Diet and ADD/ADHD with Canberra/Queanbeyan Dietitian Paula Tazzyman

It takes the correct balance of nutrients for children’s brains to function at their best. All of the  parents I work with want to make the best food choices for your children. All parents want their children to thrive in their growth, development and learning.

However, it is difficult to interpret all the nutritional information that is out there, especially if your child has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD and you are balancing so many additional needs.

If we begin to think about food, we know children’s diets’ have changed dramatically since the 1970’s with the advent of food processing. The foods eaten today can be high in calories/kilojoules, be highly processed, contain the wrong types of fats (hydrogenated vegetable oils & trans fats), be high in added sugar, salt, artificial colours,  artificial flavours and preservatives.

In Australia, nutritional data shows that about 1/3 of the kilojoules/calories children eat come from discretionary or “treat foods/drinks”. These foods (cakes, biscuits, chips, soft drink) lack nutrient richness. The data is even higher, around 40 %, for those 14-18 years of age whom consume the most discretionary food/drinks.

With children having more food choices that ever before and an abundant food supply, it is hard to believe that Australian children can be lacking in essential nutrients.

Nutrient deficits may exacerbate  ADD/ADHD symptoms.

ADHD is now the most common childhood developmental disorder affecting about 14 % of 6-12 year old children in Australia (ABS).

We have known about the connection between artificial colours, flavours and salicylates on children’s behaviour and learning since the 1970’s. Paediatrition Dr Benjamin Feingold was the first to report these findings and developed a strict low chemical eating plan. Many of you may have heard of the Feingold diet. Dr. Feingold established that learning disabilities  are linked to artificial food flavors and colours.

More recently, a 2011 publication titled Dietary sensitivities and ADHD symptoms: thirty-five years of research further adds “Artificial food colours (AFCs) have not been established as the main cause of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but accumulated evidence suggests that a subgroup of children shows significant symptom improvement when consuming an AFC-free diet and reacts with ADHD-type symptoms on challenge with AFCs. Of children with suspected sensitivities, 65% to 89% reacted when challenged with at least 100 mg of artificial food colours”

There is solid research in the area of nutrition and ADHDTwo additional examples include:

1- Professor Wendy Oddy and her team from the Centre of Child Health in Western Australia  have demonstrated that the typical western diet (highly processed) is associated with poor behaviour, aggression and depression.

2- The Impact of Nutrition on Children with ADHD (INCA) study was conducted in the Netherlands and Belgium with results published in the prestigious Lancet Journal in 2011. In this study, the elimination diet (low chemical diet) had a significant beneficial effect on the symptoms of ADHD in 64% (32 of 50) of children.

What the INCA research shows is that in about 2 out of 3 children with ADHD, their symptoms are caused by the food they eat. 

This is great news for those children (and adults) dealing with ADHD symptoms. ADHD can be supported by changing what your child eats. Implementing diet changes, under the supervison of your doctor and dietitian can help alleviate ADHD symptoms.

Nutritional Deficiencies:

Following the research from Dr. Natalie Sinn has highlighted to me how pivotal it is that my clients with ADHD are not missing out on vital nutrients.  In 2012, Dr Millichap added to the evidence by reviewing the literature and publishing his findings in the Journal of Pediatrics- The Diet Factor in ADHD. His summary also highlights the importance of ensuring the child is not deficient in key nutrients especially zinc, iron and omega 3. You can read the full document here.

Furthermore research from the Department of Dietetics, Wroclaw Medical University, states “There is much evidence to indicate that it is linked to nutritional factors. Chronic deficiencies of certain minerals such as zinc, iron, magnesium and iodine and insufficient dietary intake of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids may have a significant impact on the development and deepening of the symptoms of ADHD in children”

In my experience working with ADD/ADHD for 20 years, I have found it common that children are low in some or all of these key nutrients:

  1. Iron– vital to make the brain chemical dopamine, which supports concentration. Research has shown that low ferritin (iron storage) is linked to hyperactivity, poor concentration and poor behaviour. Children can exhibit  headaches, dizziness, low immunity and they can be tired  and irritable as a result of low iron levels. Once low iron levels are corrected behaviour, concentration and hyperactivity can improve. Ask your Dr. to review iron studies if you are concerned. More research here.
  2. Zinc plays a key role in behaviour and in making the “feel good” brain chemical serotonin. Children with ADHD have been found to be zinc deficient with lower levels of zinc associated with more severe symptoms. Read research here.
  3. Magnesium decreased magnesium levels are associated with increased hyperactivity and impulsivity, poor sleep, poor school attention, constipation, anxiety and depression. Magnesium deficiency occurs more frequently in children with ADHD. Research has have shown that magnesium supplementation (200mg/day) may be of  benefit in children with ADHD. Please discuss with your Doctor before you consider supplementation.
  4. Iodine vital for thyroid function,  healthy brain function and intellectual development. Research has linked low iodine levels in the pregnant mother will increase the risk of delay and ADHD in the newborn. More evidence here.
  5. Omega 3 fats the brain is made up of 60% fat. Omega 3 fats are vital for brain development and brain function. Research has shown omega 3 fats to be of support for mood and behavior for some children. Insufficient intake of omega 3 fats can result in children having difficulties with working memory, may experience poor concentration and be easily distracted. Their mood may even be negatively affected depressed/anxious/ moody.  Omega 3 fats are also important for language development.
  6. Vitamin D– recent research has shown that children born to mothers with Vitamin D levels below 100 mol/L are at a higher risk of experiencing ADHD symptoms.  Additional research highlights that children diagnosed with ADHD have lower levels of Vitamin D v’s controls. Further evidence shows Vitamin D deficiency may be associated with ADHD symptoms in children. Research is growing linking low levels of Vitamin D and Autism Spectrum Disorder. In a recent clinical review on Autism and Vitamin D, Dr. Eva Kocovska from the University of Glasgow called for “urgent research” on vitamin D’s role in autism. Australian research has shown that low Vitamin D levels in the pregnant mum will impact on language development in the offspring.

By correcting nutritional deficiencies and by implementing an individualised eating plan for your child, their ADD/ADHD symptoms can be minimize. I am thrilled to hear from my clients that learning and behavior can be positively influenced.

The information on my website is general in nature. Be sure to discuss possible nutrient deficits with your doctor. Your doctor can look for signs of nutrient deficits and order blood test to make a full detailed  assessment.

Nutritional support is at hand! I will work with you and in collaboration with your doctor to correct the nutritional imbalances in your child.

Feel free to give me a call on 0418 162 202 if you would like to explore any of these areas. Take advantage of the FREE 10-minute phone consultation to ascertain if I can be of help to you and your child.