By Lilian Presti
Your child doesn't listen, frequently forgets things, is disruptive and impulsive, and is irresponsible with chores and homework. While this may sound like the behavior of the average child, when it's around the clock it can be something more serious. Many kids who experience these symptoms continuously have a condition known as ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates about 4.5 million children aged five to 17 have ADHD--that's up to 7.8 percent of school aged children in the country. The prevalence of ADHD is much higher in boys and in lower income families.
The most common traditional approach to ADHD is to medicate children with drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall. These stimulant drugs are thought to help improve ADHD symptoms by increasing dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that increases attention, motivation, and pleasure.
And while medication may be helpful in curbing symptoms in some of the children to whom they are prescribed, they also have side effects such as aggression, stunted growth, and depression, among others, and these cannot be ignored.
For parents who are interested in experimenting with natural alternatives to traditional medication, nutrition may offer some simple solutions.
A good place to start would be to look for food allergies. Many parents mistakenly believe that food allergies only manifest as bodily reactions such as sneezing, rashes, and impaired breathing; however, food allergies can also generate behavioral changes that can mirror ADHD symptoms.
Start by looking for some of the most common food allergies, including dairy, wheat (and gluten), eggs, soy, corn, and nuts. An easy method is to take potentially problematic food groups out of a child's diet for at least three to four weeks and observe if symptoms improve. This is otherwise known as an elimination diet.
Food additives could likely be another culprit. In today's world of convenience foods that are manufactured to have a long shelf life and appeal to finicky taste buds, children are exposed to an array of chemical additives that can often interfere with the normal workings of the body. In fact, some of these additives--such as aspartame, MSG, and color--can even have direct reactions on the brain as they cross the protective barrier that the brain is normally shielded by. The result can be impulsive, hyperactive behavior. Try and clear the diet of all additives by carefully reading labels.
The overconsumption of sugar can be another contributing factor. We're a nation of "sugarholics." We eat far too much sugar, but children are often at an increased risk due to their innate preference for sweet foods. Cane sugar, corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, and other sugars can cause hyperactive behavior because they are stimulants. When it comes to ADHD, do your kids a favor and go sugar-free at home.
Linked to high sugar consumption, yeast overgrowth can be another problem. Many children these days have overburdened and unhealthy colons due to a combination of high sugar diets and overexposure to antibiotics. These two factors lead to a significant decrease in good bacteria that allows yeast to thrive in the colon. An overgrowth of yeast is implicated in behavioral disturbances that mimic ADHD.
The lack of an adequate amount of the amino acid tyrosine is also thought to be implicated in ADHD. Tyrosine is key for healthy neurotransmitter function, allowing for a proper connection between thought and controlled behavior. Since this step tends to be a missing link in children with ADHD, it is thought that a deficiency in tyrosine (which is used up when people experience high stress) could be a cause.
Lastly, it's important to have your child tested for nutrient deficiencies because ADHD can be linked to insufficient levels of several key minerals in the body. Recent studies have shown connections between ADHD symptoms and the lack of appropriate levels of zinc, iron, magnesium, and iodine. Levels of omega-3--an essential fatty acid for healthy brain function--should also be monitored.
By working with a child's diet first, parents can attempt to find the cause of their child's behavioral issues without taking the drastic step of medicating them. The behavioral effects of foods and nutritional deficiencies can affect our children in ways that should not be underestimated.
Lilian Presti is a Registered Nutritional Consultant and Naturally Savvy's pregnancy and pediatric nutritionist. NaturallySavvy.com is a website that educates people on the benefits of living a natural, organic and green lifestyle. For more information and to sign up for their newsletter, visit www.NaturallySavvy.com
(c) 2010, NATURALLY SAVVY DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
This was originally printed in the April 25 - May 8, 2010 edition.