The ADHD diet
ADHD, an acronym for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder refers to a behavior based on a combination of impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and lack of concentration, which affects the individual’s proper functioning at school or at home. The common symptoms include: psychic instability, anxiety, impulsiveness, hostility, reduced focusing capability, sleeping disorders, headaches, migraines, and abdominal discomfort. People suffering from ADHD often a present medical history of reduced weight at birth, allergies or autoimmune disorders. Men are more often affected by this affection than women, hyperactivity is more commonly encountered in males, while females are more susceptible to inactivity.
ADHD can be manifested even in the adult stage, but the symptoms tend to diminish in time. The main category affected by this disorder is children, because they go through a period in which the nutritional and environmental factors can influence their brain’s development and functioning, both in positive or negative way.
Establishing the connection between diet and ADHD
In 1981, Colquhoun and Bunday have made an ample study on children suffering from ADHD and discovered a number of physical signs: essential fatty acids deficiency, excessive thirst, polyuria, dry skin and hair. Following these discoveries, extensive research has been made to understand the nutritional factors involved in ADHD. Apart from the essential fatty acids deficiency, studies have also revealed that children suffering from ADHD also present an iron and zinc deficiency.
Fatty acids have a structural and functional role in the development of the central nervous system and are key factor in the development of ADHD. The two most important acid types in such cases are the eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and the docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are obtained from the conversion of the alpha linolenic acid (ALA). But the conversion process may be problematic, as genetic and environmental factors (including the diet) can greatly influence the individual’s capability of converting the ALA into EPA and DHA.
The richest sources of ALA are sunflower seeds, soy, peanuts and sesame, which should be consumed along with ALA rich foods such as the canola oil or peanuts. Despite its low ALA content, olive oil is recommended due to its rich content of monounsaturated fats which have a benefic effect on the human body. Other ALA sources are greens such as spinach, coriander, mint, parsley or basil.
When referring to sources of EPA and DHA, fish and seafood are the best sources: salmon, carp, mackerel, sardines, herring and anchovies – these are all suitable choices. Tuna is also considered a fat fish, but the conservation process leads to a considerable loss of fats. Many fish species are more prone to contain high quantities of polluting agents such as mercury, and that is why ADHD suffering patients, and all children of less than 16 years of age should avoid eating shark or sword fish. DHA can also be found in egg yolk and in liver, which should be included in the daily diet.
The daily recommended dose of EPA and DHA is of 500 mg, to avoid the functional deficiencies which can be caused by the lack of these acids. However, individuals suffering from ADHD can require these substances in greater quantities. The normal weekly dose of 3500 mg can be obtained from about three salmon helpings each week. A mackerel ratio contains 2700 mg of EPA and DHA, while cod contains 170 mg. If for healthy individuals these variations do not count as much, patients suffering from ADHD can suffer from significant consequences. That is why fish oil supplements may diminish the symptoms in a number of children suffering from this affection. Furthermore, these supplements are considered “safe” and can even provide health benefits, especially in the cardiovascular protection area. Despite these results, the studies performed until now have not established the exact optimum daily dosages or the efficiency of this type of treatment.
Antioxidants protect the organism, and that is why it is recommended to eat foods containing such substances every day. Eating 5 ratios of fruit and/or vegetables daily should provide you a sufficient quantity of antioxidants.
The lack of iron has been associated with ADHD in children (the group of children affected by ADHD were suffering from a more severe iron deficiency than those not affected by this disorder). The reduced blood iron levels have been correlated with more severe ADHD symptoms and more pronounced cognitive deficiencies. Iron rich foods – red meat, cereals, apricots – should be found in the diet of patients suffering from this affection. Sometimes, even iron supplements may be necessary.
Zinc has numerous functions in the human body, and a deficiency of this mineral is suspected to affect ADHD development. The children suffering from this disease which underwent a zinc treatment have shown a reduction in hyperactivity, impulsiveness and in the socialization deficit symptoms.
Examples of zinc rich foods are: seafood, pine buds, whole cereals.
Synthetic alimentary additives
Some of the synthetic alimentary additives – colorants, flavors, preservatives – have proven to be connected with an intensification of hyperactivity in children (both in those suffering from ADHD, as well as in healthy ones). The following additives have caused adverse reactions in children: E102, E104, E107, E110, E122, E123, E124, E128, E133, E142, E150, E151, E154, E155, E180, E220, E221, E222, E223, E224, E226, E227, E228, benzoic acid, sodium benzoate, and sulfur dioxide.
The diet functioning mechanism
The ADHD diet works by providing the human body with the fatty acids needed by the brain and the central nervous system in order to function properly. Furthermore, the diet emphasizes the importance of iron and zinc intakes and the role played by the lack of these minerals in the worsening of the ADHD symptoms. However, nutritional supplements should only be taken as advised by the doctor.
The ADHD diet benefits
The most important benefit of this diet consists of the fact that it provides the organism with the correct food categories which sustain the nutritional requirements of the brain and of the body. This diet ensures a correct growth and development cycle in children and, at the same time, it sustains the organism’s general health at any age. The diet comes to support all other treatment strategies – including medication – and helps improve the quality of life and extending the possibility of educating the affected individuals.
A more detailed diet to fight ADHD can be employed following a consultation with a specialized medic, especially when the patient is a child. Nutritional supplements should only be included as advised by the doctor, and only according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
* There have been cases where olive oil supplements consumed along with stimulant medication have worsened the hyperactivity state in some ADHD patients.
* Olive oil supplements may reduce blood clotting times, and as such they should not be administered at the same time with anticoagulant medication.