The Link between ADHD and Nutrition
Are too many school kids being drugged for their D’s? We pediatricians dub October “D-month” because the kids have been back to school just long enough to get labeled. Most parents don’t understand how ADHD and nutrition are related. For example, a mother and her six-year- old son recently came into our office. I greeted her with,
“Welcome to our medical practice. How can we help you?”
“The school thinks Jackson has ADD,” mom replied.
I inquired, “What does Jackson usually have for breakfast?”
“Well, he either skips breakfast or has a quick bowl of Captain Crunch.”
“What does he have at school for a snack? I asked.
“He doesn’t have a snack,” Mom replied.
“What does he eat for lunch at school?”
After learning what Jackson eats, out of my heart, more out of compassion than judgment, came:
“Jackson doesn’t have ADD, he has NDD.”
The mother looked at me concerned, not knowing what NDD was but it sounded like something she didn’t want her child to have.
“Nutrition deficit disorder,” I clarified.
This frequent scene in my office gave rise to our book The N.D.D. Book. – How Nutrition Deficit Disorder Affects Your Child’s Learning, Behavior, and Health, and What You Can Do About It – Without Drugs.
In recent years there has been a rethinking of how doctors approach ADHD and nutrition. The old treatment: diagnose a “D” and prescribe a drug for it. In other words, pills before skills. New treatment: Skills before pills. Sometimes we use skills and pills, but we never use pills without skills.
Treating the D’s
Here are the steps I go through when helping parents whose children have issues with ADHD and nutrition.
Change your child’s diet
Junk food causes junk behavior and junk learning. It’s as simple as that. Instead, give your child a real-food diet. Start the child’s day with a brainy breakfast which includes fruits, eggs, whole grains, or nut butters. One of the biggest dietary breakthroughs was increasing the amount of omega-3s (fish oil and wild salmon) in a child’s diet. (See our book, The Omega-3 Effect, for stories about how children issues with ADHD and nutrition improved after improving their seafood diet.)
Dr. Bill prescribes:
“Eat two fistfuls of wild salmon a week, minimum.”
Get your little student moving
Once they took recess out of schools, Ritalin dosages went up. Any correlation? I believe so. Recent studies have confirmed what we pediatricians have long believed: the more kids move, the better they learn.
I can still remember my first grade teacher, Sister Mary Ursula’s, firm but caring hand on my shoulder, followed by the admonition, “Zachary, you’re fidgeting too much. Go outside and run around the school yard three times and then come back and sit still.” It worked! That was before we had Ritalin.
Some schools have even introduced a zero period where they have students with learning or behavioral difficulties come to school a half hour early for intense physical activity. A not-surprising result occurred: the more the students moved, the better they behaved and learned in school.
One of the most common complaints by teachers who suspect a child has ADHD: “He stares out the window instead of paying attention to the teacher.” That’s because he wants to be out the window. Movement mellows the mind. Movement increases blood flow to the brain and releases important brain biochemicals, called neurotransmitters, which steadies behavior and learning.
4 Steps to Help Children Improve Their D’s
- Feed them brain-building real foods
- Get them moving more
- Insure a proper school and teacher match
- Medicate, if necessary
When the first three steps are done properly, less medication is necessary.
My wish for schools is they develop a program to help improve ADHD and nutrition issues perhaps entitled: “No child left (on their) behind!”
There is a definite link between ADHD and nutrition and if you improve the eating, the learning usually gets better too.
(See my related blog, “Go outside and play!” where I discuss the neuroscience of nature and its effect on children.)