28 June 2017

ADHD

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by Cathy Robinson BscDipNutTh

Do you know a hyperactive child? It is estimated that at least 5% of children now suffer from ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

This is a term coined to classify children who have difficulty sitting or concentrating for long periods, cannot focus on one activity or finish tasks, have unpredictable mood changes and tend to be generally difficult or aggressive. Whilst children can be affected by ADHD to a lesser or greater degree, hyperactivity is much more than being boisterous. It appears that three times more boys are affected than girls, and more blond- and ginger-haired children than those with dark hair. Often the behavioural problems are associated with difficulty sleeping, restlessness, excessive thirst and dribbling, general clumsiness, delayed speech development and food faddiness. They also often suffer from eczema, asthma or other allergic conditions. And it's definitely on the increase. The medical establishment can offer little beyond the prescription of the drug Ritalin®.

So what is to blame for this apparent epidemic?

Parents are often made to feel the fault lies with them, for not controlling their children properly. However, one of the most effective approaches seems to be nutritional intervention, meaning that it is unlikely to be poor parenting that is to blame.

The brain needs a good supply of nutrients to maintain learning and thinking, so it follows that if nutrients are in short supply, these functions will be impaired. Unfortunately today's diet, high in foods which have been processed and refined, tends to be low in essential nutrients. Even if our children eat a relatively healthy diet including the recommended 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, these are grown on soil which has had many of the essential minerals washed out of it over the years, and may have travelled long distances to reach our tables, leading to more nutrients losses.

The problem is made more difficult since hyperactive children often refuse to eat healthy food, preferring flavoursome food such as salted crisps and sweets. This can easily lead to deficiencies in those vitamins and minerals essential for brain function. In 1997, scientists discovered that 95% of children classified as suffering from ADHD were low in the mineral Magnesium. Magnesium is involved in the relaxation of nerves and muscles. Another mineral, Zinc, is essential for brain function and low levels can interfere with learning and attention. A deficiency of Zinc can actually decrease the sensitivity of children's' taste buds, making children crave highly flavoured foods which are generally full of food additives, salt and sugar. A study in 1996 found that ADHD children tended to have just two thirds of the usual body level of Zinc.

Hyperactive children seem to be unusually susceptible to food additives such as artificial colours and preservatives. There are now over 3,500 types of food additives in use, meaning that the average person will consume a staggering 8 - 10 pounds in weight of food additives per year!

The brain is a very fatty organ and certain types of fats are necessary to keep it healthy. Specifically the brain requires fats of the Omega 3 family. Omega 3 oils contain DHA, which is essential for memory, speech and motor skills. The modern diet is very low in Omega 3 fats and they are usually removed from processed food since they do not keep well. Omega 3 oils are high in oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon and some seeds such as flax seeds (linseeds). If these do not form part of your child's diet, he or she could be deficient in these oils and supplementation may be necessary.

Another important aspect to consider is food allergies. It appears that hyperactive children are very susceptible to allergies, particularly wheat, dairy products, citrus fruits, chocolate and many types of food additives. Consumption of problem foods may spark off symptoms, either immediately or after a delay of several hours, making detection difficult. A consultation with a nutritionist may help to pinpoint whether allergies are a problem for your child.

Finally, a word about toxic metals. In today's world it is almost impossible to avoid exposure to so-called heavy metals such as Lead from industry, Aluminium from cooking utensils or Mercury from dental fillings. Lead can cause aggression, lack of self-control and short attention span, Aluminium has been connected with hyperactivity, as has excess Copper. As mentioned earlier the brain is very fatty. Our bodies tend to store poisonous metals in fat cells as this is often less harmful than storing them in important organs. Unfortunately this means a high percentage of the metals end up in the brain where they inevitably affect memory and concentration.

If your child is suffering from ADHD it can be useful to get them tested for heavy metal toxicity by a Nutritionist.

So, what can we do? Happily, diets which eliminate chemical preservatives, additives, sweeteners, sugar, as well as potential allergens, along with a good supplement programme, have been used with success in controlling hyperactivity. However, it is important to consult a qualified nutritionist who can advise on a suitable programme for your particular child, including lots of interesting and nutritious alternatives to the foods to be avoided.

For information on booking a Nutritional Therapy consultation contact Cathy Robinson BscDipNutTh on 01273 889096. Cathy is based in Brighton.


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