Dietary help for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

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Reports of exponential growth in the rates of obesity in UK children have led to renewed calls for more activity and exercise to be worked into their lives. However, while some children may be appear to be immobilised by an inherent inertia, others may have an altogether different problem: children suffering with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are typically physically frenetic, and may also exhibit a range of more mental issues including impulsiveness, and mood swings. For ADHD-afflicted children, life can be both fast and furious.

My experience in practice is that kids with ADHD often respond well to dietary manipulation. While the precise approach may depend on individual factors, a diet as low as possible in sugar and artificial additives is usually at the core of my management strategy. In addition, I have found supplementation with omega-3 fats and/or magnesium generally helps to bring some calm and order to an overactive body and mind. However, my attention was recently diverted by research which suggests that the mineral iron might have the ability to temper hyperactivity in kids.

In a study published last December in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, the iron levels in a group of children with ADHD were compared with those of unaffected kids (controls). Researchers found that 84 per cent of affected children had abnormally low iron levels, compared to only 18 per cent of controls. What is more, the lower the iron level, the more pronounced the ADHD symptoms tended to be. Whatever role iron has in regulating mood and behaviour may well be related to the fact that this nutrient is necessary for the normal functioning of dopamine – a brain chemical that diverse effects on physical and mental processes. Scientists have previously suggested that dopamine depletion is a factor in ADHD, indirect evidence for which comes from the knowledge that Ritalin (a commonly used drug treatment for ADHD) boosts dopamine levels in the brain.

Studies in which iron treatment has been tried as a treatment for ADHD are unfortunately thin on the ground. However, one study found that just a month of iron supplementation led to a significant reduction in hyperactive symptoms as assessed by the sufferers’ parents. While this study did not employ a placebo-taking group, its results do at least support to the notion that iron has the potential to alleviate ADHD.

Excesses of iron can be damaging to the body, so it is important for iron levels to be assessed prior to treatment with this mineral. Measuring blood levels of a substance called ferritin is widely recognised as the best gauge of iron levels in the body. For those with ferritin counts that are low or on the low side of normal, I suggest emphasising iron-rich foods in the diet such as red meat, nuts and seeds. For more rapid results, I usually recommend supplementation with an absorbable form of iron know as NDS iron (available by mail order on 01273 720720). Mounting evidence suggests that for children with ADHD, iron might turn out to be a very precious metal indeed.

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