Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

The average child consumes an abundance of sweets, starches, fat, chemical preservatives and additives, in addition to the pesticides that are used to “protect” our food supply. Their diets are virtually devoid of the important nutrients that are necessary for a healthy brain, particularly essential fatty acids.

How many of you do NOT know a family who is affected by Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), reported to affect up to10% of American children? Its reported incidence continues to rise as the 21st century unfolds. The most common symptoms include impulsivity, distractibility, and restlessness. Thought to be mediated by a brain neurotransmitter dysfunction, these symptoms reflect negatively on their performance in school and behavior at home.

Have you ever heard ADHD described as a reward deficiency syndrome with decreased activity of the ‘feel good’ receptors in the brain? Addictive drugs can activate this reward pathway.

I have had the good fortune to work with Michael Lyon, MD, a physician in BC who has described ADHD as a reward deficiency syndrome. He has reported a study that showed low levels of DHA in 80% of 76 kids with ADHD, along with inadequate amounts of GLA in 20%. Additionally, amino acids are important in healthy brain function. These amino acids found in protein foods also help to balance blood glucose. It is not uncommon for ADHD kids to experience dysglycemia, most often hypoglycemia, due to the high starchy snacks and meals, particularly breakfast.  Starting the day by skipping breakfast or with sugar-laden cereals sets the stage for poor concentration, memory, mood, and fatigue.

While there is no known “cure” for ADHD, stimulant drugs (addictive in and of themselves) are commonly used with little consideration about side effects.  Teachers and doctors often encourage parents to use drugs as a first line of defense; behavior therapy is also used with varying results.

The role of diet in ADHD is explored by some families when pharmacotherapy proves to be ineffective, when side effects are unpleasant, or when parents are resistant to the idea of using stimulant drugs for their child.

Some studies have suggested that ADHD symptoms may be triggered by a specific food or foods that appear to exacerbate symptoms. In one Dutch study of 100 ADHD-diagnosed kids, aged 4-8 years, dietary restrictions for a period of 5 weeks were shown to produce significant improvements in symptoms.

In addition to looking at the nutritional component of ADHD, an alternative way of treating these kids is to explore specific biomedical issues. A 2010 paper presented in Alternatives Medical Reviews, which examined 4000 records of children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), of which ADHD is included, reported a high frequency of oxidative stress, decreased methylation, mitochondrial dysfunction, and metal toxicity in children with ADHD. They also noted a deficiency of magnesium and zinc to be associated with inattention (zinc) and hyperactivity (magnesium).

The need for magnesium and zinc is corroborated in a 12 week German study, also in 2010, which found that supplementation with PUFAs combined with magnesium and zinc had a beneficial effect on attention and behavior of children age 5-12 with ADHD.

Other studies have been reported that give evidence to the theory that there is a connection between ADHD and food. They invite more exploration regarding this connection and its benefit for some children with ADHD.

Many experts question whether it would be cost-effective in time and resources to explore the food connection. What a shame! Dietary intervention should be considered in all children with ADHD, and parents should be encouraged to consider this approach before using toxic and addictive drugs as their first line approach.

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