Tag Archive for: healthy aging

Parenting isn’t easy. It’s hard enough just making sure your child eats healthy, gets enough sleep, takes baths, and that he or she is physically safe. These are all basic needs parents must meet. This gets harder as children grow because they become more emotionally complex and their needs change. But you can’t hold their hands forever. There will come a day when a child must face life’s challenges alone. Raising healthy children means raising resilient kids—teaching them how to overcome adversity.

Resiliency is the ability to deal with these difficulties and recover in an appropriate amount of time. Everyone faces difficulties in life. But being resilient means those difficulties don’t define you. Call it grit, fortitude, tenacity, or whatever you’d like. But resiliency is about trying and failing, and then getting up and trying again.

This is easier said than done though. Building resilience in kids often means not rescuing them from uncomfortable (but not actually dangerous) situations. As parents, your instincts are to protect your kids at all times. And when you see them struggling, it’s hard to resist the urge to step in.

What follows are reasons why, and advice on how, to raise resilient kids.

How the Brain Deals with Stress

Let’s start with the basics about uncomfortable, stressful situations. The brain and body deal with stress and adversity differently than they handle normal situations.

Your heart rate and blood pressure go up. Cortisol, a stress hormone, floods the body. Adrenaline gets pumped into the blood. These are all evolutionary holdovers from your ancestors, when stressful situations could literally mean life or death. But this fight-or-flight response was only meant to last a short amount of time. When these chemicals are continuously released, detrimental effects can take place.

It starts in the amygdala—the part of your brain responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. The amygdala responds to the stressful stimuli by sending a distress signal to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus sends a message to the autonomic nervous system that signals a messaging cascade that triggers the release of a chemical cocktail (including adrenaline and cortisol). This response often impairs the prefrontal cortex, which controls executive functions. That includes problem solving, attention, impulse control, and emotional regulation.

In the short term, this is an extremely powerful survival mechanism. There are times when you can’t think about what happens next, and you don’t need any check on your ability to act quickly. Long term, you want your prefrontal cortex running smoothly.

If you were to define resilience on the physiological level, you would say it’s the ability to activate the prefrontal cortex following adverse situations. This also means stemming the release of the chemical cocktail. If this occurs, an individual can increase their ability to recover from or adapt to stressful situations and adversity.

How to Model Good Communication and Coping Strategies for Kids

There are many ways to build resilience in children, but it starts with you. Your children are always watching. And they’re constantly absorbing information during their developmental years. It doesn’t make much sense to preach to children about dealing with difficult emotions if you struggle with them yourself.

Everyone makes mistakes. Having a level head when plans go off the rails can show kids how to handle failure. And if you don’t handle something the way you wish you could have, own up to it. It’s OK to admit a mistake, and in doing so, subconsciously give your child permission to do the same. Have a conversation about it. You can say something like, “I’m sorry I got so angry earlier. I made a mistake. Next time, I will try to be more patient.”

Communication and support are key to coping with stress and raising resilient kids. It’s not necessarily rugged individualism that builds independence in kids. Instead, it’s the unconditional love and support of an adult in their lives.

Relationships are the single most important thing in a child’s life for emotional development. If your kid is having trouble, they have to know they can come to you for help.

So, ditch the phone and spend some quality time with your child. When you’re home together, make it a priority to focus on them. Talk about the issues kids are facing. And let them know it’s OK to ask for help. Also, don’t be afraid to show them your stress coping strategies when you’re going through tough situations.

Raising Resilient Children Means Honoring Their Emotions

Before you had children, you may have had a rosy outlook on parenthood. The media is quick to sell the joys of parenting. And your friends post pictures of magical days at the beach and park where everyone is happy and smiling.

That’s not always reality. It’s hard to prepare for epic meltdowns, temper tantrums, and the refusal to sleep. But these are all a normal part of growing up, and are NOT the exception.

Sometimes parents view these difficulties as problems that need to be fixed. Maybe you chastise your kids, send them to their room, or blame them for simply feeling an intense emotion. Whatever your reaction, it can be easy to teach your kids that sadness, frustration, or anger are not tolerated.

Being resilient means understanding that some emotions, particularly those often tagged as negative—like heartbreak, despair, and anger—are all very human. These aren’t emotions you should run away from, or try to stuff down because they’re too tough to deal with. Rather, try to honor the emotions, and understand why you’re feeling a certain way. Teaching kids to feel and understand these emotions in a healthy way is paramount to children’s mental health.

Labeling emotions can be a useful way to develop emotional intelligence and resilience. Let kids know it’s all right to feel anxious, afraid, or sad. Although they can be powerful in the moment, these emotions usually pass—especially if you can talk about them with someone you love.

Establish Reasonable Boundaries with Empathy

You’ve probably heard the term “boundaries” in relation to parenting. And you may have had a difficult time dealing with what happens when your child crosses them. What’s important is that boundaries exist in the first place.

A predictable routine and a firm set of rules in the household creates a structure children can rely on. Whether it’s around bedtimes, eating dinner, homework, or screen time, structure reduces uncertainty and can help reduce anxiety. You can’t hope to be an effective parent without boundaries. But establishing these guardrails doesn’t mean you can just ignore how your child is feeling.

Kids tend to learn quickly what behaviors get them what they want. So, when the inevitable happens, and your child tries to see how far she can push, you have to hold the line. But that doesn’t mean you can’t approach those moments with compassion.

You can still be there for your child and listen to how they’re feeling, while continuing to say “no.” Talk about the feelings both of you are having, and explain why having the boundary is important. This can go a long way towards teaching emotional intelligence and strengthening your relationship.

Let Kids Skin Their Knees

When your children first start to walk, you tend to never stray too far from their side. It can be hard to let go of this instinct as they grow older. You might follow them around the playground, making sure they don’t fall off the ladder or be there to catch them every time they go down the slide.

In the short term, this is great. And it can’t be emphasized enough how important being there for your child is when he or she is facing a serious crisis. Sometimes you need to help your child stand back up.

The trick is to not do it every time. Learning early on to deal with pain and discomfort that doesn’t have dire consequences makes kids more likely to develop the ability to handle more serious difficulties later in life. A study from Cornell University in 2017 even suggested that early exposure to manageable stress can increase activity in the prefrontal cortex.

Mitigate, But Don’t Eliminate Risk

Dealing with fear is one of the most difficult and empowering skills you have. As a parent, you want to keep your kid safe, but not at the expense of exposing them to new—and, therefore, potentially frightening—experiences.

