World Mental Health Day
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In honor of World Mental Health Day, I wanted to revisit some ideas about the effects of diet on mental focus. When looking at the overall health and wellness of Americans, there are some interesting patterns that have started showing up over the past couple decades. One change has been the increase in the number of children diagnosed with ADHD or attention deficit hyperactive disorder. There are many theories to why there is an influx of children with ADHD lately but I’m not going to talk about that. I often get questions about how to help and support those children and the answer is simple (but not always easy): diet.
Changing the diet of a child with ADHD is one of the best things to do for them. More times than not, children with ADHD are hypersensitive to certain foods. We know that in general, certain foods cause inflammatory response in the body which leads to decreased immunity. These foods include dairy, gluten, refined sugar, artificial colors and dyes, and processed foods. This may not have an effect on everyone but a person or child that is hypersensitive can really have a problem with these foods. Having a food sensitivity is much different than an actual allergy. An allergy will have the classic symptoms of swelling, hives, trouble breathing, itching, and sometimes fatal reactions. But a food sensitivity will present differently and can be harder to pinpoint the connection to a food. These symptoms are headaches, nausea, brain fogginess, dizziness and overall irritability. For children, this can show up as irritability, fidgeting, short attention span and hyperactivity because of their body’s reaction to these food sensitivities. It is very important to eliminate these foods I listed above to give the child’s body a change to detox from the inflammation created from having these sensitivities.
Having your child follow along with you on the Paleo diet will really help them if they are having issues with hyperactivity or ADHD. It removes those processed foods with harmful dyes and additives, as well as some inflammatory causing foods. There have been studies done about the positive effects on diet for children with ADHD and the Paleo diet fits right in with that lifestyle. Children are able to focus more, do not have as much fidgeting and are able to get along with classmates and family much better after cleaning up the diet.
It is also very important to support the body and build up immunity. It is not just about taking away bad things but then adding in good things to increase health. One way to help is by adding fermented foods into the child’s body. There are many benefits to eating fermented foods. Essentially, they are pre-digested foods because the process of fermentation begins to break down the cell walls. This makes it really easy on our digestive systems since the digestion process has already started. So, this is a perfect food for those who have digestive inflammation from foods. Fermented foods also have probiotics present, which will help strengthen the health of the gut and immune system.
Studies have also shown that Omega 3’s are important for our brain and mental health, which is helpful for those with ADHD. The findings of these studies show that those who take higher amounts of Omega 3’s, whether from food or supplements, have a decreased amount of depression and anxiety and are better at coping with stress. There have been studies that show that children or adults with ADHD have low levels of essential fatty acids in their bodies. Omega 3’s are needed in order for the body to produce neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain. So, having Omega 3’s in the diet or with supplementation will help the body to produce the proper neurotransmitters and balance mood swings and improve memory. This is huge because so many Americans struggle with ADHD and by increasing Omega 3’s, these issues can begin to be addressed and the body can be supported. Eating tuna, salmon or other cold-water fish twice a week can help get more Omega 3’s in the diet, as well as some nuts and seeds.
Changing a child’s diet is not a cure all but it is a great way to dramatically reduce the symptoms with ADHD. It give the body a change to reduce overall inflammation and get out of the stressed state that comes with inflammation. Then, the body can start to work more efficiently and even more so with the help of Omega 3’s and fermented foods.
We only have one body, and it is important to practice self care. This starts with eating healthy, and a few other healthy habits. Eat like you love yourself.