With the summer holidays now just around the corner it can be a great time for kids to be active outdoors. However with pressure of the school year and exams over, as they begin to relax, they can feel worn out and be prone to picking up infections particularly if travelling abroad.
This blog offers some ways in which you can help boost their energy levels and immunity as well as supporting cognitive function so they can have a fun filled, enjoyable summer and go back to school feeling refreshed and ready to learn again.
The whole spectrum of B Vitamins are important for maintaining energy levels, not only because they are cofactors for many enzymatic reactions in the body but they also play a specific role in mitochondrial function and therefore energy production.
When B vitamin intake is suboptimal the function of mitochondria can be compromised and therefore lead to symptoms such as fatigue and lethargy. Each B vitamin has its own unique function and they are best to be taken in conjunction with each other as they work synergistically. The whole spectrum of B vitamins include:
Thiamine (B1) – involved in the conversion of pyruvate to Acetyl-CoA and therefore essential for the metabolism of carbohydrate into energy. Children low in B1 have been shown to have a lower attention span. David Benton (Prof, University of Swansea) demonstrated that supplementation of thiamine in children resulted in feeling more clearheaded, composed and energetic.
Riboflavin (B2) – is required to produce FADH (Flavin adenine dinucleotide), an electron carrier required for the conversion to ATP in the electron transport chain.
Niacin (B3) – required to produce NADH (Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), another electron carrier produced during metabolism required for the conversion to ATP in the electron transport chain. It is also crucial for blood glucose balance as well as the manufacturing of serotonin (our feel good neurotransmitter).
Pantothenic Acid (B5) – precursor for synthesis of Coenzyme A and therefore supports the production of acetyl CoA, an essential step in metabolism. It is also important for supporting normal adrenal function which can also have an impact on energy levels and is a cofactor for the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important for memory.
Pyridoxal-5-Phoshate, P5P (B6) – activates the release of glycogen from the liver and muscles for energy production and is a cofactor in the production of NADH. It also supports methylation and acts as a cofactor for the manufacture of some neurotransmitters, both of these are essential for cognitive function as well as mood.
Folate (B9) – not directly involved in energy production but is important for the maintenance of a healthy nervous system and DNA replication. A deficiency of folate can result in many symptoms including fatigue.
Food sources of B vitamins depends on the individual B vitamin but they can generally be found in; wholegrains, vegetables, bananas (B6), oily fish, eggs.
There is some concern for children who do not get a varied diet that they may not be achieving optimal levels of vitamin C, a nutrient that is so important for the healthy maintenance of the immune system. Vitamin C has multiple benefits for supporting immunity as it stimulates neutrophils and increases lymphocyte production. It also increases interferon production and has antioxidant and antihistamine properties.
There is increasing evidence that deficiency of vitamin C and zinc adversely affects the physical and mental growth of children and can impair their immune defences.
Vitamin C is also a major antioxidant and therefore is essential for protecting cells and mitochondria against damage caused by free radicals during energy production. Therefore if activity levels are high it is really important to ensure there is adequate intake of antioxidants including vitamin C. It also regenerates both vitamin E and glutathione and therefore has antioxidant properties above that of its own capabilities.
To maintain adequate vitamin C levels ensure children get at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Include vitamin C rich foods such as red pepper, kale, strawberries, broccoli, kiwi. Or make a vitamin C rich smoothie with avocado, frozen mixed summer berries, kale and blend with coconut water.
Zinc improves cell mediated immunity by increasing production of T-Lymphocytes and regulates the function of white blood cells. It also has many benefits related to cognitive function, it is essential in DNA synthesis therefore supporting the development of brain cells and also acts as an antioxidant, thereby reducing oxidative stress within brain tissue. Zinc is a cofactor for thousands of enzymatic processes that occur in the body all of the time. Zinc can be found in eggs, wholegrains and pumpkin seeds.
Magnesium is a cofactor for hundreds of reactions in the body. It is also essential for releasing energy from ATP as it assists in the cleavage of the phosphate from ATP to therefore allow energy to be expended. ATP is always present as an ATP-magnesium complex, the strain created by the binding of magnesium aids the loss of a phosphate to form ADP, facilitating energy release.
Food sources of magnesium include dark leafy green, wholegrains, almonds, kelp, eggs
Iron is an essential nutrient for immunity as well as growth and development, particularly in children. However a healthy balance of iron is essential as excess iron can become pro-oxidative and harmful to our immune system.
Iron is involved in the formation of collagen and elastin as well as being essential for red blood cell production and therefore is essential for growth and development. Also iron deficiency is associated with low immune function due to iron contributing to lymphocyte proliferation as well as the ability of other white blood cells to destroy micro-organisms.
Iron has a twofold effect on energy production as firstly it is required for haemoglobin and therefore the transport of oxygen around the body. It is also a component of complex III in the electron transport chain and assists in the conversion of FADH and NADH into ATP, so therefore plays an essential role in energy production.
Food sources of iron include dark leafy greens, almonds, avocado, red meat and poultry.
There is currently a lot of concern about vitamin D levels in children in the UK. This is due to a lower intake of vitamin D rich foods such as butter and oily fish and also, due to indoor play and the use of sun protection, children are not exposed to adequate levels of sunlight, in order to manufacture Vitamin D.
A study looked at human T cells in the laboratory, and found that vitamin D was part of a complex process in which T cells become ‘primed’ and help to fight infection. As the vitamin D receptor is expressed on immune cells (B cells, T cells and antigen presenting cells) and these immunologic cells are all are capable of synthesizing the active vitamin D metabolite, vitamin D has the capability of acting in an autocrine manner in a local immunologic milieu. Vitamin D can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection (NHS website).
Summer is a great time for improving vitamin D levels, ensure forearms are exposed to sunlight for 15 minutes per day. Include vitamin D rich foods:
- Oily fish
Although vitamin E isn’t directly involved in immunity and energy production, it is an essential antioxidant and is fat soluble therefore is hugely important in protecting cell membrane health. It also has multiple benefits relating to cardiovascular and cognitive health in particular.
Vitamin E is rich in avocados, olives, almonds and eggs.
Essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids, particularly omega 3 fats, help to support energy production as they are involved in maintaining healthy mitochondrial membranes across which much of energy production occurs.
They play many other roles and are important for cell membrane health and therefore nerve function so can play an important role in cognition and cognitive development. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and anchovies), chia and flax seeds, dark leafy green and sea vegetables as well as omega 3 rich eggs.
So some ways in which you can support your child’s energy, cognition and immune function are to:
- Ensure they get 2-3 portions of fruit and 3-4 vegetable (include leafy greens if possible)
- Ensure 3-4 portions of omega 3 fats, particularly from oily fish, per week
- Get at least 15 minutes of exposure to sun every day
- Opt for butter over margarine
- Include B vitamin Rich foods, listed above
- Supplement with a multi vitamin and mineral as well as Vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids
- Improve nutrient as well as fruit, vegetable and fluid intake by using smoothies (example recipe above) with the addition of a multi vitamin/mineral powder supplement. You could add Cytoplan’s new Organic Multi powder for children, Nutri Fruiti (see more details below)
If you have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Helen) by email at any time.
Helen Drake and the Cytoplan Editorial Team: Joseph Forsyth and Chris Skal.
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