It can be hard to resist the urge to hover over your children, and offer up solutions to all of their problems. You want to protect your children from feeling pain, even if pain has much to teach. A scary experience can make your child nervous about risks he or she may face in the future. But most failures aren’t life threatening. If kids approach risk with cautious optimism, often they will find themselves better prepared for challenging situations that may arise.

Sometimes children will take risks and experience a negative outcome. Maybe they fall off the ladder on the playground, or crash their bike. They learn that skinned knees and bruises can hurt, but the pain doesn’t last a long time. As a result, resilient kids dust themselves off and try again. Scrapes and bruises don’t become a roadblock for learning a new skill and having fun. The anxiety children might have felt before becomes manageable.

Without this exposure to risk, even small fears can paralyze children. Sure, it might be fear of physical pain at first, but it can easily expand to anxiety around school, social issues, and money when a child grows up. By facing risk and the consequences associated with it, children learn the coping mechanisms needed to confidently and rationally manage risk.

They might have a hard time differentiating something that is dangerous from something that is simply unknown. Kids may never see how truly strong, confident, and resilient they’re capable of being. So, let the kid ride a bike, and take off the training wheels when he’s ready—even if it means falling down and getting angry. Just make sure he wears a helmet.

Develop Kids Executive Functioning Skills

As children grow older, their prefrontal cortex develops more and more. As this happens, kids learn to control their behavior and feelings. They also develop new ways of dealing with adversity. It is possible to jumpstart this process and set them on the path to being a happy, healthy young adult.

Exercise is one of the most important components in developing executive functioning skills. This helps develop the brain and supports growing cognitive functions. During exercise, the brain releases neurochemicals that can help calm anxiety in times of stress. Getting kids outside and moving is always a good idea, especially when it will contribute to their problem-solving skills.

Playing board games is also a great way to develop the prefrontal cortex. Board games require patience, strategy, memory, and mental dexterity. It’s also a great way to bond with your kids. Just make sure to let them win every once in a while—and make losses teachable moments.

Find opportunities where kids can make their own decisions and exhibit leadership. Maybe one night they choose what the family has for dinner, and even help cook! Have children choose and plan a weekend activity. Let them choose what instrument or sport they want to play. Even give them input in the classes they take. The possibilities are endless. Just make sure that once kids make a decision, stick with it.

Encourage children to think independently. This doesn’t mean encouraging arguments with you all the time. But make sure to welcome a discussion when you may have a different opinion than your child. Occupying a position where kids have to think critically is a wonderful exercise for executive functioning. As long as they’re being respectful, it is OK for children to question authority and offer up different points of view.

Always Stay in Their Corner

Raising resilient kids can be just as challenging for the parent as it is for the child. You will both fail. That’s OK! But no matter what happens, love your kids unconditionally, and always be there to support them whatever happens. Taking a step back and letting them find their own way can be difficult. But in the long run, this will lead to a more resilient, confident, capable, and fearless young adult.

Your life experiences make you an expert at handling change. Starting a new job, moving to a different city, the birth of a child. All events that transform your life and shape you are about change. For women and men, healthy aging is the next challenge to conquer.

But everyone ages differently. Women go through a specific aging process called menopause. And while every woman will experience it, not everyone is aware of what to expect.

Men go through hormonal changes with age, too. It’s not the same as what women deal with, though. (You can read the facts about male menopause below.)

No matter what’s ahead, when you understand how your body changes as you age, you will feel ready to march into each new year and decade with confidence. And preparing for healthy aging now can help ease your body into each subsequent phase of life. Whatever your age, there are steps you can take now to get on track for healthy aging.

To tackle what’s coming with age, let’s break up adulthood into some of the key concerns during different decades of life. This is by no means a comprehensive list—a whole book would be needed for that. But you’ll read about what to expect in terms of hormonal changes with age and some of the other physical changes you might encounter. Learn tips about how to handle what might be coming your way.

You’re never too old to learn about your body. And you can never start paying attention to healthy habits too early. So, no matter your age, now is the time to start down the road to healthy aging. The choices you make throughout your life are the key to enjoying every minute of it.

Get Active to Prepare Properly in Your Twenties and Thirties

Your twenties, and thirties are a great time to develop healthy habits that’ll last throughout your life. Start exercising on a regular basis as soon as possible. Partner up with a family member or friend and get fit for the future together.

One concern for women and men is loss of strength and bone density later in life. That’s why your younger years are a great time to strengthen your muscles and bones, armoring your body through regular physical activity.

Getting in shape now might seem premature, but it’s never too early to start. As you age, some activities will become more challenging. So, start working out now to help maintain your independence when you are older.

Think about activities like shopping, gardening, and hiking. Muscle and bone loss could make these difficult. Lifting groceries, pushing a wheelbarrow, and climbing stairs are all things you will want the freedom to do in the future. That’s why you need to stay active in your twenties and thirties—so you can keep doing the things you want to with the people you love.

Exercises like walking, swimming, hiking, yoga, and dancing are great ways to get in or stay in shape. Adding weight-bearing exercises is also important to preserve muscle and bone.

All you need is 30 minutes of activity each day. And many of these suggestions can be done with a partner. Build up your stamina and set your body up for comfortable aging by keeping physically fit.

Fortifying Health in Your Forties

Working out during the week is a good start on the road to healthy aging. And a diet of healthful foods can make the trip even smoother. These habits set you up for wellness in your next decade of life. That way when your forties roll around you can meet any aging challenge head on.

Aging skin will be the one of the first symptoms you tackle.

By your forties, the skin that has served you so well can start to show signs of wear. All the fun in the sun, smiling, and laughing you’ve done shows up in the form of wrinkles. Both women and men can expect to get wrinkles. Here’s why they show up and how you can minimize their appearance.

The wrinkles around your eyes and mouth come as the result of intrinsic and extrinsic aging. Intrinsic aging is what happens when your body naturally starts to produce less and less of the proteins that keep skin bouncy and firm—collagen and elastin. This intrinsic aging process actually starts before your forties. In fact, after age 20, your skin produces one percent less collagen each year. So, by your forties you’ve probably noticed a difference in your skin’s appearance.

Extrinsic aging also changes the look of your skin. This form of aging accounts for the damage that comes from outside your body. That can include things like tobacco and pollution.

