Exams regulator Ofqual recently confirmed major changes to the exam process, in which we will see the current GCSE program abolished and replaced with a new system. The changes, which have been hailed as the biggest shake-up of exams in England for a generation, would see outcomes based on exams and not modules or course work.
Anyone who has ever sat an exam will understand that cramming information, learned over a period of years into one ‘all-or-nothing’ paper is intense, extremely stressful and certainly daunting. The process of learning involves the ability to retain information and is dependent on complex changes occurring within the brain’s neural network. For the brain to physically adapt, it must increase the number of connections between our neurons and it is in the first few years of a child’s life that the most rapid brain growth and adaptation occur.
Nutrition and brainpower
Not surprisingly a child’s food habits and overall nutrition can affect brain development and function. Protein, carbohydrate and fat are required to provide the building blocks that are used to form neurotransmitters, chemical messengers involved in learning processes, to support structures in neurons and to provide energy to ‘feed’ the brain. Although micronutrients are needed in small amounts, they are absolutely necessary for brain health and function; deficiencies in some key vitamins and minerals are capable of causing havoc in neural processing pathways. Low zinc and magnesium levels, for example, have been shown to be common contributors to the attentional, behavioural and emotional problems observed in children. In contrast, higher levels of zinc and magnesium within hair samples (hair is a good biopsy material for assessment of mineral status) has been directly correlated with academic achievement and learning performance in adolescents.
Zinc, magnesium and cognition
So why do deficiencies of key minerals have such an influence on cognitive function? Zinc is one of the most prevalent trace elements found within the human body. It plays an essential role in growth and development, wound healing and immune function; over 300 enzymes are known to require zinc as a cofactor.
In addition, zinc is essential for normal neurological function, with high concentrations found within specialised components of nerve cells called vesicles, small pockets where neurotransmitters are stored, with concentrations at their highest within neurons of the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is responsible for processing short-term and long-term memory. Zinc is also directly involved in the growth of nerves, and in synaptic adhesion – the formation of new connections that occur between neurons during adaptation and a process essential to learning. Zinc is directly required for neurotransmitter synthesis and regulates the rate at which neurotransmitters involved in learning processes are used and recycled. Low levels of zinc can therefore impede normal neurotransmitter function and the efficiency by which nerve cells communicate, which can thus have a direct impact on memory and learning.
Magnesium is another example of a trace element vital to more than 300 enzyme-mediated biochemical reactions. Magnesium plays a role in maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, is essential for bone formation and is also involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis. Like zinc, magnesium is present in the synapse between two neurons where it plays a role in mediating neurotransmitter signalling. Magnesium deficiency can have a profound impact on cognitive function, leading to depression as well as affecting both long- and short-term memory. These important minerals also have synergistic roles in the body and deficiencies can often be linked to behavioural disorders in children. Zinc, for example, is required for the conversion of vitamin B6 to its active form pyridoxal-5-phosphate, which is needed to modulate the conversion of tryptophan to the neurotransmitter serotonin. In turn, vitamin B6 is required for transport and accumulation of magnesium into cells and tissues. It may be seen that a deficiency in one key micronutrient can therefore impact directly on the function of another.
Sourcing micronutrients and how to increase brainpower
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach are a good source of all three nutrients. In addition, animal products, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains are also good sources and children should be encouraged to eat a wide variety of foods, including five servings of fruits and vegetables daily to ensure they meet recommended daily intake of nutrients. Getting children to eat their greens can, however, be challenging to say the least and topping up nutrient levels with a quality supplement can certainly be of benefit; this is especially true at times where a bit of extra brainpower is required, such as exams or during long periods of study.
Boost brain power with Neurobalance™
For individuals looking at how to increase brain function or mind power, Neurobalance™ is a synergistic blend of magnesium, zinc and vitamin B6 brought together in their most bioavailable forms to support cognitive function in both children and adults.
Supplementing with zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 can help improve focus, attention and learning capacity and has been shown to be of particular benefit to children with ADHD where cognitive focus is known to be an issue.[3-5] Whilst increased intake of magnesium and zinc are both associated with improved cognitive performance, they also offer a myriad of additional benefits. By increasing blood flow to the brain, magnesium offers additional benefits to cognitive performance and in regulating the release of hormones involved in the stress response, has additional calming effects by modulating symptoms associated with anxiety and depression, which may be particularly useful for hyperactive children. Combined with the immune supporting benefits of zinc and vitamin B6, Neurobalance™ not only aids in concentration and focus but also helps keeps the immune system ‘armed and ready’ to fight off infections such as the coughs and colds so prevalent throughout the colder months. Formulated as small, easy to swallow tablets and optimised to be taken as a split-dose for maximal uptake, Neurobalance™ offers a wealth of health benefits and is the ideal add-on to complement our existing range of pure EPA products.
1. Huss M, Volp A, Stauss-Grabo M: Supplementation of polyunsaturated fatty acids, magnesium and zinc in children seeking medical advice for attention-deficit/hyperactivity problems – an observational cohort study. Lipids in health and disease 2010, 9:105.
2. Wang CT, Li YJ, Wang FJ, Shi YM, Lee BT: Correlation between the iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc content in adolescent girls’ hair and their academic records. Chang Gung medical journal 2008, 31:358-363.
3. Mousain-Bosc M, Roche M, Polge A, Pradal-Prat D, Rapin J, Bali JP: Improvement of neurobehavioral disorders in children supplemented with magnesium-vitamin B6. I. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Magnesium research : official organ of the International Society for the Development of Research on Magnesium 2006, 19:46-52.
4. Mousain-Bosc M, Roche M, Rapin J, Bali JP: Magnesium VitB6 intake reduces central nervous system hyperexcitability in children. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2004, 23:545S-548S.
5. Zamora J, Velasquez A, Troncoso L, Barra P, Guajardo K, Castillo-Duran C: [Zinc in the therapy of the attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children. A preliminar randomized controlled trial]. Archivos latinoamericanos de nutricion 2011, 61:242-246.