Recent studies find that a healthy diet and omega-3 fatty acids may help children suffering with ADHD. (Photo by Shuttershock)

A healthy diet and omega-3 fatty acids may help children suffering with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Adopting a healthy diet that is composed mainly of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, fish, and legumes can help sufferers of ADHD.

Omega-3 fatty acids and on occasion iron and zinc supplementation, when the levels indicate a deficiency, may help to improve the symptoms of ADHD notes an article published in Pediatrics by J. Gordon Millichap, MD and Michelle M. Yee, CPNP, from Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, IL.

Fast foods, red meats, processed meats, potato chips, high fat dairy foods and sodas are among the foods to avoid because they make ADHD worse, according to the literature and the latest research published in Pediatrics. A healthy diet and supplements are one of the “most promising and practical” means of treatment for ADHD sufferers that does not involve medication.

This backs up an earlier study published in The Journal Attention Disorders on adolescents that linked a “western style diet”; high in fats, refined sugars and salt, with ADHD. Their research noted that ADHD is rare in those with a typically healthy diet of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, fish, and legumes.

Food additives have long been the villains in many parents’ minds. But what does the research show about food additives? According to the Mayo Clinic fact sheet on ADHD it states that food additives do not cause ADHD, but they can worsen it.

Studies have shown that certain food colorings can increase the hyperactive behavior in some children.  Food additives that may increase hyperactive behavior include:

  • Sodium benzoate
  • FD&C Yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow)
  • D&C Yellow No. 10 (quinoline yellow)
  • FD&C Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine)
  • FD&C Red No.40 (allura red)

The British government requires food manufacturers to remove most artificial food dyes from food. In the U.S. the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that only FD&C Yellow No.5 be clearly labeled on the ingredient label. Hence the majority of artificial dyes and additives are not included on the label as noted by The Mayo Clinic. They are labeled collectively as “artificial flavoring “ and “artificial colors”, according to the FDA.

Omega-3 supplements may be part of the answer, notes the same review in Pediatrics. Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in the development and maintenance of the brain, as well as many other organs. They have been shown to reduce the likelihood of many diseases. It has been noted that children with lower levels of Omega-3 fatty acids have more learning and behavioral problems, than those with normal levels of fatty acids, according to The University of Maryland Medical Center‘s fact sheet on Omega-3 fatty acids.

So far, studies on the Omega-3 fatty acids ability to improve behavioral problems has had mixed results. In some instances the results show an improvement in symptoms of ADHD. This highlights the need for more research.

The conclusion is that a healthy diet and including food high in omega-3 fatty acids is a “reasonable approach for someone with ADHD.”

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