Children across the country with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are commonly prescribed medications that carry an array of side effects. Is it possible that following the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) might help prevent the malady?
A new study at the University of Barcelona in Spain sought the answer to the question by investigating the eating habits of 120 participants between the ages of 6 and 16, half of whom had been diagnosed recently with ADHD. The youth were required to report the foods that comprised their typical meals. The data obtained was used to determine the difference in the degree of adherence to the MedDiet between those with and without the disorder.
Many of the typical medications for ADHD might be interpreted to have a risk-to-benefit ratio that causes pause.
Of the youth with ADHD, 30 percent followed the MedDiet well; while of the youth without the disorder, 63 percent followed it well. In general, those with ADHD ate fewer fruits, vegetables, and fatty fish, in addition to more fast food and junk food. The authors concluded that participants with low to medium adherence to the MedDiet had a three- to seven-times greater risk of ADHD.
Although the results don’t prove poor eating habits cause ADHD, they do show they may play an important role. “Our data support the notion that not only ‘specific nutrients’ but also the ‘whole diet’ should be considered in ADHD,” the authors wrote. The study was published in Pediatrics.
Widely lauded for its broad benefits, the MedDiet consists of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains and olive oil. In addition, fish is preferred over poultry and red meat, while herbs and spices are favored over salt.
To gain perspective on issues relating to the study, Olive Oil Times interviewed Michael Wald, director of longevity services at Integrated Nutrition in Mount Kisco, New York. His insights reveal the value of addressing ADHD through holistic means that primarily involve diet.
Olive Oil Times: Could you speculate on why the Mediterranean diet seems to have some protective effect against ADHD?
Wald: “ADHD is known to involve abnormalities in the cell membrane structure of brain neurons. These cells are party composed of unsaturated fat that includes omega 3 fatty acids, which provide ‘neuroprotection’ and afford the brain and nervous system the ability to self-correct.
“The MedDiet is particularly high in healthy fat, as it includes the omega 3 fatty acids from fish, along with the monounsaturated fatty acids found in avocados and olive oil. These fats become incorporated into the brains of those with ADHD, potentially improving memory, attention, mood, behavior and even learning.
“Because the MedDiet has extremely low levels of saturated fat from meat, which ‘hardens’ the brain and nervous system, it is further protective. Moreover, saturated fat is proven to reduce circulation and nutritional delivery to cells, as well as promote inflammation – problems characteristic of many sufferers of ADHD.
“Consuming high quantities of fruits and vegetables contained within the MedDiet provides tens of thousands of plant phytonutrients that are potent antioxidants, cell membrane stabilizers, detoxifiers, and immune-modulators. In short, they are absolutely required for optimizing overall health and wellbeing.”
Olive Oil Times: What do you find most troubling about the heavy reliance on medications for ADHD?
Wald: “Contrary to popular belief, these medications haven’t been well studied in children. In fact, to my knowledge, no long-term studies are available. Even if they were, holistic common sense tells us that children do not have ‘drug-deficiencies.’
This means that health professionals should first look to the potential influence of stress, diet, increased nutritional needs, genetics, hidden infections, toxins, digestive malabsorption issues, inflammatory conditions and other factors/causes of ADHD. Many of these may be adequately modified with an overhaul of food intake and environment adjustments. Medications commonly have risks, and many of the typical medications for ADHD might be interpreted in certain individuals with ADHD to have a risk-to-benefit ratio that causes pause.”