The ADHD – Diet Connection

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): an abnormal defect of moral control in otherwise high functioning children. Two generations ago that was the definition and the belief. Today, we know better, and we know more, lots more.

What is ADHD?

Today, ADHD is viewed as a multifaceted condition triggered by varying behavioral, biological and environmental factors, including certain foods and food additives. The hallmarks of ADHD are an inability to focus and/or impulsivity that is not developmentally typical for a child’s age. Symptoms fall on a spectrum from predominantly inattentive on one end to predominantly hyperactive at the other end. Certain criteria must be met for a doctor to diagnose a child as having ADHD.

The Role of Food in ADHD

While there are many ways to use “food as medicine,” for some children, food and its additives can actually trigger ADHD. Because diet plays a crucial role in ADHD, it’s important to examine issues such as food intolerance, food allergy, and the additives and chemicals associated with food production. There are various tests to determine both food allergy and intolerance. Dr. Myra can advise you about the most appropriate test and then help with interpretation and treatment.

Artificial food colors (AFCs) are widely used by manufacturers to create visually attractive food products. The FDA certifies, for purity and safety, the use of these dyes. However, the amount certified has risen from 12 mg/capita/d in 1950 to 62 mg/capita/d in 2010.

AFCs are not natural to our food system, and surely not to our bodies. These artificial molecules can bond to food or body proteins, which means they can “hide in the body,” avoid detection, and disrupt the immune system. This can have significant immunological consequences that affect gastrointestinal function, auto-immunity and even brain and behavior. For some children, ADHD can be triggered and worsened by synthetic colors, flavors and preservatives.

The Feingold Diet for ADHD

In the 1970’s, Benjamin Feingold, M.D. studied the effect of food chemicals and the role of nutrition in addressing learning disabilities and behavior disorders. He pioneered an elimination diet that removed food dyes from the diets of children. Over the years, Dr. Feingold extended the elimination diet to include petrochemical preservatives BHA and BHT. He has reported rates of 30-70% improvement in children with ADHD, depending on the diagnostic criteria used and adherence to the diet.

Over the decades, studies in Europe and the U.S. have tested the Feingold and similar diets. While research has not established a direct cause-and-effect, the evidence indicates restriction/elimination diets have value and can bring about a change in behavior if properly followed. In response to concerns that children will dislike the Feingold Diet, families can find a wide range of tips for adjusting recipes and food selection, making it easy to incorporate changes and still enjoy favorite foods.

In addition to eliminating AFCs, BHA, BHT and food allergens/intolerances, additional support may be needed for some children. This may include educational adjustments, behavior modification or counseling, nutrition supplements, and additional dietary changes. Like any medical or behavioral intervention, treatment benefits will vary based on many factors, such as when a child is diagnosed, the ADHD symptoms present, co-occurrence of other immune or medical conditions, and ability to adhere to dietary changes.

As research continues to explore the relationship between diet, food and behavior, we anticipate that many more children – and adults – with ADHD will be helped by the medicinal power of food.

If your family struggles with the consequences of ADHD, ask Dr. Myra for suggestions and guidance. You do not need to walk this path alone.

Probiotics: Manage Food Allergies and Enhance Immunity

Listen to your gut. And make sure to protect it. A balanced gastrointestinal system plays a critical role in defending your body against illness. An imbalance in gastrointestinal (GI) flora can create health issues and is typically the result of poor diet, stress, use of antibiotics, illness and food allergies.

Balance your GI flora by taking a probiotic supplement. Probiotics are live, microbial food ingredients similar to the health-enhancing microorganisms found in the gut. Well-researched health benefits show taking a probiotic will help…

  • Boost immunity by enhancing the production of antibodies
  • Support the synthesis of vitamins and increase bioavailability of nutrients
  • Protect the GI tract from disease-causing bacteria
  • Alleviate symptoms of GI illness (diarrhea and constipation, IBS)
  • Reduce seasonal and food allergies

Regarding dietary allergens and immunity, scientists believe probiotics achieve their health benefits by stimulating the immune response to increase the secretion of immunoglobulin-A (IgA), which boosts the body’s response to food allergens. Elevated IgA may also decrease pathogens in the gut, which improves the balance of GI flora. Probiotics elevate natural “killer cells” that gobble up disease-generating “invader cells” and may protect nutrients that would otherwise be destroyed by pathogens.

Probiotic supplements come in liquid, powder, chewable and capsule form, ranging from one million to several billion live organisms. Some are sold refrigerated and some have been put into a hybernated state to keep them alive and stable at room temperature, Dr. Myra carries the highest quality of both kinds. Keep probiotics properly stored and away from high heat, so as not to kill the live, healthy bacteria.

Even though probiotics have well documented health benefits, they are not a panacea. Probiotics are most effective when you are supporting your health with a balanced whole foods diet. Dr. Myra can determine the best probiotic strains and dosage for you as well as any other supplements suited for your specific health concerns.

Food Allergens: Testing How the Body Responds

Food allergies occur when the body has an adverse or abnormal response to a food. An allergic reaction can be immediate and life threatening, such as with peanuts. Or it can be delayed, taking three to five days to show up, causing hay fever-like symptoms, digestive distress, eczema or other skin irritation, or changes in behavior and mental focus. This delayed reaction is called “food sensitivity” and is usually not life threatening.

  • A true food allergy can be permanent – whenever you eat or are exposed to that food it will provoke an immune reaction that will exist over your lifetime.
  • A food sensitivity happens gradually. Triggers include: stress, infection, poor eating habits (e.g., over-consumption of foods with additives, preservatives), or foods exposed to toxins such as pesticides and pollutants. Food sensitivity can lead to chronic health problems, including ADHD, digestive disorders, and persistent infection.

Testing for Food Allergies

There are several Ig types that have different yet synergistic roles in the immune system.

