Attention deficient hyperactive disorder, or ADHD has become very common among children who then carry it into adulthood. ADHD has been a newly diagnosed mental disorder, where patients experience inappropriate excessive motor activity, inattention, and impulsiveness. Statistically, “The American Psychiatric Association states in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that 3 to 7 percent of school-aged children have ADHD, but according to new data that came out in March of 2013 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was estimated that nearly 6.4 million children from ages four through seventeen have been diagnosed with ADHD.” (Perlmutter, 152). Typically patients with ADHD are treated with medicine such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse; however, the side affects of these medications may not be worth the risk of taking them. Although some believe that stimulant treatment works best for treating psychological disorders such as ADHD, your diet actually affects how your brain functions, which can ultimately help treat ADHD without major side effects, that comes with stimulant treatments.
Generally when a patient is diagnosed with ADHD they are given a stimulant drug such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse. These stimulant drugs are used to activate parts of your brain that will increase alertness and energy. This is arbitrated by an increase in dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is involved in the reward centers of the brain. Although stimulant drugs can remarkably improve patients diagnosed with ADHD, it can lead to issues sleeping, addiction, anxiety, psychosis, which is a mental disorder where one has trouble connecting to reality, as well as many other side effects. There also are concerns among parents of children diagnosed with ADHD on whether they should be giving their child such powerful drugs that are also prescribed to adults. Recent studies have validated the influence of diet and nutrition on behavior and learning in children and adolescents. There are many different approaches and diets that have been proven to improve behavioral problems among children and adults.
The question of diet’s effect on ADHD began in the 1970s when an outstanding pediatrician and allergist, Ben Feingold, created the “Feingold Diet.” It suggests that behavioral issues will improve if one eliminates artificial food additives, coloring, and flavoring from their overall diet. Although this diet was somewhat difficult to follow, many children responded positively and significant change in their behavior was evident. Removing certain additives from a child with ADHD’s diet, “during the critical development window, affect growth of cells in the brain.” (Lesperance). In a recent study, there have been significant reductions in hyperactive behavior when food colorings and preservative sodium benzoate were removed from three-year-old children’s diets. Children with ADHD who also are suspected to be sensitive to food coloring and other additives will see significant results when cutting these additives out of their diet.
Although there has been question about the connection between children with omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies having more behavioral, learning, and health problems than other children being merely a coincidence, there is actually conclusive evidence of a relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and behavioral symptoms of ADHD. A child with ADHD typically displays an abnormal deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids, which can carry on into adulthood. The exact mechanisms of omega-3 fatty acids is explained from current research, “omega-3 DHA and EPA fatty acids at their functional cell membrane site within the brain linked to cognition, mood, attention, hyperactivity, and sleep difficulties, to name a few.” (Dell, Shultz, 6). In a research review on the role of diet in the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, they tested three dietary treatments for ADHD, including the Supplementation with free fatty acids (SFFA). Fatty free acids (FFA) are essential to healthy brain growth and development, therefore, “Increasing the amount of FFA in the diet would be expected to counter any FFA deficit and thereby possibly improve brain functioning and behavior.” (Johnson et al., 2012). Evidence shows that there is in fact an effect on ADHD symptoms within children through supplementation with free fatty acids. Although the effect may be small, there is some variation between children and their response to the supplementation. The supplementation with free fatty acids dietary treatment can be an effective way to lessen symptoms of ADHD.
