Sleep Patterns

The link between sleep, concentration, and mood.

Disrupted sleep may involve difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or an alteration in the quality of sleep. This leaves the individual feeling unrefreshed, emotionally depleted, and vulnerable to the development of various mental and physical disorders.

What is the purpose of sleep?

Metabolism is a complex biological chain reaction that fluctuates all day. Anabolism is the set of metabolic pathways that construct new molecules from smaller units mostly derived from food. While anabolism takes care of the building-up and creational aspects of metabolism, catabolism is responsible for the breaking-down and ultimate degradation of cellular components.

At night, during the sleep-cycle, many of the body’s systems go into ‘anabolic state’, a renewal process that is essential for the restoration of the immune, skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems. These are also required to optimally maintain the function of neurons which ultimately regulate mood, memory, and cognitive function.

Of the most pronounced physiological changes that happens in the body during sleep occurs in the brain. This is because sleep allows the brain to use significantly less energy for ‘thinking’, thereby allowing it to replenish its energy supply in the form of the molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate) required for nerve transmission, neurotransmitter production and nerve growth.

What are the consequences of poor sleep?

Sleep deprivation, also known as sleep insufficiency or sleeplessness, is the condition of not having adequate sleep duration and/or quality of sleep to support your normal level of alertness and mental performance to get your hardworking brain through the next day. Sleep insufficiency can be either chronic or acute and may vary widely in severity.

Research has demonstrated that individuals with sleep deprivation problems are more likely to display decreased levels of concentration, battle to keep their mood upbeat and have an increased risk of developing a mood disorder or chronic pain syndrome.

Why should sleep deprivation not be ignored?

Over the last thirty years the concept that sleep serves a restorative function has gained strong scientific support from several research studies. More of these are emphasizing the key role of deep and proper sleep.

Two common symptoms of not getting enough sleep or poor sleep are fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness. But having poor or insufficient sleep also increases one’s risk of developing a mood disorder such as depression and/or anxiety. This becomes a vicious cycle as sleep becomes more disturbed in a mood disorder, the mood disorder is more resistant to treatment unless the sleep disorder is concurrently treated, and lastly, any residual untreated sleep disorder increases the risk of relapse even after successful management of the mood disorder.

What does SleepVance contain?

SleepVance contains a unique blend of plant-derived (phytochemical) ingredients, vitamins and minerals known to promote healthy sleep patterns, increase sleep quality, and alleviate the daytime consequences of sleep deprivation. These are Valerian root (Valeriana officianalis), American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), Inositol, Glycine, Folate (as L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate), Magnesium, Vitamin B6, Vitamin D3, Vitamin C and Zinc.

What can SleepVance do for you?

  • SleepVance:
    • Aids with the promotion of healthy sleep patterns
    • Increases sleep quality
    • Alleviates the daytime consequences of sleep deprivation
    • It can be combined with any insomnia medication to improve sleep patterns

What are the side-effects and contra-indications of SleepVance?

  • SleepVance elicits natural sedative properties and should therefore not be taken before driving or operating heavy machinery.
  • Safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation has not been established and the administration of SleepVance during pregnancy and breastfeeding is therefore contraindicated.
  • Mild gastric irritation may occur if taken on an empty stomach, but generally, the natural ingredients in SleepVance have a low side effect profile.
  • Anyone with a known hypersensitivity or allergy to Valerian root, American skullcap, Passionflower, 5-HTP, Inositol or any other active or inactive ingredient in SleepVance should avoid taking SleepVance.

How should SleepVance be used?


Take two tablets on a daily basis 1-2 hours before bedtime with supper or a later pre-bedtime snack/drink (preferably not on an empty stomach).

Tablets may be crushed or chewed to facilitate swallowing.


SleepVance is not recommended for children under the age of 18 years.


SleepVance contains the amino acid 5-HTP pharmaceutically registered in some countries for adult use only. SleepVance kids, a specialised teenage formulation, is better suited for children between 8 and 18 years.


SleepVance is not recommended for children under the age of eight.

Cognition and immunity

What is cognition?

Cognition is defined as ‘’the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses’’. While a lot of attention and research has focused on methods to increase attention, concentration and improve learning in general, not much has been done to ensure that the information learnt is adequately stored and easily retrievable when needed.

Cognitive processes involved in gaining knowledge and comprehension include thinking, knowing, remembering, judging, and problem-solving. These are higher-level functions of the brain and encompass language, imagination, perception, and planning.

  • AttentionAttention is a cognitive process that allows people to focus on a specific stimulus in the environment.
  • Language: Language and language development are cognitive processes that involve the ability to understand and express thoughts through spoken and written words. It allows us to communicate with others and plays an important role in thought.
  • LearningLearning requires cognitive processes involved in taking in new things, synthesizing information, and integrating it with prior knowledge.
  • Memory: Memory is an important cognitive process that allows people to encode, store, and retrieve information. It is a critical component in the learning process and allows people to retain knowledge about the world and their personal histories.
  • PerceptionPerception is a cognitive process that allows people to take in information through their senses (sensation) and then utilize this information to respond and interact with the world.
  • Thought: Thought is an essential part of every cognitive process. It allows people to engage in decision-making, problem-solving, and higher reasoning.

How can I help improve my family’s cognition?

Cognitive processes are influenced by a range of factors including genetics and experiences. While one cannot change their genetics, there are things one may do to protect and maximize their cognitive abilities:

  1. Stay healthy
    Lifestyle factors such as eating healthy and getting regular exercise can have an effect on your cognitive functioning.
  2. Think critically
    Question your assumptions and ask questions about your thoughts, beliefs, and conclusions.
  3. Stay curious and keep learning
    One great way to flex your cognitive abilities is to keep challenging yourself to learn more about the world.
  4. Skip multitasking
    While it might seem like doing several things at once would help you get done faster, research has shown it actually decreases both productivity and work quality.
  5. Use supplements
    A few natural compounds, vitamins and minerals have been shown to improve symptoms associated with ADHD, fatigue, concentration difficulties, impaired immunity, poor cognitive function, stress, and anxiety while causing few side-effects. Of these, some of the most effective are Rhodiola rosea (Roseroot), inositol, magnesium, vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin D3. The aforementioned ingredients are supported by science and are known to have positive effects on a range of factors associated with mental function.