You’ll notice extrinsic aging when your skin looks splotchy and uneven in texture. Radiation from the sun is one of the biggest contributors to extrinsic aging. Responsible sun exposure is healthy (15-30 minutes per day). But excess sunlight damages your skin and is the source of most of your wrinkles.

To prepare yourself for the age-associated changes in your skin, sunscreen and sun-obscuring clothing (long shirts, pants, and hat) is your primary defense. Sunscreen protects your skin from damage and should be used every day. For maximum skin protection, try to use sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30-35.

If you want to avoid the appearance of wrinkles, try adding an antioxidant-rich serum and moisturizer to your skincare regimen. Antioxidants are great at reducing the appearance of redness. They can help even out your skin tone and give your skin a healthy glow. While moisturizers help give a more youthful appearance by helping retain moisture in the top layers of the skin and protecting from outside elements that can contribute to skin dryness.

A lot of revitalizing skincare products are formulated with vitamin A, collagen, peptides, and a variety of antioxidants. All these ingredients work to maintain your skin’s healthy appearance and slow the development of fine lines and wrinkles. You might find that using an advanced skincare line like USANA Celavive helps your skin look and feel its best.

Add antioxidants to your diet, too. Your aging skin will thank you. So will your brain. Your forties are for fortifying your body for healthy aging. And it’s smart to look ahead and consider the health of your brain. A diet rich in antioxidants is great for your mind and can help keep you sharp. (More on that later.)

Don’t sweat your changing skin. Everyone experiences wrinkles. But you can help your skin retain its healthy look and elasticity with sun protection and proper skincare.

Healthy Aging in Your Fifties: Hormonal Changes and You

For women, the most noticeable changes of aging come about in your fifties. Menopause begins around age 50 in most women. This final shift in estrogen hormone production can happen quickly, so be on the lookout for some of the symptoms. Estrogen is the hormone that controls a woman’s menstrual cycles.

Menopause signals the end of a woman’s reproductive years. This is the point in life when the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and estrogen production declines significantly. When menopause begins, monthly periods become irregular and eventually stop. These hormonal changes eventually cause a loss of fertility.

Changes in regular menstrual cycles might be the first symptom of the start of menopause. But your body will also experience other changes when menopause begins. Symptoms include hot flashes, mood changes, dry skin, and poor sleep to name a few. Becoming aware of these future changes can help you plan to keep yourself comfortable.

Consuming foods rich in phytoestrogens (like soy), daytime physical activity, and breathing exercises at night can help improve your sleep if it’s interrupted by menopause. Another good idea is limiting caffeine intake to the beginning of the day. That way you won’t be wide-eyed and jittery when it is time for bed.

Investing in a good skincare regimen can help with dryness caused by menopause. Moisturizers and creams formulated for mature skin can help your body preserve moisture and brighten your complexion’s appearance.

And remember, while many of these hormonal changes might seem dramatic, they side effects won’t last forever. Always keep in mind that menopause is a normal part of aging. Most women transition out of menopause within about five years and see a reduction in most menopausal symptoms over time.

A Word About Male Menopause

You might be wondering if there is an equivalent hormonal aging process for men. While there is no distinct man-opause (male menopause), men do experience hormonal changes as they age.

All men will see a reduction in testosterone with age. But this change is gradual and not as marked as estrogen’s changes in women.

Symptoms of reduced testosterone include a loss of muscle mass and decreased energy. Some men may experience mood changes, decreases in strength, and sex drive to name a few. The physical symptoms can be alleviated with regular exercise. And changes in mood can be addressed with mindfulness, emotional support, and help from a trusted healthcare provider.

Mentally and More—Staying Fit in Your Sixties and Beyond

The previous decades have been preparing you for healthy aging with habits like regular exercise, a healthy diet, and proper skincare. In your sixties, you have the chance to work on perhaps your most important organ of all—your brain. And keeping your brain in good shape will make aging a more enjoyable process.

Stimulating your mind can help you stay sharp as the years go on. As you settle into your sixties and beyond, forgetfulness might be on your brain. A small amount of cognitive decline is expected as you age. Luckily, there is a lot you can do to keep your wits about you well into the future.

Engaging in activities that challenge your mind and memory are great ways to stay in mental shape. Studies have shown that adults who practiced cognitive stimulation through active learning saw less cognitive decline later in life. These include: playing musical instruments, taking classes (cooking to math), learning a new language, writing/journaling, memory games, talking with friends, actively working on hand-eye coordination, and practicing a new sport.

What kinds of things can you work on to keep your mind sharp? Learn. Learn. Learn! Reading, writing, and studying a new language are all excellent ways to keep your brain learning. You might even find that these activities are fun.

Playing card and board games are great for your brain, as well. Try to play with others as much as possible. This is a great time for being with family and friends. What’s more fun than playing games and making memories with those you love?

Another way to protect your memory is by eating a diet rich in antioxidants. Current research suggests that cognitive decline and brain aging is caused by oxidative damage. Free radicals gnaw away at neurons. Antioxidants target free radicals and help protect your brain cells.

You can find a lot of antioxidants in berries. Strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are great sources. Put them on your breakfast cereal. Eat them as a snack. However you do it, incorporating antioxidants into your diet can support your aging brain.

Also add other brain-supporting nutrients to your diet. That includes B vitamins, fish oil, vitamin D, and, vitamin E.

Don’t spend your sixties and beyond worrying about your memory. Activate your brain by learning new things and engaging with your favorite people. Talk, read, write, and learn as often as you can. Keep up a healthy diet with lots of antioxidants and other brain nutrients.

A Healthy Life, No Matter The Age

Living well doesn’t stop just because you get older. At any age you can have a healthy and happy lifestyle. By preparing for healthy aging in your youth, these transitions can become more comfortable and manageable.

Start healthy habits like a good diet and regular exercise today to keep your body strong for when you get older. Take time to care for your skin and get ready for some of the hormonal changes coming your way. And keep your mind sharp by continuing to learn all the time.

You might think that age is just a number. And you would be right. You can embrace that number (no matter how high) knowing you are prepared for healthy aging.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

Little girl with variety of fruit and vegetable. Colorful rainbow of raw fresh fruits and vegetables. Child eating healthy snack. Vegetarian nutrition for kids. Vitamins for children. View from above.

Little girl with variety of fruit and vegetable. Colorful rainbow of raw fresh fruits and vegetables. Child eating healthy snack. Vegetarian nutrition for kids. Vitamins for children. View from above.

