Reducing Symptoms of ADD/ADHD Through Dietary Changes

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Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are on the rise. The more we learn about these disorders, the more apparent it is becoming that they affect many aspects of health.

As of 2007, approximately 9.5% or 5.4 million children 4-17 years of age have ever been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the CDC.  And those are just the reported cases.

ADD, ADHD, and the wide spectrum of related impairments and learning disorders that children deal with in modern society are widespread and disruptive to a child’s ability to learn and grow normally.

From a variety of research sources, this condition is observed to occur because of an imbalance in two or more chemical messengers of the brain – dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine regulates memory formation and the onset of addictive behaviors, and norepinephrine is connected to arousal and attentiveness. The main symptoms of this imbalance are lack of attention, tendency to become distracted, and exhibition of impulsive, restless, and hyperactive behavior.

According to research from Dr. Russell Barkley:

  • A classroom with 30 students will have between 1 and 3 children with ADHD
  • Boys are three times as likely as girls to develop ADD/ADHD,  and 75% of boys diagnosed with ADD/ADHD have hyperactivity
  • Emotional development can be reduced greatly in children by 30 percent
  • 1/4 of children with ADHD have serious learning disabilities including: listening skills, oral expression, reading comprehension and/or math

Cases of diagnosed  attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have increased almost 4 percent each year from 2000 to 2010 – making it the number one mental health issue for children.

Does your child fit more than one of these descriptions?

Younger children:

  • Crying inconsolably
  • Screaming
  • Poor feeding habits
  • Head banging
  • Poor or little sleep

Older children:

  • Easily distracted
  • Has trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Has difficulty with follow-through or organization
  • Poor appetite and erratic eating habits
  • Talks excessively
  • Poor motor skills/coordination
  • Dark circles or puffiness under eyes
  • Red earlobes or cheeks
  • Swollen glands
  • Uncooperative, irritable, disobedient, self-injuring, nervous
  • Negative, moody, or depressed
  • Tends to be rude or interruptive toward others
  • Is unable to finish tasks
  • Restless or in constant motion
  • Doesn’t seem to listen or pay attention when addressed

If so, you may be dealing with ADD or ADHD. These and other learning or behavior disorders all stem from the presence of unhealthy flora or bacteria in the digestive tract and immune system. Simply by making changes to your child’s diet and adding nutritional supplements as needed, you can begin to eliminate the causes of behavioral and learning disorders and notice dramatic changes in a fairly short amount of time.

What are the causes of ADD/ADHD?

Although there are certainly some genetic and environmental factors involved,  one of the main culprits of ADD, ADHD, and related disorders are food allergens such as gluten (found in wheat, rye, and barley). Other sources of allergens include casein (from dairy – cow, goat, sheep, and human milk), corn, soy, sugar and artificial sweeteners, excitotoxins (from MSG, artificial colors/chemicals, and other related substances), yeast, and nuts. Continued exposure to the protein found in wheat irritates the digestive tract and penetrates the intestinal lining, allowing toxins to enter the bloodstream and create symptoms.

According to Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, children with disorders such as ADD and ADHD lack an important enzyme, dipeptidyl peptidase IV,  which makes it possible to digest the proteins gluten and casein.  When undigested food penetrates the lining of the small intestine, these substances are allowed to freely enter the bloodstream. Proteins from these foods become substances with structures resembling opiates. These opiates penetrate the blood-brain barrier, causing a block to receptor sites in the brain, and have a similar effect on the body as drugs such as heroin and morphine. The body reacts to these as foreign invaders with an immune response, creating allergic-like symptoms such as irritability, lack of focus, hyperactivity, fatigue, aggression, impaired speech/motor coordination, and learning disorders.

Many allergic reactions come from highly-processed forms of food, so eliminating these from your child’s diet is important. Expensive testing to determine whether your child has allergies is one possibility, but according to Dr. McBride, most allergy testing is not worth the time or money spent. Elimination of suspect foods and then waiting to observe results is therefore the best way to determine what the problem is.

When your child experiences health issues as a result of food, mal-absorption and nutritional deficiencies are likely to occur. Dietary changes and nutritional supplementation can help children recover from deficiencies and heal.