    • Rhodiola rosea has been used for thousands of years in northern European countries to improve mood and combat stress. Recent research has uncovered its ability, in addition to these uses, to enhance mental function, memory and attention span, in part through increasing neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain. This is reflected in its wide use and recognition as an assistive therapy in Russia, Scandinavia, the UK, and Sweden.
    • Inositol is a naturally occurring B vitamin which is present in the body and a number of food sources, especially fruit, beans, and nuts. The molecule plays a role in a number of pathways in the brain, especially during the biosynthesis of norepinephrine. Low levels of inositol have been associated with some psychological conditions characterised by low mood, motivation and anxiety, and supplementation of inositol has been shown to alleviate these symptoms.
    • Magnesium is a biologically essential trace element which plays a vital role in the regulatory activity of over 300 enzymes involved in nerve conduction and the production of neurotransmitters. Magnesium helps to calm the nervous system down due to the mineral’s ability to block brain N-NMDA receptors (methyl D-aspartate), thereby inhibiting excitatory neurotransmission and mental overload. Inadequate magnesium levels have been linked to insomnia, anxiety, increased pain perception, and several neuropsychiatric problems. Conversely, studies on magnesium supplementation have shown significant improvement overall emotional well-being, sleep patterns, anxiety levels and mood.
    • Zinc is one of the most abundant trace minerals in the brain and supports several physiological, biochemical, and neurological functions. The bioavailability of zinc can influence central nervous system (CNS) function through a variety of mechanisms, and diets deficient in zinc have been known to result in behavioural disturbances and diminished brain function. (A meta-analysis of 17 studies with 1643 depressed and 804 control participants demonstrated that peripheral serum zinc concentrations were approximately -1.85 μmol/L lower in depressed participants). While the exact role of zinc in the pathophysiology of depression remains unclear, the inverse relationship between zinc levels and depression has been established in several studies that evaluated zinc bioavailability in depressed patients.
    • Vitamin D receptors are abundant throughout the central nervous system (CNS), especially in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that plays an essential role in the consolidation of information and the regulation of both short- and long-term memory. Research has also shown that vitamin D modulates several enzyme systems in the brain and the cerebrospinal fluid involved in neurotransmitter synthesis and nerve growth. Moreover, recent studies have shown Vitamin D to possess a neuroprotective effect as well as reduce neuro-inflammation, thereby improving cognitive function.
    • Vitamin C, one of the best-established neurological functions of vitamin C is in the regulation of neurotransmitter biosynthesis such as dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Individuals who have vitamin C deficiency often report feeling both depressed and fatigued. Conversely, studies of hospitalised patients who often have lower than normal vitamin C levels have found a significant improvement in mood after receiving vitamin C supplementation. But vitamin C supplements might help improve mood even for people who aren’t known to have low vitamin C levels, as demonstrated by several studies. One study of high school students indicated that vitamin C supplementation lowered anxiety levels, while other studies have shown overall mood-elevating effects, including the reduction of anger.

NeuroVance Focus, a unique blend of the above scientifically endorsed plant-derived ingredients, has been developed by the Medical Nutritional Institute to improve neurological and immunological functioning safely and effectively. NeuroVance Focus is a unique blend of plant-derived phytochemical ingredients, vitamins and minerals that target multiple biological pathways recognised to reduce stress, improve concentration, cognition and focus, and promote calmness in both children and adults. As an assistive therapy, NeuroVance Focus can therefore help to improve cognition, concentration, brain function and focus as well as assist you and your child in reaching your full potential.

What is immunity?

Immunity by definition is the capability of multicellular organisms to resist harmful microorganisms. It involves both specific and nonspecific components, the nonspecific components act as barriers or eliminators of a wide range of pathogens irrespective of their antigenic make-up. Other components of the immune system adapt themselves to each new disease encountered and can generate pathogen-specific immunity. Immunity can be summed up as a complex biological system equipped with the capacity to recognize and tolerate whatever belongs to the self, and to recognize and reject what is foreign.

We have three types of immunity: innate, adaptive, and passive:

  • Innate immunity: Everyone is born with innate (or natural) immunity, a type of general protection. For example, the skin acts as a barrier to block germs from entering the body. And the immune system recognizes when certain invaders are foreign and have the potential to be dangerous/harmful.
  • Adaptive immunity: Adaptive (or active) immunity develops throughout our lives. We develop adaptive immunity when we’re exposed to diseases or when we’re immunized against them with vaccines.
  • Passive immunity: Passive immunity is “borrowed” from another source and it lasts for a short time. For example, antibodies in a mother’s breast milk give a baby temporary immunity to diseases the mother has been exposed to.

How can I help enhance my family’s immunity?

There are several dietary and lifestyle modifications that may help enhance your body’s natural defences and help you fight harmful pathogens and/or disease-causing organisms:

