By Dr. Michelle Clay, D.O., CHHC

Children struggling to focus on tasks and control their behavior may be evaluated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  Before giving a firm diagnosis, clinicians should assess underlying factors such as trauma, nutritional deficiencies and food allergies that could impact treatment.  

According to the clinical practice guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the first line of treatment is evidence-based behavior intervention in preschool-age children with ADHD.  Behavior intervention involves both the child and parent to include:

  • Parent training
  • Avoiding distractions
  • Effective discipline
  • Changing interaction with the child
  • Helping the child discover a talent

In addition to behavior strategies, a whole foods, nutrient-dense diet free of artificial food colorings, preservatives and other allergens may provide some relief.  Foods rich in the following nutrients can improve symptoms:

Magnesium.  Children with ADHD may have a mild magnesium deficiency, which produces symptoms such as irritability and decreased attention span. 

Vitamin B6.  The body needs sufficient vitamin B6 to make brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, which are affected in children with ADHD.  A preliminary study found B6 pyridoxine to be slightly more effective than Ritalin in improving behavior among hyperactive children.

Zinc.  Zinc regulates the activity of brain chemicals related to behavior.  Studies show that zinc may help improve behavior. 

Omega-3-fatty acids.  Found in fish and fish oil, these play an essential role in normal brain function.  Some findings suggest that fish oil supplements may improve the mental skills of children aged 8 to 12 years.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a prescription-strength omega-3 compound for ADHD.  This compound is considered a “medical food.”

Mind/body techniques.  Hypnotherapy, yoga and progressive relaxation may be useful in alleviating symptoms.  These techniques help children learn coping skills they can use for the rest of their lives.

A team approach consisting of parents, school administrators and health practitioners is necessary to address all factors affecting your child’s behavior, health and well being. 

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