Now affecting an estimated 1 in 10 boys and 1 in 30 girls in the UK, ADHD is often blamed on poor parenting or schooling. But there are a variety of other possible causes including heredity, smoking, alcohol or drug use during pregnancy, oxygen deprivation at birth, prenatal trauma, environmental pollution, allergy and inadequate nutrition.

Sadly, many hyperactive children are not tested for toxic chemicals or nutritional and allergic factors. Nor are they treated nutritionally or given counselling or family therapy. Instead, tens of thousands of our children are immediately put on drugs such as Ritalin and Concerta that have been shown, via good scientific evidence, not to work very well and even to be fairly dangerous.

Although it is unlikely that ADHD is purely a nutrient deficiency disease, most children with this diagnosis are deficient and do respond very well to nutritional supplements. The combination of the right vitamins, minerals and essential fats can truly transform children with learning and behavioural difficulties.

What Works

Sort out your child’s blood sugar levels.

Children with hyperactivity and ADHD seem particularly sensitive to sugar, so remove all forms of refined sugar from the diet and any foods that contain it. Replace them with wholefoods and complex carbohydrates (brown rice and other whole grains, oats, lentils, beans, quinoa and vegetables), which should be eaten ‘grazing’-style throughout the day. Processed ‘juices’ should also be avoided because these deliver a large amount of sugar very quickly. You can further improve their blood sugar balance by making sure carbohydrates are eaten with protein (half as much protein as carbohydrates at every meal and snack). Two easy examples are eating nuts with fruit, or fish with rice.

Help your child get enough omega-3s. Children rarely eat enough rich sources of these, so give more oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, wild or organic salmon, or tuna steaks – but this last only every fortnight to once a month because of mercury content) and seeds such as flax, hemp, sunflower and pumpkin or their cold-pressed oils. Most ADHD children will also need supplements of omega-3 and omega-6. They should contain at least 200mg of EPA, plus 100mg of DHA – the most potent forms of omega-3 – plus 50mg of GLA, the most potent form of omega-6.

Make sure they have enough minerals and vitamins. Give them a daily multivitamin providing sufficient B vitamins, zinc and magnesium, and keep a filled fruit bowl, raw crudités and the like to hand for snacks, along with substantial portions of veg and fruit at meals.

Supplement probiotics such as lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria, especially following antibiotics to restore the balance of gut flora.

Get rid of toxic effects. Arrange a food allergy test and hair mineral analysis test through a nutritional therapist  to determine if food allergies and/or heavy metal toxicity are an issue.

Dig deeper by reading Food is Better Medicine Than Drugs for all the evidence to support this approach, and its comparative effectiveness and safety compared to the conventional treatment of ADHD. Also read Optimum Nutrition for Your Child by Patrick Holford and Deborah Colson.

Working with Your Doctor

As well as working with your doctor, we advise consulting a nutritional therapist with experience of treating hyperactive children. They can assess your child’s ideal diet and supplement requirements, as well as testing for food allergy. Your child will need to follow the plan for a minimum of three to six months before either of you see any really substantial results, but their hyperactivity may start to calm and their concentration increase very quickly. As children start to feel better and behave better, the positive feedback they receive from their parents and teachers can encourage them to stick to their nutritional programme over the long term, and that’s what matters for their well-being as well as their progress.

In the meantime, keep your doctor, paediatrician or child psychiatrist informed of what you are doing and, as your child improves, discuss decreasing the dose of any stimulant medication with them, with the ultimate aim being to stop.