  1. Get enough sleep: Sleep and immunity are closely tied in fact; inadequate or poor-quality sleep is linked to a higher susceptibility to sickness. In a study of 164 healthy adults, those who slept fewer than 6 hours each night were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept 6 hours or more each night. Getting adequate rest may strengthen your natural immunity. Also, you may sleep more when sick to allow your immune system to better fight the illness. Adults should aim to get 7 or more hours of sleep each night, while teens need 8–10 hours and younger children and infants up to 14 hours. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try limiting screen time for an hour before bed, as the blue light emitted from your phone, TV, and computer may disrupt your circadian rhythm, or your body’s natural wake-sleep cycle. Other sleep hygiene tips include sleeping in a completely dark room or using a sleep mask, going to bed at the same time every night, and exercising regularly.
  2. Eat more whole plant foods: Whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that may give you an upper hand against harmful pathogens. The antioxidants in these foods help decrease inflammation by combatting unstable compounds called free radicals, which can cause inflammation when they build up in your body in high levels. Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health conditions, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers. Meanwhile, the fibre in plant foods feeds your gut microbiome, or the community of healthy bacteria in your gut. A robust gut microbiome can improve your immunity and help keep harmful pathogens from entering your body via your digestive tract. Furthermore, fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients like vitamin C, which may reduce the duration of the common cold.
  3. Eat more healthy fats: Healthy fats, like those found in olive oil and salmon, may boost your body’s immune response to pathogens by decreasing inflammation. Although low-level inflammation is a normal response to stress or injury, chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system. Olive oil, which is highly anti-inflammatory, is linked to a decreased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Plus, its anti-inflammatory properties may help your body fight off harmful disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those in salmon and chia seeds, fight inflammation as well.
  4. Limit/avoid added sugars: Emerging research suggests that added sugars and refined carbs may contribute disproportionately to overweight and obesity. Obesity may likewise increase your risk of getting sick. According to an observational study of around 1,000 people, people with obesity who were administered the flu vaccine were twice more likely to still get the flu than individuals without obesity who received the vaccine. Curbing your sugar intake can decrease inflammation and aid weight loss, thus reducing your risk of chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Given that obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease can all weaken your immune system, limiting added sugars is an important part of an immune-boosting diet. You should strive to limit your sugar intake to less than 5% of your daily calories. This equals about 2 tablespoons (25 grams) of sugar for someone on a 2,000-calorie diet.
  5. Regular moderate exercise: Although prolonged intense exercise can suppress your immune system, moderate exercise can give it a boost. Studies indicate that even a single session of moderate exercise can boost the effectiveness of vaccines in people with compromised immune systems. What’s more, regular, moderate exercise may reduce inflammation and help your immune cells regenerate regularly. Examples of moderate exercise include brisk walking, steady bicycling, jogging, swimming, and light hiking. Most people should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
  6. Use supplements: Not all supplements provide you with the necessary vitamin and mineral levels required to have a significant positive effect on your immune response, however, some studies indicate that the following supplements may strengthen your body’s general immune response:
    • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an essential micronutrient for humans, with pleiotropic functions related to its ability to donate electrons. It is a potent antioxidant and a cofactor for a family of biosynthetic and gene regulatory enzymes. Vitamin C contributes to immune defence by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system. It supports epithelial barrier function against pathogens and promotes the oxidant scavenging activity of the skin, thereby potentially protecting against environmental oxidative stress. Vitamin C has also been shown to accumulate in phagocytic cells, such as neutrophils, and can enhance chemotaxis, phagocytosis, generation of reactive oxygen species, and ultimately microbial killing. It is also needed for apoptosis and clearance of the spent neutrophils from sites of infection by macrophages, thereby decreasing necrosis and potential tissue damage. According to a review of over 11,000 people taking 650-2 000 mg of vitamin C per day, it reduced the duration of colds by 8% in adults and 14% in children.
    • Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency may increase your chances of getting sick, so supplementing may counteract this effect. Vitamin D has the capability of acting in an autocrine manner in a local immunologic milieu. It can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection. As immune cells in autoimmune diseases are responsive to the ameliorative effects of vitamin D, the beneficial effects of supplementing vitamin D deficient individuals with autoimmune disease may extend beyond the effects on bone and calcium homeostasis.
    • Zinc: In a review of 575 people with the common cold, supplementing with 12-75mg of zinc per day reduced the duration of the common cold by 33%. Zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system. It is crucial a crucial component for normal development and function of cells mediating innate immunity, neutrophils, and natural killer cells. Macrophages also are affected by zinc deficiency. Phagocytosis, intracellular killing, and cytokine production all are affected by zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency adversely affects the growth and function of T and B cells. The ability of zinc to function as an antioxidant and stabilize membranes suggests that it also plays a role in the prevention of free radical-induced injury during inflammatory processes.

NeuroVance Focus, a unique blend of the above scientifically endorsed plant-based ingredients, has been developed by The Medical Nutritional Institute to enhance immunity effectively and safely. The individual ingredients (vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc) target multiple biological pathways known to enhance the bodies’ resistance to infection in both children and adults.


How can I improve my child’s concentration?

All children are different and change according to their age and what is going on in their lives. Periods of emotional stress, discouragement and a busy lifestyle can leave them demotivated and unable to concentrate. At the same time, children naturally vary in their ability to concentrate and keep motivated. Your child’s ability to focus and do well is therefore a complex interplay of many factors. Children’s attention span naturally increases with age. According to educational psychologists, a child’s attention span increases between 2 and 5 minutes every year. This means that a 5 year old should be able to stay focussed for between 10 and 25 minutes, and a ten year old twice that. If your child sometimes cannot concentrate for this long it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong, but that they may need some extra attention. If you child consistently cannot focus, no matter the task, they may be suffering from more serious concentration difficulties and should see an educational psychologist. In general, however, children can become easily distracted and ill-motivated, whether just for a specific subject, like maths, or school in general. So how can you help make sure your child is able to stay motivated and concentrate on the tasks which matter?

Set a daily routine

Children who have difficulty concentrating or starting work do better if they know when it is expected of them. Learning to live according to a schedule will also help them cope with an increasingly busy life as they grow up. How this schedule is laid out will depend on your child and the activities that they take part in. Perhaps they work better as soon as they get home or later on after some recreation or sport. Try out different study routines to see which they are best able to cope with, and make sure it remains consistent.

Give your child choices in their daily lives

Allowing your child to choose increases motivation to stick with decisions and complete tasks because they are invested in how and why they are achieving a goal. This includes setting up their schedule and routine, what they would like to eat for breakfast and what clothes they would like to wear. Children are also more aware of when they can study best or what environment or learning styles suit them, and so may come up with solutions to problems which may not have been obvious to their parents or teachers. Play an active role in steering these decisions to keep you children productive, and they will learn independence in making the right choices in life.

