Patterns of behaviour and brain function are largely influenced by diet.
There is increasing evidence to suggest t hat poor diet can lead to poor behaviour and learning disabilities amongst children.
The most common problems arising today include:
Not only do these have a negative impact on the individual’s personal development, they also cause a disturbance in family life, the classroom and society at large.
Characterised by 3 major problems:
• Lack of attention
• Act on impulse
It is estimated that five percent of school aged children in England and Wales have ADHD. This is the equivalent of three hundred and sixty seven thousand.
This means that in an average class of thirty children, one or two will present with ADHD.
The incidence amongst boys is greater than girls.
Boys – hyperactivity presents as the more common problem
Girls – inattentiveness presents as the more common problem
Thirty six to seventy percent of children continue to show ADHD symptoms into adulthood.
Although there are no exact findings, studies suggest that the front part of the brain works more slowly in children with ADHD.
There may be an imbalance in neurotransmitters in the front part of the brain – a lack of the chemicals dopamine and noradrenaline.
• Behaviour therapy
• Stable home environment
• Good psychological support
• Good nutrition aimed at:
• Balancing blood sugar levels
• Correction of EFA deficiency
• Correction of vitamin and mineral deficiencies
• Food allergies
• Supplements of vitamins B and Zinc
Today’s current climate of high consumption of convenience foods, snacking, eating in front of the TV and a decline in ‘family meals’ all contribute to poor nutrition and deficiencies of vitamins and minerals.
Balance Blood Sugar Levels:
Cut out all sources of sugar, especially ‘refined’ i.e. fast releasing such as those found in sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks and juices. These, together with a low intake of fibre cause blood sugars to seesaw continually and trigger wild fluctuations in activity, focus and behaviour – all symptoms of ADHD.
A study of two hundred and sixty five hyperactive children found that seventy five percent showed an abnormal tolerance to sugar (Langseth and Dowd 1978).
Eat complex carbohydrate foods – wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds
Combine protein with carbohydrate
Increase consumption of high fibre foods
These help slow the release of sugar into the blood stream which balances levels.
Also avoid stimulants
Increase intake of Essential Fats (EFA’s):
Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to have a calming effect and many children with ADHD show obvious signs of omega 3 deficiency:
• Excessive thirst
• Dry skin
Boys have a higher need for Omega 3’s than girls which may explain the higher incidence amongst boys.
It is also interesting to note that conversion of EFA’s into compounds the brain needs can be inhibited by most of the foods that cause symptoms in ADHD, notably wheat, dairy and foods with salicylates. It is also hindered by vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Research in Oxford looked at the benefit of omega 3 and 6 supplements and found that if taken for just twelve weeks both learning and behaviour showed signs of improvement (Richardson and Pur 2002).
• Eat oily fish two to three times a week – mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards, fresh tuna, anchovies, and trout.
• Make fish pies, fish cakes, and use to top pizza
• Eat ground seeds daily – sunflower, sesame, hemp, pumpkin and linseeds. These can be sprinkled onto cereal, used in bread, sprinkled onto soups and salads.
• Use flax seed oil in salad dressings, add to soups, and pour on vegetables.
• Daily omega 3 supplements – flavoured, chewy varieties available for children.
Increase vitamin and mineral intake:
Zinc and magnesium are the most common deficient minerals.
Low magnesium can cause fidgeting++, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, co-ordination problems and learning difficulties (all present in ADHD)
Polish researchers studied one hundred and sixteen children and found ninety five percent had low magnesium. Supplementing magnesium for six months significantly reduced hyperactivity.
Dr N Ward (1997) studied five hundred and thirty hyperactive children and found a high percentage of them had multiple courses of antibiotics in early childhood compared with non-hyperactive children). This is probably because antibiotics disturb the gut flora which impairs absorption of vitamins and minerals leading to deficiencies.
• Increase whole foods – fresh fruit and vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains. Avoid processed foods.
• Make fruit smoothies, vegetable soups, chop up raw vegetables and fruits into finger foods and offer as snacks, try to make meals using fresh ingredients, incorporate vegetables into potato toppings for pies – e.g.: mashed carrot/swede/cauliflower/sweet potato
Avoid allergy causing foods:
Allergic reactions can be divided into two types:
1. Severe and immediate – most commonly associated with peanuts and shellfish.
2. Many and varied symptoms – may take several hours to appear and often go undetected.
A study by Dr Bellanti, Washington DC found that hyperactive children are 7 times more likely to have food allergies compared with other children.
A separate study in London (O’Reilly 2001) found children with ADHD reacted mainly to food colourings, flavourings, MSG, synthetic additives, cow’s milk, chocolate and oranges.
Other substances found to trigger behavioural changes include wheat, corn, yeast, soya, peanuts and eggs (Bons and Mandel 1994).
Children with allergies often present with nasal problems, excess mucus, ear infections, facial swelling, digestive problems, tonsillitis, eczema, asthma, headaches and bed wetting.
Many children benefit by eliminating foods containing artificial colours, flavours and preservatives; processed and manufactured foods.
The Feingold diet involves removal of foods containing salicylates – prunes, raisins, raspberries, almonds, apricots, canned cherries, blackcurrants, oranges, strawberries, grapes, tomato sauce, plums, cucumber, and Granny Smith apples. This should only be undertaken under the care of a Nutritional Therapist as it could result in elimination of a large number of vital nutrients from the diet.
These foods work by inhibiting conversion and utilisation of EFA’s – already known to be low in ADHD children.
Rather than eliminating all these foods it may be worth increasing EFA intake.
Langseth L and Dowd J; Glucose intolerance and hyperkinesis, Food Cosmet Toxicol, vol 16, 1978, p129
Richardson A and Puri B ‘A randomised double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the effects of supplementation with highly unsaturated fatty acids on ADHD’, Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry, 2002
Ward N I ‘Assessment of clinical factors in relation to child hyperactivity’ J Nutr Envion Med, vol 7, 1997,pp333-342
O’Reilly, ‘Hyperactivit Children’s Support Group Conference’, London, June 2001
Boris, M D and Mandel F S, ‘Foods and additives are common causes of the attention deficit hyperactive disorder in children’ Ann Allergy, vol 72 (1994), pp 462-468