There has been recent media coverage on micronutrients improving symptoms in children with ADHD, I thought I would take a closer look.
Reviewing the article, I see that the treatment period was only for 10 weeks, and that the participants needed to take 12 tablets per day. It was a well-designed study with some promising results, however a common reason to come off the supplements was due to the cost of them, and the number of pills which also reduced compliance with the treatment.
I have long believed that diet affects a child’s behaviour, though I don’t buy in to all the hype, or blame food (particularly sugar lows or highs) for all unwanted behaviour. There have been studies looking into food colourings and additives which have shown some suggestion there could be a link there, though not at the level of clinical significance (i.e. seen in the clinic room). I think a careful observation by parents is very telling, the problem is we don’t get careful observation, simply a cause and effect assumption leading to a self-fulfilling hypothesis.
Over time our food has become very processed, easy and convenient. In watching a movie set in the early 1960s I note that biscuits, lollies, soda etc were all ingested very rarely, and that food was simple, usually cooked from clean ingredients and not pre-packaged or pre-prepared. Even babies now have food from pouches offered to them with many preservatives and calories.
The old adage “you are what you eat” is physiologically true with the nutrients we ingest becoming our very cells. There is no doubt that Attention Deficit Disorder and Autism are increasing in prevalence, while there are many hypotheses around the contributing factors, I cannot ignore our changed eating patterns. The more I read, the more I believe a good clean diet without processed foods is better for us, but like all things in life there must be a balance.
My thinking then, is that our diets have become stripped of the essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals by the processing of the food we eat, right from the mass growing techniques stripping the soil of nutrients, to packaging and preserving of foods with additives. It makes sense that supplementing our diet may be beneficial, but what to supplement with and how remains in question. Not everyone has the same diet or metabolism, so in an ideal world a tailored approach to the individual would be the most appropriate.
However, it remains that a change in lifestyle with attention to diet and other factors though there is a huge amount of research supporting this approach, is hard to say the least. Only last night I viewed an advert on TV saying “want a hand with healthy” while advertising a processed unhealthy food product. This only illustrates the battle we have ahead of us with convenience versus health, do we really need to save ourselves 3 minutes with pre-cut vegetables, or adding a jar of sauce? Not to mention the large amount of falsely pro-health marketing we are constantly bombarded with.
So, my thoughts on ADHD and micronutrients are this, pay attention to the diet, minimise processed foods, and perhaps we do need to look at supplementation if the diet is lacking. Right now, I don’t have the magic bullet regarding which nutrients are important, but there are plenty of people out there marketing their supplements as it is a growing billion-dollar industry helping us to maintain our life of convenience. Watch this space, we will be tailoring supplements to dietary deficiencies, individual metabolism or our own genes as well as budget, but it won’t be a perfect science.