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by Glen Depke, Traditional Naturopath You might be thinking, “How can back to school be dangerous?” To provide this answer for you I am going to specifically focus on college students. Many of our followers are college students or are parents of college students, so this actually pertains to so many of you. I want to start by defining one of the the most unhealthy times of a person’s life, which is the college years. We may think that this time is all about growth, learning, sports and some fun but this time of life typically sets up life long health challenges that do anything but create and empowering future for so many. Here are some factors that many will not think about as their child goes off the college for the first time. This is most often the first time they are in charge of nutrition choices full time for themselves. With busy schedules, lack of proper cooking facilities and cost of food, most college students attempt to survive on fast food, processed foods, gluten galore, soda and alcohol. You’ve heard of the freshmen 15 right? That is the approximate 15 pounds that many freshmen will gain due to these poor choices, but it is not just the weight that is the issue, it is also the type of weight gained. The biggest challenge with this weight gain is that so much of this is actually inflammatory weight, with the most significant triggers for inflammation listed below.
  • The standard American diet (SAD) which is a diet high in sugar and processed foods
  • Food sensitivities such as gluten and other cross reactive sensitivities
  • Chronic mental/emotional stress
  • Chronic infection

As you can see with these triggers above, the top three triggers are a major impact for most college students, throwing them into inflammatory states that not only increase weight but so much more. The chronic inflammatory states that begin at this time can lead into a host of other health challenges down the road for your children as noted below.   

So how do you take away the “danger” of back to school for your children or perhaps for yourself? Make water your main drinking source. Don’t get caught up in drinks that stimulate energy such as caffeinated coffee, energy drinks and sugar filled beverages. While you may feel and immediate stimulation and surge of energy from this, it will in essence create a crash in energy and another need to stimulate energy. This wreaks havoc on adrenal function and the dysregulated blood sugar will also leave you with less than optimal brain function.

Be sure to consume a natural source of protein, vegetable and fat at every meal.

Far too often college students will live on carbohydrate stimulation to get through their days which is a similar experience as mentioned above and this is also a very poor conversion of energy. Protein consumption daily is essential to pull out the amino acids which are the building blocks of life as well as an essential need to support neurotransmitter function, which is key for healthy brain function. Also getting in good quality fats are essential for brain function and to enhance energy production. Most do not recognize that the conversion of energy from fat is approximately six times greater than the conversion from carbohydrates. Your carbohydrate consumption, preferably from vegetable consumption will assist with balanced blood sugar for optimal brain function along with learning and comprehension.

Be aware of the strong potential challenges with gluten.

 Most people that have gluten sensitivity are actually asymptomatic, so it is not as if you eat gluten and feel poorly. Also add in the fact that the longer term health challenges from gluten do not typically unveil themselves until we reach out thirties or forties. To add to this understanding, gluten can be a significant issue for not only the gut but the more recent research shows gluten as being even a bigger issue for the brain. This not only effects our master regulator of our body but will have a definite impact on learning and comprehension along with mood.

The stress factor is also huge for most college students. 

As mentioned earlier in this article stress is a major trigger for both adrenal issues as well as inflammatory challenges. It is essential to incorporate some healthy stress reduction techniques into the college years. Examples of this are regular deep belly breathing exercises, yoga, Tai Chi or meditation. Most college students are not taking care of their stress levels and this will be a key to optimize learning and comprehension as well as leading down a path of long term optimal health.

One other main factor to discuss that will help with everything we have mentioned above is sleep.

For so many college students, poor sleep patterns tend to develop early and continue not only through college years but also later in life. So often students are cramming their studies into the time frames of 11:00PM to 1:00AM in the morning or even later. This creates such an unhealthy sleep and hormonal pattern that will deplete brain function. Understand that it is much better to get up earlier in the morning rather than to stay up to late at night and into the early hours of the morning. You will find that you actually accomplish more in the AM hours with much better comprehension than trying to cram late and night. This is one healthy habit that we can all honor on some level.

Basic supplementation for your college student would be tied into proper digestion and brain function.

At the most basic level I would recommend a quality prebiotic/probioic formula taken upon waking, a full spectrum comprehensive digestive enzyme taken with each of the three main meals and a high quality liquid omega 3 fatty acid supplement combined with CoQ10 to enhance cellular energy production and brain function.

So please have a good heart to heart discussion with your college student and help them make healthy choices that will not only optimize their experience in their college years but also for many decades to follow. Next week we will address the stress factor of back to school with a much deeper focus. If you have any comments or questions regarding this article, please post below for us to respond to personally.