Guest Post: ADHD – Where can we turn for help?

In my professional work and areas of study over the past 12 years I have been increasingly interested in the potential links between the physical, emotional, mental wellbeing of children and the foods (nutrients or ‘anti-nutrients’) they are eating.

I am particularly passionate about understanding the many different behaviours I have seen exhibited in the classroom, as well as finding the (always multidisciplinary) approach to managing these behaviours.

I was interested and unsurprised by a BBC news article I read this week highlighting the increased dependency the health service has upon methylphenidate drugs, such as Ritalin, for treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The Care Quality Commission has recommended that the use of these drugs should be carefully monitored as it is open to abuse [1].  It is not yet wholly understood in its biology or manifestations and therefore finding solutions and treatments is not an exact science.

Many of the parents who turn to doctors and alternative health professionals have exhausted other routes and they may feel that the recommended medication is their last resort and only hope to restore some level of normality for their children and for their families. I have the utmost admiration for a family with a child given this diagnosis, trying to find solutions in what would be very difficult times.

The responsibility lies with the many different professionals to explore each potential measure before resorting to medication. Use of methylfenidate drugs is not necessarily accompanied by a cessation of the ADHD symptoms in the long term, as the child grows up[1]!  The potential effects these drugs can have means they should be either a last resort or used as part of a holistic approach targeting physiology, food, drink, behaviour, and  lifestyle.

I merely propose that surely it is worth considering the potential underlying causes. The importance of putting the focus on correcting the cause of the behaviours and symptoms rather than just masking them benefits the long game. We live in a society where we take a pill to deal with an ache or a pain to forget it is there. This is necessary sometimes in the busy world in which we live. However, to do our best to stop those aches and pains returning once that pill has worn off we may be better to look a little more beneath the surface. The analogy of looking at an iceberg is perhaps over-used in the study of Nutritional Therapy but its visual impact is great for a reason!

 

Picture By Alexa Rice

Picture By Alexa Rice

It can mean making more difficult and challenging changes but if we want the end goal enough it is worth the slog!   In the case of child health of course you, as a parent or guardian, are imposing changes on someone else, depending on your own personality this can make the changes more difficult or more easy to adhere to!

The obvious challenges associated with this disorder are academic impairment, risk of injuries, and self-esteem and socialization issues. ADHD is closely linked to brain reward mechanisms which would explain high risk, euphoria seeking behavior and low tolerance to boredom. Physiologically the bodies of people with ADHD will often have inherited allergic states, decreased immune competence, and genetic polymorphisms impairing capacity to detoxify drugs, and heavy metals [2].

ADHD has considerable overlap with the occurrence of Dyslexia, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, and Dyspraxia with each child displaying their own level of individuality and specificity to the way they exhibit behaviours and symptoms. There is very often a connection between the neurological problems exhibited in ADHD and Autism as well as a bacterial disruption to gastro-intestinal health [3].

It is of prime importance from a nutritional standpoint to view the body as interlinking systems each impacting on the next. It may be hard to believe that gut problems could have any connection to what appear to be purely mental/behavioural issues but this can very often be the case!

There are many different possible contributing factors that result in and perpetuate an ADHD individual being out of balance.  It is worth investigating levels of lead and heavy metals (solvents, pesticides, tobacco and alcohol), the liver’s ability to detoxify, possible food sensitivities, gastro-intestinal health and nutrient deficiencies, such as Essential Fatty Acids, Magnesium, Zinc, Iron, B Vitamins, as well as a high glucose diet [2]. A diet high in fresh organic fruit, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and good sources of protein would be a good start to giving the body useful fuel on which to run while looking for more concrete answers.

With this in mind it would seem there could be a collection of imbalances in the body system, so addressing them could in turn contribute to addressing the symptoms and behaviours of ADHD also. In particular if there is a possible impaired capacity to detoxify drugs it seems inherently to go against logic to give these individuals drugs to correct the imbalances.

From my experience I would say have hope, keep faith, and consider different options, even ones you may have never considered important in your life before! Turn to the educational professionals supporting your child, as well as considering a holistic approach to their general health and well-being, BANT-British Association of Nutritional Therapists have an extensive directory of Nutritional Practitioners where someone could find a Nutritionist or CNHC – Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.

Sarah Metters  BSc (Hons), QTS, PgCert, Dip ION FdSc mBANT  is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and Primary School teacher with a degree in Psychology and Health Sciences.

Sarah specialises in stress, child health, mental health, ME, female health and pre-conceptual care.

For more information please visit www.sarahmettersnutrition.com or email sarah@sarahmettersnutrition.com

References:

[1] BBC News (2013) ‘Use of ADHD drugs ‘increases by 50% in six years’’. Accessed: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-23674235, 14th August 2013

[2]  Pizzorno JE, Murray MT & Joiner-Bey H (2008) The Clinicians Handbook of Natural Medicine, second edition, Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier, USA

[3] Nicolle L & Woodriff B (2010) Biochemical Imbalances in Disease. Singing Dragon

Note: Opinions are all my own and there is no financial gain for ‘Food and Babies’.

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4 Comments

  1. Caroline Barrett (Post author)

    A BIG thank you to Sarah for taking the time to write this really interesting article.
    Cx

    Reply
    1. Caroline Barrett (Post author)

      http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/suffer-the-children/201203/why-french-kids-dont-have-adhd :Looking at ADHD from a different angle but coming to the same conclusion, diet has an effect. Cx

      Reply
  2. Gemma

    Really interesting post – thanks Sarah and Caroline! I remember when I was working with some children both on autistic spectrum and diagnosed with ADHD that we had one boy whose parents were at their wits end and reluctant to keep pumping him full of all the drugs prescribed to him. They looked into all sorts of alternative therapies, nutritionists etc, and I vividly remember him only being allowed to eat white foods for a good 3 months or so. Now correct me if I’m wrong but would this not imply that other than e.g. rice, macadamia nuts (which is genuinely all I can remember him eating in my presence) any strictly ‘white’ food is likely to have been processed and therefore stripped of many good, natural ingredients?

    Reply
    1. sarah

      Hi Gemma,
      I have to say that I have not heard of a strategy that would stipulate only white foods! As you point out that would limit the child’s exposure to the variety of nutrients they so vitally need. Perhaps they were focusing on cutting out gluten, and rice was a carbohydrate substitute. It could have been that the child only agreed to eat those things; preferences for bland food with specific textures can be shown in individuals on the Autistic Spectrum. It is hard to speculate further. It is an interesting observation though and thank you for your reply. If you are interested in continuing the discussion please do not hesitate to email me – sarahmettersnutrition@gmail.com

      Reply

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