If you or your child has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD), you will no doubt have come across the vast amount of information available about it online. Working out what this complex condition means for you and your loved ones however can be difficult so I hope this article gives you a fresh look at how to approach it and the dietary and lifestyle interventions that can really help. There’s no magic bullet though and the best way to understand what will work best for you as an individual is to consult a Naturopath or Nutritionist.
ADD or ADHD is a multi-factorial condition affecting the biochemistry of the brain leading to behavioral, emotional and learning difficulties. Contributing factors include genetics (epigenetics), lifestyle / environment, and diet. From a holistic point of view, treatment should address all of these factors.
Research into epigenetics has increased over the past decade and the term is now becoming a household word. It is the study of gene expression and the concept of our genes being ‘switched on’ or ‘switched off’ depending on external factors (such as life events, stress levels, and nutrition). Research into how to ‘switch’ certain genes on and off is still very new, but already we can see how it can help promote an attitude of empowerment when looking at conditions such as ADHD.
Instead of thinking of ADHD as a ‘fixed’ condition, we can see it as a susceptibility, which may or may not express itself. With this in mind, let’s have a look at the factors that we know can affect a person if they have a genetic susceptibility to it.
The brain needs vitamins and minerals found in food because they are used as pre-cursors and co-factors for its biochemistry. The list below summarises the do’s and don’ts when it comes to ADHD:
- Have a banana smoothie! – Bananas are jam packed full of vitamins and minerals, which are important for neurotransmitter balance. Zinc and B6 are particularly important as low levels have been found in individuals with ADHD. Foods high in zinc and B6 include Beef, pumpkin, seafood, wholegrains, sunflower seeds, lentils, avocado and of course bananas.
- Increase foods high in magnesium – Almonds, cashews, figs, kelp and leafy greens are all high in magnesium and should be eaten regularly as low magnesium may be associated with hyperactivity. Research has demonstrated that supplementation with magnesium can improve behavior and cognitive performance in children with ADHD.
- Think Iron man! – Iron plays a role in regulating neurotransmitter activity so try to eat foods that are rich in iron. These include lean meat, almonds, apricots, avocado, parsley, sunflower seed and pumpkin seeds.
- Eat more fish – Essential fatty acids found in deep sea oily fish (e.g. salmon, trout or tuna) assist neurotransmitter functioning and may help reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
- Limit phosphorus intake – Studies have shown a correlation between high dietary phosphate and aggressive behavior associated with ADHD. High phosphate containing foods include processed and canned meats, processed cheese, dark coloured soft drinks, instant soups and puddings, various toppings and seasonings.
- Limit sugar consumption – Everyone is likely to experience anxiety, irritability and difficulty concentrating following a sugary meal, regardless of a diagnosis! However, studies have shown that those with ADD/ADHD may be more susceptible. Limit sugary treats as snacks. When it is consumed, make sure it’s within a meal that incorporates protein, and complex carbohydrates.
- Avoid Caffeine – it interferes with neurotransmitter balance.
- Artificial additives – As a rule of thumb, it’s best to follow a diet full of fresh foods and steer clear of processed products, particularly those containing artificial sweeteners, flavours, colours and preservatives.
In many situations, altering food choices is enough to balance our brain chemistry, however sometimes there is a need for nutritional and / or herbal supplementation. In these situations, It’s best to speak to a naturopath or nutritionist about supplements that may benefit you. Always consult your doctor before altering your own or your child’s prescribed medication.
- Get plenty of sleep – Sleep is when the brain replenishes and recuperates so regardless of ADD/ADHD, to enhance your brain power, it is critical that a good night’s rest is your priority.
- Spend time amongst nature – Fresh air and exercise can do wonders for your wellbeing and help balance out brain chemistry.
- Reduce stress – Stress can suppress immune cells and can have a negative effect on DNA expression.
If you or your child has been diagnosed with ADHD/ADD or any learning / behavioral difficulty for that matter, it can seem overwhelming and the symptoms can be exhausting and debilitating. However, it’s not the be all and end all! See it simply as a symptom of imbalance, and look into the factors which can bring back equilibrium.