Find out when your child is best able to complete certain tasks

Some people can concentrate better in the morning, others at night or after a meal. Monitor your child’s activity and concentration levels and try to fit their schedule to take this into account.

Use a clock or timer during study time

This will improve your child’s awareness of how long they have worked for and how much longer they need to go until they can have a break, helping them stick to a schedule and be more conscious of their attention span.

Try to discover which style of learning best suits your child

Not everyone learns in the same way, and this can be frustrating, discouraging and boring if not taken into account. Some people do better with different learning styles depending on the subject, their mood or may prefer a combination of learning styles. Try to incorporate a range of these but focus on those with which your child does best. The major learning styles are:

  1. Visual (spatial): Uses pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  2. Aural (auditory-musical): Incorporates sound and music.
  3. Verbal (linguistic): Spoken and written words are more easily understood.
  4. Physical (kinesthetic): Prefer to use body, hands and sense of touch.
  5. Logical (mathematical): Learn best with logic, reasoning and systems.
  6. Social (interpersonal): Learn in groups or with other people.
  7. Solitary (intrapersonal): Work alone and use self-study.

Identify and incorporate your child’s interests into their work

The key to motivation and focus is interest in a task. Try aligning subjects that a child is not interested in with projects and goals that they find engaging. This will help them see the practical relevance of a particular subject, and keep them motivated to complete their work. For example, if your child likes cars, explain to them how maths and science help us make cars, or if they like movies, how English will help them write scripts one day. It is also important that you put at least as much effort into helping them develop their interests and hobbies as you do subjects that they may not be showing particular zest for. Their interests are the tasks and subjects that they will always perform better in, will carry through to adulthood, and that will allow them to attain a happy, productive and successful career and life.

Praise effort, not just achievement

Praising your children when they behave well and focus, rather than scolding them when they don’t, is extremely important. People are much quicker to respond to positive than negative stimuli, and children are easily discouraged if they feel they are incapable of achieving results. At the same time, praising only achievement can lead children to become discouraged when they fail to reach their goal. Instead, encouragement and praise for effort appears to be the most important factor in teaching them to work hard and be resilient. Verbal praise and reward is often more important than gifts as they will start to believe that if there is no physical incentive for them to perform it is not worth it.

Teach them that failure is a part of learning

If children see failure as only a bad thing, reflecting on them as a person, they will quickly become discouraged, lose interest and motivation, and start to believe they are not good enough. This goes hand-in-hand with encouraging effort. If they are able to see that they did well on something because they worked hard, or didn’t because they procrastinated, they are more likely to correct the problem than just believe they aren’t good enough. Teach them an optimistic mind-set, focussing on solutions rather than worrying about setbacks.

Remove distractions during study time

These include TV, radio, video games, cell-phones, tablets, speaking and loud noises. Music can help with concentration, but should not be too loud, and depending on the genre, task and person, can enhance or retard focus. Research suggests that music is best for boring or repetitive tasks (like building a model or doing a collage for school) but silence is best during tasks that need a lot of brain power, like maths. Importantly, music without lyrics is best, as our brains naturally try to listen to any words around us, dividing attention.

Introduce short breaks during study time

Don’t expect study sessions to be too long between breaks. How often and how long will depend on your child, so experiment to see what works best for them. Let them do some physical activity, have a snack or play an educational game during the break. This will help them collect their thoughts, relax and recover some mental energy for the next session. Steer away from activities that can further exhaust concentration like TV and video games.

Keep things interesting

Change regularly between subjects that interest them and ones that don’t. Relate your child’s interests back to what they are working on. Try to incorporate games into their work, and encourage concentration games and exercises during free time.

Break down larger tasks into smaller goals

This will make seemingly impossible tasks easier and quicker to finish. The resulting feeling of accomplishment is key to motivation.

Identify why they are discouraged or not able to concentrate

One of the biggest contributors to poor focus and motivation is discouragement. Positive self-esteem and a ‘can-do’ attitude naturally result in better performance, but feelings of inadequacy or low mood lead to children believing there is no point in trying. Speak to your child and their teachers about why they might dislike a particular subject or even school in general. Once you better understand what is behind their low motivation or poor concentration it will be much easier to take steps to correct it.

Promote a healthy lifestyle

Mental and physical health are often thought of as separate, but they are highly interlinked. Poor health leads to tiredness, difficulty concentrating, stress, demotivation and more serious problems like depression.

  1. Focus on diet

Breakfast is important as it provides the brain with most of the energy it will use during the day. Focus on complex carbohydrates, healthy proteins and as many plant-based sources of nutrients as possible. These will keep your child’s energy levels stable until their next meal, improve their immunity, mood and mental function. Contact for healthy diet tips for you and your children.

  1. Drink plenty of water

Many people are constantly dehydrated, which has an impact on their ability to concentrate.

  1. Encourage exercise and regular movement

Exercise benefits concentration, motivation and focus in many ways. It increases oxygenation in the brain, and positive neurotransmitters which improve mood and brain function. Exercise also increases energy levels and helps reduce restlessness and hyperactivity. Instead of watching TV or playing video games during study breaks, encourage children to do some physical activity.

  1. Ensure your child is getting enough sleep

Primary school children need between 9 and 11 hours of sleep, while teenagers need between 9 and 10 hours. Ensure regular bed time and wake up time are part of their routine or schedule. Minimize highly stimulating activities like TV or video games an hour before bed. Rather have them read, play with toys or board games, or do art before bed time. Getting enough exercise will also help them go to sleep easier.

  1. Use supplements

A few natural compounds have been shown to improve symptoms associated with ADHD, while causing few side-effects. Of these, two of the most effective are Rhodiola rosea (Roseroot) and inositol. Both of these ingredients are well backed by science and are known to have positive effects on a range of factors associated with mental function.

