Natural Health Perspectives: Causes Of ADHD

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - 2:01pm

By Wendy Hodsdon, ND

Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common diagnosis. Symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity, decreased motor coordination, short attention span, poor concentration and impulsiveness. Symptoms can start as early as age three, although the condition often goes undiagnosed until a child reaches school. Boys are affected 10 times more often than girls. Over two million American school-age children have an ADHD diagnosis and take the drug Ritalin (methylphenidate) to cope with their symptoms of ADHD.

What causes ADHD?

The frequency of ADHD has increased dramatically in the United States during the last 20 years; however, the cause of this increase is not well-characterized. There is considerable evidence pointing toward food additives, food sensitivities, and sugar consumption as contributing to the rise of this disorder nationwide. Chronic ear infections, nutrient deficiencies, and heavy metal toxicity may also contribute to learning disabilities and hyperactivity. Debate is ongoing, but with little money to fund diet studies, it will be up to parents and children to learn what works best.

Dr. Feingold is the first person to suggest that many 40-50% of hyperactive children are sensitive to food additives, preservatives, and naturally occurring salicylates in foods. His evidence draws on 1,200 cases in which food additives were shown to be related to learning and behavioral disorders. Food additives take in a wide range of chemicals used in making and preserving foods. They include anti-caking agents such as calcium silicate, antioxidants, bleaching agents such as benzoyl peroxide, colorings, flavorings, emulsifiers, mineral salts, preservatives, thickeners and vegetable gums. To avoid these additives, one needs to avoid all processed and preserved foods.

Foods allergies or sensitivities

The following foods that contain naturally occurring salicylates may also cause problems for sensitive children:


















Avoiding food allergies by eliminating food additives in the diet seems to lead to the best results in controlling symptoms. Common food allergens include dairy products, soy products, chocolate, peanuts, wheat, corn, egg, tomato and sugar. Food allergy testing or following a monitored elimination/reintroduction diet can help to identify a person's allergenic foods.

Sugar or sucrose consumption also relates to destructive, aggressive, and restless behavior in many children. One study found that 75% of the children demonstrating hyperactivity had abnormal glucose tolerance curves. When these children's blood sugar and insulin levels were tested, they were not in the normal range. Most of the results showed low blood sugar, which may promote increased adrenalin secretion by the adrenal glands and result in hyperactivity.

Nutrient & heavy metal toxicity

The other possible dietary causes of ADHD are nutrient deficiencies and heavy metal toxicity. Nutrient deficiencies include low levels of iron (the most common deficiency in American children), vitamin B6, vitamin B3, and calcium. Lead is the most common metal in heavy metal toxicity in children with learning disabilities. Other heavy metals to watch out for are mercury, cadmium, copper, and manganese, which can be tested in children by hair analysis.

The best diet is a healthy diet

The best diet for a child with ADHD is a whole foods diet, emphasizing vegetables, whole grains (other than wheat), organic meat, fish, and eggs. Include fish oil for good quality omega-3 fatty acids to support the nervous system. Providing the brain with the nutrients that it needs to function optimally can improve behavior and decrease the need for stimulant drugs. Consult your naturopathic physician for more specific treatments and tests for food allergies and heavy metal toxicity.

See also the following article from TheDietChannel: Diet & ADHD: Are There Links Between ADHD & Diet?