IgE antibodies cause the body to react, at times violently and immediately, to things such as pollen, fungus, insect stings, medications, milk and other foods. IgE levels are often highest in people with allergies, including food allergy. An IgE test covers the major food allergens that produce immediate reactions in the body, such as nut, egg, cow’s milk, shellfish, and soy.

IgG antibodies fight bacterial and viral infection. Found in all body fluids, this antibody is typically associated with food sensitivity.

IgA antibodies protect body surfaces exposed to outside foreign substances. It’s abundant in mucus found throughout the body, including the gut; a deficiency in IgA could be tied to adverse responses to food.

The IgE test can be combined with IgA and IgG tests for a more comprehensive test of nearly 200 allergens including meat, dairy, starches and grains, mold and other environmental substances.

There are many ways Dr. Myra can approach testing and help you make dietary modifications based on test results, current health concerns, and lifestyle factors. It’s not just about eliminating a food. It’s about looking at the whole picture of your health and the role food plays as both nourishment and medicine for you and your family members.

Health Benefits of Filtered Water

Most people know very little about the quality of the water they use. Even those of us who recognize the potential health risks in tap water often choose cost-effectiveness and convenience over superior quality. Searching for information about your local water quality and how to improve it can make you feel like you’re in chemistry class! Here’s primer on why you should filter water and types of filtering systems.

Why Filter Your Water?

Over 2100 known toxins may be present in drinking water, which increases your risk for illness and affects the taste and smell of water. Better tasting, better smelling, and healthier water is what you get when you filter out chemical (e.g., chlorine/ lead) and bacterial contaminants from the water you drink or use for bathing. This also reduces the risk of rectal, colon and bladder cancer, as well as gastrointestinal and autoimmune illness. The EPA recognizes the benefit of filtered water for individuals with chronic illness or compromised immune systems.

Ways to Filter Your Water:

Before you purchase any filtration system, learn about the quality of your household water supply by reading your water utility company’s “Consumer Confidence Report.” By law, all homeowners are to receive this in the mail by July 1 of each year. The report (also found online) details where your drinking water comes from, which contaminants have been found in it, and how contaminant levels compare to national standards. Next, have the water directly supplied to your house sampled and tested by a state-certified lab (also listed online). Together, these two steps will identify the most significant water supply concerns at your residence.

The chemical and/or bacterial contaminants filtered out vary by brand and model of filtering system. Learn as much as possible before purchasing a system for your home or personal use.

Countertop / personal use filters are placed in a pitcher or water bottle. These are inexpensive but typically only filter out lead/chlorine. More intricate systems, such as those used for camping, can filter out some types of bacteria and other contaminants.

Point-of-entry filters are installed at the main water line to your home. Point-of-use filters are affixed to a faucet or showerhead or at the plumbing line below the sink. Depending on the system, these can remove lead and other contaminants.

Ion Exchange Filters (aka Water Softeners) remove dissolved salts and other minerals that create chemically “hard water.” These filters soften water by exchanging naturally-forming mineral ions with its own ions to neutralize the harmful effect of mineral build-up in pipes, which alters the quality of your household water.

Granular Carbon/ Carbon Block Filters use a chemical or physical bonding process that pulls contaminants to the surface of the filter. Granular systems are best for removing organic chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides and industrial chemicals. A caveat with granular filters: loose material can form channels that trap water which then escapes proper filtering. Carbon block filters compress the carbon medium, eliminating channeling and providing more precision for filtering a wider range of contaminants.

Reverse Osmosis (RO) Filters force water through a membrane that draws out organic and inorganic contaminants. RO uses three times as much water as is treated but it is most effective in eliminating all disease-causing organisms and most chemical contaminants. Minerals are lost during RO so you must add trace minerals to the water or take a trace mineral supplement.

Alkaline Water Systems. You may be hearing a lot about pH alkaline water systems or bottled alkaline water. This system concentrates mineral content (it does not filter it) and some health scientists propose alkaline water can neutralize acid in the body, which is good for health. A variety of factors have to be considered when looking at the role of alkaline water in maintaining good health or supporting treatment for certain conditions.

Determining which filtering system is best for you depends upon where you live, the size of your home, your family’s health concerns, and your budget. Look for a filter that is certified using ANSI/ISF standards, such as NSF International, Underwriters Laboratories, and Water Quality Association). Also look for recommendations from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Talk with your health practitioner about your local water supply, environmental issues, and personal needs.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

A European culinary favorite, Stinging Nettle’s spinach-like greens are remarkably nutritious. One cup of Nettle is abundant in calcium, iron and zinc, and contains ample amounts of magnesium, copper, selenium and potassium plus vitamins A and C.

A well-established remedy in Western herbal medicine, Stinging Nettle provides relief for a wide range of health concerns. For centuries, the leaf of Stinging Nettle has been recognized for its anti-inflammatory properties and used to treat sore muscles, joint pain, and eczema. Modern science has further established medicinal use of this herb for treating urinary tract problems, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as certain inflammatory skin conditions. Because of its high iron content, Stinging Nettle is used to treat anemia. It also works as a diuretic, making it an exceptional detoxifier for the body. Nettle leaf also supports the lymphatic system, may help improve nutrient absorption in the gut, and has been used medicinally to treat enlarged prostate.

If cooked leafy greens aren’t your favorite, you can still reap the health benefits of Stinging Nettle. For instance, to enjoy a cup of Stinging Nettle tea, steep 2 tablespoons of crushed dried leaves or look for tea bags. Capsules, tablets, extract and and tinctures are also available. Whether as a food, beverage, or herbal supplement, Nettle is a safe herb for most adults, with the exception of women who are pregnant or nursing. Check with Dr. Myra about the best way to add this amazing herb to your diet.