Parents of hyperactive children or those diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are constantly looking for answers. How can they help their children to be calm and focused?
Although the topic is a bit controversial and even the experts tend to disagree, the role of diet in hyperactivity remains worthy of consideration.
The Feingold Program
Among the camp of thinking that supports a hyperactivity/diet link, the most well known recommended eating/life plan is the Feingold Program.
Followers of this program discover that symptoms from mild to severe are helped considerably when the program is adhered to in strict fashion.
The Feingold program seeks to eliminate exposure to artificial colourings, flavourings, sweeteners, and food additives.
Essentially, it attributes symptoms of hyperactivity to consumption of these modern additives and theorises that by reducing (or eliminating) them from the diet, the body will function normally.
In the first stage, of the Feingold Program, which lasts 4-6 weeks, exposure to aspirin and products (not just foods, but fragrances and other non-food items as well) containing salicylates are completely eliminated. Foods that contain salicylates include:
Almonds, Apples, Apricots, Berries (all), Cherries, Cloves, Coffee, Cucumbers & pickles, Currants, Grapes & raisins, Nectarines, Oranges, Peaches, Peppers, Plums, Prunes, Tangerines, Tangelos, Tomatoes.
For many children, the difference in behaviour with a salicylate-free diet is dramatic. For those under six, parents often notice a marked improvement within a week. For older kids and adults, it may take a month or more.
The theory is that salicylates, although possibly tolerable in limited doses, are so overwhelmingly prevalent in today’s food sources that they cause a variety of problems including hyperactivity, asthma, allergies, bedwetting, headaches, ear infections, and skin disorders.
After 4-6 weeks, foods containing natural salicylates are reintroduced to the diet carefully, watching for any negative reaction.
If all goes well, the diet remains tolerable and the patient can freely eat natural foods and must restrict only chemical additives and preservatives.
This type of non-drug approach is a good first step when dealing with hyperactivity. For many children (and even adults), it is the only thing needed to manage symptoms.
The Sugar Connection
Although research fails to confirm a physiological connection between the consumption of sugar and hyperactivity, many parents will attest to the fact that when their kids consume sweets, they become excitable and overly active.
Often, however, excessive sugar consumption occurs at social events like birthday parties, where children are likely to be a bit wound up and excited, whether they eat cake or not.
Another factor that makes it hard for researchers to confirm a sugar/hyperactivity connection is that parents vary in their tolerances of childhood behavioral traits, so there is no set standard for comparison.
Some parents believe that children are naturally boisterous, while others see a high activity level as problematic.
Additionally, even the same parent can have varying tolerances depending on the situation or even their own mood and stress level.
While a parent may find it acceptable for the child to run and burn off excess energy while on a hike or athletic outing, they do not have the same tolerance for noise and activity at home.
For these reasons, getting an objective view from parents can be difficult and setting a standard for normal behaviour vs. hyperactivity when sugar is part of the picture can be tricky.
Most often, parents must decide what affect they believe that sugar has on their child’s behaviour and then make adjustments to the child’s diet as they see necessary.
Food for Thought
If you are noticing symptoms of hyperactivity in your child, there may be a few more things to consider. Preliminary research seems to indicate that a magnesium deficiency can contribute not only to hyperactivity, but also to depression, anxiety, and irritability.
Children diagnosed with ADHD often have low blood levels of magnesium, zinc, and iron. Modern food processing methods tend to deplete foods of their natural magnesium, and today’s dietary habits can make the situation worse.
Consider the following:
- Refined white flour has about 90% less magnesium than whole wheat.
- When sugar cane is processed into white sugar, 99% of the magnesium is lost.
- High levels of calcium can deplete magnesium absorption, so children who consume a great deal of dairy products often have a shortage of magnesium.
- Consumption of soft drinks decreases the body’s ability to absorb magnesium.
In addition to magnesium, many children with ADHD are deficient in essential fatty acids. Natural sources include fatty fish such as sardines, herring, salmon, and trout, as well as flax seeds and flax oil.
A good starting point for all hyperactive children would be a check up with their paediatrician. From there, decisions can be made for a course of treatment.