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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Role of Nutrition

Staying with ADHD is like closing in a room with 100 televisions and 100 radios, everyone is playing. None of them have a power button to turn off and the door is locked.

ADHD is one of the most prevalent psychological disorders in the school children.

The children with ADHD have difficulty paying attention (unable to concentrate), they are not able to control their emotional behavior (do anything without thinking about what the result would be), & they maybe extraordinary active.

These children are mostly beaten or punished by their parents this can aggravate the symptoms.

People usually assume that our child is a monster and we are not good parents when they don’t have an idea how frustrated their child is!

Most of the symptoms usually lessen with age but some people continue to experience their ADHD symptoms that can be a cause of depression and anxiety later in life.

According to a survey in 2007, ADHD prevalence was found to be 2.49% in Pakistan.

A recent research in 2018-2019 among school age children of Rawalpindi suggests that out of 223 study subjects, 77 were suffering from ADHD.

It is more common in boys than girls because boys are more likely to have issues with behavior and listening.

The prevalence of ADHD has increased in our region during the past years which shows negligence towards this important behavioral disorder.

Diagnosis of ADHD

The psychiatrist usually diagnose ADHD by assessing the symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity or sometimes both which should be present in child for more than 6 months & by taking the history of child from parents, teachers or friends.


Signs and Symptoms

There are 3 sub-types of ADHD depending on which type of symptoms are stronger in a child.

Predominantly inattentive

6 or more of the symptoms of inattention must be present in the child for more than 6 months.

These children have issues with attention and are not usually of a hyperactive nature.

Children affected with this type are often the quieter ones meaning the diagnosis can take longer.

They show the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty communicating with others
  • Doesn’t follow instructions
  • Easily distracted
  • Never focus on the task
  • Forgetful in important activities
  • Careless and messy
  • Reluctant to do the activity that require mental effort such as schoolwork
  • Daydreamers
  • Often loses necessary things
  • Difficulty organizing tasks

Predominantly Hyperactive/impulsive

6 or more of the symptoms of hyperactivity must be present in the child for more than 6 months.

  • These children are often very anxious
  • Can be restless often when in one position at a time. This can usually be beneficial with diagnosis.
  • Find issues focusing on specific tasks or instructions set.
  • Very talkative
  • Like to interrupt other’s conversations
  • Cannot wait for their turn
  • Always in hurry
  • Run, jump or climb constantly
  • Cannot play quietly
  • Often grab things from others
  • Speaks when it’s not suitable
  • Cannot sit still even in the classroom for long period
  • Blurt out an answer without listening to the whole question
  • Complete other’s sentences


Children diagnose with this display both the treats of the above disorders and also can exhibit abnormal levels of activity and energy.

Several symptoms must be present in two or more settings (such as school, home, with relatives or friends or in other activities.

 ADHD Causes

Several factors can contribute to the development of ADHD:

  • Genetics plays a major role
  • Malnutrition
  • Brain injury which leads to the changes in the areas of brain that control activity and attention
  • A low birth weight
  • Reduction in dopamine as it plays a role in triggering emotional response
  • Exposure to environmental toxins such as lead during pregnancy or childhood
  • Smoking, alcohol or prolonged drug use during pregnancy
  • Poor nutrition during pregnancy

How to know that your child has a behavioral disorder?

Don’t feel shame to consult a psychologist when you notice these symptoms in your child for longer period.

  • Mostly annoyed
  • Often shows aggression
  • Blaming others
  • Refusal to follow rules or set instructions from the school
  • Refusal to eat healthy diet
  • Frustrated
  • Always arguing
  • Remained upset
  • Threatened other children while playing
  • Inappropriate behavior during normal circumstances
  • Feeling depressed or unhappy
  • Anxiety
  • Talks too much


The symptoms of ADHD can be cured with medicines, therapy and diet.


Stimulants are used to control the symptoms of hyperactivity & to improve the attention span.

Some non-stimulants are also used which works slow than the stimulants.

These are prescribed when a child gets any side effect from the stimulants such as headaches, sleep problems, reduced appetite or increased aggression & anxiety.


Behaviour therapy and diet are recommended as the first line of treatment for preschoolers with ADHD before trying any medicine.

Other types of therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, school therapy that teaches the child how to monitor & manage their behavior, better ways to handle their emotions in home, school or in other activities, techniques how to accept one’s own thoughts to improve focus and their functioning with others.

Nutritional Management

Change your diet to find your focus!

