Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has touched a staggering population within America’s school systems. Characteristics include hyperactivity, impulsivity and the inability to maintain focus. School children diagnosed with ADHD are often described as being disruptive and unable to sit still or stay on task.
Over 2 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD, leading to extensive dosing of prescription medication to control symptoms [Source: NIH]. Parents are frustrated with medicating their young children, while teachers struggle with the growing number of cases, and worry about the demands placed on the classroom environment. To ease this strain on parents, teachers, and most importantly, affected children (and adults), a nutritional game plan is a great place to start.
The importance of a healthy diet for school-age children cannot be overstated. A child’s body has specific nutritional demands for catering to growing bones and muscles, developing organs and ongoing support of the brain. Unfortunately, time and the convenience of highly processed foods often override nutritional importance. Though the taste buds tend to favor the immediate gratification of sugary foods, parents must instill an appreciation for smart eating.
Children need at least 2-3 servings of fruits and vegetables each, every day. This helps with overall growth and revs up the immune system to fight off infections (decreasing sugar in the diet will also keep the immune system strong). When purchasing protein, look for choices that are hormone-free and preferably pasture-raised. Wild-caught fish, such as Alaskan salmon, is the best choice for seafood. When it comes to drinking, water is the ideal option. Soda and sports beverages are a major contributor to the heavy sugar intake in young diets. These suggestions apply to adults in the home as well. Try stocking the cupboards exclusively with healthy options to make snack time a no-brainer.
Many doctors and parents are witnessing the impact specific food triggers can have on their children’s behaviors. Common triggers for ADHD include dairy and grains containing gluten. These foods can be a problem for genetic reasons or an acquired intolerance. Parents often find that by removing the trigger from the diet, concentration improves and the hyperactivity begins to decrease. Additionally, parents discover that the immune system functions better and their children have less abdominal aches and constipation. This Web site has a section on food triggers and their evaluation. Blood tests are available to check for gluten sensitivity. Please utilize this information, especially if general dietary changes are not making an impact on current symptoms.
Adequate sleep is also vital for attention and focus. The body obviously needs sleep to build up its energy for the next day, but this is also a time of significant repair. Keep the bedroom a dark and comfortable sleep sanctuary. If your child wants a night light, try to turn it off once they are asleep. Keep electronic gadgets such as televisions and video games outside of the bedroom, as they can become major sleep disruptions.
Supplements for ADHD don’t need to be complicated. In fact, the strategies suggested to treat children with ADHD also benefits those without the disorder.
On the next page, learn strategies for managing the effects of Attention Deficity Disorder.
ADHD Management Plan
Try these strategies for managing Attention Deficit Disorder:
- Address any dietary concerns and food triggers, such as dairy or gluten intolerance.
- Increase fruit and vegetable intake while decreasing the sugar and processed foods available around the house.
- Supplements to consider for most children include a quality children’s multivitamin and fish oils. A good multivitamin contains only natural ingredients, meaning no artificial sweeteners or dyes. Fish oils provide the omega-3 fatty acids essential for health, DHA and EPA (docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid). The fatty acid DHA is acknowledged as food for the brain, and shows promise as a beneficial nutrient for ADHD patients [Source: Singh, Sorgi, Richardson]. Use a high-quality fish oil brand that ensures there are no heavy metals to avoid toxicity. Dosage for fish oil should be determined by the DHA content. The amount of DHA will be listed on the label. Refer to the listings below regarding dosing for children.
- Ages 1-3: 200 mg of DHA
- Ages 4-6: 200-400 mg of DHA
- Ages 6-10: 300-500 mg of DHA
- Ages 10-12: 400-600 mg of DHA
- Ages 12 and up: 600 mg or higher of DHA
These doses are a guideline. Consult with a physician if adjustments are needed based on weight, symptoms and response to treatment.
- Singh, M. (2005). Essential fatty acids, DHA and human brain. Indian J Pediatr, 72(3): 239-42.
- Sorgi, PJ. (2007). Effects of an open-label pilot study with high-dose EPA/DHA concentrates on plasma phospholipids and behavior in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nutr J, 6: 16.
- Richardson, AJ. (2006). Omega-3 fatty acids in ADHD and related neurodevelopmental disorders. Int Rev Psychiatry, 18(2): 155-72.