Somewhat surprisingly, the simple act of eliminating gluten from your child’s diet is an effective treatment for severe learning and behavior problems. This is because gluten is poorly digested in the gut, causing an inflammatory response that goes straight to the brain. Eating gluten literally inflames the brain by depositing a type of plaque that interferes with proper communication between brain cells.
Studies show that elimination diets are overwhelmingly successful in improving ADHD symptoms and related learning disorders in kids. The difficult part is identifying what you need to eliminate because kids are increasingly intolerant of different foods including dairy, eggs, nuts, and chocolate. The simple solution to getting your child to perform better in school is to eliminate gluten and feed them a high-protein whole foods diet with minimal processed foods. If this doesn’t help improve behavior, you can have your child tested for food intolerance by a doctor to identify additional things you need to avoid.
The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA that come from fish oil are necessary for optimal brain function. This is because they enable quick connections to be made by the chemical messengers in the brain. DHA fat actually makes up a sizable part of the brain and EPA plays other neural roles including lessening inflammation caused by eating gluten. If your child will continue to eat gluten, it at least can be minimized with adequate omega-3 supplementation.
Research shows kids with diagnosed ADHD have low omega-3 levels, and although clinical studies haven’t shown great improvements in ADHD symptoms from supplementing with omega-3’s, that is probably because low doses of DHA and EPA have been used in those same tests. Much like fairly large doses are required for adults, kids need a good amount of fish oil as well to see the benefits. Of course it is true that clinical ADHD requires a multifaceted approach to solving the issue, and just adding omega-3’s to the diet won’t erase the problem.
A 2008 study that used a multi-faceted approach on ADHD-diagnosed children aged seven to 12 found that a multivitamin that included magnesium, zinc, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids significantly improved ability to pay attention and to switch focus to another topic, more so than a control group that took a placebo. The children also greatly improved vocabulary and reading skills.
Another very compelling study in the journal The Lancet showed that food additives can trigger hyperactive behavior in children without previous behavior problems. The same study led the European Union to require cautionary labeling about synthetic dyes on food products.
In the study, researchers gave three and eight year old children food with artificial food colorings in a dose that is normally found in a large serving of candy. The food colorings produced significant adverse responses in both age groups of children, indicating sensitivity to the chemicals that resulted in poor behavior and social interaction.
The FDA responded to the study by saying that synthetic food dyes “can have a detrimental effect on some children’s behavior? but it rejected putting warning labels on foods. The simple solution to avoid chemicals in your kid’s food is to eliminate processed and packaged foods, and always read ingredients: Look for Yellow #5, Yellow #6, Blue #1, Blue #2, Green #3, BHT, TBHX, BHA, and sodium benzoate, and avoid them.
It seems somewhat obvious that avoiding things that aren’t even foods would always be a good idea, but it is especially relevant when it comes to our children. Part of being a good parent is to provide your kids with the best of everything, and that starts with a good home and nutritious food. Feeding kids chemicals just seems so obviously wrong that I’m surprised it is even an issue.