Alternative ADHD Treatment: Can Diet Ease Symptoms?

Ease symptoms with alternative treatments like protein, fish oil and other dietary strategies for attention deficit disorder.

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Protein and ADHD

The brain makes a variety of chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, to regulate wakefulness and sleep. Studies by Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist Richard Wurtman Ph.D., and others have shown that protein triggers alertness-inducing neurotransmitters, while carbohydrates trigger drowsiness.

These findings support the popular belief that people with ADHD do better on a protein-rich breakfast and lunch. Yet child psychologist Vincent J. Monastra, Ph.D., head of an ADHD clinic in Endicott, New York, says that, of the 500 children a year he evaluates for ADHD, less than 5 percent are eating the government-recommended amounts of protein at breakfast and lunch. In addition to boosting alertness, says Monastra, a protein-rich breakfast seems to reduce the likelihood that ADHD medication will cause irritability or restlessness.

If your family's idea of breakfast is toast, sugary cereals, or doughnuts, don't panic. You don't have to gobble a plate of huevos rancheros or eggs and bacon to get enough protein. "We're not talking about a ton of food," says Monastra, author of Parenting Children with ADHD: 10 Lessons That Medicine Cannot Teach.

Depending on their age, children need between 24 to 30 grams of protein a day. Adults need 45 to 70 grams. You can get seven grams in a cup of milk or soy milk, one egg, or an ounce of cheese or meat.

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