ADHD and Diet – Can Certain Diets Improve ADHD Symptoms?

Articles | Innovative Treatments

– By Bob Gottfried PhD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) now ranks among the most common childhood disorders, affecting 4-12% of all children in North America [1]. They experience anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention, as well as physical complications (anemia, eczema, diarrhea and headaches) and sometimes even sleep deprivation. The most common therapies combine behavioral training, EEG-neurofeedback, neuro-cognitive training and psychostimulants (i.e. Adderall, Concerta or Ritalin) [2]. However, because these medications may cause considerable side-effects, non-medicinal approaches are emerging as we identify the causes of ADHD.


The Anti-ADHD Diet: Shed Allergens and Processed Food


Over the past 10 years, clinical studies have showed that a reduction diet can suppresses the symptoms of ADHD [3-5]. In June 2011, a randomized controlled trial conducted with 100 ADHD children showed that a diet designed to eliminate all common allergens (corn, dairy, eggs, wheat and soy) and processed food reduced emotional and physical symptoms in over 60% of the children [6]. They consumed fruits, vegetables, rice, white meat, and only drank water. This study demonstrated the true potential of an allergen-free healthy diet for the treatment of ADHD. But, how about the other 40% of ADHD children unaffected by this diet? Is simple food enough?


Optimizing the ADHD Diet with Supplements


A clinical study showed that 95% of the children with ADHD are severely deficient in magnesium [8]. In a 6-month study conducted with 75 ADHD children, an oral dose of magnesium (200 mg/day) significantly reduced hyperactivity, compared to those receiving a placebo [9]. Serum zinc levels are also abnormally low in ADHD children, and correlate with the degree of inattention in class [10]. A dose of 10 mg/day of zinc reduced the symptoms of depression and anxiety [11], which is consistent with the role of this mineral in the regulation of dopamine responses in the brain [12]. Furthermore, ADHD patients receiving 80 mg/day of ferrous sulfate, to correct their iron deficiency, exhibited a reduction in behavioral symptoms, and slept better [13]. Finally, correcting their deficiency in polyunsaturated fatty acid (fish oil omega-3 and omega-6) improved their quality of life and concentration in school. The children slept better and their anemia was resolved, as indicted by higher levels of blood hemoglobin [14].

It is important to remember that food supplements are not approved by the health authorities such as the FDA and Health and Wellfare Canada. Therefore, children and adults taking them should be closely monitored during the first months to assess possible side-effects. Also, these supplements do not replace the ADHD diet, which needs to be followed to avoid allergens and processed food.


Neuro-cognitive Training


Although changing diets, taking supplements and avoiding certain allergens can be very useful in improving ADHD symptoms, they cannot fully resolve it, and that’s because they are not the root cause of ADHD – only triggers that can make it worse. ADHD is a neuro-cognitive disorder and therefore only a neuro-cognitive approach can correct some or all the symptoms. Neuro cognitive training has shown excellent results treating attention deficit disorders and learning disabilities with marked improvement on all levels. One such program developed at the ACE clinics in Toronto, Canada, consists of improving brain regulation combined with developing all core skills such as visual processing, auditory processing, divided attention, multitasking, working memory and more. Training the frontal lobes of the brain to improve engagement improves general attention as well as improving executive functions, including organization, prioritizing, inhibition control, decision-making, time management and motivation. This type of multi-level neuro cognitive training can contribute to considerable and permanent gains in cognitive performance and significant reduction in ADHD related symptoms.

Bob Gottfried PhD is the clinical director of ACEclinics located in Toronto, Canada. He specializes in neuro-cognitive treatment to treat ADD, ADHD, LD and other neuro-cognitive disorders.



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Keywords: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, neuro-cognitive training, Neurofeedback, ADHD, ADD, ADHD and diet, anemia, anxiety, ACEclinic, depression, fish oil, food allergies, hyperactivity, inattention, magnesium, omega-3, sleep, supplements, zinc.

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