“I’m not doing that it’s BORING, what’s the point?” Do you have a child or teenager who is unmotivated and apathetic right now? Do they find it really hard to drum up the enthusiasm to follow through with instructions?
Apathy in young people can be spotted when there is a lack of interest, enthusiasm, emotion or motivation towards day-to-day activities that would normally be engaging or enjoyable. It can manifest as disinterest in schoolwork, social interactions, hobbies, or even basic self-care tasks such as brushing their teeth or getting dressed.
Get our lovely Healthy Bites newsletter each week!
Each week, you’ll get an amazing recipe, a useful health tip, and an ingredient to jazz up your shopping basket! We don’t share your details with anyone else.
Possible causes of apathy
There are many reasons for apathy in the young which can include tiredness and childhood stubbornness as well as anxiety and poor self-esteem. Apathy may also be an indication of more significant neurodevelopmental differences such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD.
It can be hard for some kids to get motivated to get started and to complete tasks such as finishing their homework. Completing these goals hinges on the ability to focus on relevant information and to be able to block out distractions to finish a project. This involves high levels of executive function and a strong working memory which many kids struggle with.
In this blog, I will delve into the role of essential nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, choline, zinc, folate and vitamin B12, in reducing apathy and promoting motivation as well as executive function and working memory.
The inflammation connection with lack of motivation
There is evidence suggesting that inflammation in certain brain regions, such as the frontal cortex (the front of the brain) and the basal ganglia (towards the back of the brain), may contribute to apathy and other related lack of motivation symptoms in children.
The basal ganglia are involved in various processes including learning and reward. One of the jobs of the basal ganglia is processing how you evaluate goals and risks. It also processes signals that affect your emotions and your motivation. These nifty brain structures play a part in learning, creating habits, planning tasks and ultimately getting things done.
The frontal cortex is like the control centre for our brain, taking care of important tasks such as making decisions, planning and keeping our emotions in check. In a nutshell, the frontal cortex is a critical part of the brain responsible for higher cognitive functions, co-ordination, emotional regulation, speech and language development, working memory, as well as aspects of our personality.
But sometimes, chronic inflammation can build up in these two areas and things can go a bit haywire. This can lead to challenges like feeling apathetic, being unmotivated and having trouble with cognitive skills. Several factors can lead to inflammation in these brain regions, including viral, bacterial, parasitic and yeast infections, misdirected autoimmune response as well as oxidative stress (slow repair of the brain cells). Additionally, a lack of key nutrients and hydration can contribute to inflammation and exacerbate apathy-related symptoms.
Nutrition support for apathy
In recent years, research has increasingly shown that certain nutritional deficiencies may exacerbate apathy and lack of motivation in all age groups. These deficiencies can affect both the frontal cortex and basal ganglia development and function. Although a well-balanced diet is crucial for everyone, it is even more critical for growing children, especially ones with a neurodivergent mind, as their brains may require additional support to mature these regions of the brain and function optimally.
The key nutrients that are needed in abundance to support the optimal development and function of these important regions of the brain are as follows:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are vital for brain development and function. They play a crucial role in cell membrane fluidity, neurotransmitter function and reducing inflammation.
Research has shown that children with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as ADHD, often have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood compared to neurotypical children. Supplementing with omega-3s has been shown to improve motivation in neurodivergent children.
Sources of omega-3s:
- Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines)
- Fish oil supplements
- Plant-based sources (chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, algae-based supplements)
Choline is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholine, which is involved in motivation executive function and working memory. Some studies have found that choline supplementation can improve cognitive function and alleviate symptoms of ADHD in children. Additionally, choline is essential for the production of phosphatidylcholine, a primary component of cell membranes, which is crucial for healthy brain development.
Food sources of choline:
- Egg yolks
- Soya beans
Zinc is an essential trace element that plays a critical role in numerous biological processes, including brain function. It is involved in neurotransmitter synthesis, neuronal signalling, and the production of antioxidants that protect the brain from oxidative stress. Some studies have found that children with ADHD have lower zinc levels than neurotypical children, and zinc supplementation has been shown to improve motivation as well as executive function and learning skills.
Food sources of zinc:
- Red meat
- Pumpkin seeds
Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is essential for brain development, neurotransmitter synthesis and DNA production. Folate deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of developing neurodevelopmental differences, such as ADHD and autism. In some cases, supplementing with folate has been shown to improve cognitive function and alleviate symptoms in neurodivergent children especially when the basal ganglia and frontal cortex are affected.
Food sources of folate:
- Leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens)
- Legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas)
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in brain health and function. It is involved in the production of neurotransmitters, the synthesis of myelin (the protective sheath around nerve fibres), and the maintenance of the nervous system. Vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked to various neurological and psychiatric symptoms, including apathy, depression, brain fog and irritability.
Food sources of vitamin B12:
There is great news for those parents who are worried about their child’s motivation or enthusiasm levels! To promote healthy brain function, make sure your child gets enough of these essential nutrients through a well-rounded diet or appropriate supplementation. Let’s banish apathy and fuel motivation in our kids by embracing the power of excellent nutrition!
We know many people want to know what products we recommend but unfortunately for regulatory reasons, recommendations have to be private. However all is not lost, you can join NatureDoc Live! for monthly Zoom Q&As with Lucinda, as well as a forum for asking questions, and access to recommendations in our blogs which appear when you log in.
- Apathy: Why Care?
- Brain mechanisms underlying apathy
- Neural Correlates for Apathy: Frontal-Prefrontal and Parietal Cortical- Subcortical Circuits
- Apathy and the Functional Anatomy of the Prefrontal Cortex–Basal Ganglia Circuits
- Apathy and the basal ganglia
- Imbalanced basal ganglia connectivity is associated with motor deficits and apathy in Huntington’s disease
- Neuropsychiatry of the basal ganglia
- Dysthymia and Apathy: Diagnosis and Treatment
- N-3 (omega-3) fatty acids: effects on brain dopamine systems and potential role in the etiology and treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders
- Dopamine reverses reward insensitivity in apathy following globus pallidus lesions
- Influence of dietary choline and tryptophan on motivational state
- Alpha-Glycerylphosphorylcholine Increases Motivation in Healthy Volunteers: A Single-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Human Study
- Causal Link between n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Deficiency and Motivation Deficits
- Can’t or Won’t? Immunometabolic Constraints on Dopaminergic Drive
- Inflammation Effects on Motivation and Motor Activity: Role of Dopamine
- Low-Grade Inflammation Is Associated with Apathy Indirectly via Deep White Matter Lesions in Community-Dwelling Older Adults: The Sefuri Study
- Zinc: an essential but elusive nutrient
- Zinc, the brain and behavior
- Effects of vitamin B12 and folate deficiency on brain development in children
- Mood disorder with mixed, psychotic features due to vitamin b12 deficiency in an adolescent: case report
- Vitamin-Responsive Movement Disorders in Children