David L. Katz, MD
Photo: Mackenzie Stroh
Q: My husband was recently diagnosed with ADHD. We're fairly healthy eaters, but I wonder, are there foods we can add to or subtract from our diet to help manage his disorder?
— Cherie Johnson, Glenshaw, Pennsylvania

A: In my opinion, there are. The science on this question is in its infancy (in part because it's simply so difficult to isolate the effects of individual nutrients and chemicals on the complex functioning of the brain), but there is research suggesting a possible link between chemical food additives and behavioral disorders, ADHD included. Colorings, flavorings, and preservatives may all contribute to attention deficit in vulnerable individuals, so I would suggest at least a trial period of eliminating these. The surest course is to stick with foods that come directly from nature, especially fresh vegetables and fruits. Several studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial because they help regulate brain function, so I'd also include salmon, walnuts, and flaxseed in your diet—or a daily omega-3 supplement.

But chemical additives aren't the only possible dietary culprits; food allergies may play a role in ADHD as well. Your husband can identify possible allergies by keeping a symptom and diet diary and systematically removing from his diet any foods that seem to correspond with more severe symptoms.

And don't forget to look beyond food. In adult patients with ADHD, I've seen improvement due to meditation training and good sleep habits. Daily physical activity may also help. So here's the recipe I recommend, along with medication if and as required: a wholesome diet close to nature, a boost in omega-3 intake, a bit of daily recreation, meditation, and adequate sleep. Along with the benefits it may offer your husband, the prescription is just plain good for one's health.

David L. Katz, MD, is director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and president of the nonprofit Turn the Tide Foundation.

As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.

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