top of page

ADHD & NUTRITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

I want to speak to ADHD, especially with regards to children. I am seeing a growing number of school aged children struggling in school and at home with this condition. It is not only challenging for parents and teachers, but also for the child. 

ADHD Therapist Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Nutritionist, Santa Barbara Gut Health, Functional Nutrition

There are many underlying causes of ADHD including genetic, neurological, environmental, and nutritional influences. Nutritional and environmental factors are often overlooked, yet imbalances are frequently seen in ADHD and research shows with a nutritional approach; symptoms can greatly improve.


Regardless, if you and your doctor chose the medication route, nutrition will be key to supporting the child's foundational health.

 

What is ADHD

ADHD, (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is a neuro-developmental disorder characterized by difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity-impulsivity or a combination of both. Individuals with ADHD may struggle to resist impulses, follow directions, complete tasks and remain seated—among other signs and symptoms.


ADHD has three different subtypes: predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, predominantly inattentive, and combined hyperactive/impulsive and inattentive.


ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. In fact, ADHD is among the most common mental conditions in children, with an estimated 6 million children ages 3 to 17 years having ever been diagnosed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[1].


Alongside ADHD, around six in 10 U.S. children with ADHD also have at least one other mental, emotional or behavioral condition—such as anxiety or depression[2]. ADHD results in behaviors that affect all aspects of a person’s life.


The neurobiological basis for ADHD is thought to be related to the brain’s chemical neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrineHowever, serotonin, histamine, GABA and glutamate may also be involved.


I don't know about you, but these statistics are alarming. If we look beyond a typical diagnosis for this disorder, we can find nutritional [3] and environmental exposures [4] as potential contributors. 

 
Santa Barbara Dietitian, Nutritional support for ADHD, Nutritional Therapist, Functional Nutrition Santa Barbara

Nutritional Factors

Studies have shown that many mineral deficiencies exist for children with ADHD [5]. Mineral and vitamin deficiencies can lead to oxidative stress, as well as altered neuronal plasticity. It is important to note that the medications often prescribed for those with ADHD can cause long-term nutrient depletions like magnesium, vitamin C and folic acid (vitamin B9). 


Specific mineral deficiencies related to ADHD, include zinc, magnesium, iron, selenium and calcium. Dopamine production is reliant on adequate levels of zinc, copper and iron [6]. Zinc and copper are closely related and often a zinc deficiency may be the result of high copper levels and vis versa.


It's extremely important to recognize copper's role in ADHD. Excess copper is normally removed by natural processes in the body. However, copper isn't always in excess, rather in an unbound state which can be hyper-excitable to the nervous system resulting in inattention or hyperactive behaviors.  


We also see those with dysregulation in their zinc and copper having challenges with Gamma Amino Butyric Acid (GABA-A) receptors [7]. GABA is one of the calming neurotransmitters present in the brain and an imbalance can result in an increase in anxiety.


Research shows that iron deficiency can be a predictor of ADHD in children [8]. It's important to note, while iron is a key piece to the ADHD picture, it doesn't always mean it's deficient. The iron recycling system is a complex process that involves copper. Assessing iron, copper and zinc status in the appropriate manner will yield the best results for your child. 

 

Further nutrients shown to be lower in those who exhibit ADHD.

No conclusive data states nutrient deficiencies cause ADHD, rather research demonstrates that patients with ADHD have reduced levels of specific vitamins and minerals [9].


For example, a magnesium deficiency in 95% of children with ADHD has been observed [10]. Data also suggest that adolescents with ADHD continue to display abnormal essential fatty acid profiles, such as omega 3 [11]. Vitamins A and D have also been shown to be reduced in serum levels of those with ADHD [12].


Additionally, those with ADHD, have shown lower concentrations of specific b-vitamins. One particular study found those diagnosed with ADHD (ages 18-40), were found to have significantly lower concentrations of B2, B6, and B9, three critical vitamins responsible for energy regulation and neurotransmitter synthesis. Lower levels of B2 and B6, in particular, were further associated with more severe ADHD symptoms — in other words, the lower their vitamin levels, the more extreme a patient’s self-reported symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention [13].


Lastly, those diagnosed with ADHD are predominantly in the under-methylation category. Methylation is the ability of the body to turn on or off certain enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and different chemicals by way of certain methyl groups and is associated with histamine levels. Methylation precursors are mostly b-vitamins.

 

Let's explore some other areas associated with ADHD

Research suggests that artificial food dyes, sugar and sensitivities may exacerbate symptoms of ADHD in some children. While some experts don’t believe that foods cause ADHD; what they do note is certain foods seem to ADHD symptoms or can cause behavior that mimics the signs of ADHD in children.


Food Dyes and ADHD, Sugar and ADHD, Nutritional Considerations for ADHD Santa Barbara

Food Additives

An investigation by the Hyperactive Children’s Support Group found that 89% of children with ADHD reacted to food colorings, 72% to flavorings, 60% to MSG and 45% to all synthetic additives and preservatives. Whether, these substances are a cause or worsen symptoms, it may be worth while exploring an elimination diet that excludes these.