The food you eat has a direct correlation to how your brain works.

It has been proven that a poor diet and bad eating habits can make your ADHD symptoms worse, while good nutrition and healthy eating habits proved miraculous in alleviating ADHD symptoms.

Research indicates that proteins keeps your brain focused and sharp while increased consumption of carbohydrates only plays an opposite role in the brain.

Artificial food colors & flavors are even worse for ADHD child.

Foods That Reduce ADHD Symptoms

Foods that reduce ADHD symptoms (Source Pixabay)

1. A High-Protein Diet

Proteins help to keep the sugar level normal & reduces mental decline that come from eating too much simple carbs.

The neurotransmitters; dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine & nor-epinephrine are also dependent on the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine to improve your mood & concentration. It must be added in the breakfast as it makes you awake.

Sources include soy milk, cheese, eggs, chicken, yogurt, chia seeds, beans,pistachio nuts & banana.

2. More Complex Carbohydrates

These carbs provide a steady supply of sugars which is helpful for ADHD person to manage behaviour & increase focus.

Sources include kidney beans, legumes, oatmeal, bran, grapes, berries, oranges, milk & apple

3. More Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Research shows that children with ADHD has lower plasma & blood concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega 3s are important for proper development of brain cells and help in calming down the nervous system. Give your child a handful of nuts everyday.

Sources include salmon, tuna, wheat germ, chia seeds, flax seeds, eggs, walnuts, olive & canola oil.

4. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is needed for proper cognitive function & brain has a special vitamin c pump which draws extra vitamin c out of blood to brain to make neurotransmitters. It is also helpful in protecting the brain cells from infections.

Sources include tomatoes, guava, strawberry, green & red peppers, cauliflower, spinach & sweet potatoes.

5. Vitamin B6

Children with ADHD has high blood homocysteine levels which is associated with an increased risk of impaired cognitive function.

Certain B vitamins including B6, B12 and folic acid are effective in reducing blood homocysteine levels by breaking it into substances needed by the body.

Sources include green leafy vegetables, red beans, liver, wholegrain cereals, chicken, fish, peanuts, fresh fruits.

6. Iron

Research indicates ferritin levels to be low in ADHD children that can increase the severity of disorder because iron is necessary to make dopamine and affects behaviour.

Sources include egg yolk, apricot, raisin, dates, peas, organ meat, dried fruits, white beans & spinach

7. Magnesium

Children with ADHD found to be deficit in magnesium.

It is involved in energy production, proper blood flow and nerve cell signaling, while deficiency is associated with inattention & sleep disturbance.

Banana, spinach, pumpkin seeds, brown rice, dried foods like figs, raisins & dates are rich sources.

Foods That Aggravate ADHD Symptoms

Cut down these foods from your diet.

Foods that aggravate ADHD symptoms (Source Pixabay)

1. Food Containing artificial Food Colors

Research suggests that artificial food colors especially red & yellow increases irritability & inattention this can aggravate ADHD symptoms in children.

An increased consumption of candies can cause behavioral disturbance in children.

2. Limit Sugars & Artificial Sweeteners

Simple sugars & artificial sweeteners (aspartame) affects an area in the brain called hippocampus; a memory center that can cause memory loss & this can be harmful for ADHD children.

Increased consumption of cold drinks, corn syrup etc can cause sudden spike in the blood sugar, it can also alter inhibitory neurons that control behaviour and emotions.

3. Say No to Hydrogenated & Trans Fats

The children who consume a food high in added sugars & salt, calories, food additives & preservatives like fast food, margarine, frozen foods & processed food with no availability of fresh fruits, vegetables or whole grains showed high prevalence of ADHD.

4. Say No to Caffeine

Caffinated drinks can exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD in children because kids are more vulnerable to the side effects of caffeine.

It can affect brain development and cause problems like irritability, sleep problems, & headaches which decreases altertness in children.

It can also decrease the production of neurotransmitters. Children should completely avoid tea, coffee, cola and energy drinks.


Living with ADHD is not easy. The worst thing about ADHD is that its invisible to the outsiders and nothing is more terrible than battling with your own mind everyday.

It is very important for the family, teachers and caregivers to have access to accurate information about ADHD.

A growing body of research suggest that it can be treated with medications, behavioural therapy, & healthy diet.

ADHD children just need help to fight this disorder.

Written by SEERAT SHAKEEL (BSc. Hons) Human Nutrition and Dietetics, Institute of Food and Nutritional Sciences, PMAS Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi.



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