Some processed foods and ingredients which contribute to ADD/ADHD symptoms include (but are not limited to):

  • breads and grains
  • crackers
  • chips
  • desserts
  • candy
  • sugar
  • artificial sweeteners
  • food dyes
  • preservatives
  • MSG – including hydrolyzed vegetable and soy proteins
  • packaged or bottled gravies, salad dressings, dips, mayonnaise, marinades
  • soy Worcestershire sauces
  • processed meats such as ham, turkey, bacon, roast beef, chicken, salami, sausage, etc.
  • “seasonings”
  • canned soups, sauces,
  • dry milk and whey powder
  • carageenan
  • malted barely and barley flour
  • fish sauce
  • hydrogenated and artificial oils – including vegetable oils like canola, soy, and cottonseed
  • caffeine

See MSG Truth for a list of foods to avoid.

Additional reading about food additives and other chemicals in our food supply: The Unhealthy Truth, Robyn O’Brien

For more information about food additives/preservatives, see the Truth in Labeling web site.

Because many children experience health issues as a result of food intolerances and allergic reactions, nutritional deficiencies are likely to occur.  Once the cause of the problem is removed through elimination of allergens, food additives, and chemicals, the body can begin to heal the damage.  Dietary changes and the right kinds of nutritional supplementation can help children recover from deficiencies and heal.

Foods and nutritional supplements which can dramatically affect ADD/ADHD disorders:

  • Grass-fed meats and poultry (without hormones or antibiotics, or fed from GMO sources) -  higher in Omega 3s, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), minerals, and Vitamins A, D, E, and K2
  • Bone broths - these home-made stocks contain a number of important minerals, gelatin, and other vital elements to heal the body and digestive  tract, and are easy to absorb
  • Eggs from pasture-raised chickens, ducks, etc. - higher in Omega 3s, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), minerals, and Vitamins A, D, E, and K2
  • Safe-sourced seafood - high in minerals such as zinc, iron, selenium, phosphorus, and Vitamins A and D
  • Organ meats - from pasture raised animals and birds, great sources of zinc, iron, and B Vitamins, which many children who have behavior issues are greatly deficient in.  One way to get your child to eat liver is to cut up into very small pieces and freeze them. You can hide these “liver pills” in other foods or give in pieces, one at a time if your child is old enough to swallow, with water. If your child won’t eat liver in any preparation, I recommend dessicated liver tablets. See sources.
  • Raw dairy products (for those children who are not sensitive to dairy) – milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk. Those who are sensitive to dairy can usually consume home-made yogurt and kefir from healthy cows on pasture – preferably raw. Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride recommends holding off on dairy if there is a sensitivity while consuming bone broths and cultured vegetable juices. Over time, cultured dairy foods can gradually be added into the diet, and later on, raw milk.
  • Healthy saturated and mono-unsaturated fats like butter, extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, lard, & tallow, chicken and duck fat from healthy animals and fowl or other birds who have access to sunshine and free movement on pasture
  • Fermented cod liver oil and skate oil (for those who don’t test well for fermented cod liver oil) – see sources
  • Home-made cultured and fermented foods – for severe symptoms, it may be best to stay away from fermented dairy and grains at first. Stick to cultured vegetables and fresh-pressed juices made at home. Gradually add back in real, raw cultured dairy foods as the body heals.
  • Fulvic acid – which is a liquid and contains trace minerals we may be lacking, and has a high absorption rate and chelating of heavy metals from the body. Fulvic acid is a product of bacteria in soil. Recommended by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride from Gut and Psychology Syndrome.
  • Magnesium oil – applied topically, this oil is a highly-absorbable way to provide magnesium to the body through the skin
  • Epsom salt baths – soaking in a bath of epsom salts is another great way to confer mineral benefits to your body through the skin. I recommend Remarkable Redwood Remedies.

Foods to eliminate to avoid ADD/ADHD symptoms:

  • Foods containing gluten (including wheat, rye, barley)
  • Foods containing casein
  • Other grains
  • Processed and packaged foods which may contain dyes, preservatives, excitotoxins (MSG and other related substances)
  • Commercially-raised meats, poultry, eggs, and dairy which come from animals fed corn, grain, soy and other toxic substances, and are likely to contain antibiotics, hormones, and pesticide or other undesirable residues
  • Dairy products if your child is sensitive to casein.  After the gut has healed, try raw dairy products from cows on pasture.

When the digestive tract has been healed, some children can  begin to add certain foods back into their diets such as raw dairy products and properly prepared grains – soaked, sprouted, soured, or fermented.  Returning to grains and especially gluten should be done on an individual basis, as not all children’s bodies can tolerate them. But remember that returning to processed foods, grains and pasteurized dairy products can cause a recurrence of symptoms.  Some ADD/ADHD children who are in the process of healing their digestive tracts can consume dairy as long as it is unprocessed and un-heat treated (pasteurized), but each child is different and may require some experimentation.