The Feingold Diet approach takes into consideration the finding in the study above. It eliminates artificial food colors, flavorings, sweeteners, preservatives, and some salicylates (naturally occurring compounds found in some fruits and vegetables), and is intended to reduce or eliminate ADHD symptoms in certain children.


High-Sugar Foods and Snacks

Several studies suggest that some kids who have ADHD are “turned on” by copious amounts of sugar. One study concluded that the more sugar hyperactive children consumed, the more destructive and restless they became [14]. Another study conducted at Yale University indicates that high-sugar diets increase inattention in some kids [15].


Some common items to avoid include fruit “drinks” or “cocktails,” both of which are higher in sugar than 100 percent fruit juice. Read food labels carefully, looking for the following ingredients (code words for sugar): high-fructose corn sweetener, dehydrated cane juice; dextrin; dextrose; maltodextrin; sucrose; molasses; and malt syrup.


Food Sensitivities

In addition to the above reactions, other food sensitivities might exacerbate the child’s ADHD symptoms. A number of studies have shown that many children who have ADHD are sensitive to common foods in their everyday diet.


According to James M. Greenblatt, MD of Finally Focused, "dairy is by far the most common food allergen, followed by wheat, corn and eggs." He continues to say, "for some children, eliminating the offending food(s) can completely resolve ADHD allergies. For others, this is part of a multi-factor approach, because there are multiple factors to take into account."


Environmental Factors

Heavy metals are also a contributing factor for children with ADHD [16]. Heavy metals like lead, aluminium, mercury and cadmium all compete with nutritional elements and are able to cause deficiencies. 


Other environmental toxicants (mold, mycotoxins, pesticides, herbicides, solvents, polychlorinated biphenyls) also add to the toxic burden and impact a growing child’s developing nervous system. In light of this, it is also important to consider the health of the mother’s toxicity before any conception and also during pregnancy and lactation.


It has been shown that environmental toxins can disrupt the expression of neurotransmitters and their receptors. These changes to the brain may in fact have consequences not only into young childhood, but also into adolescence.


A supportive starting point to begin to lower your child's toxic burden is to begin to ditch everyday toxic products and switch to more natural options. We have a great exercise that can walk you through a Ditch & Switch protocol in three-weeks. Grab your cheat sheet here.

 

Gut and Brain Connection

Another area I want to notate regarding children is the gut-brain connection. We now know through several research papers that via the gut-brain connection, dysbiosis and inflammation in the gut can also translate to neuroinflammation and disrupted communication in the brain. For example, research showing gut bacteria differences in children with ADHD challenges the idea that the condition is solely related to neurotransmitters [17]. 


Along these lines, a recent study showed that fungal dysbiosis in the gut, specifically levels of Candida albicans, were significantly increased in ADHD patients compared to the healthy controls [18]. This suggests that curbing Candida growth may improve symptoms of ADHD in certain individuals.


Gut conditions, such as celiac disease and leaky gut may also elevate ADHD risk. In fact, high levels of a leaky gut biomarker called zonulin appeared to correlate with more severe ADHD symptoms in children [18].

 

EMF and ADHD

This blog would not be complete if I did not speak to EMF exposure. We are now learning about a very strong connection between EMFs, ADHD, and other cognitive and behavioral disorders. This is something I have been aware of for years and am personally triggered and impacted by EMF, as is my son.


Studies have shown that when a child uses a mobile phone and holds it against their head, the emitted radiation penetrates their brain to a greater extent than an adult. In fact, a child’s brain can absorb up to 10 times the EMFs of an adult [19]. There is a load of studies surfacing now indicating that EMFs alter brain function and affect the nervous system. Children are especially vulnerable as their brains are still developing resulting in more significant neurological effects.


Another area to be aware of is that too much EMF exposure can decrease melatonin production, which is associated with poor sleep quality [20], so keeping those devices out of the room and limit usage several hours before bed.


It seems like every kid is either on their ipad/ iphone, apple-watch and/ or playing video games. This can be overwhelming for a parent to begin to regulate, but I do encourage you to set up some digital downtime time for your family. This is a blog all in itself. I encourage to check out our Lower Your EMF cheat sheet.

 

Our Approach

We work with the parent(s) to optimize all aspects of nutrition for the child using a Five-Step Approach that includes an individualized protocol. We have found, in our practice, as we clean up the diet, support digestion, lower toxic load and bring in targeted nutrients - that the child symptoms can calm. We encourage you to work with other support outlets, such as your local pediatrician, school and support groups for a holistic approach.


Resources:

  1. ADHD Nutritional Consideration Cheat Sheet, here

  2. Lower Your EMF Exposure Cheat Sheet, here

  3. Ditch & Switch, here

  4. Work one-on-one email consultation, here

Comentarios


A Nourishing Blog

bottom of page