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MindCheck is the Weekly Wednesday Kids Mental Health series with Dr. Ray Pataracchia, N.D.   MindCheck provides in depth information on the orthomolecular approach to coping with mood and/or behavior disorders. The MindCheck Health Series is endorsed by the Mindful Network – ‘A Better Future for Children’s Mental Health’.


Getting Straight A’s


Ray Pataracchia ND  ©  2013


In addition to having innate intelligence to do well at school, our child’s academic performance is dependent on other factors, typically factors that we can do so something about.


The Right Environment for Good Academic Performance

To perform well academically, the brain requires the right biochemical nutrient environment; when that demand is met, this can improve motivation, concentration, and learning skills.  Thought processing problems and dyslexia are other areas where the right nutrient environment is important.  Poor motivation, low energy, and stress intolerance aspects also influence our ability to think on demand and these symptoms need to be assessed in the context of nutrient and physiological imbalance.


For the purpose of this blog, this write up will concentrate on basic nutritional imbalances associated with learning, right brain copper dominance, and heavy metals.  Details on the full array of biochemical imbalances that play a role in behavior and associated academic performance can be found in my Five Part Series on Kids Mental Health.  From a Naturopathic perspective, there are many interventions that can help improve academic performance; these include botanical, homeopathic, and oriental medicine treatment.  Herein we will concentrate on the nutrient/nutritional and physiological imbalance component of academic performance.


To perform well academically, good study habits also go a long way.  Good study habits discussed herein are therefore integral to maintaining the right environment for optimal academic performance.


The Mental State and how it Influences our Ability to Think on Demand

We often isolate academic ability as a function of thinking ability or thought processes but the totality of behavior, that is our mental state, is also dependent on mood and the sensory receipt of information, also called perception.  If we are sad or anxious our thinking is influenced; for example, negative thought rumination is a component of depression and a child consumed by negative thoughts will find it difficult to think with focus; anxiety also co-exists with depression so we see thought patterns and triggers that overstimulate and maintain anxious states that dominate thinking on a slant that again makes it difficult to stay focused.  Perception can be a physical problem of any of the five senses, with the sensory organs of hearing for example, but it can also in rare instances, be abnormal in the context of childhood psychosis;  abnormal perception will influence academic performance.  Academic performance involves all facets of behavior which in and of themselves have one or more layers of biochemical imbalance that can play an influential role.


Basic Nutritional Imbalances associated with Academic Performance

B vitamins and minerals in adequate supply are widely associated with anti-stress aspects and mental state higher levels of functioning.  For example, without vitamin B6 and zinc our ability to form proteins and neurotransmitters needed for thought processing would be hampered.  Vitamin C and B complex vitamins are anti-stress for various reasons having to do with neurotransmitter production, efficient energy production, and endocrine balancing dynamics.  Eating balanced meals with adequate protein neurotransmitter building blocks is also a basic tenant of good nutrition which directly correlates with brain function higher states of functioning.


Right Brain Copper Dominance and Academic Performance

Overall copper balancing tends to be an important approach to helping kids achieve optimal academic performance.   The right brain is more visual-spatial-creative whereas the left brain is more verbal-analytical-sequential.  Many artists, actors, and musicians have right brain copper dominance.


In classic copper dominant kids we see right brain dominance with learning compromise, poor hand writing (scrawl-like), and sometimes dyslexia.  Today’s academic curriculum is based on tests and lessons attuned to traditional left-brain dominant formats, so those kids with verbal-analytical strength tend to do better academically.  Copper can be too low as well so this needs to be factored in.


Heavy Metals and Academic Performance

Heavy metals are highly associated with learning deficits and dyslexic conditions.


Lead is a classic example here and children are more susceptible to toxicity of lead than adults.  Soil is high in lead due to exhaust from the leaded gasoline era; lead can be inhaled from the dust of playgrounds and yards.  Lead affects the nervous system and can contribute to learning disability, hyperactivity, behavior disorder, decreased IQ, and ADD.


Heavy metals are oxidants that compromise brain cell functioning.  Getting rid of metals can be a pivotal part of good nutrient balancing regimens.  Metal elimination needs to be done by liberating the metal when the metabolism is fast enough to carry out this task and when the organs that help eliminate the metal (liver, kidney, bowels) are healthy and efficient enough to handle the excretion of the metal.


Study Habits for Life

Hopefully good study routines will become a habit for your child.


Here are some tips on creating an efficient homework environment and adopting good homework skills:

– create an organized space where clutter is kept down

– keep only relevant study materials accessible; clear all the miscellaneous and focus on individual tasks

– understand test material, then review it the day before the test, and again if possible the day of the test; ‘repetition is the essence of learning’

– being prepared is the key to eliminating homework and test stress, so schedule homework and study time

– find a quiet, perhaps a secluded place, with no distractions (video games, computers, toys), no TV, no music, no radio, and no telephone (cell phone)

– always try to have good overhead light, a firm chair, and rather than a couch, use a desk or table

– listen to instructions at school; know what you have to do specifically, how you can accomplish the assignment, and when the assignment/homework is due

– before taking a test: be sure you have prepared in advance, know or understand test material, and that you have had adequate sleep

– on the day of the test be sure that you have all the equipment to do the test (pencils, pens, erasers, rulers, …), that you listen well to instructions and read questions/directions carefully, and allot enough time to answer all test questions (try to provide as much detail on answers as possible)