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Can a Healthy Diet Ease ADHD Symptoms? — an article on the Smart Living Network
August 23, 2009 at 8:04 PMComments: 3 Faves: 1

Can a Healthy Diet Ease ADHD Symptoms?


You have probably heard the saying "you are what you eat." While it might seem trite, this statement has some surprising relevance to ADHD. What you feed your child (and yourself) can have quite an impact on the negative behavior associated with ADHD .

Diet vs. Medication for ADHD

Adjusting a child's diet based on symptoms is becoming more popular as a treatment for ADHD and other disorders. Some parents try to change their child's diet before turning to traditional medication, while others incorporate diet into their treatment regimen of medication and therapy.

Treating ADHD through diet is a contentious issue among doctors. Many doctors prefer to medication over diet because ADHD medication provides quick results; it may take weeks to see results when changing a child's diet. However, nutritional changes have had a positive impact in the behavior of millions of children with ADHD . In a review of 23 controlled research studies, 17 determined that avoiding certain foods benefited children with ADHD.

Processed Foods and ADHD

The University of Southampton, a research university in the UK, studied 1800 three-year olds to determine how chemical preservatives affected their behavior. Some had ADHD and some did not. When the children were fed a preservative-free diet for one week, their behavior noticeably improved. The children then continued the same diet, but with an added beverage. Some children received beverages containing preservatives, while others received a placebo beverage. During the weeks that the children consumed the chemicals, their behavior deteriorated, whether they had ADHD or not. In the study, removing preservatives from the children's diet was shown to be almost as effective as clonidine and Ritalin.

Iron Deficiency and ADHD

In a small study in Paris, France, researchers found a link between iron deficiency and ADHD. They studied iron levels in the blood of 80 students with behavior problems, 53 with ADHD and 27 without. The students without ADHD had normal iron levels in their blood, but the ADHD students had about 50 percent less iron in their blood. In all, 84 percent of the students with ADHD were deficient in iron. The researchers also found that the students with the lowest levels of iron also had the worst ADHD symptoms, such as oppositional behavior, hyperactivity, and lower cognitive scores. Surprisingly, none of the children were found to be anemic; so even a small deficiency in iron can affect behavior.

Changing Your Diet

There are many different ADHD diets out there. Some avoid food additives, while others eliminate certain foods and then reintroduce them to see how they affect behavior. You might want to start out small and monitor one or two foods. The transition may be easier on your child if the whole family participates in the new diet. These foods have proven beneficial in ADHD symptom management:

  • Magnesium and calcium
  • Protein
  • Foods with vitamin B
  • Essential fatty acids

Foods to Avoid

  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Caffeine
  • Hydrogenated oils
  • Additives and preservatives


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  • Enlightening.

    I had no idea diet could be a factor. It makes sense, though. A lot of sense.

  • I have 2 severely ADHD children, one of which is also Autistic. Several years ago I started them on a preservative free diet. Within a week, teachers, friends and neighbors, like me, noticed a major decrease in their ADHD related behaviors. I later discovered through testing that they are both also allergic to corn products. By removing corn based products from their diets we have experienced even less ADHD related behaviors. I am a firm believer that diet has everything to do with ADHD. They are both still taking medications for ADHD, but their healthy diets have made the medications even more effective.

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