Nourishing and Nurturing Attentiveness in Children
One child in every classroom will receive the diagnosis of Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder. It is at least three times more common in boys, with symptoms arising before seven years old. ADHD is a clinical diagnosis given when patients having a number of symptoms in a list of criteria, including being easily distracted, disorganized, fidgeting, lack of impulse control and inability to follow through with tasks. A diagnosis of ADHD labels the behavior a child exhibits; however, it doesn’t answer a fundamental question. Why is the child experiencing these symptoms? Parents and researchers alike are trying to answer this question and finding unique deficiencies and biochemistries in these children can predispose them to this condition.
Currently there is medication on the market for this condition, however often times children and parents complain of the side effects, and many times it is reported to not be effective. 54% of parents report looking into natural therapies as an option for their child.
Children’s diets are one of the main focuses in nature medicine for children with ADHD. Studies have correlated diets high in refined carbohydrates and poor cognitive performance in children. Poor blood sugar control may be a risk factor for lack of attention and increase fidgeting. Simply switching a child’s diet to whole, nutrient dense foods has been associated with improvements in behavior and performance. Blood tests looking at blood sugar and insulin levels can confirm blood sugar dysfunction.
Another dietary concern for children with ADHD is food allergies or sensitivities. Signs of immune reactions to food, beyond behavioral symptoms, could include eczema, digestion disturbances, asthma, fatigue, headaches or rashes, though often only a few symptoms are present. Recent research shows a strong correlation between eczema and ADHD, reinforcing that underlying immune reactions could play a role in children’s behavior. Another recent study showed that sleep disturbance is correlated with ADHD symptoms. Poor sleep has been documented as a common symptom of food allergies and sensitivities, addressing the underlying cause can improve ADHD behavior and restorative sleep. Food allergies and sensitivities can be determined by blood test as well as by a medically supervised elimination diet. One study found 24% of children with ADHD benefited from a medically supervised elimination diet, removing major allergens.
Assessing for nutritional deficiencies is also an important consideration when looking at the diet of a child with ADHD.
- The symptoms of iron deficiency, the most prevalent deficiency in children, include lack of motivation, inattentiveness and inability to follow through with tasks, symptoms often used to diagnosis ADHD.
- Essential fatty acids are fats that can only be acquired through the diet, the body cannot make them. These fats make up 80% of dopamine receptors in the brain, the neurotransmitter responsible for mood and motivation. Research also suggests boys may require more omega 3 essential fatty acids than girls, possibly accounting for the gender difference in ADHD. Omega 3 essential fatty acids support mood, cognition and healthy immune system.
- Magnesium deficiency was found to be as high as 95% of children with ADHD in one study. Magnesium relaxes muscles and support neurotransmitter function. Studies have shown it to reduce hyperactivity in children.
- B Vitamins are important for support of neurotransmitters including dopamine and serotonin, and these nutrients can potentially support better concentration and cognition.
The diagnosis of ADHD should be considered a red flag to assess nutrition and lifestyle of the child. Proper nutrition, removing allergens that irritate the system and introducing supportive nutrients can often offer solutions to the underlying cause of ADHD.