Healthy kids have a better chance of turning into healthy adults. But it takes work—and that work starts early. That’s because kids’ nutritional needs tie to the rapid development of childhood. So, nutrition for kids is about growth and development in the present and forming healthy building blocks and habits for a lifetime.

Just think about this: at two years old, your child’s brain has grown to 80 percent of its adult size. That’s incredible growth in a short amount of time. And for one of the most important parts of the body, too.

You understand why proper nutrition for kids is important. Now it’s time to deal with how you provide for kids’ nutritional needs. And the advice about the foods needed to grow healthy kids will sound very familiar.

When kids start eating solid foods, you should strive for a healthy balance. Like adults, kids’ nutritional needs start with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains.

Similar advice applies from six months (or when solid foods are introduced) all the way to 96 years. So, you won’t see it repeated in each section below. That would get tedious. But remember that keeping a balance of healthy, nutrient-dense foods is the foundation for good health—for a lifetime.

The Right Start: Nutritional Information for Infants

In the first six months of life, kids’ nutritional needs are taken care of by breast milk. If breastfeeding isn’t an option, high-quality commercial formula can provide the nutrition for babies up to six months old.

The mother’s nutritional status is very important for breastfed infants. Passing on adequate quantities of vitamins and minerals is essential to proper growth and development. That means a focus on getting all the nutrients—from a healthy diet or quality supplementation, if necessary—mom and baby both need.

At about six months, an infant needs a few important nutrients—especially iron. Levels of this essential mineral start dropping, and iron-rich foods are needed. Eleven milligrams (mg) of iron per day are recommended for babies 7–12 months old.*

Luckily, about this same time, kids are typically able to start supplementing breast milk or formula with other foods. So, iron-enriched cereals, fruit or vegetable purees, and other options can provide the extra nutrients healthy kids need. That’s on top of the nutrition babies continue to get from breast milk or formula.

Infants also need zinc, calcium, and vitamin D. Your baby needs to get 260 mg of calcium from six to 11 months. And you should shoot for 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin D. This pair of vitamins and minerals work together to support strong bones and many growing body systems.*

Also, fats are critical for brain and nervous system development. So, don’t limit your baby’s intake of fats—especially plant-based ones.

As they grow, you can expand the variety of foods your infant eats. You can move to finger foods and chopped whole foods as your baby grows older. Just move slowly to more solid foods and be very conscious of any choking hazards. But make sure to have a variety of healthy foods to build your baby’s love for diverse, nutritious fare.

Feeding Your Toddler’s Growing Needs

Toddlers (ages 1 to 3) are growing. And their opinions about food are, too. This is a time when vegetables and fruits are met with a one-word rebuke—NO. It’s a simple word that even healthy kids can learn to associate with foods they need.

Picky eaters’ nutritional needs aren’t always being adequately met. Growing kids need fiber. The general rule for daily fiber is the child’s age plus five grams. A lot of that should come from vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Choosy children can also miss out on crucial micronutrients.

Your growing toddler needs about 700 mg of calcium each day to support the growth of strong, healthy bones. Good nutrition for kids one to three years old also should include plenty of iron. That means seven milligrams per day.*

The caloric requirements of your growing child can vary. Anywhere from 1,000 to 1,400 calories is normal. When they’re hitting growth spurts, your toddler may want to eat more. And when that growth slows, their appetite might follow.

As a general rule, aim for about 40 calories for every inch of height, each day. For example, a toddler who measures 30 inches should eat around 1,200 calories a day. This amount can vary depending on a child’s activity level or build. It’s also important to remember that the serving size for a toddler is about 25 percent of an adult’s.

This can be a tricky time. To get the nutrition your kids need takes patience. But it’s important to push through and help your toddler develop healthy dietary habits. These become even more important as kids age and start making their own food decisions.

Nutrition for Kids Ages 4 to 10

As the growth spurts continue, the need for calories and specific nutrients does, too.

Healthy kids in this group can eat 1,200–2,000 calories in a day. That’s a big range because activity and growth are big variables. Active kids going through a growth spurt can reach those upper limits.

Calcium is still a main concern. Again, that has a connection to the growth of bones as kids get taller. Kids’ nutritional needs include 1,000 mg of calcium and 600–1,000 IU of vitamin D. They also need a full complement of essential vitamins and minerals—especially vitamin E and folate.*

School-age kids make more food choices without you. Packing lunches and helping your kids make informed decisions are crucial. Children this age can start helping more in the kitchen. Involving them in meal planning and preparation creates educational opportunities and helps build good habits.

Older Kids’ Nutritional Needs

The life of the modern pre-teen and teenager can be hectic and overwhelming. It can create a balancing act between school, activities, and social lives.

At this busy time, kids are still growing—and puberty brings its own changes and challenges. Good nutrition for kids in this age group needs to remain a constant in chaos. That means 1,300 gm of calcium per day for growing bones. It should also include fiber-packed meals, extra iron for girls (15 mg) who have started menstruating, and all essential vitamins and minerals.*

Teens can eat you out of house and home. Active girls can require up to 2,400 calories. Active boys can chew through 2,000–3,200 calories. That’s a lot of food. And they should be nutrient-rich—not just empty calories.

At the same time, some older kids will start dieting. Body image is a big part of teenage life. This newfound self-consciousness can hinder the ability for healthy kids to get what they need.

Kids nutritional needs can’t take a backseat to vanity, activities, or a packed social schedule. So, your teens should start the day with a healthy breakfast to fuel their busy days. They should get a balance of macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fats—and micronutrients. Protein and fiber provide sustained energy and satiation.

Your teen will soon be out in the world, scavenging for their own food. Make sure they’re equipped with the skills and habits required to deliver good nutrition throughout their lives.

Group of happy children lying on green grass outdoors in spring park

Good Nutrition Grows Healthy Kids

Pound for pound, kids require more nutrition than adults. Their bones are growing longer and stronger. Their brains are being built for a lifetime of learning. Their organs, muscles, and other systems mature. Getting proper nutrition for kids of all ages helps from head to toe.

At the same time, a child’s likes and dislikes take shape. Opinions about foods are cemented. Palates develop and influence choices later on.

The good thing is that meeting kids’ nutritional needs as they grow can help teach them to love healthy foods later in life. So, the work you put in to provide what your kid needs also builds the foundation for a healthy future.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Learning the Language

You’ve probably heard terms like “DNA” and “gene.” Or if you’re really advanced, maybe even terms like “translation” and “heredity.” Or maybe even at the graduate level “SNPs” and “epigenetics.”

