Can you imagine suffering from a condition that makes focusing on everyday activities challenging? That is what people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) face every day.

ADHDADHD is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors, and in some cases, are overly active. They typically have trouble getting organized, staying focused and making realistic plans. They may be fidgety, noisy and unable to adapt to changing situations. Children with ADHD can be defiant, socially inept or aggressive. Without treatment, ADHD can cause problems at home, school, work and with relationships.

In fact, the American Psychiatric Association states in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) that 3%-7% of school-aged children have ADHD. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 Vital and Health Statistics, for children ages 3-17 years of age, the prevalence of ADHD is as follows:

  • 5 million children (9% of this age group) have ADHD.
  • Boys (12%) continue to be more than twice as likely than girls (5%) to have ADHD.
  • When compared with children who have excellent or very good health, children who have fair or poor health status are more than twice as likely to have ADHD (8% vs 21%).

Scientists are not sure what causes ADHD. Like many other illnesses, ADHD probably results from a combination of factors including genetics, environmental factors and nutrition, among others.

Two of hot areas of ADHD research have focused on environmental factors and nutrition.

Certain chemicals found in the environment may interfere with behavior and learning. Researchers believe that these chemicals may contribute to ADHD. They include lead and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Research over the past several decades has shown that these chemicals have many different harmful health effects. As a result, the government has implemented stringent guidelines for using and disposing of these chemicals. However, children may still be exposed to them.

Lead, PCBs and ADHD

Lead occurs naturally in the environment. Since the 1970s, lead exposure in high amounts is less common because leaded gasoline and lead paint are no longer used. However, even small amounts of lead can be harmful, especially to children. Potential sources of lead include:

  • contaminated dust and soil
  • paint chips from older homes
  • drinking water from older plumbing systems that contain lead
  • breast milk
  • consumer products such as cheap jewelry or PVC blinds
  • glassware or ceramics, especially if they were bought in another country

Exposure to lead has been linked to:

  • lower IQ
  • reading and learning disabilities
  • disruptive behavior in the classroom
  • reduced ability to pay attention
  • increased risk of antisocial and delinquent behavior in childhood
  • increased risk of criminal behavior in adulthood

PCBs are industrial chemicals that were used for many years in electrical equipment, hydraulic systems and other applications. They have been banned in the U.S. since 1976 and in Canada since 1977. However, they stay in the environment and in the body for years. Children may be exposed to PCBs before birth, as PCBs cross the placenta. Additionally, children can be exposed by drinking breast milk or by eating fish.

That said, the mainstream media has been reporting on the benefits of fish and supplementing with fish oil for years. Studies have shown that the Omega-3s found in fish oil helps prevent and fight symptoms related to ADHD, including hyperactivity, as well as a plethora of other conditions. While Omega-3s can be found in flaxseed, walnuts and a few other foods, the most beneficial form of Omega-3, containing 2 fatty acids – EPA and DHA – which are essential in preventing and fighting both physical and mental illness, can be found only in fish. Be sure to take fish oil products from companies that follow strict procedures to eliminate environmental contaminants to assure the highest purity of its fish oil supplements.


Nutrition and ADHD

Fast food, soda, and sweet snacks may be our child’s favorite foods, but they're also probably the worst for those with ADHD. In fact, according to two researchers from Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, a relatively simple diet low in fats and high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is one of the best alternatives to ADHD drugs. As mentioned above, healthy fats such as Omega-3s have also been shown to help in some controlled studies.

Additionally, according the Australian Raine study, a compelling study that followed children from birth to age 14, the development of ADHD was significantly associated with “Western” diets that are rich in saturated fats and sugar. “Healthy" diets that consisted of quality proteins, including low-fat fish and dairy products, and with a high proportion of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains were shown to be beneficial for children with ADHD.

Interestingly, research indicates that nutrition that is good for the brain is likely to be good for ADHD. When customers ask about nutrition and ADHD, recommend the following basic nutritional regimen to minimize symptoms associated with ADHD:

  • Eat a high-protein diet. Foods rich in protein including chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, soy and dairy products are used by the body to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by brain cells to communicate with each other. Protein can prevent surges in blood sugar, which increase hyperactivity.
  • Decrease simple carbohydrates such as candy, corn syrup, honey, sugar, products made with white flour, white rice and fried potatoes.
  • Increase complex carbohydrates, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Increase healthy fats (Omega-3 fatty acids), including tuna, salmon, other cold-water white fish, walnuts, olive oil and canola oil.