Remember that nutrients from real foods from healthy sources and quality supplements (when needed and in an absorbable format) support your child’s physical and mental state for optimal health. They support your child’s body in all the activities they do each and every day, and help the body to be able to detox from other sources of toxins you may not have control over. 

Processed foods with additives, chemicals, sugar and that lack real nutrients. They deplete your child’s store of nutrients and prevent the body from functioning normally and being able to handle activity, stress, and daily tasks. Artificial ingredients increase levels of hyperactivity because the depletion of nutrients sends children’s bodies into overdrive, as they try to compensate for the loss of important building and foundation blocks they need to be healthy.

If you are looking for a great way to incorporate multiple, nutrient-dense foods in a great-tasting, easy-to-make meal for your child - make a smoothie!  Use whole, raw milk, yogurt, or kefir with fruit, and other ingredients such as gently melted coconut oil, raw honey, raw egg yolks, cod liver oil, etc. Experiment with different combinations and find out what your family prefers.

Some people may not tolerate egg yolks at first if their digestive tracts are compromised, so try the smoothie without the egg yolks if any issue arises with nausea or digestion. Try again in a few weeks as the digestive tract heals by adding the yolk back in.

For more information on healing your child’s digestive tract, ADD, ADHD, and other learning and behavior disorders, read Dr. Nastasha Campbell McBride’s Gut and Psychology Syndrome.

The Feingold Association has a wealth of references and information about how dietary changes dramatically affect behavior and related health issues.

Go grain-free and still eat delicious, healthy meals – why going grain-free can be a delicious and healthy choice for those with health issues and allergies

9 reasons to make bone broth - an easy-to-make, nourishing food for your child or anyone else in your family who may be dealing with gut and digestive issues

Dental crowding, cavities, and health problems – what’s the connection? Find out why many tooth decay and dental issues can be related to your diet much more than you think

This post is part of Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesdays carnival. Please visit her site and see the other posts linked there.

10 Comments

  • May 11, 2011 - 9:45 AM | Permalink

    Well said!
    Blessings!
    LIB
    http://bit.ly/b4ATuy

  • May 11, 2011 - 4:07 PM | Permalink

    Raine – Tremendous Post! Do you have any favorite recipes for smoothies of the type listed above (egg yolk, kefir, fruit, etc.)?

  • May 11, 2011 - 5:54 PM | Permalink

    M.E. – I am making smoothies everyday right now as I am on the GAPS diet and I have been mixing 4-6 wooden spoons (roughly) of kefir with about 4 tablespoons of yogurt (both home-made from raw milk), and about 1/2 to 1 cup of raw cream with 1/4 cup frozen or fresh blueberries, blackberries, and marion berries (in the off season I buy a sustainable farm’s frozen mixed berries that come to our health food store from OR, we are in ID) and about 1/4 banana, 1 tablespoon coconut oil (gently melted on the stove). I blend it together in the blender. Really delicious! I also do eat raw egg yolks in smoothies, but since I started I’ve really been in the mood for gently cooked eggs on the stove (over easy) just until the whites are finished, leaving the egg yolk mostly raw.

  • Pingback: Adhd dietary | Plaquitalandia

  • December 5, 2011 - 12:48 PM | Permalink

    Thanks so much for this, Raine – I shared this with the Nourishing Our Children community!

  • December 5, 2011 - 12:53 PM | Permalink

    Thank you Sandrine, for all your work and effort and for sharing this! :)

  • December 5, 2011 - 2:56 PM | Permalink

    Your article is very imformative. I believe you would find details concerning the protien structure of A-2 milk remarkably different from A-1 milk. This incidence with the opiates primarily being the difference which has also been linked to autism. People onced being lactose intolerant on regular milk also show no conditions once A-2 milk was introduced into their diet and A-1 eliminated.

  • December 5, 2011 - 3:09 PM | Permalink

    Great article. I am sharing it with my peeps. Thanks so much for putting it together is such detail.

  • December 5, 2011 - 8:02 PM | Permalink

    Very informative article, thank you!

  • Sandy
    January 30, 2016 - 1:29 PM | Permalink

    Very informative. I’m sure going to try making the smoothies .

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