If you already know all of these terms, great. You already speak the language of genetics. But maybe you could use a little brushing up on your genetics. Or maybe these terms are completely new to you. No matter what your genetics reading level is, understanding the vocabulary is essential. That’s especially true in the new world of individualized medicine and personalized nutrition. A knowledge of genetics is something you are going to have to keep on top of.

This will be the first part of a four-part series—Genetics 101. You will start by learning the definitions of key genetics terminology. This base of knowledge will help as you get more in-depth.

Once you have mastered genetics vocabulary, you will move on to Genetics 101—The Basics of DNA and Genes. Next, all this information is put in the context of heredity, the theory of evolution, and ancestry. And then you will close out your genetics crash course with the final section, “Genetics and Your Health.” With a new story a month, you’ll have a solid grasp of genetics so you can make informed decisions related to your health.

It’s time to start with the basics.

Common Genetics Terms Defined

Before you dive into the specifics of how your genetics defines who you are, it’s important to understand 26 common terms. They’ll help when you start learning about genetics’ impact on how you look, how your cells work, why your children look and act like they do, and how genetics affects your health outcomes.

Let’s start by defining some terminology that is the center of genetics.

 Nucleus: Your nucleus is technically an organelle—a self-contained structure within the cell. Your nucleus contains all of the genetic material you got from your parents, often referred to as your genome or DNA. The job of the nucleus is to protect, organize, and replicate DNA when the cell divides.

Genome: Refers to all of your genetic material as a whole.

DNA: An acronym for deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA is the carrier of all your genetic information. The specific order your DNA is assembled after being inherited from your parents determines your physical appearance and how your cells work. 

Nucleotide/Base: These words are used interchangeably to refer to the individual building blocks of DNA and RNA. DNA is made up of four nucleotides/bases: adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. They are often referred to in DNA shorthand as A, G, C, T, respectively.

Base Pair: Chemically and molecularly speaking, DNA is a double-stranded molecule. But it’s also anti-parallel, which means DNA is made up of two identical strands running in opposite directions. Think of it this way: One strand runs “A-to-Z” and the other runs “Z-to-A.”

Each strand binds to the other through a special set of relatively weak chemical bonds. Think of these hydrogen bonds like Velcro. They can bind together when needed, but also pulled apart when needed.

Importantly, one base will only bond with one other base—its compliment. For example, adenine can only pair with guanine (and guanine only with adenine). And only cytosine can pair with thymine (and thymine only with cytosine). These A-G and C-T pairings are called base pairs. This base pairing rule is important because it is at the center of reproduction and cellular division.

Chromosome: The most general way DNA is packaged in the nucleus. Chromosomes organize the large mass of DNA into defined and tightly condensed structures. These help organize and protect DNA. The number of chromosomes varies greatly by organism. They can have as few as one, to a couple hundred, to even more than 10,000 chromosomes. Humans have 23 pairs, or 46, chromosomes.

Gene: A further sub-organization of your genetic material. It is a short, discrete piece of DNA. If DNA is a book, think of genes as being the individual chapters. These chapters of DNA (genes) are the instructions for the cell to make a protein or enzyme. Specifically, a gene tells the cell the proper order to assemble amino acids to build a three-dimensional protein or enzyme structure. Humans have somewhere between 20,000-25,000 individual genes.

Gene Expression: Somewhere within or around a gene—most commonly at the beginning—are special DNA sequences responsible for turning a gene on or off (think of a light switch). Genes can also be constantly on. Their gene products (proteins or enzymes) are constantly being made, usually at a low, consistent level. The two major processes of gene expression—reading a gene and then making a protein—are called transcription and translation, respectively.

Transcription: The process where the cell reads the information contained within a gene. This message is copied into an RNA messenger molecule and sent from the nucleus, out to other parts of the cell.

RNA: An acronym for ribonucleic acid and chemically very similar to DNA. RNA is considered the master messenger. It relays short pieces of information contained in DNA (gene) to other locations within the cell. RNA specifically allows those messages to be turned into the functional units of the cell—proteins and enzymes. The information in RNA is segmented into sets of three nucleotides/bases called a codon.

Codon: A set of three sequential nucleotides/bases in an RNA molecule. The order of the three nucleotides/bases is the code for a specific amino acid. As the codons in RNA are read, the cell begins assembling strings of amino acids—the building blocks of proteins and enzymes. This process is called translation.

Translation: The process where the cell turns the RNA messenger molecule into a protein or enzyme.

Protein/Enzyme: Words often used interchangeably to describe a chain of amino acids chemically bonded together. Once the individual amino acids are bonded together, they fold upon themselves to form final functional products we often refer to as a protein or enzyme. While all enzymes are proteins, not all proteins are enzymes. By convention, scientists refer to a protein as a protein when its function in a cell is static or structural. The word enzyme is used to describe a protein that actively does work (like the enzymes that turn food into energy).

DNA Replication: The act of making an identical copy of DNA. When a cell divides it must also copy—or replicate—its DNA. This happens because the Velcro-like hydrogen bonds can be peeled apart. One strand stays with the old cell. The other strand moves into the new cell. Because of the base pairing rule (A-G and C-T can only pair together), each cell can remake the missing anti-parallel strand. This ultimately makes the DNA double-stranded again. This process can repeat as many times as the cell can divide. 

Heredity: The passing on of genetic information to the next, younger generation.

Phenotype: Your physically observable traits based on the sequence of your genes (genotype). Think of things like how you look and how you act.

Genotype: The DNA sequence of your genes.

Dominant Gene: When a dominant and recessive gene compete to be expressed, the dominant gene will win. For example, when a parent with brown eyes (dominant gene) has child with a parent with blue eyes (recessive gene) the child will have brown eyes—the dominant gene wins.

Recessive Gene: Recessive genes are not expressed when in the presence of a dominant gene. However, because you have two copies of each gene, when both of those copies are recessive, a recessive trait can be expressed. A child will have blue eyes when both copies of genes received from the parents are for blue eyes.

Ploid: Refers to the number of chromosomes or pairings of DNA in an organism. 

Diploid: “Di” means “two.” When a cell is diploid it has both copies of its DNA. This is the normal state of most of your cells and the DNA is said to be double-stranded. Cells must have its DNA in the diploid state to divide and replicate itself. 

