Conflicting Findings and Advice on Nutrition Management of Children With ADHD

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The research into helping children manage ADHD through dietary changes, elimination diets or supplements tends to be conflicting, according to a review published in Infant, Child & Adolescent Nutrition. However, some dietary tendencies in children with ADHD have been observed and some nutritional approaches are worth trying under specific conditions.

Author Wendy Phillips of the University of Virginia reported that children with ADHD tend to more often be overweight with impulsive eating habits, while children taking medications for ADHD more often tend to be underweight and shorter.

The research on sugar and sugar replacements with respect to ADHD was unclear, Phillips wrote. “Registered dietitians working with these children and their families should encourage reduced intake of simple carbohydrates and sugars, while providing education regarding complex carbohydrates and whole grain foods, just as they would with any children when discussing an overall healthy diet.”

Though lower-than-average levels of Omega-3s have been seen in children with ADHD, studies have been mixed on whether supplements help, stated Phillips. “Meta-analyses are finding some possible benefit but better randomized controlled trial studies are necessary to find true efficacy if it exists. Dietitians should consider recommending supplementation with omega-3 [polyunsaturated fatty acids] only when a deficiency is confirmed or strongly suspected.”

“Limited research has been done on serum levels of zinc, iron, and magnesium in children diagnosed with ADHD versus a control population, with general consensus that these values are lower in children with ADHD,” wrote Phillips. “Appropriate supplementation in children deficient in these nutrients produced small improvements in behavior.”

Phillips noted that food allergies “have been implicated in behavioral and psychological symptoms, including those associated with ADHD.” She added that, “Limited data does exist to support the use of an elimination diet to improve behavior in a small subset of children diagnosed with ADHD.”

Phillips also provided general advice for families about making eating habits more healthy and regular.

(Abstract) Nutrition Management of Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. (Phillips, Wendy. Infant, Child, & Adolescent Nutrition. December 2014. vol. 6 no. 6. doi: 10.1177/1941406414551202)