Nutritional Strategies for Children With ADHD – Part 1

IMG_0532“All we ever do as a family anymore is talk about my ADHD,” my son Austin complained, as he pushed aside the books I bought to help us learn about this new diagnosis he had been given. I sighed, because I knew he was right, but I didn’t know what else to do. Due to concerns shared by his teachers, we went through several weeks of testing for my youngest son for what we thought at the time was anxiety. Instead, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), which in many ways is better than anxiety! Needless to say, we quickly gave ourselves and Austin an extensive education on the disorder, its treatment options and what we could do to help our son. For the first time ever, I began browsing through parenting blogs and nutrition blogs to see what others were doing to help their children cope with ADHD.

I was dismayed by the sensational information that is “published” on some of these blogs, with a complete lack of scientific evidence for what is being recommended. Many of the writers were very persuasive, and other parents seemed to be trying very hard to follow their advice even at a high monetary and peace-of-mind cost to themselves and their families. It was an overwhelming transition to begin with: finding out my child has ADHD, working towards a medication regime that was effective without horrible side effects, working with teachers for a school special education plan, changing routines at home and educating siblings, friends and ourselves. Not to mention helping your child understand his diagnosis and cope with the fact that he will be taking medication for the rest of his life, only to have him tell you he feels like “all we ever do as a family anymore is talk about his disease.” You get the point! I didn’t want to wade through pages upon pages of opinions; I wanted nutrition interventions that had at least been proven to effectively help with ADHD.

So what are those interventions that work? Here’s a quick summary of what I found!

  • Sugar and artificial sweeteners do not increase the impulsivity, inattentiveness, or hyperactivity of children with ADHD (or any other children). However, these substances do have other adverse effects and all children should be encouraged to reduce intake of simple carbohydrates and sugars, and be provided with education to work towards increasing whole grains and complex carbohydrates.
  • The research is conflicting on whether or not artificial food colorings and preservatives increase the symptoms of ADHD. It’s hard enough to help a child learn to control ADHD behaviors. Avoiding all foods with artificial colors and preservatives at home, and expecting him to do so at school and social situations is almost impossible. RDs should have conversations with parents about the pros and cons of this diet to complement other lifestyle and behavioral management components of ADHD and help the family reach their goals for their child.
  • Vitamin D supplementation may be beneficial for children with ADHD. Low blood levels of Vitamin D are common in people with ADHD and other disorders associated with impulsive behavior. Supplementation has been shown to improve inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity; individuals with confirmed deficiency may benefit from supplementing with 4,000 IU of Vitamin D per day, but specific dosage advice should be obtained from the child’s pediatrician.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids may help with reducing inattentiveness associated with ADHD. If a deficiency is confirmed or nutrition history suggests very limited dietary intake of Omega-3s, it may be beneficial to choose a supplement that contains both EPA and DHAs (specific types of Omega-3 fatty acids). Specific dosage advice should be obtained from the child’s pediatrician.

As for my son, he is 12 now, and we have been through a lot with medications that didn’t work, some that made him much worse than before, and have finally settled on a medication plan that we are happy with. He started middle school last year, and with many prayers and worried nights, he hit the ground running and had an amazing year – so much better than elementary school, which is surprising for a child with ADHD. He talks about his diagnosis with other children because he too wants to educate others. And, he tells other kids “eating sugar isn’t an excuse for being hyper, so calm down. I know this because my mom is a Registered Dietitian!”

While it’s true that impulsivity, inattentiveness, and hyperactivity are hallmarks of the disease, so are creativity, innovation, imagination, and usually intelligence. In a future blog post I’ll share ideas on how to harness these traits to benefit you and your child in the kitchen!

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Wendy Phillips, MS, RD, CNSC, CLE, FAND is the Immediate Past President of VAND and the Professional Education Chairperson. She is a Division Director of Nutrition for Morrison Healthcare, and the mom of 2 boys, ages 12 and 15.

Breastfeeding in Winter

Oh the cuddles and coos and sweetness of a newborn baby! Snuggling in tight on a cold winter night in front of a warm fire brings such a soothing comfort. But what about those days when mom and baby must be out and about when the snow is on the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Trail is lined with bare trees and frigid temperatures?