Haploid: “Ha” means “half.” When a cell is haploid it only has half (or one) of its copies of DNA. Haploid cells only tend to be reproductive cells like sperm and eggs. This is important because when a sperm cell and egg cell fuse (fertilization), the two half copies of DNA recombine to create a complete, diploid genome. Once this new cell becomes diploid, it can begin to grow and divide.

Epigenetics: It can be considered a second genetic code that lays on top of your primary DNA sequence. This code is made up of a number of chemical signals. There are a number of chemical signals that can modify your DNA sequence or the structures that organize the DNA in the nucleus. Depending on the specific chemical modifications, genes can be turned on or off.

Interestingly, your diet and lifestyle dramatically affect this chemical code (epigenome) and how your genes are regulated. It has also been shown that your epigenetic code is also largely inheritable. That means that depending on how your parents—and even your grandparents—lived their lives affects how your genes are expressed. And how you are living your life will affect your children’s gene expression.

The epigenome is believed to be largely responsible for health outcomes—good or bad—in the next generation. For example, lean, healthy parents tend to have lean, healthy children. However, children of parents with certain diseases can have an increased risk of also getting that disease later in life.

Mutation: The changing of the original DNA sequence. This can happen through a number of different processes like: exposure to environmental chemicals, improper DNA replication, and physical breakage/damage to the DNA.

Ultimately, a mutation affects the function of the final protein/enzyme structure for which it codes. Mutations can have a number of effects on the cell—from no effect, to a beneficial effect, to a detrimental effect. If a mutation doesn’t change the final protein structure or function it is said to be silent.

Beneficial mutations confer improved function or survival to the cell or organism. This is often cited as the basis of evolution or the survival of the fittest. Mutations can also be detrimental. If a change in the original DNA sequence has negative affects to the structure or function of a protein, it can have grave consequences to cellular function. If a negative mutation occurs in an essential location in a gene, protein function with be dramatically affected and ultimately lead to a decrease in survival. Some common negative mutations, in key genes or proteins, can lead to cancer.

Cancer: A disease defined by uncontrolled cellular division. Normally, the cell keeps very tight control of the processes that stop or start a cell from dividing. However, this process can become disrupted. This can happen because of a mutation, exposure to environmental chemicals, physical damage, etc. But it is important to note that not all mutations cause cancer and that not all cancers are the results of mutations. Ultimately, uncontrolled cell division leads to the accumulation of abnormal cells into a growth mass known as a tumor. If this tumor results in impaired functioning to a tissue or organ, tissue and organ failure can follow, resulting in death.

SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism): A mutation in a single DNA base. Because this is a very minor mutation in a gene, SNPs tend to be silent mutations, and rarely lead to cancer. However, when a SNP happens in a critical location in a gene they can affect protein function—either positively or negatively. SNPs have gained popularity in science and medicine. For example, they’re used to help diagnose metabolic deficiencies or determine how a patient might respond to certain medications.

The Basics of DNA and Genes

This is the second part of a four-part series—Genetics 101. If you missed the first part, read Genetics 101—Learning the Language. Starting with the terminology before jumping into this article will help you learn the important vocabulary before getting more in-depth.

Genetics is both incredibly simple and incredibly complicated at the same time. Let’s start with what exactly is genetics? According to Merriam-Webster, genetics is “a branch of biology that deals with the heredity and variation of organisms” and “the genetic makeup and phenomena of an organism, type, group, or condition.”

Put simply, genetics is the study of what makes you both human and unique. And its DNA you have to thank. In fact, every living organism on Earth contains DNA. It’s DNA that makes a bacteria a bacteria, a bird a bird, and makes you human.

DNA’s Only Job is to Store and Share Information

Many think of DNA as being fluid, dynamic, and ever-changing. But in fact, DNA is a static and stable molecule. Whether it’s from stone tools or the inside of ancient bones, it’s possible to collect DNA and study it—even after tens of thousands of years.

An easy way to think of your DNA is like a blueprint to build a house. It conveys a lot of information. But that blueprint cannot build the house itself—it only stores and shares information. It takes an intelligent and coordinated team of workers to construct the actual home. You have the engineer that can read the blueprint, the bosses who direct the workers, and the laborers who are putting everything together.

DNA is doing nothing more than storing and sharing information with the cell. So, you can think of DNA as the blueprint for your cells.

DNA is a Very Large Molecule

science, research and genetics concept - young scientist in safety glasses, face mask with test tube and virtual projection of dna molecule

DNA is the genetic material contained in every nucleus in your body. And while not every cell has a nucleus—and some cells have more than one—every nucleus has a complete DNA sequence.

In each nucleus, DNA exists as a single (double-stranded) molecule. That is, a very large molecule. Human DNA is between two and three billion bases long. To put that into perspective, if you were to reach inside one of your nuclei, take out the DNA, and stretch it out on a table, it would be three-to-six feet (one to two meters) long.

Another way to illustrate DNA’s size is to estimate its total mass. If you take the average weight of a single nucleotide base, multiple it by two (because it is double-stranded), and then again by two to three billion (the total length of DNA), that’s already a big number. But you’re not done. Now multiply that by the total number of nuclei (or cells that have nuclei) to get the total amount of DNA in a human body.

That number comes to between approximately five grams (0.2 ounces or about the weight of a sheet of paper) to 50 grams (1.8 ounces or about the weight of a chicken egg) of DNA in your body. That’s a lot of DNA.

This also illustrates just how tightly DNA is packed inside of each nucleus. It’s incredible a molecule that big fits inside something so microscopic.

DNA is Highly and Complexly Organized Within Your Nucleus

You are made of trillions and trillions of cells (about 50 trillion to be exact). With the exception of some blood cells, about 75 percent have at least one nucleus. Within that nucleus is your DNA—a complete copy of DNA inside of every nucleus.

How is this possible? Basically, DNA is tied into the tightest of knots. It is wrapped around and folded back on itself numerous times. But this DNA knot is also highly organized and can be (at least partially) untied when the information it’s holding needs to be accessed.

The cell demands the information DNA contains by modifying it—and associated proteins that help organize DNA—with specific chemical signals. Some of these chemical signals last a very short time. Others can be passed from generation to generation. These chemical signals are called your epigenetic code.

Through this epigenetic code, cells regulate what parts of the DNA are turned on or off. This also gives each of the different cell types their unique identity. Even though every cell has a complete copy of DNA, cells only turn on the DNA they need. And they turn off the DNA they don’t. For example, brain cells only turn on brain-cell DNA, liver cells only turn on liver-cell DNA, skin cells only turn on skin-cell DNA, and so-on-and-so-forth.

