October 23, 2013

Natural Foodie: Doctor gives food an important role in managing ADHD

Some experts believe reducing carbohydrates, sugar and saturated fat should be part of parents’ approach.

By Avery Yale Kamila

(Continued from page 1)

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Dr. Stephen Donnelly, who studied integrative medicine with Dr. Andrew Weil in Arizona, says he approaches “ADHD from a variety of areas – diet, exercise, school supports, neuro-psych testing.”

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Cereals high in carbohydrates and sugar lead to blood sugar highs and lows and the release of adrenaline, says Dr. Stephen Donnelly, which can contribute to behaviors that look like ADHD symptoms.


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integrative approach to ADHD

WHAT: Dr. Stephen Donnelly, founder of the Maine Center for Integrative Medicine, talks about the relationship between lifestyle factors, such as nutrition, and ADHD.

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 23

WHERE: Whole Foods Market, 2 Somerset St., Portland


REGISTER: 774-7711

Fiber can be found in whole plant foods, such as grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Donnelly advises parents to read food labels (and vitamin labels, too) and avoid artificial dyes, preservatives and flavorings, as many of these have been linked to behavioral issues in children.

“There are seven dyes banned in Europe, and they’re all throughout our food supply” in the United States, Donnelly said.

Donnelly has also found that many of his patients with ADHD suffer from nutritional deficiencies – particularly low levels of zinc, magnesium and iron.

“I’ve been testing zinc, magnesium and iron levels for three years and about 90 percent of my kids have low zinc,” Donnelly said. “Low zinc alters your sense of taste and smell.”

Because many children with ADHD prefer a narrow range of foods, Donnelly said adding a zinc supplement can improve a child’s taste buds and make him or her more open to trying new foods. This can help the child to eat a broader range of whole foods, which in turn will help maintain proper nutrient levels.

His patient testing has also revealed that 50 percent of the ADHD kids he sees are low in iron and 25 to 30 percent are low in magnesium.

These essential components of whole foods are often lost when foods are processed. Other foods grown on the depleted soils associated with industrial agriculture lack or have only low levels of these essential minerals.

“I do recommend a daily multivitamin, but it doesn’t replace anything,” Donnelly said. “You want to eat a whole food, natural diet. And the vitamin needs to be food-based. Even that will be better absorbed when eaten with a meal.”

If one of his patients starts eating better food and taking supplements to correct deficiencies but still is exhibiting ADHD symptoms, Donnelly said the next avenue to explore is the potential for food allergies or sensitivities. Common foods that can trigger reactions include dairy, wheat, corn, nuts and shellfish.

Donnelly isn’t opposed to prescribing medication for children with ADHD, but he prefers to use it as a bridge until the other interventions – such as a better diet – have time to take effect. Using this approach, Donnelly is often able to wean his patients off their medications over time.

One of the major challenges for parents and kids who want a drug-free approach to healing ADHD symptoms is that none of the solutions presents a quick fix. It’s all about making changes and sticking with them.

“I always tell parents it’s not like a course of antibiotics,” Donnelly said. “It’s really a lifestyle change. Keep treats as treats. But keep the nutritional stuff as the routine on a daily basis.”

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelancer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at: avery.kamila@gmail.com

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Additional Photos

Dr. Donnelly recommends snacks like apples with peanut butter for protein, fiber and healthy fat.



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