February 2024 Brain Health News

Sunlight for Better Sleep

     For kids and adults struggling to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, one of the simplest and most effective solutions doesn’t involve medications, supplements, or complicated rituals. Simply getting exposed to morning sunlight for at least 15 minutes can improve nighttime sleep and help set a more consistent circadian rhythm. Although this isn’t possible for everyone’s schedule, for those who can work it in, it’s an easy and free path to better sleep. For best results, sunlight shouldn’t be filtered through a window or sunglasses. Some families achieve this with a morning walk to the bus-stop, walking to school or parking further away, dog-walking, or checking the mail.

Killer Cheerios?

     Wondering what to think about recent headlines about the pesticide chlormequat in oats and cheerios? A recent study found chlormequat in the urine of 80% of Americans who were tested, and urine levels have increased compared to testing in earlier years. Researchers also found the chemical in oat products including Quaker Oats and Cheerios. 

      In the US, this pesticide can only be used on ornamental plants, not food crops; however, many of the oat products consumed in the US are sourced from Canadian oats, where Chlormequat is approved for use in crops. So what’s the significance of this pesticide in our bodies? Science hasn’t yet caught up to what the effects are for humans, but animal studies have shown that chlormequat is linked to reduced fertility, reproductive side effects, altered fetal growth, and harmful effects on the nervous system. I’d rather not wait for science to catch up and reveal the effects in humans, so I’m sticking with organic oats! Though organic food is more expensive, I consider it a down-payment on a healthier future.

EKGs for Kids & Teens?

     We’ve all heard stories of teen athletes experiencing sudden cardiac death while playing a sport. These stories are frightening and leave parents wondering what can be done to prevent such tragedies. Most of these cases are related to congenital heart conditions that the athletes and their families weren’t aware of. 

     In the US, though athletes undergo sports screening physicals, this does not routinely include an EKG (also known as ECG), a simple, quick, non-invasive test that measures the heart’s electrical signals. There is debate in the US about whether all child/teen athletes should receive EKG screening. Cost and lack of medical personnel trained in interpretation of EKG are some of the arguments against it. However, the European Society of Cardiology & International Olympic Committee recommends a universal EKG mandate for young athletes, and Japan routinely screens all children (whether athletes or not) with EKGs. Although it’s not routinely recommended in the US, as a parent, you can request this test for your child due to reasons including family history, concerning symptoms, or simply as a preventative measure for peace of mind.

ADHD Medications & Heart Health

     A recent large study published in JAMA examined the effects of ADHD medications on heart health in both children and adults ages 6 through 64. The authors concluded that ADHD medications increased the risk of high blood pressure and arterial disease, with the risk increasing over time. Each additional year of ADHD medication use increased the risk of heart disease by 4%. Overall they found a 23% increase in heart disease risk after 5 years of ADHD medication usage

     Critics of the study are concerned that the heart health risks must be weighed with the risks of untreated ADHD, which can affect school and work performance, social relationships, and mental health. The bottom line is that heart health screening should be initiated for kids and adults before and during use of ADHD medications. The American Heart Association has recommended EKGs for children taking stimulant medications, whereas the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend routine EKG for kids prior to starting stimulant medications. Despite these conflicting messages, parents can discuss this topic with their child’s pediatrician or family doctor and request an EKG if concerned.

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