There are many aspects of brain health – emotional, psychological, behavioural and cognitive. Social and biological determinants play a role in how our brains develop and perform, and the environment we live in, people we surround ourselves with, foods we eat, physical activity and sleep habits all can improve, our conversely harm, our brain function and mental wellbeing. The choices we make in life are important – whether the normal routine or when crisis hits, such as during COVID-19. Joelle Alkhoury, Family & Child Specialist at Zulal Wellness Resort by Chiva-Som leads us through how to maintain the mental wellbeing of children during the pandemic, while Dr. Jason Culp, Research & Development Director at Chiva-Som, gives tips on how to eat for optimal brain function.
Nurturing Children’s Mental Wellbeing During COVID-19 by Joelle Alkhoury
Research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected the mental health of children. Prolonged lockdowns have disrupted educations and daily routines. Social distancing has resulted in a lack of engagement with friends, neighbours and extended family.
Deteriorating mental health can manifest as self-isolation, a loss of interest in daily activities and even depression. Conversely, children may over-attach to others and constantly need reassurance, or even act out with risk-taking behaviours. These negative effects are compounded in children when they cannot identify, communicate and manage their feelings.
The most important response is for parents and other adults in a child’s life to provide a safe space for communication. Children should be asked to express what they are feeling using open-ended and engaging questions. And especially if they struggle with verbal communication, attention should be paid to facial expressions and body language. Validate what the child is feeling, letting them know that they have been heard, that what they are feeling is normal and perfectly acceptable.
Establishing as normal a daily routine as possible is important for mental wellbeing. Activities that are a well-balanced mix of relaxing, energetic and entertaining will keep children grounded.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for all family members, and this can affect parenting styles. Parents may become less available and responsive to their children. They may even act inconsistently and lash out in frustration. Parents should pay extra attention to how they are behaving towards their children, making sure that they are not negatively affecting them, as mirrored in the child’s behaviour.
Children need to feel secure at home, with a strong family unit to rely on. This extends to multiple generations of the family – cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents – as the severing of bonds can lead to feelings of loss and distress. When physical interaction is not possible, sharing mutual interests online – such as playing games or praying together – is recommended. This will be beneficial for both young and old.
Eating for Optimal Brain Function by Dr. Jason Culp
Recent research has uncovered promising results on the effects of plant-based and Mediterranean diets on brain health. This research takes us into the exciting field of metabolomics (how the body metabolises and uses nutrients), interactions between diet and the gut microbiome, and the cumulative effects of key nutrients on cognitive health and function. Here is a list of specific brain superfoods you should try to incorporate in your diet for optimal functioning.
There is increasing evidence that cocoa has a positive effect on cognitive function in both young and older adults. The flavanols of cocoa enhance blood flow to the brain and the body’s sensitivity to the blood sugar-lowering hormone, insulin, while lowering blood pressure. Cocoa is best consumed in its low-processed form with no extra sugars added.
Recent research suggests that routine coffee drinkers benefit from reduced risk of cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This effect seems to be greater in people who drink more coffee versus those who drink less. Interestingly, some research has suggested a stronger cognitive benefit from coffee consumption for women. Keep in mind that caffeine consumption is not recommended for everyone though, and anything in excess can become detrimental to health.
The consumption of red wine has long been deemed heart-healthy and can be found in some of the world’s healthiest diets, including Mediterranean, and is consumed by the world’s longest-living communities. Research has demonstrated a cognitive-sparing effect from wine as well, showing the slowest decline (and therefore most benefit) in those individuals who consume 1.5 glasses of wine per day.
Green tea contains plant compounds called catechins which are associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline. But besides this potential protective benefit, the consumption of green tea also helps to boost memory, alertness and a sense of calm. L-theanine, a phytochemical found in green tea, has also been linked to these positive effects.
Edible mushrooms contain a variety of healthy nutrients such as proteins, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. Researchers are exploring another potential benefit – their ability to promote cognitive health and prevent decline. Even small amounts have been shown to reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment – a condition that typically precedes Alzheimer’s disease. Shiitake, white button and oyster mushrooms are among the types found to benefit cognitive health.
Blueberries have been reported to improve overall cognitive performance, memory and possibly even mood. On top of that, the powerful antioxidant properties of blueberries protect the heart and blood vessels, improve the vision and health of the retina, and have a positive impact on blood sugar control.
For more information on Zulal Wellness Resort by Chiva-Som, please visit www.zulal.com.
Dr. Jason Culp - Research & Development Director, Chiva-Som Hua Hin
For the past 10 years, Dr. Culp has held the position of senior Naturopathic physician at Chiva-Som International Health resort, where he conducts natural wellness consultations for in-house clients. In addition to his role as Naturopathic physician, he is the founder and director for the Research and Development department at Chiva-Som, in which the primary objectives are to evaluate and explore the use of evidence-based natural therapies in a holistic wellness setting. He is involved in lecturing internationally on the topic of wellness promotion as well.
Dr. Culp’s wellness philosophy follows that in order to create sustainable health, the client must fully engage and play an active participatory role in their own wellness process. The empowerment of the individual and the client’s authentic understanding of their wellness goals, intentions, and motivations take precedent in health and healing. In this way, each client leaves with the feeling that they are the most powerful advocate in their own wellness journey.
Joelle Alkhoury - Family & Child Specialist, Zulal Wellness Resort By Chiva-Som
Joelle is a passionate humanitarian and brings with her extensive experience in the fields of psychology, education, social work and research. Her background in counselling makes her perfect for her role at the resort facilitating positive child development, family bonding and parenting skills.