The inattentive subtype of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADD/ADHD, usually starts before the age of 7. Children with this condition may have difficulty with persistence, focus and follow-through. Schoolwork may be messy or unfinished. Among other signs, a child may seem as if she’s not listening, be easily distracted and have trouble with organization. Doctors often recommend stimulant medications, but diet can also help, sometimes reducing or eliminating the need for drugs.
The Feingold diet is a well-known--and controversial--option. Some claim it works for only a tiny percentage of children with ADD/ADHD, but Dr. Kathi J. Kemper writes in “Mental Health, Naturally” that studies have shown significant improvements in up to 73 percent of subjects. The Feingold diet eliminates certain synthetic flavors and colors, certain preservatives, and artificial sweeteners. The diet begins with removing all foods containing salicylates, such as apples, almonds and grapes, then adding them back one at a time to check for reactions. A common misconception is that Feingold bans sugar, but actually the diet allows it.
Although 12 double-blind studies concluded that sugar does not cause hyperactivity or other problems associated with ADD/ADHD, many parents find that removing sugar and high-fructose corn syrup from their child’s diet has a positive effect on behavior. Limiting sugar may make sense for other reasons; Kemper notes that many children consume too much sugar, making them less likely to eat enough of the vitamin-rich foods required for good emotional health.
If your child has food allergies, according to the American College for Advancement in Medicine, removing those foods from his diet can completely eliminate the behaviors associated with ADD/ADHD. Identify food allergies by withdrawing the most common problem foods from your child’s diet for two weeks, then add them back one by one and observe any reactions. Common allergens include wheat, chocolate, peanuts, milk, cheese, corn, eggs and barley.
The Bastyr Center for Natural Health recommends essential fatty acids for children with ADD/ADHD, especially EPA, DHA, GLA and linoleic acid. Sources include fish oil, evening primrose oil, fatty fish such as salmon, flaxseeds, walnut oil and dark green leafy vegetables. Amino acids, such as tryptophan and tyrosine, support brain health, and can be found in soy, tofu, beans, seeds, fish, chicken, eggs and milk.
Ginseng may be helpful, although it has mainly been studied in adults. Several studies found significant improvements in attention and concentration from pycnogenol, or pine bark extract. Vitamins, especially vitamin B, are essential to good brain function. Make sure your child eats a healthy diet, emphasizing whole foods, and drinks plenty of pure water.
- "Mental Health, Naturally"; Kathi J. Kemper, MD; 2010
- Feingold Association of the United States: Frequently Asked Questions
- Forum on Alternative and Innovative Therapies: ADHD: Treatments, Nutritional Therapies