ADHD: The Result of a Poor Diet?

Rich JacobsArticles, Health


Is a poor diet the cause of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? A series of preliminary studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that some of the physical symptoms resemble those in patients with a lack of essential fatty acids (EFA) in their diets.

EFA Deficiency

Humans and other animals cannot produce EFAs. These substances must come from the diet. The body converts EFAs to maintain cellular structure. They also aid in the formation of hormones and help maintain the function of the central nervous system.

EFA deficiency leads to impaired growth, dry and scaly skin, and also excessive thirst and urinating. In both monkeys and rats, EFA deficiency is associated with behavioral, sensory and neurological dysfunction. Studies focused on the EFA metabolism in children with ADHD found the same symptoms.

Malnourished rats show a change in behavioral patterns. Similarly, human infants given nutritional supplements showed benefits in cognitive function. These findings suggest that a poor quality diet permits the brain to function under normal, stable conditions. However, under stressful conditions, a person is more susceptible to behavioral and cognitive disorders.

ADHD Symptoms

The most recognized symptoms of ADHD are difficulty paying attention, listening, or completing tasks. Children with ADHD are often fidgeting and squirming, blurt out answers, and also interrupt others. All of these symptoms affect school performance, family relationships, and social interactions.

A study of 6- to 12-year-old boys from central Indiana found that the 53 boys with ADHD had significantly lower levels of EFA than the 43 boys who didn’t have ADHD. Also, subjects with lower levels of EFA had significantly more behavioral problems than subjects with normal levels.

Low levels of fatty acids are associated with an increased frequency of symptoms, which is also indicative of EFA deficiency. This finding shows a correlation between EFA levels and behavior in children. Low levels of essential fatty acids increase behavioral, sensory and neurological dysfunction.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71, No. 1, pp. 327-330, January 2000.