Many diets are deficient in key vitamins and minerals that may improve attention and alertness. Dietary supplements can often fill in these dietary gaps. When your customers ask about supplements for ADHD, the following may be beneficial:

  • Multivitamin: If your child is a picky eater or just doesn’t eat a healthy diet, he or she won’t get the daily recommended value of vitamins and minerals. A daily multivitamin will ensure that he or she will. Be sure to buy a multivitamin that does not contain artificial colors and flavors, which are known to increase hyperactivity in some children with ADHD.

    : Starting in 1975, Benjamin Feingold proposed that artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives might lead to hyperactivity in some children. Recent British research indicated a possible link between consumption of certain food additives including artificial colors or preservatives and an increase in activity. Based on this and other recent studies, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that eliminating preservatives and food colorings from the diet is a reasonable option for children with ADHD. Both children and adults with ADHD should avoid the following substances:

    ü Artificial colors, especially red and yellow

    ü Food additives such as aspartame, MSG (monosodium glutamate) and nitrites
  • B Vitamins: Studies suggest that giving children who have low levels of B vitamins a supplement improved IQ scores (by 16 points) and reduced aggression and antisocial behavior. Vitamin B-6 has been shown to increase the dopamine levels in the brain, which improves alertness.
  • Zinc: Zinc synthesizes dopamine and augments the effects of the ADHD drug methylphenidate. Low levels of this mineral correlate with inattention.
  • Iron: Iron is also necessary for making dopamine. In one small study, ferritin levels (a measure of iron stores) were low in 84 percent of ADHD children compared to 18 percent of the control group. Low iron levels correlate with cognitive deficits and severe ADHD.
  • Magnesium: Sufficient levels of magnesium have a calming effect on the brain.

Herbs are also beneficial for children with ADHD. The following herbs are great recommendations for your customers whose children may have symptoms associated with ADHD:

  • Ginkgo and Ginseng: Both are cognitive activators. They act like stimulants without the side effects. Typically, adults and children who take ginkgo and ginseng improve on ADHD rating scales, and are less impulsive and distractible. Asian ginseng may overstimulate younger children. If this happens to your child, switch to American ginseng.
  • Pycnogenol: An extract made from French maritime pine bark, pycnogenol was found to improve hyperactivity and sharpen attention. The herb pycnogenol is also rich in polyphenols, antioxidants that protect brain cells from free radicals. The first double-blind study on pycnogenol was published in 2006, showing the herb’s efficacy.
  • Rhodiola Rosea: This herb can improve alertness, attention and accuracy. It is likely to stimulating for young children inclusive to age 12. However, it can be very beneficial for kids in junior high, high school and college.

ADHD is impacting today’s youth at an exponential rate.  Many of our children struggle with this disability every day.  Parents should work closely with teachers, counselors and their health professionals to address symptoms associated with ADHD.  They should understand the nutritional and dietary supplement protocol for this condition. An understanding of this very prevalent neurobehavioral disorder will have a direct and profound impact on a wide range of physical and cognitive issues moving forward.


The ADHD Molecular Genetics Network. Report from the third international meeting of the attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder molecular genetics network. American Journal of Medical Genetics, 2002, 114:272-277.

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR. Washington: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Vital and Health Statistics (December 2010; Series 10, Number 247).

Howard, A., Robinson, M., Smith, G., Ambrosini, G., Piek, J., & Oddy, W. (2011). ADHD is associated with a "Western" dietary pattern in adolescents. Journal of Attention Disorders, 15 (5), 403-411.

McCann D, Barrett A, Cooper A, Crumpler D, Dalen L, Grimshaw K, Kitchin E, Lok E, Porteous L, Prince E, Sonuga-Barke E, Warner JO. Stevenson J. Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet, 2007 Nov 3; 370(9598):1560-1567.

The Healing Power of Pine Bark. (2006). Saturday Evening Post, 278 (2), 53.