Concentrate on your diet

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 May, 2009, 12:00am

You've probably heard of the 'MTV-generation': people who can only focus on something for the length of one cut in a music video. It is now assumed that if the camera holds one shot for longer than five seconds, people will tune out.

If diminishing attention spans and, further along the spectrum, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD; and variations) can be affected by what we watch, maybe the food we eat can also have an impact.

Hong Kong's Department of Health reports that the prevalence of ADHD among school-age children is 3 per cent to 5 per cent, with boys more frequently affected than girls. Similar numbers were found among Han Chinese. The global rate is 8 per cent to 12 per cent. The department also states that symptoms of ADHD persist to adolescence in 80 per cent of affected children and to adulthood in 65 per cent. While drugs such as methylphenidate (Ritalin), amphetamines and pemoline can alleviate symptoms, none are cures. With an escalating number of prescriptions for Ritalin, some parents are turning to dietary therapy for their children.

In the early 1970s, Dr Benjamin Feingold, then of the department of allergy at the Kaiser Foundation Hospital in San Francisco, in the United States, reported a link between diet and several physical and allergic conditions. Thirty per cent to 50 per cent of Feingold's hyperactive patients said they benefited from diets free of artificial colourings and flavourings and certain natural chemicals (salicylates, found in apricots, berries, tomatoes and other foods).

A 2001 study by the Hyperactive Children's Support Group in Britain found that 89 per cent of ADHD children reacted to food colourings, 72 per cent to flavourings, 60 per cent to monosodium glutamate, 50 per cent to cow's milk and 60 per cent to chocolate. An earlier study by Dr Neil Ward of England's University of Surrey linked the use of antibiotics to ADHD.

Each person is different, of course, and there's no evidence that ADHD is a single condition. Many hyperactive children are not tested for nutritional imbalances or food/chemical sensitivities. There are, however, non-medical steps you can take to test reactions, such as with supplements and dietary restrictions.

Firstly, sort out the blood-sugar levels. Fizzy drinks, with their processed sugar and caffeine, are like rocket fuel. Replace foods containing refined sugars (read your labels) with whole foods and complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, oats, lentils and vegetables. Carbohydrates should be eaten with protein: nuts with fruit, fish with rice, etc.

Arrange a food-allergy test and hair-mineral analysis (for heavy-metal toxicity). Evidence suggests that ADHD symptoms are aggravated by allergens and chemical addictives. Also, make sure you ingest all your vitamins and minerals; if you are taking a multivitamin, it must contain sufficient B vitamins, zinc and magnesium. If you are taking antibiotics, take probiotics to restore the gut flora.

Congratulations for getting to the end of the column; there's hope for you yet. Switch on to a better diet and switch off MTV.