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ADHD & Diet, by Dr. Crãpõ

An Open Letter to Parents About ADD and ADHD

By Dr. Mark Crapo

Dear Parents:

I first came into personal contact with children with ADD and ADHD over 25 years ago when I was a schoolteacher. I saw the problems up close and could tell many stories of how these problems disrupt the classroom and learning process for every student in the room, and, of course, can impact nearly every aspect of the life of the child who has to live with these disorders. ADD and ADHD also take a toll on the teacher and parents. Plus, I had several young relatives whose lives were affected by these disorders, so I know of the emotional problems it causes those personally afflicted, and how it plays out within families.

How to help these kids is one of the most controversial issues currently at work in the education system. The most common solution is to put the child on Ritalin, or some other medication, to make it possible for them to function in the classroom. Of course, most parents are reluctant to start their child on a program of medication that could become a permanent part of their lives. They look for alternatives, and there are many ideas and theories of how to deal with ADD and ADHD without medication

One of the many things that parents, doctors and researchers have investigated over the years is the effect of diet on ADD and ADHD. There are a number of theories about the role of diet in these behaviors, and many different approaches have been tried and tested.

I have personally witnessed the incredible improvement that can come about just through diet. So it was no surprise to me when I read the following research summary last year:

Shaded Area:

Elimination diet has positive effect on the behavior of young children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

A preliminary study sought to determine whether a standard elimination diet could reduce ADHD-symptoms in a group of young children diagnosed with ADHD (Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2002 Dec 28;146 (52): 2543-7). In this study, 40 children, who met the diagnostic criteria for ADHD followed their usual diet for two weeks, followed by an elimination diet for two weeks. The elimination diet was based on a limited number of foods, including rice, turkey, pears and lettuce. According to the evaluation by the parents, 62% of the children showed significant improvement in behavior at the end of the elimination diet. Based on this preliminary study, an elimination diet can lead to a statistically significant reduction in symptoms in young children with ADHD.

This new research is not really new, though. “Elimination diets” themselves are hardly a new idea, especially in the area of ADD and ADHD. For over 20 years, I have been sharing a book by Dr. Benjamin Feingold, called The Feingold Diet, with students, parents, and my patients. Dr. Feingold led a research team at UCLA investigating the role diet plays in control or exacerbation (to make worse) of ADHD. Some of the most significant information about how to control symptoms, which came out of that research, would be the elimination of processed sugar and the elimination of artificial food colorings and flavorings. While such dietary monitoring and control can be tough at first, the results are truly rewarding. The changes were so great that my young nephews (at the time only 10 and 12 years old) learned that if they traded something in their lunch for a sugary treat they would not only be getting into trouble (at school) that afternoon, but they would also be feeling “funny” the rest of the day. For the most part, they learned to control the urge to cheat.

Of course, any time you modify a diet, you need to be sure that you are covering all the bases nutritionally by supplementing your diet with a good quality multi-nutrient. This will help replace any nutrition that might be reduced through the elimination of certain foods from the daily diet. (Although reducing the sugar and processed foods will probably result in better nutrition!)

Diet affects neurotransmitter activity as well as the development, repair and regeneration of brain cells. According to Dr. Andrew Rubman, for a healthy brain you should eat a balanced diet that is rich in:

  • Dietary fats. The brain’s primary ‘back-up’ fuel source. There is some absolutely fascinating research being done with phosphatidyls today.
  • Proteins and complex carbohydrates. Both are glucose sources used to stabilize brain glucose levels.
  • Omega-3. Cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, halibut and herring and unhydrogenated, polyunsaturated oils, such as canola, flaxseed and soybean, provide omega-3 fatty acids. These “good” fats regulate mood and keep brain cells healthy.
  • Omega-6. Evening primrose seed and borage seed oils. They complement the omega-3s and keep them from “misbehaving.”
  • B vitamins — especially B-6, found in chicken, fish, liver, eggs and pork… and folic acid, found in in lentils, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, spinach and peanuts (they strongly relate to brain function). Take these in the form of a multi-B twice a day.
  • Vitamins A, C and E. These antioxidants bind up the free radicals that could otherwise damage nerve cells. Vitamin A is found in whole milk, eggs and liver. Vitamin C is in many fruits and vegetables. Vitamin E is in nuts, sunflower seeds, spinach and cold-pressed oils, such as corn, safflower and canola.

It was this information and clinical evidence that triggered myself and the rest of  the TRAC team to develop some targeted products for the Symmetry lines. Over the years I have seen tremendously positive results treating ADD and ADHD by eliminating certain foods from childrens’ diets, combined with careful nutritional supplementation. Please talk these alternative approaches over with your family doctor before you decide how best to deal with your children’s health and well-being.

Dr. Mark Crapo