Ask a Doctor
No specific food or diet has been clearly shown to have a significant positive or negative effect on the symptoms or course of ADHD. People with ADHD should eat a healthy diet and probably avoid caffeine. That having been said, if the family's experience with a person having ADHD is that some sort of dietary change, such as decreased refined sugar intake, helps, then if the person is not deprived of necessary nutrients, there is certainly no harm in trying to follow such a plan. A good rule of thumb is to discuss the plan with the family doctor or whoever is providing the primary treatment for the ADHD symptoms.
Regular physical activity has been shown to play an important role in some of the common related conditions (for example, depression, anxiety) and to improve concentration. Regular exercise may be beneficial in people with ADHD. Several studies on children with ADHD not taking medication have shown an improvement in concentration and reduction in inattentive and hyperactive behaviors if one hour of vigorous after-school play occurs before starting homework.
CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) therapies are considered and/or tried in over half of patients with ADHD. Many times these modalities are used covertly and it is important for the treating physician to inquire about CAM to encourage open communication and review the risks versus benefits of such an approach. CAM treatment modalities incorporating vision training, special diets and megavitamin therapy, herbal and mineral supplements, EEG biofeedback, and applied kinesiology have all been advocated. The benefits of these approaches, however, have not been confirmed in double-blinded controlled studies. Families should be aware that such programs might require a long-term financial commitment that may not have insurance reimbursement as an option. Recent research on the benefits of specific polyunsaturated fatty acid (EPA and DHA) supplementation has demonstrated a therapeutic benefit in several well-designed studies. Further research in this area will hopefully shed light on how these supplements work.
For more information, see our slideshow on ADHD symptoms in children.
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Biederman, J., et al. "Do Stimulants Protect Against Psychiatric Disorders in Youth With ADHD? A 10-Year Follow-up Study." Pediatrics 124.1 July 2009: 71-78.