For Kids With ADHD, Some Foods May Complement Treatment | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

For Kids With ADHD, Some Foods May Complement Treatment

Play associated audio

You may remember the controversial studies linking food coloring and additives to hyperactivity in kids. Or you may know parents who have pinned their hopes on an elimination diet to improve their kids' rowdy behavior.

"When [elimination] diets fail, parents can feel they've failed," says Linda Brauer, coordinator of the Grand Rapids chapter of the advocacy group Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. She remembers feeling guilty when her son's symptoms did not improve. But now she says the science is on her side.

A review paper published today in the journal Pediatrics evaluated the evidence from many studies on this topic. And it concludes that changing a child's diet is usually not enough to effectively treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"Elimination diets may help in a very small percentage of patients," whereas stimulant medications are generally very effective, writes J. Gordon Millichap, a neurologist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago who authored the paper.

Now, before all of the we-are-what-we-eat believers among us dismiss this, you should know that experts don't deny the importance of diet. Far from it.

"[Diet's] main role in my clinical practice is as a complementary treatment," Benjamin Prince, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital tells us. That means kids with ADHD usually need medicine and good diets.

But what makes a good diet? Here are three tips for kids on the ADHD spectrum from the experts:

  • Eat a protein-rich breakfast. Kids with ADHD tend to burn lots of calories and can often be too overstimulated to sit down to eat. In addition, medication often suppresses their appetites. Put all of these factors together, and kids with ADHD are prone to feeling "hangry," Prince says. (The term — a cross between angry and hungry — was coined by Prince's friend.) The solution? Keep the calories coming. Complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, and foods rich in protein can help kids feel full longer. "So if you can have a glass of milk and a peanut butter sandwich, that's going to help carry you through the day," says Prince.

  • Cut back on sugary treats and processed foods. Australian researchers tracked patterns of eating among children with ADHD. They found that diets rich in sugary snacks, processed foods, red meat and high-fat dairy correlate with higher levels of ADHD. "Try to cut down on those foods," recommends lead author Wendy Oddy of the University of Western Australia. (Note: She didn't say eliminate.) And Millichap agrees. "We conclude that adherence to a 'healthy' diet (fish, vegetables, fruit, whole wheat and low-fat dairy) should be advised," Millichap wrote to us.

  • Fish oil and omega-3 supplements. There has been a lot of interest and research on the value of omega-3s from fish oil — or long-chain, polyunsaturated fatty acids. "We think there's some link between having low amounts of long-chain, polyunsaturated fatty acids and ADD," says Prince. So he says adding healthy amounts of fish to the family diet — or taking fish oil supplements — are both fine. But he stresses that clinical trials on this subject have not been consistent. "The evidence is mixed" on whether omega-3s can help kids with ADHD, he says. But given the heart benefits for all of us (not just those with ADHD), Prince says, it can't hurt.
Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

The Dread Factor: Why Ebola And 'Contagion' Scare Us So Much

Even just the word Ebola is kind of terrifying. Why? Hollywood has a lot to do with it. But Ebola outbreaks also have all the ingredients for what one psychologist calls the "dread factor."
NPR

Author And His Daughter Cook Around The Word And You Can Too

Kelly McEvers talks to food writer Mark Kurlansky and his daughter Talia about their cookbook International Night, based on their tradition of cooking a meal every week from a different country.
NPR

Senate Control May Swing On North Carolina's Unpopularity Contest

Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan wants voters to punish her GOP challenger Thom Tillis, the speaker of the state House, for unpopular laws. Tillis wants to aim anger toward the president at Hagan.
NPR

Islamic State Uses Online Strategies To Get Its Message Out

Experts say the videotaped killing of journalist James Foley is part of a broader propaganda strategy by Islamist militants. The group, the Islamic State, has become a master of the video medium.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.