I’m talking about ADD and ADHD, of course. This is a controversial ‘disorder’ and I will be upfront and say that I am not here to discuss the controversy. I am simply here to provide information related to the symptoms of this disorder while remaining professional, using current research information, and remaining within the scope of nutrition. I am not here to discusses that are out of my scope of knowledge but accept that people will still have questions about a disease or the medications for a particular condition. Remaining within the focus of nutrition, I want to provide answers, topics to think about or ask your healthcare provider, or tools to make you a more informed health consumer.

Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) is a mental condition with the following characteristics: distractability, forgetfulness, the appearance of not listening, and not finishing tasks. It can have a hyperactive component, such as in ADHD, with characteristics of impulsivity, fidgeting, squirming, inability to remain seated, excessive movement such as running, restlessness, impatience, and excessive talking (Escott-Stump, 2008).

If you or your child has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, you may have some questions regarding treatment options. While medications or therapy are options that many choose, diet may also play a role in treating ADD/ADHD. Even if you don’t choose diet as the primary approach, it can still play a large role due to side effects of many medications used to treat this disorder.

Why does diet play a large role when it comes to these types of medications? Some medications used to treat ADHD can decrease calcium absorption. Various medications can increase or decrease various nutrient levels in the body. Those who take medications for ADHD should avoid caffeine and St. John’s Wort. These medications may cause weight loss and even anorexia (Pronsky & Crowe, 2010). To avoid the weight loss or anorexia, which can be especially profound in children, many take ‘drug holidays’ in which the medication is not taken on weekends or days when the child does not have to attend school or the adult does not have to work. Another way to help combat the weight loss is to consume a calorie-dense breakfast before consuming the medication.

On a side note, I recently watched an episode of Dr. G: Medical Examiner which was tragic and reminds us of the importance of checking our drug information and double checking with pharmacists. One prescription used to treat ADHD, Methylphenidate, resided next to another drug beginning with Meth- and even looked the same in appearance. The child was given the incorrect prescription and died- while this is probably a rare occurrence, it doesn’t hurt to double check on your prescriptions.

According to Alan C. Logan, a drop in blood glucose (blood sugar) may appear as ADHD. He also states that both adults and children with ADHD are under increased oxidative stress and could benefit from an antioxidant-rich diet. He also states that fatty acids, especially omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil and GLA from borage and evening primrose, have shown to assist in behavior and learning. Lastly, he states that artificial ingredients, primarily food dyes, and preservatives, particularly sodium benzoate, are linked to children with hyperactivity (Logan, 2008).

This provides another reason to consider purchasing organic when possible. Here is a link to the top and lowest scoring produce regarding pesticide content. A quick way to spot if your produce is organic, also, is by the first digit on the sticker: 9 = organic.

Alternatively, an article in the Journal of Family Practice claims that dietary changes do not appear to improve symptoms of ADHD and that “studies investigating the link between diet and ADHD is limited by small sample sizes, subjective outcome measures, and non-standardized intervention protocols” (Ballard, Hall, & Kauffman, 2010).

According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, “the jury is still out” (Harvard Health Publications, 2009). And when the information doesn’t add up the same each time, I am inclined to agree. With all of that said, diet can still be an inexpensive way to alleviate symptoms of the disorder itself or side effects of medications. Some health practitioners may recommend an ‘elimination diet’. That type of diet may sound scary but don’t worry! Eliminating just a certain type of food every week or so instead of all of them at once is less stressful. With elimination diets, it’s important to refrain from the food type in question for at least 7 days and to re-introduce it into the diet slowly and watch for any reactions.

If you’re a frugal person, like most of us are, especially in this economy, purchasing organic food doesn’t have to wreck your budget either. Using the list provided above, you can just avoid the top fruits and vegetables with pesticides instead of purchasing 100% organic. Consider purchasing in-season and from local farmers who use organic or minimal pesticide use- cutting out the middle man may potentially save on costs, you support local economy, and learn where your food is coming from. Another tip: scrub (don’t just rinse or gently wash) your produce from the store with dish soap- it’s an inexpensive way to clean your produce instead of purchasing more expensive products that promise to do the same thing.

In health,

Julie Wallace

UG Dietetics Student, SI Tutor for Core Nutrition Courses at Life University, and a student member of the American Dietetic Association.

*The information provided herein is provided by classroom knowledge and the sources cited. It is not intended to be medical advice. You should consult your health practitioner who understands your personal and unique health status before trying any advice, products, etc.

Works Cited

Ballard, W., Hall, M. N., & Kauffman, L. (2010). Q/ Do dietary interventions improve ADHD symptoms in children? Journal of Family Practice , 234-235.

Escott-Stump, S. (2008). Attention-deficit Disorders. In S. Escott-Stump, Nutrition & Diagnosis-related Care (pp. 141-142; 207). Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a Wolters Kluwer business.

Harvard Health Publications. (2009). Diet and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Harvard Mental Health Letter , 4-5.

Logan, A. C. (2008). Does Diet Affect ADHD? : Strong Evidence Suggests It Does. Alive: Canadian Journal of Health & Nutrition , 87-88.

Pronsky, Z. M., & Crowe, S. J. (2010). FOOD-MEDICATION INTERACTIONS 16th ed. Birchrunville, PA: FOOD-MEDICATION INTERACTIONS.