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ADD & ADHD Health Center

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Alternative Treatments

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You may wonder if there’s something besides medicine or behavior therapy you can do to help your child with ADHD. Can unconventional treatments work?

Alternative treatments for ADHD include elimination diets, supplementation with omegas 3s, parent training, neurofeedback, and memory training. Here's what may work and what’s unproven.

ADHD Symptoms

The symptoms of ADHD include inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that are inappropriate for age.

There are three different types of ADHD. Combined ADHD (the most common type) includes all of the symptoms. Inattentive ADHD is marked by impaired attention and concentration and hyperactive-impulsive type is marked by hyperactivity without inattentiveness.

To help recognize ADHD, understand that some symptoms that cause impairment must be present before age seven years and some impairment from the symptoms must be present in more than one setting (like home and school or home and work).

Can changes to diet treat ADHD?

There’s a lot of controversy about sugar and ADHD symptoms. Does it lead to hyperactivity?

There is no proof that sugar causes ADHD.

Then why do kids seem so hyper if they eat a lot of sugar? Research does show that refined sugar and carbohydrates can affect your child's activity level. Kids can feel a rush because refined sugar quickly enters the bloodstream. That boosts blood sugar fast. When blood sugar spikes, your child may become much more active. The burst of energy is from an adrenaline rush caused by the rise in blood sugar.

So what can you do? Nutritionists say to add more fiber to your child's diet to help keep blood sugar levels even. High-fiber foods include berries and other fruits, whole grains, and oatmeal.

Can the Feingold Diet help ADHD symptoms?

Years ago, Ben Feingold, MD, an allergist, created a popular elimination diet designed to treat hyperactivity. With elimination diets for ADHD, you take certain foods out of your child's diet to see if they affect your child's behavior.

The Feingold Diet cuts out artificial colorings, flavorings, and preservatives to decrease hyperactivity. While most scientific studies have disproved Feingold's theory, some parents who have tried it say they noticed an improvement in their child's behavior.

But some experts don’t think it’s the changes in what the children eat that makes a difference. A popular theory is that the child's behavior improves because the parents treat their child differently when they’re on the special diet.

If you decide to try an elimination diet for ADHD, be careful. You don’t want to hurt your child’s overall nutrition and have them miss out on important vitamins or minerals. Don’t be too restrictive.

It’s best to talk with your child's doctor before trying any ADHD treatment. She can help you make a healthy eating plan for your child. Or she can refer you to a registered dietitian who can help you with a meal plan and snack ideas. It’s important to consider what your child will be able to eat when he or she is away from home, like at a birthday party, summer camp, or at a friend’s house. This can make a restrictive diet harder to follow.

One nutrition move that has shown promise is taking omega-3 supplements. Research has shown that children with ADHD have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood than the typical child. As a result, some doctors recommend that they take omega-3 supplements. Children who were given omega-3s showed a small improvement in how severe their symptoms were when compared to children who took a placebo. The FDA has approved Vayarin, a "medical food" containing omega-3s, for treating ADHD.

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