Natural interventions for ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder is characterised by consistent difficulty with focus, impulsivity,
disordered conduct, mood disturbances, poor working memory and resultant
learning disability. 

It is usually diagnosed in a
child’s primary school years, and a study in the January 2010 issue of Pediatrics
estimates that 8.6 per cent of children between age eight and 15 are affected.

Diagnoses of ADHD have increased
from 150,000 in 1970 to an estimated 4.5 million today. An expanded definition
of the disorder, increased awareness, and potentially over-diagnosis all
contribute to the increase in prevalence, but we cannot deny the disorder’s
existence, nor should we feel helpless to decrease its incidence. 

I suggest we take a realistic look
at what changes in our environment have impacted the wellbeing of our children,
and what we can do on a familial level to reverse their effects.

Reduce sugar intake

Eating sugar, or foods that break
down into sugar rapidly, causes a surge of insulin to help move sugar into the
cells. As blood sugar goes down, adrenaline is released from the kidneys to
prevent blood sugar from falling too low. While adrenaline helps with blood
sugar regulation, it also activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is
responsible for the “fight or flight” response in times of stress.

Recent studies suggest that
children with ADHD may release greater levels of adrenaline in response to
blood sugar levels than other children. This additional adrenaline causes
heightened sympathetic nervous activity, resulting in over-responsiveness to
stimuli in the environment. This appears to others as hyperactivity and restlessness.

In order to remain more chemically
balanced, it is important to limit your child’s intake of sugar, refined grain
products, and anything containing high fructose corn syrup. These foods have
very little nutritional value and have a number of negative effects when eaten
in excess. Sodas, candies, cookies, concentrated juices and products made with
white flour are among the foods that commonly cause blood sugar peaks.

When your children have meals that
are higher in simple carbohydrates or sugar content, make sure they eat
something with adequate protein as well. The presence of protein slows the
release of sugar into the blood and allows a more gradual insulin/adrenaline
response by the body.

Eliminate artificial sweeteners, colours and preservatives

While reducing sugar consumption is
beneficial, it is important that you do not replace sugar with lab-derived,
artificial sweeteners. Substances like aspartame (NutraSweet), saccharin
(Sweet&Low), and sucralose (Splenda) form foreign breakdown products that
register as toxic to the body.

While these chemicals aren’t
healthy for anybody, their toxic effects are more apparent in young children.
Breakdown and elimination of artificial sweeteners can be taxing on nutrient
reserves, and since children with ADHD have overtaxed systems as a whole, it is
best to avoid these chemical stressors.

Eliminating artificial colours and
preservatives is equally important as studies in Lancet (November 2007) and
Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Paediatrics (December 2004) link a
diet high in these chemicals to ADHD.

While some foods obviously have
artificial ingredients, you would be surprised at how many food items already
in your home contain artificial colours, sweeteners, and preservatives. Read
ingredient labels. Focus on eating foods that are natural and whole. Food
produced by the land instead of the lab will amplify your health regardless of
ADHD status.

The Feingold Diet is designed to
eliminate the intake of artificial colours, artificial flavours, and preservatives.
While some families dealing with ADHD have had success with this diet, it is
important to realise that the elimination of these chemicals is more important
than following a specific plan.

Limit exposure to pesticides

A study published in Paediatrics
journal (May 2010) correlated the increase of certain pesticide metabolites in
urine with a 55 per cent increased risk for ADHD diagnosis. The children
evaluated in the study did not live in areas with high exposure to pesticides,
so their entry occurred by eating contaminated food. While more studies need to
be done to look at pesticide exposure over time, it’s safe to say that their
presence isn’t benefiting your child’s health in any way.

To limit exposure, buy organic
produce when possible. While organically grown foods may be exposed to
pesticides through shipping and handling, they generally have one-third as many
pesticide residues as conventionally grown foods. Emory University published
findings in 2008 that children who switched to organically grown produce had
nearly undetectable levels of pesticide metabolites in their urine.

Organic produce is harder to come
by and often more expensive in Cayman. If you can’t purchase all organic
produce, buy organic varieties of crops found to be pesticide-heavy after
harvest. The “dirty dozen” include: strawberries, peppers, spinach, cherries,
peaches, nectarines, celery, apples, pears, grapes, raspberries, and potatoes.

Make sure you wash all your produce
well. Soaking/scrubbing in a dilution of vinegar and water for two minutes can
be helpful in breaking residues down. This is especially important when
preparing conventionally grown produce. We can’t avoid all pesticides, but we
can take measures to limit our exposure.

Increase Omega-3 fatty acid intake

These compounds are naturally found
in fish, walnuts, flax seed, grass-fed beef, and leafy green vegetables. While
they have a number of health benefits for people of any age, they are important
building blocks for myelination or forming the cells that coat the nerves.    

Proper nervous system formation is
essential for establishing normal nervous system function, especially in
children with sensory filtration issues. Incorporate foods containing these
substances into the diet to keep Omega-3 levels up. You can also use children’s
fish oil supplements, or flax oil supplements if your child is a vegetarian, to
help increase the levels of Omega-3’s.

This is part one of a two-part article on ADHD.

Bari Fenster is a chiropractor based in the Cayman Islands