Does your child seem easily distracted, have difficulty following directions, and appear to act impulsively? Have you noticed that he or she gets upset easily, has poor coordination, and often complains of stomachaches?
If so, your child could have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This condition affects more than one million children worldwide, so you are certainly not alone in your struggle.
Although there are prescription medications that can help reduce the symptoms of ADHD, they often come with unwanted side effects. And these side effects can be difficult to spot since many of them are similar to the symptoms of the condition itself.
- Sleep difficulties
- Decreased appetite
- Rebound irritability (when the medication begins to wear off)
- Delayed growth
- Muscle tics
- Cardiac problems
According to a study published by CNS Drugs, there are small but statistically significant increases in heart rate and blood pressure in some individuals who take ADHD medications.
From the study:
“However, great caution is advised when considering stimulant and non-stimulant medications for patients of any age with a diagnosis of ADHD and a personal or family history or other known risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”
Digestive Abnormalities in ADHD
Before we look into how diet and supplements can help treat ADHD, it’s important to mention a common factor among those with this common neurodevelopmental condition.
The symptoms of ADHD are caused by an imbalance in neurotransmitters. When children with ADHD are tested, it is often revealed that their digestive systems are not very efficient at digesting and utilizing the nutrients from their food. This can cause critical nutritional deficiencies that affect the way neurotransmitters are created.
Children and adults with ADHD are often diagnosed with leaky gut syndrome, candida overgrowth, and intestinal parasitic infection.
Treat ADHD Naturally With Diet
A common dietary protocol for treating ADHD naturally is the Feingold Program. This involves eliminating foods that contain additives, preservatives, food dyes, and other synthetic chemicals and replacing them with similar foods that don’t contain these chemicals.
At the start of the program, a chemical called salicylate is also removed from the diet. Salicylate is an aspirin-like chemical that can be found in a variety of naturally-grown foods.
Foods that are high in salicylates include, but are not limited to:
- Citrus fruits and juices
Salicylates are also found in most plant-based foods, especially those that have been concentrated, such as pastes, powders, sauces, jams, syrups, and flavorings.
Flavored yogurt, dried spices, and dried fruit are yet another source of these chemicals.
If the idea of making too radical a change in your child’s diet is daunting to you, not to worry. You can still use The Feingold Program to eliminate certain additives and chemicals to start.
If symptoms improve once you’ve eliminated these chemicals and return when you reintroduce them, you’ve found your culprit(s), and you’ll know which additives you need to steer clear of.
Here is the list of foods to avoid in The Feingold Program:
- Any type of synthetic coloring or food dye (Yellow #5, Blue Lake, etc.).
- Artificial preservatives like BHA, BHT, and TBHQ. These are made from petroleum and are often found on the ingredient list of popular kid’s cereals.
- Aspartame (a synthetic sweetener found in diet soda).
- Other undesirable food additives such as MSG, sodium benzoate, sulfites, and nitrites.
Begin by removing only the foods and products (like candy, cereal, vitamins, toothpastes, and drugs) that contain artificial colorings and synthetic additives.
Note: It is very important for you or your child to keep a food diary during this elimination process. Write down what your child has eaten and what, if any, behavioral changes you notice.
If, after several weeks on the diet, your child’s behavior has noticeably improved, reintroduce one eliminated food or ingredient at a time. Do this two or three times if a problem occurs, to be sure that specific food or ingredient is really the culprit.
The Best Diet for Individuals With ADHD
The best diet a child or adult with ADHD can consume is one without any artificial additives or flavoring. Most meals should center around organic vegetables and fruits, organic meat and poultry, eggs, wild-caught fish, beans, hummus, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and brown rice.
Best Supplements to Treat ADHD Naturally
Individuals with ADHD often have chronic gastrointestinal problems, including poor digestion and absorption of nutrients from food.
This is why certain supplements should also be included in a natural ADHD treatment protocol.
- The “Powerhouse 3” – Magnesium, iron, and zinc are all essential minerals. Magnesium is important for anxiety control and cognitive function. It is also used to make the neurotransmitters involved in attention and concentration. Iron aids in the creation of the brain chemical, dopamine, while zinc regulates it.
- B Vitamins – Research has suggested that children with vitamin B deficiencies experience forgetfulness, confusion, short attention span, irritability, and rage. Vitamin B6, for example, is necessary for the brain to make serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Research has shown that those with ADHD tend to break down omega-3 fatty acids more readily than those who do not have the condition. Omega-3s are believed to be critical to brain and nerve cell function.
- Korean Red Ginseng – According to a study published in the Journal of Ginseng Research, children with ADHD who were given ginseng showed improvement in their attention span.
- Probiotics – In one study of 75 children with ADHD, the majority had little or no friendly bacteria in their gut. As I mentioned earlier, individuals with ADHD tend to have chronic gastrointestinal problems, and it’s no wonder! A high-quality probiotic supplement can help improve digestion and nutrient absorption while easing anxiety and depression.
Important Note: Talk with your family doctor before giving your child any supplements. If you are pregnant, nursing, or taking a prescription medication, do not take these or any supplements without first consulting your physician.
Whether you’re an adult with ADHD or the parent of a child with the condition, it can sometimes be difficult to manage. Thankfully, there are nutritional options that can help get ADHD under control without the harmful side effects.
If you’re in the local area, stop by our Meriden, CT store. We offer a wide array of supplements and foods that can assist you on your journey to wellness.
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