Rhodiola rosea has been used for thousands of years in northen European countries to improve mood and combat stress. Recent research has uncovered its ability, in addition to these uses, to enhance mental function, memory and attention span, in part through increasing neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain. This is reflected in its wide use and recognition as an assistive therapy in Russia, Scandinavia, the UK and Sweden.

Inositol is a naturally occurring B vitamin which is present in the body and a number of food sources, especially fruit, beans and nuts. The molecule plays a role in a number of pathways in the brain, especially during the biosynthesis of norepinephrine. Low levels of inositol have been associated with some psychological conditions characterised by low mood, motivation and anxiety, and supplementation of inositol has been shown to alleviate these symptoms.

NeuroVance, a unique blend of the above scientifically endorsed plant-based ingredients, has been developed by The Medical Nutritional Institute to safely and effectively improve mental functioning. The individual ingredients (Rhodiola rosea, inositol, magnesium and zinc) target multiple biological pathways recognised to reduce stress, improve concentration and focus and promote calmness in both children and adults. As an assistive therapy, NeuroVance can therefore help to improve concentration, brain function and focus and assist you or your child in reaching your full potential.


What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by a suite of symptoms which collectively result in trouble paying attention, difficulty controlling behaviour and excessive activity1-3. Although ADHD is often thought of as a childhood disorder, adults also suffer from the condition. Symptoms, however, may be different during adulthood due to the increased growth of the brain, different societal pressures and the implementation of coping mechanisms over a person’s lifetime. ADHD in children can result in poor school performance and social impairment, while in adults it can cause job and relationship related difficulties1. Despite this, many features of ADHD are associated with positive traits. This means that while someone with ADHD may struggle to function in particular environments, they can excel in others.  Persons with ADHD can, therefore, lead a somewhat normal life and exhibit good attention spans if their symptoms are effectively treated, especially for tasks they feel interested in. For more information and support, you can contact the ADHD Association of South Africa (ADHASA).

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

The symptoms of ADHD are complex and must occur in combination and be persistent to reach a diagnosis. Many of the symptoms overlap with other disorders or are particularly difficult to define as ‘unusual’ as, for example, whether someone is abnormally overactive will depend on the setting, other aspects of their personality and societal pressures. If you notice any of the symptoms in yourself, your children or those around you, it is therefore important to seek professional advice. Major symptoms of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity or restlessness, disruptive behaviour and impulsivity. Girls with ADHD are more likely to have intellectual issues. Problems with keeping motivated and goal-oriented tasks can be experienced as ADHD predisposes sufferers to focus on short-term rather than long-term rewards. Emotional issues such as anger, anxiety and depression are also more common in ADHD sufferers. ADHD is often associated with drifting off during conversations, as well as language issues, both verbal and non-verbal, causing social cues to be missed. These symptoms often result in poor academic and job-related performance, as well as problems in relationships and social interaction. As children age, symptoms often change, both due to the development of coping mechanisms and the changing brain. For example, hyperactivity may transform into inner restlessness and constant mental activity. Depending on the exact symptoms, ADHD can be divided into three subtypes: ADHD inattentive type, ADHD hyperactive-impulsive type and ADHD combined type ADHD inattentive type is characterised by difficulty in staying focused and completing tasks, and is best described by the following symptoms:

  • Easily distracted, misses details, forgets or loses things, frequently switches from one activity to another and struggles to follow instructions
  • Difficulty focusing attention on, organizing and completing, or becoming easily bored with tasks
  • Struggling to learn new things and difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
  • Seems to not be listening when spoken to, daydreams or becomes easily confused

ADHD hyperactive-impulsive type is characterized by restlessness, hyperactivity and childish or destructive behaviours, including:

  • Fidgeting, having trouble sitting still and doing quiet tasks or activities
  • Talking nonstop, interrupting conversations or others’ activities, blurting out inappropriate comments and showing emotions without restraint
  • Constantly moving around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight, acting without regard for consequences
  • Being very impatient

ADHD combined type exists as a combination of symptoms of the other two types.

What causes ADHD?

The underlying causes of ADHD are, in the majority of cases, unknown. This is because ADHD is a complex disorder, caused by interactions between genetic and environmental factors1,9. ADHD is therefore not exactly the same for each person in terms of the presence and severity of symptoms and their causes. ADHD is often inherited in families, suggesting underlying genetic causes in two-thirds of cases10,11. A number of contributing genes have also been discovered, which largely play a role in neurotransmission12,13. Environmental factors may also result in the syndrome or exacerbate the underlying genetic causes. The major environmental factors which can lead directly to ADHD are alcohol intake and exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy1,2,14,15, extremely premature birth or low birth weight and exposure to certain toxic substances such as lead and polychlorinated biphenyls16. Traumatic brain injury and infection of the brain by certain viruses and bacteria during early childhood may also result in ADHD17. Underlying genetic and environmental causes lead to abnormalities in neurotransmitter systems – the chemicals and signalling systems in your brain which facilitate communication, pleasure-seeking, motivation, activity and decision-making. These are primarily the dopamine and norepinephrine systems18,19. Due to imbalances in these pathways, people with ADHD struggle with controlling their behaviours in the same way as others, and medications primarily attempt to correct these imbalances.

Is the prevalence of ADHD increasing and how common is it?

According to the diagnostic criteria used in South Africa, ADHD affects between 5 and 7% of children and 2 and 5% of adults. More boys are diagnosed with ADHD, most likely due to them exhibiting more disruptive symptoms than girls. This effect seems to decline in adulthood, possibly due to girl’s symptoms becoming more obvious as intellectual demands increase with age. Although diagnosis has been increasing since the 1970’s, it is not believed that this shows an increase in the frequency of the disorder, but rather reflects better diagnosis strategies, awareness and acceptance, as well changing societal pressures toward busier and focussed lifestyles.

Can environmental factors make ADHD worse?

