Biohacking To Enhance Your Child’s Academic Potential

Biohacking
Biohacking has become a popular topic since the early 2000s, referring to intentional changes in one’s diet, exercise, and environment to unlock the mind and body’s full potential. While typically associated with anti-aging and preserving cognitive function, biohacking can also optimize children's mental, physical, emotional, and cognitive performance in school.

Epigenetics

To understand how biohacking can improve academic performance, let's explore the concept of epigenetics. Identical twins may exhibit different abilities and performance in school due to epigenetic factors, despite being genetically identical. Epigenetics looks at how external factors like nutrition, exercise, and environment can alter our genetic expression, thus promoting change and potentially even preventing disease; it’s the study of these factors that can shape the way our bodies express themselves genetically, and how we can utilize these factors to harness our greatest potential.

With that in mind, let’s delve into some of the things that we can do to optimize academic performance.

Critical Nutrients

When it comes to school-aged children (6-12 years of age),factors such as nutrition, physical activity, sleep, healthy stress, and environmental management have been found to significantly impact academic performance.

While adequate nutritional intake is important at all ages, ensuring adequacy at a young age can have especially significant impacts on both short-term and lifelong academic and cognitive performance. Here are a few of the more critical nutrients to consider:

Iron: Several recent studies out of the University of Toronto and SickKids Hospital have demonstrated that low levels of iron in the blood can predict poor cognitive development and performance; meanwhile, a TARGetKids study suggests that just over 10 percent of children up to the age of 6 are iron-deficient.1,2 Numerous studies have been conducted to determine whether iron supplementation can improve academic performance, and while not all studies agree, there does seem to be a trend showing that supplementation may improve attention, concentration, performance, and even IQ test scores.3 As dosages across these studies vary, it is imperative that you speak with a healthcare provider before starting any supplement. However, one of the safest ways to improve iron levels is to simply eat a well-rounded diet.

Foods high in iron include meats, eggs, fish (e.g., mackerel and sardines), vegetables like spinach and sweet potatoes, fruits like strawberries and watermelon, beans, and even grains and certain breads.

Zinc: This is another integral mineral for childhood development; it can impact height, immune system function, and even cognitive development. Intake needs increase with age, and several studies have shown that supplementation can improve multiple intelligence domains in children, including verbal comprehension/fluency and non-verbal skill capacity.

Foods high in zinc include beef, lamb, oysters, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, mushrooms, and spinach.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Numerous studies have shown that dietary omega-3 fatty acid intake is associated with improved academic performance. A study of over 17,000 school-aged children found that those who consumed at least eight grams of fish per day performed significantly better in several academic areas, including mathematics and language.6 Supplementation may also be beneficial for attention, memory, and hyperactivity.

Dietary omega-3 sources include fish, particularly SMASH (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring); as well as vegetarian sources, including seeds (chia, flax, hemp, and pumpkin), nuts (walnuts, almonds), beans, spinach, and more.

Other Considerations

Aside from these commonly studied nutrients, the impact of heavy metals, toxins, and other environmental factors on academic performance is also worth considering. The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) "Clean 15" and "Dirty Dozen" lists can help identify the cleanest and most contaminated foods.8 Heavy metal poisoning has been associated with cognitive decline in adults and reduced IQ scores in children.9 In short, these guides can help you determine which common foods are the “cleanest” and which need serious consideration or avoidance.

Aside from achieving optimal nutrition, which is the cornerstone of biohacking for all ages, several other important factors can impact the social, emotional, cognitive, academic, and physical development of children.

Physical activity: Daily physical activity may have the capacity to not only aid physical development, but also concentration, cognition, and academic performance. In a recent study that spanned nine years, researchers found that school-aged children who engaged in daily exercise achieved an average of 13.3 grade points higher than those who engaged in physical activity only twice a week.10 They also found that those who engaged in daily exercise were significantly more likely to reach the grade threshold for future academic studies. Getting your kids involved in daily activities has the potential to improve their academic performance and chances of pursuing higher education.

Sleep: Elementary school and the early high school years are recognized as crucial stages for shaping and instilling beneficial behaviours in children. Considering the significant influence of sleep on students' well-being and academic performance, it becomes imperative to prioritize the cultivation of healthy bedtime routines within our households, communities, and particularly in educational institutions during this period. According to one study, around 24 percent of teenagers experience a drop in their grades due to a lack of sleep; this has been found to impact IQ scores, problemsolving skills, and verbal creativity.

Healthy Stress: While unmanaged stress can negatively impact a child’s academic performance, not all stress is a bad thing! Healthy, moderate stress can positively influence academic achievement as it motivates children to strive for success, enhances focus and concentration, and facilitates information retention. Examples of healthy stress can include challenging academic projects, exams, and group work, as well as at-home responsibilities and chores. It also fosters adaptation, resilience, effective coping strategies, and problem-solving techniques. Encouraging healthy stress helps children develop a good sense of success, self-confidence, time management skills, and organization—all of which positively impact their academic journey.

Biohacking can be used to enhance children's academic performance. Optimizing a clean and nutritional diet, encouraging daily exercise, sufficient sleep, and fostering healthy stress levels all contribute to maximizing their potential in school.

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