crucial for naturally treating hyperactive children. As far back as 1997 a study was undertaken into children with ADHD which found that 95% were deficient in magnesium (Kozielec et al 1997). The conclusion was that higher levels of magnesium correlated with ‘freedom from distractibility’. Decreased magnesium levels were associated with increased hyperactivity, poorer attention and sleep disturbances (Mousain Bosc et al 2006). And anecdotally there are many parent who have seen a marked change in their child’s behaviour when they made changes that increased magnesium levels.
Given that many children are highly distractible even if they have not been given an ADHD diagnosis it seems like a good idea to make sure they are getting the necessary amount of magnesium. However, despite the fact that we are very comfortably off in many respects, today's children are more prone to magnesium deficiency than ever before. This happens for three primary reasons:
Stress. When you think about our children’s lives in comparison to our own childhood it certainly seems as though life is more intense and stressful for children today: their lives are incredibly busy with activities, they are more exposed to ideas of perfect bodies than we were, and they are more exposed to advertising which can cause stress for the whole family. Despite living in the country which is meant to be less stressful, many families seem to spend a lot of time rushing around and being late which is in itself a cause of stress for all of us. Since magnesium is used to calm the nervous system, the more stress children experience, the more magnesium their bodies use on a daily basis and the more they require.
Poor nutrition. Children's diets today are filled with processed foods, refined sugars and food additives. This type of diet depletes children of magnesium in two ways. First, this diet is extremely low in magnesium to begin with. Secondly, refined sugars and food additives can actually stress the nervous system, causing the body to use up magnesium supplies as it tries to counteract this effect.
Declining levels of magnesium in our food: research shows that magnesium has declined in cheese by as much as 70% since 1940. This means we cannot count on dairy products to supply the minerals we need for a healthy nervous system or strong bones. Another reason why it is valuable to learn how to sneak seaweeds into family meals - seaweeds are rich in all minerals including magnesium.
Excess sugar and food additives are known to contribute to ADD and hyperactivity because they stimulate the nervous system and cause blood sugar to fluctuate. Improving the diet is one of the most effective ways of dealing with ADD and ADHD in children. By replacing junk foods with nutrient-dense alternatives such as vegetables and whole grains, you can naturally increase your child's magnesium intake in addition to giving all of the important benefits of eating a balanced diet.
So why do we (all) need magnesium? Magnesium relaxes the mind. Magnesium is used to calm the nervous system, which is doubly important in children with hyperactivity disorders. With the right amount of magnesium present in the body, children can think clearer and concentrate better. Magnesium is also a key factor in the production of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that provides a feeling of calm and well-being. Low levels of serotonin are associated with irritability, moodiness and depression in adults as well as children.
Magnesium relaxes the body. Magnesium is essential for the relaxation of muscle fibers. Without this essential mineral, spasms and twitches are a common problem. Magnesium helps muscles in the body relax and function properly without disturbances. When the body feels calm, it is easier for hyperactive children to behave calmly. Of course, there are dozens of other health benefits that come with getting plenty of magnesium, including better blood sugar regulation, stronger bones and teeth, more energy, and better sleep.
The best way to increase your child's magnesium intake is through food. Choose organic foods whenever possible, as organic practices often increase magnesium content in foods. Here is a list of foods naturally rich in magnesium:
- Kelp and all seaweeds
- Green vegetables (like kale and broccoli), bananas, avocadoes
- Whole-grain wheat, rice, oats, and rye
- Almonds, Cashews, Brazil nuts, Pumpkin seeds
- Brewer's yeast
-Nutritional yeast flakes (can be added to foods)
Although a nutritious diet rich in magnesium is suggested in all cases, most parents of hyperactive children find it helpful to supplement with additional magnesium. In Organico we find Mag 365 Kids powder is an excellent supplement for children as it contains a good level of magnesium as well as a range of other minerals necessary for health, and it’s very easy to disguise in fruit juice. If your child is already on medication, it’s important to check with your GP but most will agree that additional magnesium is a good idea.
Another way to boost children's magnesium intake is to add a cupful of Epsom salts to their evening bath. This has an incredibly calming, relaxing effect that is especially beneficial for hyperactive children. You can also use body creams and sprays to help supplement magnesium as it is well absorbed through the skin; BetterYou produce a range of magnesium enriched skin products.
Remember that addressing magnesium deficiency in children is a multi-step process: work to remove stressors that cause magnesium deficiency, avoid processed foods and refined sugars, eat nutritious foods rich in natural minerals, and use supplemental magnesium as needed. Implementing all of these elements can dynamically change your child's physical and mental health, and can be a healing balm for the entire family.