The ADHD Diet: What to Eat, What to Avoid

Poor eating habits don't cause attention deficit disorder, but research suggests a strong relationship between ADHD and the food you consume. Find out what foods and supplements make a diet ADD-friendly — and what may make ADHD symptoms worse.

Brain-Boosting Supplements

Sean Sims at New Division
“Many diets are deficient in key vitamins, minerals, and fats that may improve attention and alertness,” says Richard Brown, M.D., author of How to Use Herbs, Nutrients, and Yoga in Mental Health Care. He suggests that children and adults who have been diagnosed with ADHD be tested for nutritional deficiencies.

“Supplements and diet can correct nutrient shortfalls that exacerbate ADHD symptoms,” adds Brown.

Zinc, Iron, and Magnesium. Zinc regulates the neurotransmitter dopamine and may make methylphenidate more effective by improving the brain’s response to dopamine. Low levels of this mineral correlate with inattention. Iron is also necessary for making dopamine. One small study showed ferritin levels (a measure of iron stores) to be low in 84 percent of ADHD children compared to 18 percent of the control group. Low iron levels correlate with cognitive deficits and severe ADHD. Like zinc, magnesium is used to make neurotransmitters involved in attention and concentration, and it has a calming effect on the brain.

All three minerals are found in lean meats, poultry, seafood, nuts, soy, and fortified cereals. While diet is the safest way to increase all three mineral levels, a multivitamin/multimineral with iron will ensure that you or your child gets the daily reference value (DRV) of these minerals.

B Vitamins. Studies suggest that giving children who have low levels of B vitamins a supplement improved some IQ scores (by 16 points) and reduced aggression and antisocial behavior. “Vitamin B-6 seems to increase the brain’s levels of dopamine, which improves alertness,” says Brown.

Try: Bio-Strath, a Swiss formula, available in pill and liquid forms at vitacost.com, was used in many studies on vitamin B and ADD. Drugstore chains also offer inexpensive, high-quality, store-brand B-vitamin formulations.

Multivitamin/Multimineral. If your child is a picky eater, or if he eats lots of take-out food, chips, and soda, he probably isn’t getting the daily recommended value of vitamins and minerals. A daily multivitamin/multimineral will ensure that he does, no matter how finicky he is.

Try: Hero Yummi Bears Multi-Vitamin + Minerals. They contain no artificial colors and flavors, which increase hyperactivity in some children with ADHD.

Picamilon. A combination of the B-vitamin niacin and gamma-aminobutryic acid (GABA), picamilon improves blood flow to the brain and has mild stimulative effects, improving alertness and attention. It can also reduce aggressive behavior. “Both adults and children derive benefits from this supplement,” says Brown.

Try: Picamilon can be purchased at Smart Nutrition and IAS.

Next: Fish Oil for Brain Function

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