DNA is the Instructions for Your Cells to Make Protein

So, how does DNA work to tell the cell what to make?

DNA is made up of four basic building blocks called bases—adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine (abbreviated A, T, G, C, respectively). Here is where it gets really amazing. These four DNA bases repeat over and over again, but in a unique order that gives you your individuality.

These bases (A, T, G, C) are ultimately responsible for everything you are: your height, how you look, your athletic ability, and how your cells, tissues, and organs function.

How can this be?

The easiest way to think about it is to relate it to the way you’re reading the words on this page. It starts with the alphabet. Then those letters are organized into words. It just so happens the “DNA alphabet” only consists of four letters—those As, Ts, Gs, Cs. When these four bases are organized in a specific order, they are the words—or instructions—for the cell to make protein. These can be structural proteins that hold the cell together. Or they can be enzymes—proteins that do work within the cell.

Another amazing fact is that every word in the “DNA dictionary” is only three letters—or bases—long. These three-letter words are called a codon. As the cell reads each codon, it knows exactly what amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to put together and in what order. It also knows how many amino acids to use.

In that codon, there are “start here” and “stop here” signals. For example, some proteins only require 500 bases to convey their instructions for protein. Others can be 2.2 million bases long. At 500 bases, it would yield a message with about 166 codons and a protein about 55 amino acids long. The 2.2 million base-length would have 733,333 codons to yield a complex protein with about 244,444 amino acids.

Genes are a Defined Piece of DNA That is the Instructions to Make Protein

A gene is defined as the basic physical and functional unit of DNA. It’s nothing more than the instructions for the cell to make one or more proteins. As mentioned above, there are start signals and stop signals in your DNA. Simply put, a gene is everything between a single start signal and stop signal.

It’s estimated that humans have approximately 25,000 genes in our entire DNA molecule. Estimates vary greatly, but humans have somewhere between 100,000 to over 1,000,000 different proteins in your body. Those numbers don’t matchup perfectly. That means a gene can code for as few as one protein, or as many as 100.

DNA, RNA, Protein: Transcription and Translation

You can think of this codon code as a foreign language. It’s the language the cell needs to learn to read the DNA and to eventually make protein. In fact, geneticists even call this process transcription and translation—similar verbiage that’s used to describe human language.

Let’s talk a little bit more in-depth about exactly how the cell can read its DNA.

When it comes to making proteins, this order becomes important: 1) DNA, 2) RNA, and 3) protein.

Like mentioned above, DNA is the static molecule tied up in a knot in the nucleus. But the cell cannot make protein inside of the nucleus. The protein construction needs room, so it’s done in cellular spaces outside of the nucleus.

So how does this information get out of the nucleus?

There is a molecule closely related to DNA that’s called RNA (ribonucleic acid). A special enzyme (called RNA polymerase) scans the DNA molecule looking for the “start here” codon. That indicates the beginning of the gene. This enzyme then scans along the DNA and transcribes the DNA message into an RNA message—a process known as transcription. Once this enzyme comes to the “stop here” codon, it stops making the RNA molecule.

This newly made RNA molecule then exits the nucleus. It’s immediately greeted by a ribosome. The ribosome is uniquely equipped to read the RNA molecule and translate that message into an amino acid (protein) sequence. The ribosome skips down the RNA message one codon at a time and signals to the cell what amino acids to put on next.

For example, the codon T-T-A is the “word” for leucine. The codon A-G-A codes for arginine. The codon G-C-G indicates alanine. In fact, there is at least one codon for all the amino acids necessary to build the proteins and enzymes your body needs.

As this new amino acid chain continues to get longer and longer, it begins folding into its final three-dimensional shape. Once the final amino acid has been added, the new protein releases from the ribosome and is targeted to its final destination. The ribosome then frees the RNA message and looks for another RNA molecule to translate. 

You are Mostly Banana

Since the human genome was sequenced in 2003, scientists worked hard to figure out what it all means. It was initially thought that once we knew the order of every base in human DNA, huge breakthroughs in science and medicine would occur.

But now, so many years later, it seems that more questions have arose than have been answered. Here’s why: It’s literally impossible to tell humans apart by reading our genetic code. We literally all have the same genes. Yes, there are some regions unique to each of us—similar to your fingerprints. But just like a fingerprint cannot tell race, height, or weight (or most personal information for that matter) neither can DNA.

diversity, race, ethnicity and people concept - international group of happy smiling men and women over white

Why is that?

To start, humans share greater than 99 percent of the same genes. The remaining one percent or less is responsible for your individuality.

It has been estimated that if we published our genetic code in a book, it would be about 262,000 pages long. Only about 500 pages would be unique to any one of us. That shows just how similar humans are.

We are also very similar to a number of other seemingly distant species. For example, humans are:

  • 96 percent genetically similar to chimpanzees
  • 90 percent similar to cats
  • 85 percent similar to mice
  • 80 percent similar to cows
  • 61 percent similar to fruit flies
  • 60 percent similar to chickens

You are even 60 percent similar to a banana!

How can that be?

It turns out that on the cellular level, cells—across a wide range of species—need the same basic genes and proteins just to function. It’s not until a cell or organism begins to get highly specialized do they actually need new and different genes and proteins.

So, as you can see, DNA is just the starting point of what makes you uniquely human. There are clearly a number of other factors at play.

Then, what makes us all so unique and diverse across the human population? Make sure you catch the next installment in this series, Genetics 101—Heredity, the Theory of Evolution, and Ancestry.

Your body can’t wait for a specific cleaning day to roll around. It’s constantly repairing, maintaining, and recycling. That happens on a large scale with life-essential proteins everywhere in your body. And that continual cycle happens in each human cell, because they all do their own form of cellular damage control, too. Two of the most important cleanup processes are autophagy and mitophagy.So, let’s figure out why these cleaning processes are important. Then talk about how your cells deal with recycling, renewing, and dealing with cell damage and cellular cleanup.

Why Cell Cleanup is Good for Your Overall Health

So many proteins are essential to your life. But amongst the diversity, there is something that’s common. They all must be broken down after fulfilling their assigned tasks. Whether the protein is a liver enzyme, cellular structural support, or a protein protecting your body as part of the immune system, they all eventually become old and have to go.

This normal cellular-quality-control process helps maintain your overall physical wellness. It helps keep you cranking through your daily tasks, enjoying adventures, and generally living your best life.

