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More and more children are battling the sensory impact of the world these days, and learning and concentration problems are almost the norm. Learning disorders, such as attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and hyperactivity have become all too common conditions in modern society. The treatment options for ADD frequently involve the administration of drugs over prolonged periods of time, often with damaging side effects. Fortunately, nutrition options can go a long way in both preventing and managing this condition. While some children may still need other medical interventions and therapies, nutrition can offer a lot of help and sometimes even a total solution to ADD and similar disorders.
What Is ADD?
ADD is a type of learning disability that affects mostly children in the learning years but can affect people from all life stages. Symptoms include restlessness, tantrums, a short attention span and poor short-term memory. People with ADD may also have difficulty learning despite having a normal or high IQ, poor coordination, and episodes of defiance and disobedience.
ADD And Nutrition: The Link
People with ADD are often very sensitive to certain foods. They may react more readily to potentially allergenic foods and may also metabolize proteins, fats and carbohydrates differently to others. They might also be more sensitive to the adverse effects of processed foods and food additives.
The link between ADD and diet has been apparent for many years. A study at done at Purdue University and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1994 found that boys diagnosed with ADD had lower levels of the omega-3 essential fatty acid DHA. A 1997 study published in Magnesium Research found that 95% of ADD children were deficient in magnesium, and yet another study (Biological Psychiatry, 1996) discovered that the zinc levels of children with ADD were only two-thirds the level of those without ADD.
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly the DHA fraction, helps to nourish the cell membranes and neural cells in the brain. Antioxidants, from fruits, vegetables and essential oils also help to prevent the cell membranes from damage by free radicals in the diet and stress. B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and vitamin C all play an important role in brain health. These nutrients help the brain cells better talk to each other so that brain chemicals called neurotransmitters can better do their job. Protein is also essential to proper neurotransmitter function as amino acids form the precursors for their production.
The main neurotransmitters involved in ADD are:
- Norepinephrine and dopamine (control attention and hyperactivity and mood)
- Serotonin (controls mood, happiness, sleep and appetite)
- Acetylcholine (controls cognition, alertness and memory)
People with ADD also appear to be intolerant to carbohydrates and sugar. When sugar and refined carbohydrates are consumed, the rapid peak in blood sugar levels as well as the subsequent fall can make ADD symptoms worse. The effects that blood sugar changes have on the hormone insulin in turn causes changes in neurotransmitter levels particularly dopamine and norepinephrine.