Adolescent nutrition and health is fundamentally important. This is a challenging time both physically and mentally as teenagers transform into young adults. I am so passionate about the area of adolescent nutrition that I discussed this topic at length on The Real Food Reel podcast with Nutritionist Steph Lowe – you can listen in here.
As I always say, everything starts with food. Unless nutrition and lifestyle are corrected, any problems that arise at this fragile age will manifest into more serious issues if not addressed at the root cause.
In my clinical experience, whilst all patients are different, many teenagers end up in my clinic for similar reasons. Below are the top 5 symptoms I see and treat in adolescents. If you have a teenager in your house or your life then you may relate to this list:
This is a common complaint, particularly in adolescent females. Many young girls are deficient in iron and B12 as they begin to experience regular menstruation coupled with increased nutrient demands due to the stress of physical growth and mental concentration (high school demands). In addition, many teenagers aren’t consuming enough iron rich foods and/or they have gut issues inhibiting nutrient absorption.
Another factor to consider in teenagers is their ‘routine.’ Are they regularly engaging in some form of exercise? Are they getting adequate sunlight to maintain healthy vitamin D? (Low vitamin D is associated with depression, fatigue and autoimmunity). Are they getting at least 8 hours horizontal? How much time is spent on screens? Blue light from laptops and mobiles destroy Melatonin levels (sleep hormone), so scrolling social media into the wee hours is destructive both physically and mentally.
2. LOW MOOD / ANXIETY:
An element of counselling forms part of nutritional medicine because physical health relies on mental and spiritual health and vice versa. Pressure from exams and early uni days can be catastrophic and it’s important to ‘start the conversation’ early. Remember that all brain chemistry (i.e. serotonin / melatonin / dopamine) is formed from amino acids and proteins. Therefore, nutrition is critical for mental health and should, in my opinion be a conjunctive treatment.
3. IRREGULAR OR EXPERIMENTAL EATING HABITS:
Some teenagers ‘go off’ food, for example red meat; others ‘skip meals’ because they are ‘too busy during school or uni breaks.’ Some will try fad diets in an effect to achieve a certain body shape and many may experiment with vegetarianism or veganism. Please consult a nutritionist if you observe any of these habits.
It is vital that we teach young boys and girls to develop a ‘healthy’ relationship with food and learn to love and respect their bodies.
In addition, the teenage years are actually the most crucial time for building bone mass to prevent osteoporosis later in life. Peak bone mass is reached in the mid 20’s, remaining steady until about 35-40 years when it progressively begins to decline.
4. POOR DIGESTION:
This covers a myriad of symptoms including bloating, gas, random abdominal pain, alternating bowels and/ or constipation, diarrhea. Any of these symptoms cause pain, discomfort, affect quality of life and are downright embarrassing. Please note, PPI medication (think Nexium) is designed for short term use – stomach acid is quite important, read more here.
5. POOR IMMUNITY:
Recurrent colds and flu’s reflect a stressed immune system. Whilst antibiotics are often a necessary evil to address acute symptoms, they alter gut flora for many months and long-term use can actually impede immunity. If sickness is recurring then you need to address the root cause. An underlying nutrient deficiency> Chronic stress? Poor sleep?
Adolescent Nutrition – what to expect
If you can relate to any of the above and you need professional support with adolescent nutrition, call me for an appointment 07 3398 1977. Parents / guardians are most welcome to sit in on appointments (under 18’s should be accompanied by a parent unless you provide written permission otherwise).
Typically, I will work with teenagers for 3-6 months to correct health issues. My ultimate goal is to assist them to develop healthy nutritional and lifestyle habits for life. This will set them up for a bright future and avoid health relapses.
Please note that many teenagers are already medicated by the time they come and see me for assistance. Commonly teenagers are prescribed antidepressants, the oral contraceptive pill and even antibiotics as a prophylactic (preventative). Safe and professional practice means taking these medications into account and ensuring that any supplements or dietary changes do not contraindicate pharmaceuticals in use. However, nutrient status, diet and lifestyle all need to be corrected so that eventually drugs are no longer necessary.
Some final advice – try to teach the kids in your life some basic cooking skills and a few nourishing recipes. Being able to throw together scrambled eggs or a steak and salad is a life skill that you may take for granted, but lacks in generations to come. Basic cooking skills will reduce reliance on processed foods which, let’s face it, are literally killing us.