Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the descriptive label given to an ever-increasing number of children – especially boys – who have trouble fitting into the school system and disrupt family life. Complaints about their behavioral “problems” include hyperactivity, poor attention span, lack of concentration, disruptiveness, clumsiness, recklessness, defiance, and irritability.
As I wrote in my Ask Natural Life column in 2006, the label has become a disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. And the remedy is often the stimulant Ritalin, prescriptions for which have risen by something like six hundred percent. At best, Ritalin treats the symptoms and not the problem. At worst, it is a habit-forming amphetamine.
I believe that the ADHD diagnosis problematizes and medicalizes the behavior of active, normal children within classroom situations that don’t suit their learning needs. However, researchers have been finding that hyperactive behavior in children can also be caused by nutritional imbalances and environmental pollution.
Research in recent years has focused on prenatal exposures to agents such as lead, cigarette byproducts and alcohol. High levels of lead in the blood are known to cause aggression, poor impulse control and short attention span. Studies have also found links between high levels of copper and aluminum and hyperactivity symptoms. Other research suggests that PCBs may also cause hyperactivity or contribute to the changes in brain function that characterize ADHD diagnoses.
The negative behavior and health effects of synthetic food additives – artificial colorings and flavorings, as well as aspartame and preservatives like BHA and BHT – on certain sensitive people was documented thirty years ago by the late Dr. Benjamin Feingold in his book Why Your Child is Hyperactive. According to research cited by the Feingold Association, children diagnosed with ADHD are seven times more likely to have food allergies than other children. Foods most likely to cause allergic reactions include food colorings, flavorings, synthetic additives, wheat, dairy products, corn, yeast, soy, citrus, chocolate, peanuts, eggs and foods containing salicylates.
And now, a new study out of Australia published in the Journal of Attention Disorders suggests that our modern junk food diet heightens the risk of ADHD in kids. Scientists from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Perth looked at the diets of 1,800 teens involved in an ongoing long-term health study. They classified the participants’ diets into two categories, “Western” and “Healthy,” with a “Healthy Diet” being one high in fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and fish. They found the Western diet was associated with more than double the risk of having an ADHD diagnosis, compared to other ways of eating. Foods in the Western diet included takeout and fast foods, processed meats, red meat, high fat dairy products, and candy.