There are many reasons why breastfeeding is beneficial for both mom and baby, but breastfeeding during the cold winter months presents unique challenges for moms. Cold winter months can mean an influx of germs and sickness, and breastfeeding is not only nurturing to mom and baby, but is protective of baby’s immune system. In the earliest days of life when baby is most susceptible to germs, mom’s colostrum (foremilk) has the highest concentration of antibodies, immune molecules that mom makes against illnesses that she has been exposed to that she then passes to the baby through her milk. Even more amazingly, if baby is exposed to germs that mom has not been, the baby passes these germs to mom at the next feed, mom makes antibodies, and passes them back to baby! As baby grows and mom’s milk matures, this natural immunity continues to pass between mom and infant; the baby may still get sick, but the illness will be less severe and less lengthy than would have been expected.

Tips for managing winter illness and breastfeeding:

  • If mom must take medications for an illness she has, be sure the doctor prescribes a medication that is safe for breastfeeding.
  • If buying an over the counter medication, check with the pharmacist to ensure the medicine is safe for baby.
  • As always, it’s important to practice good personal care and hygiene by washing hands frequently, coughing or sneezing away from baby, and getting plenty of rest.

Removing jackets or sweatshirts to allow babies access to mom’s breasts exposes moms to the cold winter temperatures. This can be minimized by mom layering her clothing or choosing a long sleeved nursing top, zip-up sweatshirt, or button-up sweater to wear. Babies can be kept warm in swaddling blankets, one piece, long-sleeved sleepers or sleep sacks, and a removable lightweight jacket in case the day warms up unexpectedly. A set of hat and mittens will keep baby warm in especially chilly weather. Skin-to-skin contact promoting bonding between baby and parents, facilitating breastfeeding and regulating baby’s temperature should be continued throughout the winter to keep baby warm and cozy in their moms’ loving embrace.

Some mothers have reported a higher incidence of plugged ducts during the winter months. This may be due to the restricting nature of tighter cold weather clothes or from the colder weather itself. Treatment for plugged ducts includes frequent feedings, breast massage, warm compresses, and wearing looser clothing. Some moms may experience nipple coldness, pain, or discoloration when exposed to cold temperatures for a long time. This can be prevented by warming the rooms where baby will be breastfeeding, wearing warm clothing, and using warming packs before nursing.

Janelle Webb & Wendy Phillips, Certified Lactation Educators
Janelle Webb & Wendy Phillips, Certified Lactation Educators

Consistent and frequent breastfeeding will help establish and maintain mom’s milk supply, promote bonding, stimulate oral motor development for baby, and ensure a healthy start to life. Remember, breastfeeding warms babies’ bodies and hearts during the cold winter months! Contact your local agency for the Women, Infants, and Children’s (WIC) program through the Virginia Department of Health (http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/ofhs/dcn/wic/) or your local La Leche League at http://lllvawv.org/ for support and resources if needed!

~Janelle Webb, MBA, CLE & Wendy Phillips, MS, RD, CNSC, CLE, FAND

Janelle and Wendy are both Certified Lactation Educators, working with moms to help them breastfeed their babies and helping worksites develop baby friendly processes. Wendy is VAND’s immediate past president.

Welcome to the Official VAND Blog!

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Welcome to the official blog of the Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics! We are excited to host this site for YOU, our members, to have a forum to connect with each other, hear about nutrition practices in Virginia, and help us fulfill our mission to empower members to be Virginia’s food and nutrition leaders. Through this blog, we can provide nutrition education to the public, to optimize the health of Virginians through food and nutrition expertise.

We are soliciting blog posts from RDNs and NDTRs throughout Virginia, featuring original content. Have an idea for a post but not sure if it is what we’re looking for? Email us and ask – we will help you develop it into something for our blog! Please contact Wendy Phillips or Kristen Chang, VAND’s Co-Chairs for Professional Education to submit a blog post or idea. And of course, we will ask you to send a professional headshot to accompany the post.

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Wendy Phillips
Kristen Chang
Kristen Chang

We look forward to hearing from you! Contact us at vand.professionaleducation@gmail.com.

Kristen Chang, MS, RDN, CSSD & Wendy Phillips, MS, RD, CNSC, CLE, FAND
Professional Education Chairpersons
Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics