ADHD: WHAT IS HYPERACTIVITY?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder commonly called “hyperactivity” is a clinical diagnosis based on specific criteria:

  • excessive motor activity
  • impulsiveness
  • short attention span
  • low tolerance to frustration
  • easily distracted
  • appear not to listen
  • often shifts from one uncompleted activity to another
  • often interrupts or intrudes on others
  • has difficulty awaiting turn in groups
  • often engages in physical activities without considering the consequences
  • often talks excessively
  • has difficulty following instructions

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) involves most of the above-mentioned symptoms, without the hyperactivity (excessive motor activity, impulsiveness, and excessive talking) component.

The doctor making the diagnosis will consider the child’s home and school circumstances, before confirming the diagnosis, to ensure that there are no difficulties in these environments causing the behaviour.

There are many controversies surrounding this condition, regarding cause and treatment. Reduced opportunity for physical activity (e.g. longer classroom hours and less play-time) could be a major contributor to ADHD. Poor quality diet can certainly also be a major contributor to both ADHD and ADD, especially concerning the symptom of reduced concentration.

It has also been shown in research that many children with ADHD/ADD have signs and symptoms associated with fatty acid deficiencies, such as excessive thirst, frequent urination, dandruff, dry skin or eczema, brittle nails and dry hair.

In addition, 70% of diagnosed hyperactive children have food allergies or sensitivities

 

TREATMENT AND MANAGEMENT OF ADHD/ADD:

Essentially, each child should be assessed individually and managed according to his or her symptoms, dietary needs and lifestyle.

Usually, a combination of medication, dietary modification, and behavioural and cognitive therapy is prescribed.

 

EFFECT OF MEDICATION ON APPETITE

Ritalin is a commonly prescribed drug for treatment of ADHD. Its action is to stimulate the parts of the brain which are under-functioning in children with ADHD. In many cases, ADHD children improve considerably at school once on this medication. Typical treatment with Ritalin usually continues for several years to optimize the beneficial effects long-term.

As with all drugs however, Ritalin does have known side effects, although these will not affect all children on this drug. The younger the child, the more side effects are usually noticed, especially in pre-school children.

Side effects can include irritability, clinging, decrease insociability, poor appetite and insomnia.

The most common side effect of Ritalin is that it reduces the appetite. Normally the appetite reduction decreases as the child adjusts to the medication, but occasionally this does not happen, with the consequence of weight loss.

 

DIETARY TREATMENT OF ADHD

Maintain ideal and stable blood glucose levels throughout the day.

This has the benefit of reducing restlessness, nervousness, irritability, decreased attention span, aggression and destructive behaviour.

Dietary Treatment Recommended:

Use low GI (Glycaemic Index) foods and snacks at regular intervals (every 3-4 hours) throughout the day.

  • Low GI breads
  • Low GI cereals such as oats, and soya-based porridges like Soya Life Porridge, and ProNutro
  • Rice
  • Durum wheat pasta
  • Legumes including soya, baked beans, kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas. Include regularly as part of daily diets
  • Baby potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Lots of vegetables
  • Fruit spread throughout the day
  • Low GI meal replacement drinks, such as Supa Shake (Back To Basics-Nutrition)

Correct essential fatty acid imbalance in the body.

  • Include more pilchards, salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines in the daily diet.
  • Add in other food sources of essential fatty acids such as soya to increase daily consumption.
  • Use a good essential fatty acid supplement on a daily basis.

Correct other micronutrient deficiencies:

Magnesium, Zinc, Vitamins B6 and E.

Sources of magnesium: nuts, including peanuts, dairy products, green leafy vegetables, legumes including soya, and wholegrains (Note: all of these foods have the added benefit of being low GI as well).

Sources of zinc, vitamin B6 and vitamin E: nuts, seeds, wholegrains and meat.

Encourage a good appetite for healthy food and snack choices

Each meal should be as colourful as possible, in order to optimise vital nutrient intake.

Where appetite is decreased, the use of a balanced meal replacement drink first thing in the day becomes a good option, such as Supa Shake (Back To Basics-Nutrition) either as is or in a Smoothie format with fruit. This is easy to digest – and will have the benefit of improving concentration and energy levels during the morning

Treat food allergies and sensitivities

Firstly, a dietician must be involved in doing a detailed assessment to determine whether the child is allergic / intolerant to certain foods, before foods are exluded from the diet.

Once any allergies / intolerances are determined, then these foods must be excluded from the diet, and the diet planned and balanced by a Registered Dietician.

Research has also shown that some children with ADHD respond favourably from the elimination of synthetic food colours, flavourants and additives.

Encourage good gut health

  • To improve overall digestion and absorption and thus overall nutrition status and health;
  • To reduce occurrence of food allergies and sensitivities.

Especially in the case of food intolerances, use a good probiotic supplement.

Written by Sue Scharf