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Taking care of the Adolescent brain

Teenages | March 27, 2020 | Author: Naturopath

Children, Brain

Taking care of the Adolescent brain

For parents and adults some of the behaviours of our teenagers can be quite unbelievable, reckless and downright frightening. Energy, creativity and fearlessness is admirable, but unfortunately in some cases, the consequences of these actions can be devastating. Add to this emotional outburst, insolence, moodiness and carelessness lead us to wonder how we can help them navigate the journey to adulthood. 

Adolescence is a time of change as pubescent children evolve into adulthood involving both hormonal and behavioural maturation. Historically this period has typically been from around 12 – 18 years of age – from puberty to legal independence. Puberty is a biological phenomenon driven by an increase in adrenal and gonadal hormones. It is a time of physical changes and development, but it is also associated with increased emotional reactivity and risk taking. Recent studies have expanded the definition and time frame of adolescence to include young adulthood up to around 25 years of age due to the continuous neural changes.

The growing brain

The growing brainThe regions of the brain involved in impulsive sex, food and sleep habits are structurally and functionally vulnerable during adolescence due to the development of nerve pathways. This development is known as myelination.

Myelination is a term in anatomy to describe the forming of a membrane around a nerve fibre. This specialised membrane, called myelin, is made from a protein and lipid-rich substance.

Myelination allows nerve impulses to transmit information faster and enables more complex brain processing.

The myelination process is vitality important for the efficient functioning of the central and peripheral nervous systems. Myelination begins in the second trimester of pregnancy and continues into adult life.

Influences affecting brain maturation

Brain maturation during adolescence is governed by a number of initiating factors These include: 

  • Heredity 
  • Prenatal and postnatal conditions
  • Environment

Other brain maturation influences include the role of neurotransmitters and certain regions of the brain - the limbic system and prefrontal cortex. 

Neurotransmitters. There is a dominate influence by the glutamatergic neurotransmission (the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain), while the gamma-amino acid neurotransmission (GABA) an inhibitory neurotransmitter) is still under development. GABA has a calming effect on the body which helps with stress, anxiety and fear. This imbalance may also contribute or be responsible for the immature and impulse behaviour often seen in adolescents.

Limbic system and prefrontal cortex. Behaviour such as - driving under the influence of alcohol and an inability to cope with social situations - can be due to an immature limbic system and prefrontal cortex. The Limbic system structures of the brain are involved in many components of emotion and motivation, particularly those related to survival such as fear, anger and pleasure (eating and sexual activity). The prefrontal region is involved with cognitive behaviour, personality, decision making, and social behaviour.

Other influences include stress both physical or physiological, drug abuse (caffeine, nicotine and alcohol), the sex hormones - oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, nutrition and sleep.

Support for the Maturing Brain

Support for the Maturing BrainAdolescence is a time of growing independence. This means time away from family, with more time spent with peers in social or school environments. It should be seen as an important developmental time.

Helping adolescents navigate through this time means being always involved and available to offer support and guidance. 

The adolescent brain is immature. Poor decision making may result in dire consequences. Adult involement is essential.

Clean body and environment

Helping adolescents make the right choices and helping them understand the damaging consequences relies on continuous surveillance, guidance and education. Adolescents is a vulnerable time for a growing brain, avoiding damage from environmental toxins, cigarettes, recreational drugs and alcohol is critical. 

Adequate sleep

Teenage brains need around 8-10 hours of sleep every night. Without the right amont of sleep poor concentration and focus will result and a decline in general well-being. Avoiding the use of electronic devices and stimulating foods around bed time is important to promote a good-night sleep. Calcium and magnesium are important supplement for bone growth in adolescent, but can also help with sleep.

The Most important Diet

The adolescent years are a critical period of growth and development of not just the brain, but the body as a whole. Ensuring adequate and healthy nutrition is essential. Establishing healthy eating habits can help avoid under-nutrition, over-nutrition or eating disorders. Protein, carbohydrates and fats, vitamins and minerals are needed in higher amounts and appetites increase. This is often seen when the door of the pantry or fridge is regularly opened by foraging teenagers looking for food. Providing plenty of good food and regular eating times together will not only help prevent inappropriate eating and a diet of nutrient-empty products (lollies, chips, soft drinks etc), but also help with family bonding.

Foods to include:

  • A Variety of vegetables, fruit and legumes
  • Breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
  • Protein from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds
  • Dairy and dairy alternatives – milk, cheeses and yoghurt  

Include healthy food for mid-morning, mid-afternoon and supper snacks such as toasties, milk-shakes, nut bars, dips and healthy muffins.

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamins and mineralsVitamins and mineral are essential for a variety of basic metabolic pathways and support important cellular functions. This includes for energy, DNA synthesis, oxygen transport, and nerve function – critical for brain function. Micronutrients are essential for brain development and deficiencies have been linked to impaired cognitive function. Vitamins and minerals found to be most important include:

  • Vitamin B complex
  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Magnesium

Omega-3 supplements may improve EPA and DHA status which can help in maintaining and augmenting brain health especially for those with low baseline levels or fatty acids.

GABA has a naturally calming effect on the brain which may help with sleep, anxiety, stress, depression ADHA and depression. Food sources of GABA are those produced from fermentation such as kimchi, miso and tempeh.

Supplementing with vitamins can help address nutritional deficiency in the diet. This can be especially common with teenagers due to poor food choices. A good diet, regular eating habits, vitamins and minerals and positive family time can enhance cognitive function and support mental well-being.

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References

Maturation of the adolescent brain https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621648/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/myelinogenesis

Overview of Glutamatergic Neurotransmission in the Nervous System https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3253893/

Cortical and subcortical gamma amino acid butyric acid deficits in anxiety and stress disorders: Clinical implications https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4804267/

Social Influence in Adolescent Decision-Making: A Formal Framework https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01915/full

Bailey, Regina. "The Limbic System of the Brain." ThoughtCo, Feb. 11, 2020, thoughtco.com/limbic-system-anatomy-373200. https://www.thoughtco.com/limbic-system-anatomy-373200

Brain Health across the Lifespan: A Systematic Review on the Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6116096/

Adolescence as a unique developmental period https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4543091/

Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31963141

Feeding the brain - The effects of micronutrient interventions on cognitive performance among school-aged children: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27395329/

https://daa.asn.au/smart-eating-for-you/smart-eating-fast-facts/teens/

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/teenagers-and-sleep

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