Back to class – these three simple words have the power to create both excitement and anxiety in the hearts and minds of youth and parents alike. While there are many factors that can create excitement or anxiety – such as the academic and social possibilities of the year ahead – one of the best way to navigate the trials and triumphs of the year ahead is by supporting your child or teen’s health. Taking a proactive stance by educating yourself and arming your child with a simple arsenal of health promoting strategies and tools can help your child have their best year yet. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Our bodies at the microscopic level are made up of tiny living units called cells. Each cell is surrounded by a double layer of fatty molecules – the cellular membrane. The integrity and health of the cellular membrane is a major determinant of the health and function of each cell, and thus of each tissue, organ and individual overall.
Omega 3 fatty acids are one component of healthy cellular membranes and we must obtain these omega 3 fatty acids from food or supplements as our body cannot make them. A multitude of research shows that individuals with higher omega 3 levels are healthier than their counterparts with lower levels of omega 3 in areas ranging from heart health, immune function, retinal health to brain and mental health. Ensuring that your child is getting adequate and optimal omega 3 on a daily basis may help ward off depression and anxiety, which are on the rise among school-aged children. Furthermore, research has shown that children with ADHD diagnoses show lower circulating blood levels of omega 3 fatty acids. Supplementation has shown benefit in managing symptoms of hyperactivity, inattentiveness and improving cognitive function.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin which is often associated with helping build and maintain bone mineral density. However, vitamin D also functions in our body as a hormone with major impacts on our immune system and inflammation levels. Sadly, most of us in North America are deficient in this vital health-promoting molecule as even though we make it from exposure to sunlight, summer months and exposure to sunshine are limited. Deficiency of vitamin D is well-documented, not only in kids but also in adults, and can lead to an increased susceptibility to infection, as well as increased severity of infection, particularly respiratory infections. Two shining examples of respiratory infections are the common cold and the flu. While there are many ways to help prevent the common cold and the flu, vitamin D supplementation, particularly in the months where sun exposure dwindles is an excellent strategy.
Life is full of falls, bumps, and bangs – sometimes resulting in minor bruising and discomfort, other times resulting in strained muscles and ligaments and misaligned joints. Arnica Montana, a homeopathic, is a wonderful adjunct to have at home for when bruises, strains and sprains occur. Arnica will not re-align a misaligned joint, but it does help bruises, sprains and strains to heal faster and helps resolve physical inflammation present at the location of the injury.
Research has shown that about 30% of school-age children and teenagers experience back pain that is related to carrying a backpack. This pain tends to stem from either carrying the pack non-ergonomically, or from loading it too full. The most at-risk demographics are younger children who carry heavy bags, girls, and individuals who have already had back pain previously. While these episodes may seem to sometimes self-resolve quickly, having one increases the chances of having a future episode of back pain and can also wreak havoc with alignment of joints, tension in muscles and ligaments and at worst, cause damage to the delicate nerves in the neck and shoulder region. Not only can this keep your child / teenager away from sports, social activities, and even school classes, it can permanently alter posture and pre-dispose youth to chronic back pain as an adult.
In terms of ensuring spinal health and optimal physical function, there are many measures you can take to help reduce and prevent backpack related pain from occurring:
We all know that we don’t feel as good or function as well when we are tired – we get sick easier, it’s harder to focus, we don’t have as much energy and just feel generally blah. Children and teens need between 7-11 hours of good quality sleep every night to help their bodies grow, their injuries to heal, their immune systems to fight off foreign invaders, their memories to consolidate and many more functions. Getting into good night time and morning routines can help ensure that your child is getting all the rest they need every night. A further way to increase the quality of sleep is to ensure that the child / teenager is sleeping in a dark room and isolated from light-emitting electronics, including cell-phones, i-pads and tablets. These devices emit a steady stream of blue light that disrupts proper melatonin production, reduces quality of sleep and may play a role in the development of idiopathic scoliosis in children and teenagers which if progressive can be quite severe. Exposure to blue light from electronics during sleep has been linked to several negative outcomes including heart disease, cancer and diabetes in the older years. Where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, it’s best to teach our youth good habits surrounding sleep hygiene from a young age.
While the return to school can spell anxiety and stress, it certainly doesn’t need to, especially if you are actively taking steps to help your child thrive and experience their best scholastic year yet! If you are searching for additional tools and methods to help optimize your child’s school year, having a trusted health care family is of immense benefit and can help support you and your child with implementing the above strategies, and individualized strategies specific to your child’s unique needs and goals.
Dr. Alyssa Shepherd is a Guelph-based chiropractor at Two Rivers Health. She holds a Master of Science in reproduction and biochemistry from the University of Waterloo. Her gentle evidence-based approach is tailored to meet the individual needs of each person she sees, young or old. Dr. Alyssa is passionate about moving the world to wellness through caring for pregnant women, babies and children and families. You can learn more about her or her individualized approach at www.tworivershealth.ca or https://www.facebook.com/DrAlyssaShepherd/
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Ying-Cen Mu et al. 2018. Effects of Backpack Load and Position on Body Strains in Male Schoolchildren While Walking. PLoS One. 13(3): e0193648.
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