Understanding how food and diet affects our brains may help in managing the symptoms of ADHD.
Going back to school is often a time of excitement and anticipation. But for parents of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), this can be a time of real worry.
Understanding how food affects our brains may help in managing the symptoms of ADHD. A growing body of research shows that dietary components, both natural and artificial, can influence the structure and function of our neurons (brain cells).
The brain requires a steady stream of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals to run the brain machinery; amino acids from proteins to make communicating chemicals (neurotransmitters); and complex, fibre-rich carbohydrates for a balanced energy supply.
Balanced Blood Sugar
Children with ADHD may be particularly sensitive to sugar and may experience a rapid drop-off of blood sugar levels after eating sweet, processed carbohydrates. This sugar low may manifest as a symptom of ADHD.
Balanced blood sugar levels can be ensured through adequate intake of whole grain carbohydrates that are rich in fibre and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Some extra protein may also be helpful to maintain blood sugar levels.
Eating well is especially important at breakfast time. Research shows that skipping breakfast is associated with a host of learning and behavioural deficits, some of which may be similar to the ADHD experience.
The added value of a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes is that these foods are rich in brain-protective antioxidants. Children and adults with ADHD have been shown to be under increased oxidative stress, and in the absence of an antioxidant-rich diet, this in turn may damage delicate brain cells.
Essential Fatty Acids
A major consideration for children with ADHD is an adequate intake of essential fatty acids, particularly the omega-3 oils found in fish, seafood, flaxseeds, walnuts, hemp, and organic canola oil. While early studies provided conflicting results, five recent and well-designed studies have suggested some value for both behaviour and learning when subjects received supplements of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) from both borage and evening primrose oil.
Artificial Food Ingredients
For decades it has been suspected that artificial ingredients, such as colours and preservatives, may be contributing to the symptoms of ADHD. Recently two large studies confirmed a link between artificial additives and both attention and hyperactivity. Importantly, food dyes and sodium benzoate preservative were capable of provoking hyperactivity in children who didn’t even have ADHD. (For more information about food additives and hyperactivity see page 96.)
Choosing organic, whole foods whenever possible is a positive step toward making a real difference in your child’s anticipation of that first day back to school.