Attention deficit disorders and children

ABSTRACT: How do you know whether your child suffers from ADD/ADHD? Sometimes it can be difficult to tell. There is a general list of symptoms associated with inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity.

Nutrition is highly important in children and often these symptoms may appear due to poor nutrition. High energy foods such as deep fried foods, and fluctuating sugar levels can cause mood swings and poor behaviour in some children. A balanced diet containing fish oil and other healthy fats, proteins (and amino acids), complex carbohydrates and adequate vitamins and minerals can be all that is required to turn a poorly behaved, difficult and unhappy child, into a happy and healthy child.

KEYWORDS: attention deficit disorder, ADD, ADHD, Kids Intelligent, IQShield

How do you know whether your child suffers from ADD/ADHD? Some children can just be very active and energetic, only slowing down as they grow. There are others however, that may be ‘wired’ differently.

If you think your child suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), you may be relieved to know that they are normal, however, some children may have a specific learning disability that prevents them from taking in information and sorting it out in the same way that other children do.

All is not lost however. In a healthy and loving environment, along with training and assistance, many learning disabilities can be overcome.

Does My Child Suffer from ADD/ADHD?
A diagnosis of ADD/ADHD is usually made using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV). This is a reference source used by healthcare practitioners to assess the main symptoms. Genetic and behavioural risk factors are also taken into account, along with other criteria such as diet and exposure to chemicals including toxins and prescription medicines.

To be diagnosed as suffering from ADD/ADHD, a child needs to exhibit at least six of the symptoms for inattention or at least six of the symptoms of the combined hyperactivity-impulsivity list to a degree that interferes with daily life.

Symptoms of Inattention
• Often ignores details, makes careless mistakes 
• Often has trouble sustaining attention in work or play 
• Often does not seem to listen when directly addressed 
• Often does not follow through on instructions; fails to finish 
• Often has difficulty organising tasks and activities 
• Often avoids activities that require a sustained mental effort
• Often loses things he/she needs 
• Often gets distracted 
• Is often forgetful in daily activities

Symptoms of Hyperactivity-Impulsivity

• Often fidgets or squirms 
• Often has to get up from seat 
• Often runs or climbs when he or she shouldn’t 
• Often has difficulty with quiet leisure activities 
• Often “on the go” as if driven by a motor 
• Often talks excessively

• Often blurts out answers before questions have been completed 
• Often has difficulty waiting his/her turn 
• Often interrupts or intrudes on others.

This is quite a generalised list, and everyone may be able to relate to some of these feelings at one time or another. When children are experiencing fast growth spurts, it is important to ensure that they are receiving enough minerals, in particular calcium, zinc, magnesium and possibly iron. As it is often a time when it may be difficult to provide children the nutrition they need, a nutritional supplement should be considered.

Nutritional Requirements
If a healthcare professional has diagnosed a child with ADD or ADHD, as mentioned earlier, there are ways to improve the situation and bring out the best in your child. The first thing to consider is the child’s diet.

Surprisingly, sugar is not considered to be a contributing factor to ADHD. Eliminating sugar from your child’s diet is unlikely to cause a significant improvement over time.

Some children however, have a propensity towards the condition. That is, these children have not been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, however they have some symptoms of ADD/ADHD or in the least have a tendency towards to the condition. These children have been found to do better when dietary triggers are removed. These triggers may include artificial colourings, flavourings, preservatives, refined carbohydrates and “junk” food generally. Food sensitivities, allergies and intolerances may also act as a trigger. A common sensitivity is to wheat for instance, while some children may tolerate other types of grain such as spelt, kamut, millet and rice.

Any blood sugar irregularities can lead to mood swings, so this should be investigated. As food intolerances can be caused by reactive or inflammatory bowel states, it is essential to address any digestive problems which can lead to malabsorption of nutrients that have particular implications in ADD/ADHD. Simply giving a supplement of a probiotic containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium animalis for improved intestinal function can bring about an improvement in nutrient levels.

It is recommended however, that any dietary changes are done in consultation with a naturopath, dietician or other health professional experienced in ADD/ADHD who can give guidance so that any restrictions do not cause deficiencies in other areas.

Nutrients to consider
Studies have shown the benefits of the following nutrients, in particular DHA, acetyl-L-carnitine, zinc, folic acid and bacopa, in child mental development and behaviour – improving attention, concentration, learning, cognition, memory, emotional intelligence, and symptoms related to mood, anxiety and stress.

• Fish Oils: the increased need for the essential fatty acids in people with ADD/ADHD has been extensively studied. Research suggests that some hyperactive children have a deficiency of omega-3 essential fatty acids, in particular docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is found in fish oils, and is incorporated into neural and eye cell structure, making up to 60% of these structures. DHA is essential for mental development (cognition, learning, attention, concentration and memory; and emotional intelligence – mood and behaviour), as well as eye, cardiovascular, and immune system development and maintenance.
• Acetyl-L-Carnitine is an antioxidant, with neuroprotective and growth factor regulating properties. Involved in brain development, maintenance and function, benefits have been seen in attention, memory, anxiety and impulsive behaviour. 
• Zinc is required for cell health as well as for the metabolism of DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) essential fatty acids. Children who have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD have been observed to have lower levels of this vital mineral. 
• B complex vitamins, B1, B2, B3, B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12 are indicated for healthy metabolism and support of the nervous system, especially in growing children. 
• Bacopa monnieri / Brahmi is an antioxidant that enhances neurotranmission (neural cell communication), neuron repair, and supports new neuron growth. This assists learning, memory and concentration, while also reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. 
• Iron deficiency can lead to anxiety, aggressiveness and poor attention span, and any deficiency should be investigated and addressed. The frequent occurrence of ‘restless legs syndrome’ in children with ADHD may be associated with iron deficiencies.
• Magnesium deficiency has implications for the nervous system. In children with ADHD and magnesium deficiency, magnesium has been shown to cause a decrease in hyperactivity. 
• Calcium is synergistic with magnesium and important for the nervous system. Children can easily become deficient in calcium at times of accelerated growth.

Counseling, play therapy and behaviour modification therapy and information on educational intervention should be considered to provide strategies and tools for coping with, and understanding, some of the behaviours associated with ADD/ADHD. Support groups can provide invaluable information and assistance.

Summary of Recommendations:
• Address any digestive disturbances which may contribute to nutrient deficit 
• Address food intolerances 
• Supplement specific nutrients at an age-appropriate dosage, and ensure that medication, or combinations of medications, are not the cause of the condition (if in doubt, seek advice from your healthcare practitioner)
• Seek counseling and appropriate additional therapy (e.g. cognitive therapy, behaviour modification)

Following these tips may assist you and your child, particularly if you have any concerns regarding your child’s behaviour. If you have tried the above diet options and nutritional supplements, and find that they are inadequate, or if you have other concerns, then consult your healthcare practitioner.

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