I have personally had clients (of all ages) impacted by this condition. Sometimes the label and judgement can even be harsher than the condition itself. t’s important to start on the same page, so let’s jump in…
There is a distinction between a child who has lots of energy, which is perfectly normal for a healthy child, and a child who has ADD/ADHD (attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) where they have a hard time learning or accomplishing/focusing on simple tasks. If your child is having trouble, it’s important to confirm that they indeed have ADD/ADHD before you assume so. For the record, although they may see indicators, teachers and parents are not normally qualified to make these calls.1
This condition is associated with learning challenges with simple math and prereading even in the first year of school.2 It is important to address ADHD early because it can be associated with other mood disorders, anxiety and even substance abuse.3 Also these children are more likely to become obese if ADD/ADHD isn’t properly managed.4
This condition has many suspected causes but according to research, the cause is mainly unknown.5 What we DO know however is that regardless of the cause, proper nutrition helps greatly. Although research isn’t yet conclusive, there does seem to be at least a correlation (not causation) between ADD and various foods and additives including, but not limited to sugar, food dyes and MSG as well as heavy metals such as lead.
Why Nutrition is important in ADD/ADHD?
Conventional (medical) treatment includes medications which can have significant side effects.6 Both the side effects and the nutritional deficiencies created from taking medications can be helped at least somewhat with proper nutrition. However, nutrition should actually be the first line of defense.
Nutrition can help by improving the gut brain axis6- This means that it can improve the integrity of how well the child’s digestion works which can impact how their brain works. You may have heard of the gut microbiome. This is what we are referring to here. The healthy bacteria in the gut plays an important role in the brain. The gut is the source of many neurotransmitters, so a healthy gut helps to create healthy brain function. A healthy microbiome also produces certain nutrients that are helpful to the brain and nervous system. The result can be an improvement in focus, attention, learning and overall cognitive function.
A whole food plant-based diet is a wonderful food plan for this condition. This diet naturally helps, because it is rich in fiber, water, vitamins, minerals and amino acids needed for proper cognitive function.
Some foods to avoid:
• Artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners7- These substances have been associated with worsening symptoms in some children. Since they are not healthy whole foods anyway, it is worth eliminating to see if symptoms improve…and even if they don’t, you can rest assured that this is still likely a great way to improve your child’s overall health.
• Known allergens7- It would be good to work with a health professional to rule out food allergies (often via an elimination diet or a scratch test). Food allergies can have many ill-health manifestations, so this is important to be aware of so that you’re not inadvertently giving your child something to worsen their symptoms. If you suspect a given food, you can easily eliminate it for a couple of weeks and see what changes occur. Some of the most common allergies include dairy, soy, wheat, corn, peanuts, eggs and shellfish.
Some foods to add:
• Fruits and vegetables8- Many children with ADD/ADHD are lacking in certain nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are an excellent and inexpensive way to help with this. They give the child more nutrients per calorie, so they improve nutritional status without overeating.
• Healthy fats9 (avocados, walnuts, chia seeds, etc)- Many studies indicate that the role of healthy fats is important for overall health and brain development, especially in children.
• Plant protein such as beans and lentils are filling, loaded with fiber and protein and aid in growth.
Also, note that nutritional deficiencies of any kind can also be a factor. It would be ideal to do SpectraCell testing for more specific information here. A lack of zinc, iron or any other nutrient could contribute.10
Of course, it’s also important to note that a home life full of stress and insecurity (as the child sees it) can also contribute.11 I love nutrition but it is only one piece of any given puzzle. There is no question…creating safety in the hearts and minds of children (and any age for that matter) is a critical component for optimal health and vitality.
Can supplements help?
Likely, yes. However, it is important to understand the role of supplements. They are not a quick fix and can never take the place of a healthy lifestyle. They are to SUPPLEMENT the good/healthy foundation your child is already on. Although testing is ideal, in general:
• B vitamins12- Max B– 1/2 tsp/day in water
***All three of these nutrients have been found to be commonly inadequate in children with ADD/ADHD. Supplementing with good quality whole food-based supplements may prove helpful for compensating for these depletions. Although you always want to look at food first, supplements can indeed prove helpful as well.
Tips for parents on implementation:
• Add green smoothies to easily increase fruit and vegetable intake8- This is a tasty, fun and efficient way to get LOTS of great nutrition into your child. It can help to let them choose which fruits to use and have them help make the smoothie. All you need is a blender, some fresh or frozen fruit, a handful of greens and any other healthy things you’d like to add (I love adding some healthy fats like chia seeds or flaxseeds, as well as a generous spoonful of cinnamon).
