Does Diet for Children with ADHD Matter?

Could A Healthy Diet Help Your Child?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

diet for children with adhdDoes diet for children with ADHD matter?

The prevalence of ADHD appears to be skyrocketing. It increased by 42% in just 8 years between 2003 and 2011. Currently, 4.5 million children in the US are on ADHD medication, at a cost to taxpayers of $45 billion.

Unfortunately, ADHD medications come with serious side effects like loss of appetite and delayed growth, sleep disorders, nausea & stomach pains, headaches, moodiness and irritability. Even more worrisome is that many children say they “just don’t feel right” while they are on the drugs. Finally, there is the unintended message we are sending our children that drugs are the solution to their problems.

It is no wonder that millions of parents are looking for more natural solutions for their child’s ADHD. That is why recent headlines like “The Mediterranean Diet Could Help Children with ADHD” generate such interest.

In this issue of Health Tips From the Professor I have looked at the studies behind the headlines to answer your most pressing questions:

  • Would something as simple as the Mediterranean diet help my child control their ADHD symptoms?
  • Do they have to adhere to the Mediterranean diet, or would other healthy diets work just as well?

Answering these questions will tell us if diet for children with ADHD matters.

adhd dietHow Was The Study Designed?

The study behind the headlines (A Rios-Hernandez et al, Pediatrics DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-2027) looked at 60 children and adolescents (ages 6-16) from southern Spain who were newly diagnosed with ADHD and compared them with 60 sex- and age-matched controls without ADHD from the same schools.

A food frequency questionnaire was administered by a trained interviewer and a scoring system called KIDMED was used to evaluate adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet. The study excluded children with more severe psychological problems and any children taking ADHD medications or nutritional supplements.

Does Diet for Children with ADHD Matter?

 

  • In a preliminary analysis of the data, the investigators discovered:
    • Breastfeeding was associated with decreased risk of ADHD.
    • Inactivity was associated with increased risk of ADHD.
    • Obesity was associated with increased risk of ADHD.

    child adhd dietOf course, the main point of the study was to investigate whether adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet influenced the risk of developing ADHD. The answer to this question was clear cut.

    • Adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet significantly reduced the risk of ADHD in both children and adolescents.

    So, clearly diet for children with ADHD does matter.

    Next, the investigators used the data obtained from the food frequency questionnaires to ask what components of a Mediterranean diet were most influential in reducing the risk of developing ADHD. These results were also very interesting:

    Dietary components that decreased the risk of ADHD included:

    • Consuming two or more servings of fruit every day (In Spain, the extra servings of fruit were primarily citrus, but presumably other fruits would be just as effective).
    • Consuming fresh or cooked vegetables more than once a day.
    • Consuming fatty fish on a regular basis (2-3 times a week).
    • Consuming grains or rice almost every day.
    • Starting the day with a healthy breakfast.

    Dietary components that increased the risk of ADHD included:

    • Eating at fast food restaurants more than once a week.
    • Skipping breakfast.
    • High consumption of soft drinks.
    • High consumption of candy and sugar.

    What Does This Mean For You?

    foods adhd dietThis study clearly showed that adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a significantly lower incidence of ADHD.

    Of course, this study was conducted in southern Spain where a healthy diet is the Mediterranean diet. The question for people in other parts of the world is whether other healthy diets would work just as well.

    Based on their detailed study of the effect of individual dietary components, it is reasonable to assume that any healthy diet that…

    …emphasized fresh fruits & vegetables, whole grains, omega-3-rich fish, and…

    …started the day with a healthy breakfast, and…

    …minimized (or eliminated) fast foods, sodas, candy & other sweets…

    …would reduce the risk of ADHD.

    Plus, this is an approach that has no side effects. Just side benefits.

    Finally, if you read the study carefully, it is clear a holistic approach is always best. For example:

    • Individual dietary components had small effects on ADHD symptoms.
    • When those individual components were combined into a healthy diet, a major reduction in ADHD symptoms was observed.
    • The study suggested that reduction in ADHD symptoms would be even greater with a healthy lifestyle that included regular exercise and weight control.
    • The authors stated that supplementation could also play a role in reducing ADHD symptoms. They felt the best evidence was for supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids and a multivitamin multimineral supplement.

We can certainly conclude that diet for children with ADHD matters.

 

The Bottom Line

 

A recent study in southern Spain has looked at the relationship between adherence to a healthy Mediterranean diet and the risk of developing ADHD symptoms in children and adolescents.

  • In a preliminary analysis of the data, the investigators discovered:
    • Breastfeeding was associated with decreased risk of ADHD.
    • Inactivity was associated with increased risk of ADHD.
    • Obesity was associated with increased risk of ADHD.
  • These factors were independent of adherence to a Mediterranean diet.
  • Adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet significantly reduced the risk of ADHD in both children and adolescents. This was the major finding of the study.
  • The dietary components in the study that decreased the risk of ADHD were:
    • Consuming two or more servings of fruit every day (In Spain, the extra servings of fruit were primarily citrus, but presumably other fruits would be just as effective).
    • Consuming fresh or cooked vegetables more than once a day.
    • Consuming fatty fish on a regular basis (2-3 times a week).
    • Consuming grains or rice almost every day.
    • Starting the day with a healthy breakfast.
  • The dietary components that increased the risk of ADHD were:
    • Eating at fast food restaurants more than once a week.
    • Skipping breakfast.
    • High consumption of soft drinks.
    • High consumption of candy and sugar.
  • Based on their detailed study of the effect of individual dietary components, it is reasonable to assume that any healthy diet that…
    • …emphasized fresh fruits & vegetables, whole grains, omega-3-rich fish, and…
    • …started the day with a healthy breakfast, and…
    • …minimized (or eliminated) fast foods, sodas, candy & other sweets……would reduce the risk of ADHD.
  • Plus, this is an approach that has no side effects. Just side benefits.
  • Finally, if you read the study carefully, it is clear a holistic approach is always best. That would include:
    • A healthy diet
    • regular exercise and weight control.
    • Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids and a multivitamin multimineral supplement.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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