Some environmental factors, although not supported as leading to ADHD, may worsen symptoms or make it harder for sufferers to focus on tasks at hand2,22. Stress is a large contributor, making concentrating, sleeping and staying focused more difficult. Many ADHD like symptoms can also cause stress, resulting in a cycle which only makes ADHD worse. Effective stress management is therefore essential to living with ADHD. Overstimulation can also worsen symptoms and usually occurs when a person is in a loud and busy environment, such as in crowds. In these circumstances, it becomes difficult for the brain to decide which stimuli are meaningful and which are not, resulting in worsening of ADHD symptoms, especially in terms of the ability to focus. Other contributing factors to worsening of ADHD symptoms include sleep deprivation and the presence of distractions such as TV, cell phones and loud music.

Is ADHD associated with any other psychological conditions?

The symptoms and causes of ADHD overlap with a number of other psychological conditions. Due to this, ADHD can be associated with other disorders. These include:

  • Sleep disorders such as insomnia and restless leg syndrome23,24
  • Learning disabilities, including speech, language and academic skills disorders25
  • Anxiety disorders26
  • Mood disorders, including bipolar and depression1,6
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder27
  • Substance use disorders, both as an attempt to cope with symptoms and difficulty in balancing risk versus rewards28
  • Tourette syndrome29
  • Some other non-psychological issues such as obesity, asthma and migraine30

How is ADHD diagnosed?

Diagnosis of ADHD should be carried out by a qualified professional. Diagnosis can be difficult due to the complexity of the condition, ranges of severity of each separate symptom and difficulty in quantifying ‘normal’ versus ‘abnormal’ ranges of each. In order for a diagnosis to be made, symptoms must3,31:

  • Appear between the ages of 6 and 12 and be present for more than 6 months
  • Not be appropriate for children of that age
  • Occur and cause problems in at least more than one setting (e.g. work, school, home)

Specifically, diagnosis takes place via a number of routes which assess behavioural and mental development. In children, this is based on feedback from teachers and parents, self-rating scales and other tests designed to assess goal orientation, concentration and activity levels32. Associated conditions are also taken into account. The procedure for adults is mostly the same, although it is necessary to question persons, such as parents or guardians, who knew the individual between the ages of six and 12 to confirm that symptoms were present at this stage33.

Can I or my child live a normal life and still be successful with ADHD?

ADHD can be a lifelong condition, with between 30 and 50% of children diagnosed presenting symptoms into adulthood21,34. Adolescents with ADHD are most likely to experience trouble due to increased social pressures, changing demands at school, and a rapidly developing brain35. Despite this most people learn how to deal with the condition and develop coping skills, allowing them to lead a more normal life36. Treatment strategies are essential to developing healthy coping mechanisms as well as reducing symptoms. Unhealthy coping strategies such as avoidance of work or relationships and procrastination are more likely to result in deviant behaviour, substance use and poor social functioning and self-esteem37. With proper treatment, however, those with ADHD can improve over time and develop healthy coping mechanisms, behaviour, good self-esteem and productive social relationships. This is especially true if they pursue a career which they express interest in.

How is ADHD treated?

ADHD treatment revolves around both behavioural and medicinal interventions. Depending on the severity, symptoms and age, approaches can vary, and may be either in isolation or a combination of the two. There is, however, no known cure for ADHD38.

Behavioural therapy

Behavioural therapies are best for candidates with mild symptoms or who are not eligible for drug treatment (such as pre-school aged children), and those with behavioural and emotional issues39. Behavioural therapies can also improve self-esteem, compliance to treatment, lessen the likelihood of substance abuse and other deviant behaviours as well as generally improve functioning at school, work, home and in social situations through teaching sufferers to better recognise and control their own behaviour. These therapies become more effective with age, possibly due to an increased awareness of one’s self and increasing the ability to consciously adopt these strategies20. Exercise, especially aerobic, has been shown to have significant benefit for ADHD40. This includes significantly improved behavioural control, memory and self-esteem. Mood-related disorders are also benefitted. This is thought to be because exercise causes an increase in neurotransmitters in the brain. Together with this, exercise appears to improve the effectivity of stimulant medications.


In most cases, stimulant medications such as methylphenidate (Ritalin/Concerta) and amphetamines are prescribed41. These generally affect the dopamine and norepinephrine pathways within the brain, increasing the availability of these signalling molecules42. Non-stimulant medications, such as atomoxetine (an anti-depressant) may also be administered41, but do not appear to affect academic performance and concentration to the same extent43. Methylphenidate appears to better symptoms in the majority of people44, and stimulants may reduce abnormalities in brain structure and function, at least while the medication is being administered45.

Are there side effects to ADHD treatments?

While stimulant medications offer a number of benefits, there are some documented side-effects to their use. These should be discussed with your doctor.

Are there any other solutions to ADHD?

While the side-effects of medication might cause parents and sufferers to seek alternative treatments, they should not ignore the advice of their healthcare provider. Behavioural therapies and medication can offer significant benefit, but in cases where additional support is required, some herbal supplements can help reduce the severity of symptoms. A few natural compounds have been shown to have improved symptoms which are associated with ADHD while causing few side-effects. Of these, two of the most promising is Rhodiola Rosea (Roseroot) and inositol. Both of these ingredients are well backed by science and are known to have positive effects on a range of factors associated with the mental function. Rhodiola Rosea has been used for thousands of years in northern European countries to improve mood and combat stress. Recent research has uncovered its ability, in addition to these uses, to enhance mental function, memory and attention span, in part through increasing neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain47. This is reflected in its wide use and recognition as an assistive therapy in Russia, Scandinavia, the UK and Sweden. Inositol is a naturally occurring B vitamin which is present in the body and a number of food sources, especially fruit, beans and nuts. The molecule plays a role in a number of pathways in the brain, especially during the biosynthesis of norepinephrine. Low levels of inositol have been associated with some psychological conditions characterised by low mood, motivation and anxiety48,49, and supplementation of inositol has been shown to alleviate these symtoms49,50. NeuroVance, a unique blend of the above scientifically endorsed plant-based ingredients, has been developed by The Medical Nutritional Institute to safely and effectively improve mental functioning. The individual ingredients (Rhodiola Rosea, inositol, magnesium and zinc) target multiple biological pathways recognised to reduce stress, improve concentration and focus and promote calmness in both children and adults. As an assistive therapy, NeuroVance can, therefore, help to lessen symptoms of ADHD and assist you or your child in reaching your full potential.

