Attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has become a commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder, mostly affecting school-age children. It is a neurological- and behavior-related condition that causes difficulty in concentrating, as well as impulsiveness and excessive energy.
Children with this disorder are characterized as inattentive, impulsive, aggressive and hyperactive. Learning becomes challenging and frustrating and often leads to low self-esteem. Although stimulant medications like Ritalin are continually being prescribed to help ease these symptoms, there are many side effects associated with this class of drugs. Many times, the important role that nutrition plays in learning and behavior is often overlooked.
The Role of Omega-3s
Correcting a child’s diet may improve the management of ADHD and complement conventional treatments. The science of nutrition reveals a particularly beneficial effect on behavioral problems with supplementation of essential fats, specifically omega-3 fatty acids, also known as long-chain polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are found predominantly in fish fat, flaxseed and soybeans. They are essential to human nutrition.
The omega-3s in fish – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – have been studied in relation to behavioral disorders. Inadequate consumption of foods rich in omega-3s could lead to deficiencies in these important fats, increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease, depression, and behavioral and emotional disorders. Children with ADHD have been reported to have lower plasma levels of these essential fats. Studies show that intake of the omega-3 fat DHA reduces aggressive behavior in students during periods of increased mental stress. Further clinical studies have reported that supplemental intake of fish oils can significantly reduce markers for mental stress and reduce depression.
These healthy fats may improve our cellular membranes, assisting cellular fluidity and neurotransmission. This means that the cells in our brains and nervous system may communicate more effectively, making it easier for us to concentrate and learn. If you do not consume cold-water fish three times per week, consider supplementing with a good quality fish oil supplement, preferably a concentrated pharmaceutical grade oil, free of contaminants and heavy metals.
Nutrients for a Child’s Brain
The role that vitamins and minerals play in the production and regulation of neurochemicals (brain-stabilizing chemicals) has also been studied and has shown promising results. Some children with ADHD have lower than normal plasma levels of iron, zinc and magnesium. Clinical studies have yet to conclusively prove that supplementation with these minerals will help reduce ADHD symptoms specifically, but researchers have found that supplementation with vitamins and minerals helped to improve learning and nutritional status in a group of students without ADHD.
Optimizing nutrition is not only important for overall growth and development, but may help improve brain function. In addition to eating a well-balanced diet, children should be given a high-quality children’s multivitamin and mineral supplement to help fill any nutritional gaps.
The Elimination Test Diet
Recent research suggests that ADHD symptoms may be improved by identifying and removing potential food sensitivities, intolerances and food dyes from the diet of children with ADHD. A proper elimination test diet, conducted under the supervision of a dietician or nutritionally oriented physician, may be a good first step.
Organics Acid Test
It can be difficult to determine root causes for complex medical conditions such as autism, ADHD, depression, behavioral disorders, gastrointestinal symptoms, inflammation, chronic fatigue, headaches, sleep disturbances, skin conditions, and multiple chemical sensitivities. An Organic Acid Test (or OAT) can be a very helpful tool in uncovering system imbalances that are driving various health conditions. The Organic Acid Test evaluates for imbalances in dopamine (HVA) and norepinephrine (VMA). The balance between these two important brain chemicals is critical for attention, focusing, mood, calmness, and other functions of the nervous system. Attention deficit problems are commonly associated with norepinephrine imbalances.
If you have questions about a natural approach to address ADHD, there is more information on our website, including additional supplement recommendations, or contact Village Green to speak with a nutrition advisor.