by Dr. Kristen Bovee, Peninsula Naturopathic Clinic and Hydrate IV Wellness Centre –
September is back to school month. As it is exciting for most, for some kids with learning disorders like ADHD, it can be extremely stressful.
In Canada, about five percent of children and four percent of adults are clinically diagnosed with ADHD. It is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder that has a genetic component and can persist throughout a person’s life. The common treatments for ADHD include medication (forms of stimulants such as methylphenidate or relatives of this drug) and cognitive behavioral therapy. Although there is little consensus on whether diet or sugar affects ADHD, there is considerable evidence that certain deficiencies and nutritional patterns can exacerbate the condition. The following is a list of nutritional support and dietary habits that have been shown to enhance brain focus and function. It has also been shown that immunological reactions to certain foods can also affect behavior and mental performance.
Vitamin D. Current research is actively looking at nutrient associations and the health of the brain, particularly in regards to ADHD. In August 2019, The Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology reported that children who were supplied with vitamin D supplementation in conjunction with methylphenidate appeared to have reduced ADHD symptoms, particularly if the child was deficient in the vitamin. There were no adverse events noted as a result of the supplementation and a small but statistically significant improvement in ADHD total scores, inattention scores, hyperactivity scores and behaviour scores were noted.
Food additives and colouring. Although diet alone does not cause ADHD, there are certainly patterns of eating associated with behavioural issues in children (and adults). Current studies highlighting the consumption of food additives and colourings show this to be a contributing factor. The result is that removing these additives and colourings from a child’s diet can be at least one-third to one-half as effective as treatment with methylphenidate (Ritalin).
Omega 3 fatty acids. Our bodies depend on essential fatty acids from our diets because we are unable to make these important molecules. While their forms and function can vary, the western diet certainly is one that lacks in both omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. ADHD and omega 3 deficiency share common symptoms of excessive thirst and frequent urination, hinting that children (and adults) with ADHD may be also suffering from a deficiency of this essential nutrient. Although studies are still being done to determine this association, it does lead one to think that essential fats could help with attention and cognitive function.
Food allergies. There is growing evidence that IgG reactions or food sensitivity and its effects on the gut have a direct connection to the brain and inflammation. When children with ADHD were placed on an elimination diet they had approximately 64% improvement in cognitive function, attention and behavior. So perhaps determining food allergies can be a positive starting point to supporting children with ADHD.
Although research is early in this area and can be somewhat controversial, there is clear evidence that nutrition plays a very important part in the treatment and management of ADHD. For parents faced with deciding to place their children on medication it would be a good first step to ensure that their nutritional status is optimal and also to consider food sensitivity testing to source the best foods to nourish their brains.