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When my son started his ADHD diagnosis process through his school, I started on a path of educating myself further on types of ADD, treatment options, and how to be the best support system for my son’s (and husband’s) future success. One of the main things I discovered was the role of diet and nutrition in ADD treatments. Nutrition and ADD go far beyond what I initially thought. Rather than thinking of nutrition as a few dietary supplements to “treat” my son’s brain, I gradually began to think of nutrition as something which would either increase his ADD symptoms or provide him with increased mental clarity, depending on the food choices.
As an already healthy family with an adventurous eater and a mother with multiple food allergies, I was confident a dietary shift for our ADHD brains would be fairly straight-forward. What I learned was, nutrition and ADHD are complex issues each with multiple layers. Each layer of understanding uncovered can help minimize ADHD symptoms and, when I think I have come to the core, I discover more layers. So, I keep peeling, I keep learning, and I continue to gradually minimize my family’s ADHD and anxiety symptoms.
As we know, good nutrition is important for everyone, especially growing children. What I didn’t realize until recently is how much more important it is for the ADD brain as the type of diet consumed can help minimize ADD symptoms and set the brain up for it’s best success. From my learning and understanding, an ADD brain is either on overdrive or underdrive and a lot of the lifestyle “treatment” suggestions can work for all brain types but are particularly helpful for ADD brains.
Nutrition and ADD: Eliminating preservatives, dyes and sweeteners
When my niece and nephew were young, my sister, suspecting my nephew might have ADD, started them on the Feingold diet. As it turned out, my nephew did not have ADD but the diet was still effective in addressing his overall mood. And, low-and-behold…my niece turned out to have ADD. Two decades later, we decided to try a modified version of the diet.
In a nutshell, the Feingold diet requires parents (or adults) to diligently eliminate artificial flavors, colors, and sweeteners, as well as three artificial preservatives. Some foods and other products containing salicylate (a chemical related to aspirin) are also eliminated at the start of the diet, but are tested for tolerance later. We started our nutrition experiment by eliminating food dyes, artificial flavors, preservatives and reducing added sweeteners. We, along with teachers at the time observed noticeable results. It’s not a perfect “fix” but it definitely helps and we are sticking with it, while we continue to explore further.
Nutrition and ADD: A Simple elimination diet for dairy and gluten
The next thing we did on our nutrition and ADD journey was a simple elimination diet to test out dairy and gluten-two common food allergies. We removed both from our son’s diet and, after 3 weeks, added one (and then the other) back in. This turned out to be more complex than anticipated as it is surprisingly hard to find 4 consistent weeks with few other variables. Our conclusion is that he probably has a dairy allergy (we have “tested” this 4 different times over the past year and plan to do a few more “tests” in the future) and that gluten did not seem to exacerbate his ADD symptoms. We plan to continue our elimination diet with apples and oranges being our next set of foods to eliminate.
Nutrition and ADD: Protein for ADD Brain Function
One thing we have done for our son is to continue to emphasize a high protein diet, especially for breakfast to get his brain at it’s best for the start of our days. Protein-rich foods are used by the body to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by brain cells to communicate with each other. Protein can prevent surges in blood sugar, which increase hyperactivity and impulsivity. We have started using this Naked Peanut Butter Powder and flax meal in smoothies and healthy baking projects. Of course, the type of diet you ultimately embrace, might depend on the type of ADD you are trying to support.
Nutrition and ADD: Omega-3s
My son used to take a fish oil supplement before we started our nutrition and ADHD journey. While we didn’t notice a huge impact at the time, research has shown Omega-3s to be important in brain and nerve cell function. John Ratey, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, recommends that you choose a supplement that contains more EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) than DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). After much research, I have decided to try a fish oil supplement with a higher amount of EPA than our previous one.
For a more thorough breakdown on nutrition and ADD, check out ADD Diet Truths from ADDitude.
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