But if the body’s housekeeping operations are stalled or inefficient, the results can be disastrous. Research has revealed how imbalances between protein production and degradation (another word for breakdown) can lead to accumulations of protein products. And these accumulations have been linked to declining brain health and can adversely affect many other systems in your body.

How Autophagy Helps with Recycling and Renewal

Before getting into the process of autophagy, let’s define what it is. The straight translation of autophagy is “self-eating,” which sounds bad. But it’s an important, normal part of a healthy body.

Basically, autophagy is the formal name for the recycling process your body’s cells go through. It’s where cells recycle damaged or used up parts into their most basic components. Then those small pieces can be reused.

It’s time for the deeper dive into the details of cellular cleanup.

During the process of autophagy, unwanted cellular elements are isolated and walled-off in specialized double-membraned compartments. (These are also known as autophagosomes.) The packaged protein “garbage” then fuses with lysosomes. The lysosomes are a type of cell organelle (or a cell structure) that has digestive enzymes to break down protein components. Recycling is completed when the broken-down protein’s amino acids become the raw material for new proteins.

Autophagy is happening all the time for all your cell structures. It’s a normal part of your cellular cleanup processes. But it also gets cranked up when your cells are stressed. That can come from your lifestyle, free radicals, or other sources. For example, calorie restriction is a common stressor connected to autophagy. The damage done from stress can’t be allowed to pile up. So, it makes sense that autophagy kicks into high gear in stressful times.

What is Mitophagy?

Autophagy is a general term about the recycling process in many parts of the cell. Mitophagy is more specific. It refers to the same type of cleanup process for the mitochondria—the part of your cell responsible for energy production.

The mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell that turn fuel into energy. When they are young and healthy, they are efficient at providing energy with few waste products (free radicals). As mitochondria age or wear out, they’re much less efficient at producing energy. And, in doing so, they give off much higher levels of free radicals.

You can liken this to the engine in a car. When the car is new, it’s efficient and gives off few emissions. As the car ages with use, the engine loses its efficiency and gives off far more emissions. At some point, the check engine light comes on. It indicates the engine may need to be overhauled or replaced for the car to continue to function optimally.

So, the process of mitophagy overhauls your cellular power plants to keep them churning efficiently and effectively. And normally functioning mitochondria play a big role in maintaining your health, vitality, and long-term wellness.

Signaling Cellular Cleanup

All the recycling the human cell does is a good thing. So, why wait until cellular damage stacks up? How come your body doesn’t start autophagy and mitophagy more often?

Basically, because your body is all about survival. While more cleanup might help maintain optimal health, it isn’t necessary to keep you alive. So, the processes are triggered when necessary, but not before.

The survival mentality of your body—enough to stay alive, but not to thrive—is helpful, but not optimal. That’s where targeted nutrition can make a difference.

Under certain conditions, nutrients in your diet mimic cellular stressors like calorie restriction. And instead of cutting out a lot of calories, wouldn’t you rather target specific nutrients in your diet to trigger this process? Incorporating a few nutrients is the easier path. And it’s still effective. These nutrient stressors can signal the cell to renew or replace itself in order to maintain efficiency.

So, you’re essentially tricking your cells into overhauling their engines before the miles of life have totally taken their toll. That means optimal cellular health is maintained. And you have the efficient, effective cells you need to live your life to the fullest.

Many of these stress-inducing nutrients are found in fruits and vegetables—broccoli, tomatoes, kale, turmeric root, grapes, and blueberries to name a few. These new signaling abilities of plant compounds further support eating your fruits and vegetables for good health.

dna damage

dna damage

As we focus on the health of our genes and DNA with respect to disease and longevity, we most often tend to concentrate more on avoidance of toxins and environmental exposure. But, it may be the lack of essential nutrients to support health and the repair of DNA that is ultimately more important.

Dr. Bruce Ames from the University of California, Berkeley, developed the Ames test which is a cheap and convenient assay for mutagens and therefore potential carcinogens. He is one of the most respected microbiologists in the field. Back in 2000 he published a very important paper discussing the potential for micronutrient deficiencies to contribute to DNA damage potentially leading to cancer.

Summary of the research paper:

Common micronutrient deficiencies such as folic acid, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6, niacin, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, iron, or zinc, are likely to damage DNA by the same mechanism as radiation and many chemicals, appear to be orders of magnitude more important, and should be compared for perspective. Remedying micronutrient deficiencies should lead to a major improvement in health and an increase in longevity at low cost.

“Optimizing micronutrient intake (through better diets, fortification of foods, or multivitamin-mineral pills) can have a major impact on public health at low cost. Other micronutrients are likely to be added to the list of those whose deficiency causes DNA damage in the coming years. Tuning-up human metabolism, which varies with genetic constitution and changes with age, is likely to be a major way to minimize DNA damage, improve health and prolong healthy lifespan.”

Ames BN. DNA damage from micronutrient deficiencies is likely to be a major cause of cancer. Mutat Res. 2001;475(1-2):7-20.

Low intakes of the B vitamins are thought to contribute to depression in some people, but until now there has been little supporting evidence from population-based studies of older adults. In a study published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers examined whether certain dietary intakes of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid correlated with symptoms of depression.

The study group consisted of 3,503 adults aged 65 and older who were followed over an average of 7.2 years. Vitamin intakes from diet and supplements were assessed using food frequency questionnaires, and the presence of depression was measured periodically using a standardized version of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale.

After ≤12 years of follow-up, higher B vitamin intakes (including supplementation) were associated with a lower risk of depressive symptoms. The lowered risk remained after adjusting for age, sex, race, education, income, and anti-depressant medication use. The risk of developing depression symptoms decreased by 2 percent for every 10mg (milligram) increase in daily vitamin B6 intake. The same effect was true for every 10µg (microgram) increase in vitamin B12 intake. Increased intakes of the B vitamins through food intake alone did not significantly reduce depression incidence.

Both vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 are involved in healthy nervous system function, but because older adults often have difficulty absorbing the B12 found naturally in food, fortified foods and a multivitamin may be necessary to reach beneficial levels.

The results of this research indicate that high total intakes of vitamins B6 and B12 may be protective against depressive symptoms in older adults.

Skarupski KA, et al. Longitudinal association of vitamin B6, folate, and vitamin B12 with depressive symptoms among older adults over time. AJCN ePub ahead of print, doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.29413. Retrieved online June 2, 2010.