What about diet?

Diet in itself is not likely to cause ADHD, but poor eating habits can worsen symptoms and impair proper brain development. Refined carbohydrates, simple sugars and some food colourants and additives are known to negatively affect mental function and worsen hyperactivity. Furthermore, ADHD sufferers are more likely to crave and binge eat these foods due to their ability to increase reward signalling in the brain, leading to other health and eating-related disorders, such as obesity. A healthy, well-balanced diet is also essential to proper development of the brain, and lack of many nutrients can cause impairments in brain development. If you feel a particular food-stuff is negatively affecting your or your child’s ADHD, remove this from the diet and see if symptoms are improved. This should, however, not be done to an extreme – it can be difficult to pick out the true causative factors and removing too many foods from anyone’s diet can result in negative health consequences. It is most important to ensure that you or your child are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet based on plant-based sources of nutrients and which avoids junk foods and processed carbohydrates. For more advice on healthy eating in general and with regards to ADHD, email our dietician at .

How can I manage my or my child’s ADHD?

First of all, it is essential to seek professional advice and treatment. There are, however, a few strategies which you can begin to include in your daily life:

  • Organise your or your child’s day, set a routine and create structure. When major changes occur, like a holiday or a visit from a relative, make sure you are aware and prepared for them.
  • Remove distracting stimuli from the environment, especially during times when the focus is required. Ensure that you or your child know that activities such as TV watching are only allowed after work is complete.
  • Do regular aerobic exercise.
  • Set a good example, put rules, structure and discipline strategies in place in both day to day life and before activities. Make sure you or your child understand these and do not deviate from what you have set in place. Consistency is key to maintaining productive behaviour.
  • Talk with teachers and other guardians to ensure they employ these strategies and to understand how your child acts in situations when you are not present.
  • Focus on positive reinforcement, praise and rewards more than punishment. People with ADHD are more likely to perform if they feel that an experience will be pleasurable than to avoid something because of possible negative consequences.
  • Involve your child in the above processes, especially as they age. This will help them develop the ability to implement their own coping strategies, improve their self-esteem and make compliance more likely as they will feel they are actively trying to better themselves.

Taking NeuroVance alongside the above behavioural interventions can also safely and effectively assist you or your child in improving mental function, concentration and motivation, allowing you to live a more productive life and helping you to excel in the activities you see as important.


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Neck pain and tension headache

What causes neck pain?

Both acute and chronic neck ache is caused by inflammation, a biological process that is initiated and controlled by several different biochemical signalling pathways within the body. Whilst a painful or stiff neck is a common condition that affects up to two-thirds of the general population at some stage of their lives, repetitive or recurrent bouts of neck pain may also indicate that inflammation could slowly be causing permanent, structural damage to the neck. If this is allowed to happen, acute neck pain will become a chronic, permanent feature. In the latest Global Burden of Disease study (GDB 2013), chronic neck pain is ranked the fourth biggest cause of chronic disability in the world, suggesting that early treatment and prevention are too often neglected

Where does neck pain originate from?

The neck consists of several different tissue types which can each be a source of pain. These are:

  • Vertebrae – segments of bone stacked upon each other that provide strength and structure.
  • Intervertebral discs – circular pads of pliable soft tissue situated between the vertebrae. These allow for flexibility in all directions.
  • Ligaments – fibrous bands which keep the vertebra in place.
  • Nerves (spinal chord) – runs along the spinal column and branches off between each vertebra. These pass information from the brain to the rest of the body.
  • Muscles – situated on the sides and behind the vertebrae.
  • Facet joints – small joints covered by cartilage that allow the vertebra to rotate upon each other.

Importantly, all of these tissues can activate the sensation or perception of pain, both individually and in combination. Effective treatment is therefore highly dependent on identifying the exact source of pain, and extremely important as some tissues may be irreversibly damaged by inflammation. For example, whilst muscles are able to recover from inflammation with ease, inflammatory damage done to the intervertebral discs can become a real and permanent problem.

What is the most common cause of acute neck pain?

  • Muscle inflammation
    Whilst most muscles in the body completely relax when they’re not being used, others, called ‘anti-gravity muscles’, work continuously to maintain your posture. A large proportion of muscles in your neck are of this kind, and so are always tense to prevent your head from flopping over. This gives your neck muscles very little time to relax and often contributes to chronic pain, as there is insufficient opportunity to recover. Painful muscle inflammation can be caused by several mechanisms, including sprains, strain, poor posture, falling asleep in an awkward position, or whiplash injury. Another common cause is the use of a computer for prolonged periods of time, which can contribute to chronic muscle spasm and pain. Additionally, anxiety and stress commonly cause increased muscle tension and pain in your neck muscles.

How does muscle inflammation trigger headaches?

A tension headache, also known as a tension-type headache, originates from the neck and radiates around the head in a band like a manner where it creates a frontal, nagging, and pressing headache. Tension-type headaches are the most common form of a headache and account for nearly 90% of all headaches. In the majority of cases, neck muscle inflammation and spasm are the most frequent triggers that both causes and aggravates tension type headaches.

What are the most common causes of chronic neck pain?

