Protein and ADD/ADHD Brain Power
Proteins affect brain performance by providing the amino acids from which neurotransmitters are made. Neurotransmitters are biochemical messengers that carry signals from one brain cell to another. The better you feed these messengers, the more efficiently they deliver the goods, allowing your ADD/ADHD child to be alert at school or you to be more on top of things at work.
Two amino acids, tryptophan and tyrosine, are precursors of neurotransmitters, the substances from which neurotransmitters are made. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. The body does not make it; it must be supplied by the diet. The body can make tyrosine if there is not enough in the diet.
These amino acids influence the four top neurotransmitters — serotonin, which is made from the amino acid tryptophan, as well as dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, which are made from the amino acid tyrosine. “Because the body makes brain-awakening neurotransmitters when you eat protein, start your day with a breakfast that includes protein,” says Laura Stevens, M.S., a nutritionist at Purdue University and author of 12 Effective Ways to Help Your ADD/ADHD Child. “Also look for ways to slip in lean protein during the day, as well.”
“Protein helps keep blood sugar levels steady, and prevents the mental declines that come from eating a meal containing too many simple carbs,” says ned hallowell, M.D., author of Driven to Distraction.
Vitamins and ADD/ADHD Brain Power
Studies indicate that children in grade school whose diets are supplemented with vitamins and minerals, to insure the standard recommended dietary allowances, scored higher on intelligence tests than those who took no supplements. Here are some specific vitamins and minerals that affect behavior and learning in children and adults:
Vitamin C is required by the brain to make neurotransmitters. In fact, the brain has a special vitamin c “pump,” which draws extra vitamin c out of the blood into the brain.
Vitamin B6 deficiency causes irritability and fatigue. Adequate levels of the vitamin increase the brain’s levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, increasing alertness.
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 ADD/ADHD children, compared to 18 percent of a control group. Low iron levels correlate with severe ADD/ADHD.
More of these nutrients is not necessarily better. Studies using megavitamin therapy in children with ADD/ADHD showed no effect.
5 Balanced Breakfasts
A nutrition-packed breakfast should contain a balance of complex carbohydrates and protein. Think grains, plus dairy, plus fruits. For example:
1. Granola cereal, yogurt, sliced apple
2. Scrambled eggs, whole-grain toast, orange
3. Veggie omelet, bran muffin, fresh fruit with yogurt
4. Whole-grain pancakes or waffles topped with berries and/or yogurt, milk
5. low-fat cheese melted on wholegrain toast, pear