There is no "ADHD diet". But there are many things parents can do with diet and lifestyle that can help turn around ADHD-like behaviors in children.
In simple terms, here's why diet and lifestyle strategies help ease symptoms of ADHD: because the body and the brain are connected.
As you improve the health of the body you improve the function of the brain.
It's possible you disagree that diet and lifestyle make a difference. It's possible you've tried something like taking out gluten, or adding in fish oil, and it didn't help.
If that's been your experience, you might be shaking your head right now thinking I'm giving parents "false hope". If you are, please read on.
And if you're new to this kind of approach, please read on as well. Whole-body natural approaches to ADHD are available and I want you to know about them so you can make some confident decisions about how to move forward in ways that feel good to you.
In my programs, I take parents though a four-phase approach to building a healthier body so we can build a healthier brain.
1. Vision mapping - know exactly what you want for the health of your family and develop an unwavering confidence that you will get there. Change is hard and it's your vision that will get you through challenges.
2. Nourishment - get more nourishment in (in all its dimensions) and use targeted supplements if you need them.
3. Identify and Reduce Stress & Irritation - carefully remove what's causing extra stress and inflammation but without risking nutritional deficiencies or stressing out relationships.
4. Support The Gut Ecosystem - make sure digestion is working well from tip to tail and establish a positive gut-brain connection.
Can you see now why adding in a supplement or taking out a food might not have solved the problem? The body and brain are more complex than that. You need to work the system.
Your Child Is More Than Their Diagnosis.
Well, yes and no. There are certain genes that, when present and turned on make a child more prone to developing neurological symptoms. There does seem to be a genetic factor for ADHD in some cases.
We know from Epigenetic research however that, to quote Dr Kenneth Bock, "genes might load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger".
What that means is, even if someone inherits a gene that predisposes them to a particular condition like ADHD, environmental factors that we can often control (like food, sleep, chemical exposure, sugar and stress) determine how that gene will function.
In utero and early childhood are critical times for genetic expression, and nutrition plays a key role.
There are also nutrition and lifestyle-related issues that can exacerbate or even mimic symptoms of ADHD. These factors are independent of, but might be related to ADHD genes. Here are some of them:
Research has revealed some common nutritional deficiencies in many people who have ADHD. We don't have enough research to make blanket recommendations yet, but particularly common are deficiencies in nutrients that feed neurotransmitter and hormone pathways, support mitochondrial and immune health, and contribute to the methylation cycle. These include iron, vitamin D, B6, B12, omega fatty acids, zinc and magnesium. More on that here and here.
These deficiencies can be the result of poor intake or they can also result from poor digestion or absorption or metabolic imbalances that render the nutrients unusable for cells (that's often the genetic aspect in which case nutritional supplements are extremely helpful).
Irritation & Stress.
For a variety of reasons that differ from person to person, children with behavioural, learning or mental health challenges tend to have a higher toxic burden than most. This includes the accumulation of metals and environmental contaminants, but also infection and internally generated chemicals coming from pathogenic organisms in the gut and the process of metabolism.
This irritation can interfere with nutrient absorption, can contribute to inflammation, and can generally interfere with function.
Imbalances in the gut microbiome (“dysbiosis”).
There is now a vast body of research connecting the health of the digestive tract with the function of the brain. When probiotic gut flora are not healthy pathogenic bacteria and fungi are allowed to proliferate. This causes damage to the gut lining and creates neurotoxins that can affect brain function, behaviour, mood and learning (here's a primer)
Imbalances in the gut flora also interfere with the function of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin & GABA.
Food Intolerances/Food Reactions.
When food is not digested properly the nervous and immune systems can become activated to keep us safe. A number of inflammatory chemicals are released when this happens, which can lead to extremely diverse symptoms including depression, skin problems, respiratory issues, poor focus & hyperactivity.
Over 200 symptoms have been associated with adverse food reactions, some which overlap with symptoms of ADHD.
Blood Sugar Instability.
A diet high in carbohydrates (especially refined carbohydrates like flour and sugar), can cause blood sugar swings and hormonal shifts which can contribute to ADHD behaviour.
For a variety of reasons (including but not limited to food sensitivity, gut issues, poor sleep, infection and nutritional deficiencies) some children are more sensitive to blood sugar fluctuations. They tend to do better on a diet higher in fat, fibre and protein.
Applying evidence-based dietary principles according to individual needs reduces irritation & inflammation in your child while maximizing supportive nutrients.
When we do that, symptoms become manageable, medical treatments and other therapies often become more effective, and your child can function their very best.
That's What Raising Resilience Is All About
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Jess is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist™ and Family Health Expert, specializing in brain health & resilience for kids. She is the author of Raising Resilience: Take the stress out of feeding your family & love your life, a mother and an advocate for children’s health. Her book and online resources have helped families all over the world improve the lives of their children with learning differences, anxiety, ADHD, autism and mood disorders by fitting the food and feeding piece into their health puzzles. She is the 2019 recipient of the CSNNAA award for Clinical Excellence for her work helping families get healthier, and she continues to work at bringing an understanding of the power of good nutrition to the mainstream conversation about children’s mental health, learning, and overall resilience through her blog, courses and as a contributor to print and online magazines. You can reach Jess at www.jesssherman.com
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