Everyone is talking about neuroplasticity lately. It is the wonderful new discovery that suggests we can make new neurons and new neuronal pathways in our brains. Essentally, we can grow our brains! This new knowledge opens so many doors for everyone, regardless of age and brain function.
When I studied neurophysiology and neuropathology during my graduate work decades ago, it was taught, and generally accepted, that neurons could not regenerate after being destroyed, and new pathways could not be made as an adult. I was pleased and intrigued to learn that this was untrue. Through advances in technology, scientists have been able to study and see neural connections and activity during function. As expected, they are looking at what things encourage this neuronal growth and what things discourage this neuronal growth. With the gathered information, there are ample solutions to raise our potential for thought, memory, action, physical activity, happiness, motivation, etc, and we should be able to lower our potential for cognitive decline as we age, regardless of our genes.
This research has got me very excited! Essentially, the brain we are born with is not necessarily the brain we are stuck with.
As mentioned in past posts, what we do and what we eat both influence our thoughts, memory, actions, motivation, and happiness.
Imagine being able to optimize all of these things for your child. Imagine the courage and motivation they would have in pursuing things they are truly passionate about. Imagine, too, the kindness they would exude due to being truly happy and at peace with themselves. This no longer has to be a dream! This can happen for all children...... But.... there's always a but..... we MUST get rid of some things that your children love and are likely addicted to......
One such culprit is SUGAR.
I used to think that sugar was okay if you used up the calories..... if calories in=calories out, then you remained lean and healthy. This, as it turns out, is not the case. Sugar, especially processed fructose, is a brain and health destroyer.
Our goal, as parents reading this blog, is to encourage the formation of new neurons and pathways. Sugar not only disrupts this neuroplasticity, it destroys existing neurons and connections, and causes a whole host of health issues.
Let's look at how sugar does this.
When we eat sugar (or carbohydrates), it gets absorbed into the blood stream. This blood sugar level is very important and the body is adept at not allowing the blood sugar level to stay too high for any length of time. The pancreas, in response to a raised blood sugar level, quickly produces insulin to gather up this sugar in the blood and deliver it to the cells for energy through receptors on the cell's surface. If sugar is in excess day after day, the cells adapt by shutting down some of the receptors on it's surface. This is called insulin resistance. If this happens, and sugar continues to be consumed, the blood sugar level will rise, which is extremely toxic. This rise not only drives inflammation up, but also causes the pancreas to secrete insulin that can not be used. We will discuss the health problems with excess insulin in a subsequent post. Why, then, is a high blood sugar level harmful?
Sugar is a strong instigator of inflammation. Inflammation causes many disorders and diseases, and interferes with neurological function and long term brain health. Uncontrolled diabetics, for example, have lower cognitive function when blood sugar is consistently too high.
Not only is sugar an inflammatory food, but it also alters the gut bacteria such that the bad bacteria proliferate and encourage disease, obesity, and cognitive dysfunction, choking out the good bacteria, which are responsible for many health promoting things like keeping hormones balanced, creating neurotransmitters for optimal brain function, keeping the immune system strong, and for keeping the junctions tight in the gastrointestinal tract walls. When the bad bacteria proliferate, these intestinal wall junctions can become permeable. This is called leaky gut. Leaky gut allows intestinal contents to enter the bloodstream to which the immune system attacks. This attack causes more inflammation and health havoc, including autoimmune diseases and gut disorders, but it also can allow the blood brain barrier to become leaky. This leaky brain may allow organisms in that are not supposed to be in the brain tissues. The resulting inflammation in the brain in response to these organisms may contribute to cognitive decline, brain fog, inability to focus, inappropriate behaviours, and memory loss, just to name a few.
Sound like I am describing many of the children of today?
I could go on and on about the irrefutable scientific evidence that sugar, through multiple modes of action, increases cognitive decline, memory loss, brain fog, loss of brain tissue, depression, and dementia later on in life. But I think we get the message.
You must kick sugar to the curb.
There will be some complaints and withdrawal symptoms no doubt. Perhaps start the elimination on a weekend when you can love and support them. Know that the symptoms of withdrawal can be similar to the symptoms of the flu.
Be strong and you will get past the few days of hardship in exchange for a lifetime of happiness and clear thinking.
Isn't that what every parent wants for their child?
Life is so much easier when your brain functions well.
Do not, however, substitute the sugar with sweeteners. They too will cause the microbiome to become unbalanced and favour the bad bacteria. This will negate your efforts. Substitute it, instead, with dates, apples, small amounts of raw honey, fruit, stevia. There are many recipes, some of which I will soon share, that taste delicious and do not have any processed sugar in them .....
Once your child has passed the withdrawal phase of removing an addictive food item such as sugar, and the gut bacteria has normalized (or optimized), they will increase cognitive function and mental focus. Behaviour will undoubtedly change for the better, and health and immunity will drastically improve.
How can I get my child to cut out sugar?
Perhaps it is best to lead by example. See how you feel! You will undoubtedly have more focus, more energy, and improved mood. You may even stave off dementia and cancer that is so prevalent in those that consume high amounts of sugar for your future! Why not have everyone in your family be happy, healthy, smart, and