Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Children suffering from Hyperactivity Disorder usually also suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) as well, although both can occur independently of one another.

ADHD is an umbrella term for a range of problems including a combination of the following: the child has a reduced concentration span and performs badly at school (in spite of a usually high IQ), is demanding and easily frustrated, cries often and has frequent temper tantrums, is clumsy, is always touching things, is overactive and excitable, displays explosive and unpredictable behaviour or is restless, never wanting to sleep or waking up often. Many affected children also exhibit an abnormal thirst.

Estimates of the number of children affected in developed countries vary between 10 and 20%, with many more boys being affected than girls. It is therefore a substantial child heath problem and the cause of extensive family stress. Two thirds of all cases of ADHD are exacerbated by food and/or chemical allergies or intolerances. If the child also suffers from headaches, skin problems (eczema, nappy rash etc), asthma, hayfever, bedwetting, aching legs, gastrointestinal problems, a constantly runny nose and frequent infections, then a food or chemical allergy is likely to be a contributory cause. Commonly implicated substances are dairy products, wheat, sugar, chocolate, eggs, citrus fruits, tree nuts and peanuts, as well as food preservatives and colourants. Parents should keep a food diary and try to note if any particular food exacerbates their child’s condition. They should allow a period of 24-36 hours for symptoms to appear on eating a particular food. Any implicated foods should then be removed from the child’s diet. If foods like dairy products are excluded totally, nutritional advice should be sought on the most appropriate substitute foods.

Many children suffering from ADHD have nutrient deficiencies, and their symptoms will improve on appropriate supplementation. The following nutrients appear to be critical.

  • Vitamin B6– required for the manufacture of the critically important fatty acids EPA, DHA and GLA, which in turn influence the manufacture and action of the different neurotransmitters in the brain. ADHD children have been shown to have an imbalance between the stimulatory and calming neurotransmitters, which is why this disorder affects behaviour so extensively. B6 is also required directly for the manufacture of serotonin, one of the most important calming neurotransmitters and one that is often deficient in this disorder.
  • Other B vitamins– the B-group vitamins, including folic acid, are all particularly vital to the hyperactive child as one of their main functions is to regulate the central nervous system, including the brain.
  • Vitamin C – dramatically enhances the absorption of iron, a nutrient which is very often deficient in ADHD sufferers and can impact negatively on behaviour and brain function, as well as immune function. Vitamin C is also required for neurotransmitter synthesis. Heavy metal toxicity, particularly due to lead has been linked to this condition. Vitamin C helps to clear the body of lead.
  • Calcium and Magnesium– these minerals are vital for effective nerve impulse transmission and will have a calming effect on the nervous system. Calcium and magnesium are also both used to treat food allergy syndromes.
  • Zinc– is essential to both fatty acid synthesis and immune function. Over two thirds of all children suffering from ADHD have measurable zinc deficiencies.
  • Essential fatty acids– over half of children with ADHD have significantly lower levels of essential fatty acids, which are vital for balanced brain neuronal transmission. Behavioural problems are associated with deficiencies of certain omega 3 fatty acids, while learning and health problems tend to be associated with deficiencies of critical omega 6 fatty acids.

The following supplements are therefore recommended:

  • A balanced children’s multivitamin and mineral formulation.
  • An additional calcium and magnesium supplement – this may be best in powder form so that it can be sprinkled on cereal for younger children as tablets can be difficult to swallow.
  • An essential fatty acid supplement containing EPA, DHA and GLA (a mix of the critical omega 3 and 6 fatty acids). Depending on the age of the child this may be difficult to administer as it usually comes in a sizeable capsule. If the child cannot swallow the capsule the contents can be pierced and added to food, or as a last resort rubbed into the soft skin of the under arm.

A healthy dietary regime, which excludes as far as possible processed foods and additives, is also recommended.