Nutritional Approaches to Attention Deficit Disorders

  • 12 Mar 2009
  • Reading time 11 mins
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Help is at hand if your child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). By changing your child’s diet there are many natural ways to combat hyperactivity and poor concentration.

Nutritional approaches to ADHD

Often blamed on poor parenting or schooling, potential causative factors linked to nutritional treatment has proven very helpful for many hyperactive children, and instead of masking the problem with stimulants (which further imbalance adrenal function) and potentially causing other side effects, offers a safe and intelligent approach to this distressing condition for children, parents and teachers alike.

Is Your Child Hyperactive?

It can be difficult to draw the line between the behaviour of a child that is within the normal limits of high energy and abnormally active behaviour.
Do these characteristics apply?

  • Overactive
  • Fidgets
  • Can’t Sit Still At Meals
  • Talks Too Much
  • Clumsy
  • Unpredictable
  • Doesn’t Respond To Discipline
  • Speech Problem
  • Doesn’t Listen To Whole Story
  • Hard To Get To Bed
  • Reckless
  • Impatient
  • Accident Prone
  • Destructive
  • Doesn’t Finish Projects
  • Wears Out Toys, Furniture, etc.
  • Doesn’t Stay With Games
  • Doesn’t Follow Directions
  • Fights With Other Children
  • Teases
  • Gets Into Things
  • Temper Tantrums
  • Defiant
  • Irritable
  • Unpopular With Peers
  • Lies
  • Bed wetter

Score 2 if a symptom is severe, 1 if moderate and 0 if not present.
A score below 12 is normal. Higher scores indicate your child may benefit from the following nutritional strategies.

The five step approach

There are five key factors that have consistently helped children with ADHD.
These are:

  1. Balance blood sugar levels
  2. Eliminate chemical additives and other potential allergens
  3. Supplement essential fatty acids
  4. Correct nutrient deficiencies of vitamins or minerals
  5. Test for and detoxify toxic elements

The optimum nutrition approach to ADHD involves a combination of these factors and practitioners have reported significant improvements in at least two thirds of children. This is substantially better than any drugs currently prescribed for ADHD. Ritalin, the most frequently prescribed, helps about a third of children and makes a third worse.

1. No sugar thanks, I’m sweet enough already

A diet high in refined carbohydrates is not good for anyone, and many parents believe that eating sweets promotes hyperactivity and aggression in their children. In contrast, some recent research has suggested that sugar itself is not to blame for hyperactivity, and can even have a calming effect on certain individuals. Yet dietary studies do consistently reveal that hyperactive children have higher sugar consumption than other children2, and reducing dietary sugar has been found to halve disciplinary actions in incarcerated juvenile offenders3. It seems then that reactions to sugar are not due to allergy as such, but a craving brought on by low blood sugar levels.
Other research has confirmed that the problem is not sugar itself but the forms it comes in, the absence of a well-balanced diet overall, and abnormal glucose metabolism. A study of 265 hyperactive children found that more than three quarters displayed abnormal glucose tolerance4. As the main fuel for the brain and body, when blood glucose levels fluctuate wildly all day on a roller-coaster ride of refined carbohydrates, stimulants, sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks, juices and little or no fibre to slow the glucose absorption, it is not surprising that levels of activity, concentration, focus and behaviour will also fluctuate wildly, as is seen in children with ADHD. The calming effect sometimes observed after sugar consumption may well be the initial normalisation of blood sugar from a hypoglycaemic state during which the brain and cognitive functions controlling behaviour were starved of fuel.
The advice then is to remove from the diet all forms of refined sugar and any foods that contain it, replacing them with frequent consumption of wholefoods and complex carbohydrates (brown rice and other whole grains, oats, lentils, beans, quinoa, vegetables) throughout the day. Carbohydrates should always be balanced with protein (in a ratio of about 2 to 1) to improve glucose tolerance, for example nuts with fruit or fish with rice. Supplementing 200mcg of chromium also helps stabilise blood sugar.

2. Eliminate allergies and additives

Of all the avenues so far researched, the link between hyperactivity and allergy is the most established and worthy of pursuit in any child showing signs of this syndrome. Manufacturers now use an extraordinary number of artificial additives in food, and we can each eat up to 5 kilograms of additives every year. Some children clearly aren’t coping well with this level of chemical onslaught, as shown by work done 15 years ago assessing the sensitivities of children with ADHD: 89% reacted to colourings, 72% to flavourings, 60% to MSG, 45% to all synthetic additives, 50% to cows milk, 60% to chocolate and 40% to orange5.

The yellow food colouring Tartrazine (E102) is the best known of many chemical additives linked to allergic reactions and ADHD. In a double-blind placebo-controlled study Dr Neil Ward from the University of Surrey found emotional and behavioural changes in every child who consumed Tartrazine, observing that the additive decreased blood levels of zinc and increased the amount of zinc excreted in the urine6. Four out of the ten children in the study had severe reactions, three developing eczema or asthma within 45 minutes of ingestion.

Other substances often found to induce behavioural changes are wheat, dairy, corn, yeast, soya, citrus, chocolate, peanuts and eggs7. Associated symptoms that are strongly linked to allergy include nasal problems and excessive mucus, ear infections, facial swelling and discolouration around the eyes, tonsillitis, digestive problems, bad breath, eczema, asthma, headaches and bed-wetting. It is relatively simple to identify foods that may be causing or aggravating symptoms ......

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