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Health Matters

Improving ADHD with Nutrition

September 1st, 2015

By Dr. Keshia Kamphuis

One in 10 children are diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), with boys having more than double the risk of their fellow female classmates! In fact, ADHD and ADD are the most commonly diagnosed neuropsychiatric disorders in children. Most people are familiar with attention deficit disorders, either because they are a parent to a child who has ADHD/ADD or they know someone who struggles with it.

A child with ADHD or ADD can be smart, even brilliant, with reading and comprehension levels beyond their peers. But, they struggle to keep on task and listen to instructions, can be disruptive, socially may feel like misfits and be excluded, can't slow down and have a hard time paying attention.

While medication like Ritalin and Adderall are a very real and necessarily treatment for some children, they are not without unwanted side effects. Children often lose their appetite, can be more emotionally blunted, have trouble sleeping, experience headaches and stomach aches, and typically lose weight.

The good news is that many parents can see dramatic differences in ADHD/ADD symptoms with a few simple dietary changes. What our kids put into their bodies has a direct connection with their attention, learning ability, behaviour and mood. A well known example of this is refined sugar - one of the foods most notorious for making kids hyper and inattentive. Beyond that, we know specific nutrients are needed for proper brain development, memory, learning and nervous system function. Some of these nutrients include magnesium, B vitamins, omega 3 fats and adequate protein. The reality is that children with ADHD/ADD may have a higher requirement for these nutrients and need more than their fellow peers.

Another piece of the nutrition puzzle for children with ADHD/ADD involves 'food intolerances' or 'food sensitivities'. These are inflammatory reactions to foods that can trigger unwanted behaviour. Food intolerances are one of the biggest nutrition factors to consider when deciding on a dietary change for kids with ADHD/ADD. A food intolerance not only contributes to ADHD/ADD symptoms but can cause digestive issues, fatigue, mood disturbances, asthma and skin rashes.  This kind of food reaction doesn't necessarily happen right after eating the offending food, but typically surfaces hours later. That can make it quite a challenge to figure out which foods are causing a problem! Blood testing for food intolerances helps to clear up confusion about which foods are culprits, and takes away the need for trial elimination diets. Speak to your naturopathic doctor about your testing options for food intolerances.

Many parents report significant positive changes in their children with ADHD/ADD after incorporating nutritional support and eliminating food intolerances. By exploring some of the nutritional factors that are often at the heart of ADHD/ADD, you and your child can have a different experience this school year!

Dr. Keshia Kamphuis, BSc, ND, CD(DONA) is a naturopathic doctor and certified labor doula, and is currently practicing at Aspire Natural Medicine in Red Deer, Alberta. She is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan and completed her naturopathic medical training at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, Ontario. She has a special interest in fertility, labor preparation and pregnancy care, but treats a wide variety of conditions in children and adults including digestive concerns, fatigue, psychological/behavioral concerns, thyroid issues and stress-related illnesses. Find her at:

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