• Make healthy options as easy as possible13- Have quick snacks ready to eat (fruits and vegetables cut up and in containers, snack size containers of hummus, raw nuts and seeds/trail mix, etc)
• Don’t use food as a reward or punishment13 – With the best of intentions, this can put undo focus on the wrong things. You want food to be enjoyable and not have negative neuro-associations with it.
Bonus: A couple of non-nutrition tips that can also help:
• Encourage exercise14- These children have LOTS of energy. Exercise to help them use it up can be helpful in managing their overall health and behavior. Let them PLAY…make it fun…move, bounce, jump, run and fidget as much as possible. Sitting still is not easy for these kids…make them do that as seldom as you can.
• Optimize sleep habits/bedtime routine15- Getting good quality and the right quantity of sleep is important for proper brain health and overall well-being. Create an evening wind down routine with your child that includes low lights, reduced electronics, perhaps a warm bath or shower and some reading or coloring or something calming to them.
• Lead by example! Your kids want to be like you. If you have good habits, you set the tone for them to have good habits (even when it doesn’t seem like it!) so make sure you are drinking lots of water, eating well and managing stress.
W. Clement Stone said, “Little hinges swing big doors.” Take one small step at a time- Implementing just one or two of these changes can make a huge difference for your child, your home environment and their success in school. If you have done these things and still feel stuck, get help! Don’t do this journey alone! We would love to help. Feel free to call the clinic today 269-204-6525.
1. te Meerman S, Batstra L, Grietens H, Frances A. ADHD: a critical update for educational professionals. Int J Qual Stud Health Well-being. 2017. doi:10.1080/17482631.2017.1298267
2. Singh A, Yeh CJ, Verma N, Das AK. Overview of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in young children. Heal Psychol Res. 2015. doi:10.4081/hpr.2015.2115
3. Wilens TE, Spencer TJ. Understanding attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder from childhood to adulthood. Postgrad Med. 2010. doi:10.3810/pgm.2010.09.2206
4. Aguirre Castaneda RL, Kumar S, Voigt RG, et al. Childhood Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Sex, and Obesity: A Longitudinal Population-Based Study. Mayo Clin Proc. 2016. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2015.09.017
5. Pelsser LM, Frankena K, Toorman J, Pereira RR. Diet and ADHD, reviewing the evidence: A systematic review of meta-analyses of double-blind placebo-controlled trials evaluating the efficacy of diet interventions on the behavior of children with ADHD. PLoS One. 2017. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0169277
6. Stobernack T, De Vries SPW, Rodrigues Pereira R, et al. Biomarker Research in ADHD: The Impact of Nutrition (BRAIN) – Study protocol of an open-label trial to investigate the mechanisms underlying the effects of a few-foods diet on ADHD symptoms in children. BMJ Open. 2019. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2019-029422
7. Nigg JT, Holton K. Restriction and elimination diets in ADHD treatment. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2014. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2014.05.010
8. Minich DM. A review of the science of colorful, plant-based food and practical strategies for “eating the rainbow.” J Nutr Metab. 2019. doi:10.1155/2019/2125070
9. Agostoni C, Nobile M, Ciappolino V, et al. The role of omega-3 fatty acids in developmental psychopathology: A systematic review on early psychosis, autism, and ADHD. Int J Mol Sci. 2017. doi:10.3390/ijms18122608
10. Bloch MH, Mulqueen J. Nutritional supplements for the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2014.
11. Iwinski S, Cannavale C, Walk A, Liu R, McLoughlin G, Khan N. Interrelationships Between Household Chaos, Children’s ADHD Tendencies, and Diet Quality (P11-113-19). Curr Dev Nutr. 2019. doi:10.1093/cdn/nzz048.p11-113-19
12. Wang L-J, Yu Y-H, Fu M-L, et al. Dietary Profiles, Nutritional Biochemistry Status, and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Path Analysis for a Case-Control Study. J Clin Med. 2019. doi:10.3390/jcm8050709
13. Phillips W. Nutrition Management of Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Infant, Child, Adolesc Nutr. 2014. doi:10.1177/1941406414551202
14. Berwid OG, Halperin JM. Emerging support for a role of exercise in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder intervention planning. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2012. doi:10.1007/s11920-012-0297-4
15. Tong L, Ye Y, Yan Q. The moderating roles of bedtime activities and anxiety/depression in the relationship between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms and sleep problems in children. BMC Psychiatry. 2018. doi:10.1186/s12888-018-1879-4
Nothing said or implied in this post is intended to treat, cure, diagnose or prevent any disease. It does not take the place of a health care practitioner. It is for educational purposes only.