Things That Ail Teens
Author: Angelique Bone Date Posted:14 May 2019
Teenagers often require additional support in certain areas of health. The changing hormones and pressures of school and extra-curricular activities, means the body sometimes has to work harder to maintain homeostasis and sometimes it needs a little help to deal with things like skin break-outs, stress, mild anxiety, concentration and sleep disturbances. So let’s have a brief look at some of these concerns and how we can help our teens through them.
Stress is something that affects teenagers just like it can affect adults. Between peer pressure, changing hormones, school work, potential issues at school with their peers and extra-curricular activities, there are a myriad of things that can contribute to the stress that teenagers experience.¹ Generally our bodies can respond efficiently to stress, initiating a physical stress response to deal with the stressor, and then re-establishing balance. Negative effects of stress start to occur when our bodies struggle to re-establish balance, as is the case in prolonged stress.² ʼ ³
One big difference between adults and teens is that adults have a fully developed pre-frontal cortex (the area of the brain that helps to assess situations and initiate an appropriate response). This means that in an adult, the brain is better able to assess whether a situation requires the stress response to be initiated. This is not the case in adolescents.¹ Because their pre-frontal cortex is not yet fully developed, the stress response kicks in more quickly than it does in adults.¹
When it comes to helping teenagers manage stress, adequate nutritional intake is essential. Vitamin C is a natural adrenal tonic, which can help to lower cortisol, as well as inflammatory markers triggered by stress.⁴ Vitamin B5 supports healthy adrenal function and steroid hormone production.⁵ Stress tends to cause our body to utilize more of these vitamins so make sure your teen is eating a well-balanced diet. Supplements are available if required.
Learning some stress management techniques, such as deep breathing or muscle relaxation, can be helpful for adolescents to manage their stress, as can playing a sport or regular exercise.⁶ Stimulants often increase cortisol levels, which can be counter-productive when a Teenager is feeling stressed, so minimize these where possible. Lastly, it can be very helpful to take some of the pressure off by helping teenagers understand that sometimes less than perfect is ok too, and sometimes an adequate result is enough.⁶ Help them to set realistic expectations and goals and be aware of your own expectations of them as well.
Another thing that is imperative to healthy stress management is getting enough sleep, ⁷ which we will discuss next.
The body clock naturally shifts during the teenage years, meaning it is quite natural for teenagers to stay up late into the night. However, they still need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep, ⁷ which can be tricky on school nights. In fact, a study found that only around 15% of teens got 8 and a half hours sleep on a school night. But then they sleep in late on weekends, and this irregular sleep pattern can cause more upheaval for their biological clock.⁷
So how can they get enough sleep? To start with, get homework done early instead of leaving everything to the last minute,⁷ that way you won’t get stuck doing it late into the night as often. Establish a healthy sleep routine, implementing set bed time and wake times. The more you stick to this routine, the easier it will be to fall asleep at night and the better for your overall sleep.⁷ This next one is tricky, but try to avoid watching TV or playing on the computer or phone for an hour before going to bed.⁷ These can be stimulating and make it harder to get to sleep, as well as potentially disrupting sleep quality.
Discourage having late dinners or snacks. A full stomach can also make it harder to get to sleep. Alternatively, going to sleep when hungry can also be difficult, so skipping dinner is not the answer.⁸ A healthy dinner at a reasonable hour is best.
Getting enough sleep can be difficult for a teenager with a busy schedule, but a good routine and healthy habits can help make a difference.
Focus and Memory
School keeps many teens very busy, but sometimes their focus can wane or they may struggle committing information to memory, making it harder to keep on top of all the work. Making sure that they get enough sleep is very important in keeping a sharp mind, just as it is for adults. There are also some other things which can help to keep the brain healthy. Essential fatty acids, particularly DHA, are important for healthy brain function and development and studies have shown DHA to be beneficial to brain function and school performance.⁹
Bacopa, also known as Brahmi, may also be of benefit. Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine as a tonic for the brain, clinical trials have shown the herb to be effective in improving learning and information processing and retention.¹⁰ Additionally it may also help to manage mild anxiety, ¹⁰ which is helpful for teens who often feel overwhelmed. Tyrosine is another nutrient which has shown benefit in the support of healthy brain function.¹¹ If teenagers are able to concentrate better and learn more easily, this could potentially help towards reducing their overall stress, which would be of great benefit in the long run.
As a teenager goes through the hormonal changes associated with growing up, they may sometimes start to experience skin breakouts or acne. In fact, as many as 85% of teens experience acne at some stage.¹² For some, this can greatly affect their confidence and how they feel about themselves. Why are teens more prone to acne? Generally, when kids hit puberty, their androgen (sex hormone) levels increase. This then causes oil glands to become overactive, meaning they produce too much oil, which can clog up pores and hair follicles. More oil can also lead to more bacteria, which can lead to blocked pores becoming infected and leading to pimples.¹² In some cases this doesn’t just occur on the face – it is also possible to get acne across the back and upper arms.
There are a few things that can be done. Skincare is obviously important in managing acne and using a gentle cleanser regularly is best, followed by a light moisturiser. Give the toner a miss, as these tend to just irritate to skin and can make inflammation worse.¹³ In terms of make-up, oil-free is best for those who have acne, and avoid chemical red coloured blushes and anything with shimmer, as these chemicals tend to block pores.¹³ A natural make-up without harsh chemicals would be preferred.
Diet is also important. For instance, there is some evidence to show that the effect certain foods have on blood sugar may affect acne. A study conducted in Korea, has shown that patients who were on a low glycaemic load diet (i.e. a diet that promotes stable blood sugar levels rather than blood sugar spikes) had a significant improvement in their acne.¹⁴
Some specific nutrients may also be of assistance, with low blood levels of zinc and vitamin E having been linked to acne severity.¹⁵ Some studies also show that zinc supplementation can help to improve acne.¹⁵ Herbs such as Meadowsweet and Myrrh have also shown beneficial effects in the management of skin breakouts.¹⁵
There are multiple health concerns that can affect teenagers, but luckily there are things which can be done to help. For help with severe stress or mental health concerns, please call LIfeLine on 13 11 14 or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. Please speak to your doctor or healthcare practitioner if any of the above concerns are severe or you feel there may be another underlying cause.
7. National Sleep Foundation, 2018, “Teens and Sleep”, cited 30/10/2018, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep/page/0/1
9. Kuratko CN; Barrett EC; Nelson EB & Salem N Jr, 2013, “The relationship of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) with learning and behaviour in healthy children: A review”, Nutrients, Vol. 5(7), pp. 2777 – 2810.
14. Kwon HH; Yoon JY; Hong JS et al 2012, “Clinical and histological effect of a low glycaemic load diet in treatment of acne vulgaris in Korean patients: A randomized controlled trial”, Acta Derm Venereol, Vol. 92, pp. 241 – 246.
15. Braun, L. & Cohen, M. 2015, “Herbs and Natural Supplements – 4th edition”, Chapters: Myrrh; Meadowsweet; Zinc, pp. 693; 702 & 1210, Churchill Livingstone, Chatswood, NSW Australia.
|Written by Angelique Bone|
Angelique (BHSc Naturopathy) is a qualified naturopath with a passion for herbal medicine and helping other people feel the best that they can. She believes that balance and moderation is important in maintaining good health.
Angelique enjoys reading, spending time with her family and baking goodies with her two young boys.