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Nutrition & ADHD

posted 8 May 2015, 03:41 by Tim Elliston   [ updated 2 Aug 2018, 08:07 ]
By JoAnn Bayus

While working as a psychologist in the public education system, I was constantly disheartened by the lack of consideration for nutritional and natural interventions in the treatment of ADHD. There were so many instances in which the students I worked with ate processed garbage and got minimal exercise, while the primary treatment for their condition was medication.

It seemed that so many physicians, teachers, and other adults were supportive of medicating kids at the drop of a hat to manage challenging behaviors, but they rarely mentioned nutrition or exercise. According to the research, my perception may not have been too far off the mark. Emily R. Cox, a researcher at the pharmacy management company Express Scripts, conducted a study to investigate the rates of medication among those aged 5 – 19. The results showed that the use of ADHD medication rose 40% in just a four-year period.

Just to be abundantly clear, I am not a physician or psychiatrist and am certainly not implying that the use of medication is never warranted. However, even if someone if medicated, nutritional and natural interventions may be helpful in alleviating symptoms.

Many studies exist that support the use of nutritional intervention in the management of ADHD and behavioral challenges. According to the article, Nutritional Intervention in ADHD, “Research has shown a consistent relationship to the intake of artificial colors and/or preservatives on the symptoms of ADHD or hyperactivity.”

The report Diet, ADHD & Behavior: A Quarter-Century Review, states that “Parents should consider dietary changes (along with behavioral therapy) as the first course of treatment for children with behavioral problems before turning to stimulant drugs.”

Various studies offer suggestions regarding natural and nutritional intervention in the management of ADHD:

Limit the intake of artificial colors and preservatives as much as possible.

Consume adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, as omega-3 deficiencies have been linked to ADHD.

Add organic, whole food to the diet to help crowd out unhealthy, processed food (i.e., fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains like quinoa, and wild caught, uncontaminated fish)

Consider speaking to your physician or another qualified professional about trying an elimination diet, as some people have food sensitivities, which research shows may negatively impact behavior.

Combine low glycemic foods and protein for breakfast and lunch — According to information presented in Nutritional Intervention and ADHD, consuming high glycemic foods causes a spike in blood sugar. When the blood sugar level crashes, stress hormones are released and this impacts behavior. Dr. David Ludwig, a physician at Boston’s Children’s Hospital stated that when this blood sugar roller coaster occurs, “what your left with, around 10:00 am, is a kid with low blood sugar and lots of adrenaline circulating in his bloodstream. He’s jittery and fidgety and not paying attention. That’s going to look an awful lot like ADHD to his teacher.”


Many More Children on Medication by Stephanie Desmon

Jacobson, Michael & Schardt, David. “Diet, ADHD & Behavior: A Quarter-Century Review.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. Washington, D.C. September 1999

Neward, Sanford. “Nutritional Intervention in ADHD.” Diet and Nutrition. May/June 2009, Vol. 5, No.3 (171-173)

JoAnn Bayus