  • Spondylosis or disc prolapse
    Spondylosis is a collective term used to describe the combined effects of several degenerative processes that progressively start to affect the spine. It usually begins in one or more of the intervertebral discs situated between the vertebrae and then spreads to surrounding tissues such as ligaments, joints, and bones. Besides causing local pain, an inflamed intervertebral disc may progressively become weakened through continual enzymatic activity caused by inflammation. This corrosive activity makes the disk increasingly more prone to future damage and even collapse. A collapsed disk may cause direct pressure on the nerve roots as they exit the spinal cord between each vertebra, causing a referred pain syndrome during which pain radiates down the shoulder or arm. Tingling or pins and needles are also common symptoms, whilst in a more advanced state, weakness and loss of sensation may occur within the hands or arms.
  • Osteoarthritis
    This is a common condition that mainly affects the integrity of the cartilage, especially as one becomes older. Osteoarthritis mostly affects the small facet joints between the vertebrae, as they are the only cartilage containing structures in the neck. Importantly, the presence of osteoarthritis in the neck is commonly associated with the presence of several other inflammatory conditions, such as spondylosis, where protein containing structures in the spine are simultaneously degraded. Since the neck is predominantly protein-based, these cumulative effects can cause severe impairment and chronic disability over time.

How is neck pain treated?

  • Step 1 – the alleviation of acute pain to improve the quality of your life and help you to remain functional and productive.
  • Step 2 – the implementation of preventative self-help strategies to protect you from the permanent structural damage that chronic inflammation may cause to your neck.

Acute pain management for acute neck ache and tension-type headaches

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) – these are good options to assist with acute pain. However, they should all be used with caution over the long-term, since as a class, these drugs pose a significant side-effect risk relating to cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and kidney disease. (Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice).
  • Analgesics – paracetamol (acetaminophen) and opiates or opiate derivatives are often required to help alleviate acute pain. These drugs serve as symptomatic relief, lowering the sensation of pain, but do not combat the underlying cause. Opiates may cause drowsiness, constipation and addiction. (Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice).
  • Hot or cold packs – applying a heat pack to your neck can help to ease the pain. You can use a microwavable heat pad or a hot-water bottle. Heat dilates the blood vessels which improves blood supply to the back and helps to reduce muscle spasms. Heat also alters the sensation of pain. (Some find cold packs offering better relief – for example, a bag of frozen peas).
  • Rehabilitation therapies – physiotherapy, biokinetics or chiropractic therapy may prove helpful. A good massage may also assist.

Preventative self-help strategies:

By preserving the integrity and mobility of your neck you are in turn protecting it from the consequences of chronic inflammatory damage over time. Judging from the number of people in the world who become permanently disabled from chronic neck pain, these easy to implement but important strategies will likely prove one of the most worthwhile investments in your overall health.

  • Stretch your neck
    Stretching is a form of physical exercise during which a contracted, tight, or painfully stiff ligament or muscle group is deliberately lengthened in order to improve its elasticity and achieve a more relaxed tone. When done properly, this results in a more comfortable feeling of increased muscle control, flexibility, and range of motion. Regular stretching is an excellent way to alleviate muscle inflammation and pain. This is achieved by gently stretching your neck muscles as you tilt your head up and down, and rotating your head by looking far right and far leftover your shoulders.
  • Strengthen your neck muscles with exercise
    Although exercise is usually not advisable for acute back pain, proper exercise can help ease chronic pain and reduce the risk of recurrence. Modern research has demonstrated that many of the benefits of exercise are mediated through the role that muscle tissue plays as an endocrine (hormone-producing) organ. Contracting muscles release multiple substances known as myokines which promote the growth of new tissue and facilitate tissue repair. Myokines also have multiple anti-inflammatory effects, which in turn reduce your overall risk of developing various inflammatory diseases. These anti-inflammatory effects assist locally with inflammation in your neck, as well as systemically in the rest of your body. As with any physical activity, you’ll need to use some common sense when doing these.
  • Use supplements that naturally reduce inflammation
    Various natural molecules derived from plants are highly effective in suppressing pathways involved in chronic inflammation. These generally have a low side-effect risk, making them an attractive approach when compared to other pharmaceuticals. RheumaLin™ is a novel multi-modal, multi-target anti-inflammatory supplement that consists of two plant extracts, Boswellia bark extract and resveratrol. These naturally derived phytochemical plant-based compounds are widely recognised. They combat inflammation via biochemical mechanisms that are different to those of existing anti-inflammatory drugs. A large number of high-level research projects have produced strong evidence that these agents alleviate and potentially help to prevent osteoarthritis, intervertebral disc degeneration, and osteoporosis. These three separate but interlinked conditions are all caused by inflammation and are also the three predominant causes of most cases of chronic back and neck pain. Read more about RheumaLin.
  • Manage stress better
    Since any form of stress will increase the tension in the muscles of your neck and could precipitate tension headaches, you will benefit tremendously from learning how to manage stress.
  • Correct your posture
    A bad posture especially, when sitting or reading is a common cause for neck pain. Ideally you should be sitting with your hips and knees at right angles and you should have good support for your lower back. Hardback, upright chairs or straight-backed rocking chairs are better for your posture than low, soft, upholstered chairs or sofas. Using back supports can help your posture when sitting at home, at work or in the car. If your desk is too low, so that your head is bent forward for long periods, then your neck may be stretched and you may develop muscle pain. Check the height of your desk and the design of your chair at work and at home. Many employers have occupational health specialists who can check that workstations are set up according to your needs. If you do a lot of reading, having the book or papers on a reading frame will often help to correct your posture.
  • Avoid periods of immobility
    Keeping your head in the same position for too long may cause muscle inflammation. Take regular breaks from your desk, driving or any activity where your neck may be held in the same position for an extended period of time, or perform regular stretches during the day.
  • Choose the correct pillow
    Your head and neck should be supported so your head is level with your body in a neutral position. Ideally the pillow should fill in the natural hollow between the neck and shoulders, – a soft or moulded pillow may be useful. A supportive roll inside your pillow case can also be introduced to support the hollow of your neck. Only use enough pillows (usually only one) to keep your head level with your body.
  • Check your mattress
    If your mattress doesn’t give your back proper support, it can also make neck pain worse. Make sure your mattress is relatively firm – a soft mattress could mean that your neck is bent while you sleep.
  • Massage your neck
    A regular and gentle massage of your neck will help alleviate pain and muscle inflammation.