David Perlmutter, MD, is a board-certified neurologist. In his book, Grain Brain he describes a child, Stuart who is diagnosed with ADHD along with many other health complications. Nancy, Stuart’s mother hadn’t noticed anything wrong with her four year old until his preschool teacher felt, “he is unusually “active” and felt it would be a good idea to have him evaluated.” (Perlmutter, 150). When diagnosed, Stuart was prescribed a stimulant drug, Ritalin that caused some concern with his mother Nancy. Perlmutter took into account that Stuart suffers from countless ear infections, joint pain, common signs of allergies, inability to sit still, and also he is a mouth-breather. For many of these problems Stuart was prescribed extensive medication. Perlmutter connects that the problem with Stuart’s whole physiology is due to inflammation. His approach is, “rather than reach for a drug to treat symptoms, we decided instead to target the cause of this child’s issues, namely inflammation.” (Perlmutter, 151). In order to rid Stuarts gut from his intense antibiotic exposure, he must add beneficial bacteria, probiotics, and omega-3 fat DHA to his diet. An overall gluten-free diet is necessary for Stuart to see improvement in his health. Just two weeks after beginning his new diet, Nancy received a call from Stuart’s preschool teacher exclaiming that she is happy they put Stuart on medication and that she has notice a great improvement in his overall demeanor. Since beginning his new diet, Stuart has become calmer, more interactive, received better sleep, grown much faster than other students, and he even excels greatly in math and reading, bumping him to a higher grade level. A similar case to Stuart is a nine-year-old girl named KM. KM didn’t have as much of a problem of sitting still but rather difficulty thinking and poor memory. She would also be fine most days but had much trouble on other days. After her lab work was analyzed Perlmutter found that the potential transgressor of her problems was gluten sensitivity and below-normal blood levels of DHA. Once she was advised to maintain a gluten-free diet, her parents noticed a great change in KM, so much so that she is functioning two grades ahead of her peers. Perlmutter explains that he has known about the “achievement effect” from going gluten-free, but scientific proof is providing more evidence for this method. A gluten-free diet can greatly improve symptoms of ADHD as well as help with many other health problems that one may suffer.
Parents may be concerned that it is difficult transitioning their child to a healthier diet. Beginning at a young age is more affective because the parent is able to control what their child eats. When introducing a new diet, parents jump to a more advance intervention treatment rather than starting with the basics of nutrition. Before advancing, parents must recognize any basic nutrition issues their child may have. Due to the difficulty of transitioning children’s diets, parents may decide to use a stimulant drug because results are significant quicker and easier. Stimulant drugs have powerful side effects that can affect children in different ways. The most common side effects are decreased appetite; sleep problems, anxiety, and irritability. That is not always the case, some children will respond differently to medications than others. Some children can have a whole change of demeanor where they appear “flat” or without emotion. Finally, there is objection when it comes to finding the right diet. Children have different sensitivities to different foods. One diet might work for one child while another diet will work for another child. It is necessary to improve your diet, especially for those with ADHD because it could not only improve ADHD symptoms but it could also help improve other health problems that a child may have.
Children with ADHD who are prescribed stimulant drugs might not always have a say in whether they want to use them or not. A study was conducted to investigate children’s beliefs and attitudes towards stimulant medication and how they actually influence how their treatment is set up. Medically, you described the benefits, changes in sense of self, adverse effects, and their desire to discontinue. But the parents see the stimulant drugs in a different way. Some common themes described by parents were they see the medication as a last resort, they are allowing their child to reach their full potential, and they also are concerned about the long-term effects. “Families described how responsibility for treatment decisions is transferred from parent to adolescent over time.” (Exploring Stimulant Treatment in ADHD: Narratives of Young Adolescents and Their Parents). Although the responsibility is passed on as the child matures, there is still the question if it is ethically right to start a child on a stimulant medication that they do not feel is necessary or right for them to use. In conclusion, the input of children should be considered when making clinical decisions that can effect a child’s overall being.
Although some believe that stimulant treatment works best for treating psychological disorders such as ADHD, your diet actually affects how your brain functions, which can ultimately help treat ADHD without major side effects, that comes with stimulant treatments. Diet therapy is very complex and unique to each individual with ADHD. A plan must be created and evaluated by a team of multidisciplinary specialists. Once that plan is in action, parents should monitor their child closely in case any issues arise and the plan needs to be altered. Through several studies and research diet therapy has been found to be quite effective when treating children with ADHD. With diet therapy parents do not have to worry about giving their children stimulant drugs that could cause major side effects that can affect their child’s overall way of life.
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Lesperance, Erica. "Diet & ADHD: Are There Links between ADHD & Diet?" The Diet
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Strickland, Elizabeth. Eating for Autism: The Revolutionary 10-Step Nutrition
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I had difficulties finding sources that matched exactly what I was trying to portray, but once I found good sources a lot of other good sources popped up. I also had difficulty gathering my thoughts and figuring out how to format my thoughts so that I would be able to portray it adequately. I also had difficulties incorporating the ethical reasoning into my paper. Overall, I feel like I had more difficulties because I challenged myself with a more advance topic.