There are many people who feel that following an ADHD diet, such as eliminating specific substances in our food and in our environment can be extremely beneficial for ADHD.
For instance, a well-known allergist, the late Dr. Benjamin Feingold, proposed in 1975 that preservatives and artificial flavors and artificial colors may cause hyperactivity in some kids. There has been a great debate on this subject since then.
ADHD – Effects of Foods
It has been theorized that certain foods can affect the symptoms of ADHD. Some people believe that ADHD symptoms may actually be the result of food allergies or sensitivities. According to many experts, there are some specific foods that, when consumed, may exacerbate ADHD symptoms.
Here is a partial list of those foods considered by many to be potential “triggers” for ADHD symptoms.
Food Colorings, Food Additives and ADHD
Sources say that artificial colors and preservatives are not necessarily instrumental in exacerbating ADHD symptoms; but for those who do have sensitivities to these substances, removing them from the diet has been known to produce dramatic results. Cutting out artificial colors and preservatives does not cause harm, so eliminating these things from the child’s diet and watching for symptom improvement is a viable course of action.
- Food additives are those things added to food that do not necessarily occur naturally in that food.
- Generally, food additives are added to increase shelf life and/or enhance color and flavor.
- Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives are considered food additives.
- Other substances such as “dough conditioners,” monosodium glutamate, and artificial sweeteners are also considered food additives and may be implicated in exacerbating ADHD symptoms.
- Sodium nitrates and nitrites are common preservatives that are added to cured meats like bacon and lunch meat.
- In addition to being considered carcinogenic, nitrates and nitrites may affect ADHD behavior.
Recently, a study on one preservative and some food coloring did lead to an increase in hyperactivity in some kids. The effects ranged according to the additive and the age of the child.
The American Academy of Pediatrics now agrees that it is best to eliminate food colorings and preservatives in kids and adults that have ADHD. In particular, yellow and red artificial colors, food additives such as Monosodium glutamate or MSG, aspartame, and nitrites are to be avoided as well. Additional studies have linked the intake of sodium benzoate preservative to hyperactivity.
Caffeine and ADHD
The majority of experts recommend eliminating caffeine. Interestingly enough, some studies have showed that small amounts of caffeine have helped with some of the symptoms of ADHD in children. Of course, the side effects of caffeine may outweigh the benefits, as in making the child miss nap time or not go to bed as easily.
Sugar and ADHD
Most parents would agree that there is an increase in hyper behaviour after eating sugary foods such as candy, ice cream or chocolate, whether their kids have ADHD or not.
It’s possible that this could be due to sugar’s stimulating effect that is followed by a crash – in other words, it may be more about how white sugar affects blood sugar levels than any particular chemical in the white sugar itself.
There is currently no evidence showing that sugar directly causes ADHD, however eliminating sugar from anyone’s diet is beneficial for many health reasons. It certainly won’t cause anyone any harm to eliminate sugar in their diet to see if it makes them feel better. Those with ADHD may even notice an improvement in their symptoms.
This is all still up in the air, but most parents, teachers, and experts agree that sugar is best avoided by those with ADHD. I believe it should be avoided by everyone!
ADHD and Gluten
The possible connection between gluten sensitivity and ADHD is interesting. Many children with ADHD also have celiac disease, or gluten intolerance. In this disorder, gluten (a protein found in wheat and other grains) inflames the intestinal lining and can eventually permeate the intestinal walls, creating leaky gut syndrome.
This causes proteins and other undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream, where they can cause a host of problems. Many parents of children with ADHD have found success in eliminating gluten from their child’s diet, allowing the gut to heal and stopping the cycle of inflammation.
This protein is found primarily in wheat, although it occurs in lesser amounts in other grains. You may have heard of a “gluten-free diet” that some people adopt, but you may not know that it is sometimes adopted by adults and children with ADHD. This is because gluten has been implicated in behavioral disorders, including ADHD and autism.
Dairy and ADHD
The protein in milk and milk products, casein, has been implicated in ADHD symptoms. Casein is a very small protein molecule that can “sneak” out of the gut – especially if digestion is unhealthy – and into the blood stream. From there, it may trigger an immune response that manifests as inflammation and ADHD symptoms.
ADHD – Herbs
Here are a few herbs that may be helpful for ADHD symptom relief.
Brahmi or Bacopa monniera
The Ayurvedic herb known as Brahmi or Bacopa monniera has an extended history of being used as a cognitive enhancer. It has been shown to improve cognitive function and improve learning and protects the brain from free radical damage even more than Battacharya or deprenyl, a cognitive-enhancing drug.
Siberian Ginseng or Eleutherococcus senticosis
This adaptogenic herb helps to normalize physiological function and modulate stress reactions. This extract contains syringaresinol diglucoside and syriingin, which have been shown to help with memory retrieval and diminish stress, caused reductions of strength. Siberian Ginseng causes a more economical release of the body’s energy and stimulates brain activity.
This herb produces an increase of amine nerve transmitters substances within the adrenal gland and in the brain. It is believed that the anti-stress effect originates from its steroid metabolism activity and antioxidant properties on the endocrine function of the adrenal-hypothalamus-pituitary.
Gotu Kola contains some special tritepenoid glycosides such as brahmoside, madecassoide and asiaticoside. These compounds are known to reduce adrenal corticosterone blood levels during a stress response. As well, they have been found beneficial for vascular issues within the brain, nervous disorders and cognitive disorders. Be sure not to confuse Gotu Kola with Kola nut, which contains caffeine.
Green Oats or Avena sativa
Oats have been highly regarded as a nervine and soothing tonic for the nerves for a long time. The fresh green seeds of green oats have shown to be useful as a mild antispasmodic. Their tonic effects are not as immediately noticeable and stimulating as compared to caffeine, however, quite restorative and have cumulative effects with continued use over time.
ADHD Diet and Nutrition Connection
The issue of the nutrition connection with ADHD has been subjected to multiple studies, and generally, those studies have pointed to strong connections between this disorder and nutrition. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, food allergies, pesticide exposure from non-organic produce, etc. all have implications in the symptoms of ADHD.
- Iron Deficiency
Symptoms of iron deficiency (poor attention span, behavioral problems) can mimic those of ADHD. Some doctors recommend an iron supplement for all children regardless of ADHD diagnosis. So it’s a good idea to test for iron deficiency if your child is exhibiting symptoms reminiscent of ADHD.
- Low Blood Sugar
Another problem that can mimic ADHD symptoms is low blood sugar. The inability to concentrate, “the shakes” and jitters, and hyperactivity are all symptoms of low blood sugar. Not all kids react to low blood sugar with these symptoms, and not all kids suffer visibly from long periods of not eating (or eating the wrong kinds of foods). But in some children, low blood sugar can present dramatic symptoms.
The best way to alleviate these symptoms is with a healthy, whole foods diet that is low in sugar and includes healthy snacks! Plus, because of recent studies linking ADHD and pesticide exposure, many parents choose to have their families eat only organic produce. This minimizes pesticide exposure by ingestion.
As always a healthy diet can help many health problems including ADHD.
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