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Link between Nutrition and Learning

As the new school year starts, many parents will be concerned with their children’s behavioural and learning development. Children who struggle to concentrate and learn at the same pace as their peers may be diagnosed with ADHD. As a nutritionist I have many parents’ express concerns about their child struggling to keep up with the expected level of learning. Often their behaviour is consistent with symptoms of ADHD.

As a parent and as a practitioner I do understand the complexity of learning difficulties and behavioural conditions. I am by no means discounting the strain that parents and children are under to try and conform to school level standards. We can however try and support our children’s learning with sound nutritional diet and necessary supplementation.

I would like to stress the understanding that my recommendations are not only for those cases where parents are trying to avoid mainstream paediatric treatments. All recommendations are suitable for any child who is prescribed behavioral medication. Nutritional medicine is supportive to children who are medicated. The following recommendations can support behavioral medication and reduce long term possible side effects. Diet, lifestyle and academic support are all necessary in supporting a child with learning difficulties.


Dietary improvements should be always part of any treatment plan for children with ADHD and learning difficulties. Including foods that a high in polyphenols (particular branch of antioxidants) are recommended. This may sound expensive and unpalatable for children but one of the best sources is olive oil. Other polyphenols that are of benefit include: turmeric and green tea.

Conflicting data can always be found on whether diet really does make a difference or not with children with ADHD. Consider this: that even if your child doesn’t have a behavioral or learning condition, children generally over the long-term benefit from a whole food diet. A diet that doesn’t contain a wealth of preservatives, colours and sugar. Why then would a child who isn't neurotypical not require additional nutritional support?

Dietary efforts should be concentrated on additional protein, essential fats and reducing refined carbohydrates and sugar. Probiotic rich foods are also beneficial as children with ADHD usually present with poor gastrointestinal health. Foods such as cultured yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha are all recommended.

Many parents will often say how they struggle to give their children a balanced diet as they are so fussy. Trying to work with fussy eaters is a great focus of my practice and together we can find better ways to improve your child's diet.

SUPPLEMENTATION IN CHILDREN WITH LEARNING DIFFICULTIES AND ADHD Supplementation may be required for many children as they often present abnormal blood serology. Deficiencies in EFA’s, zinc, magnesium, B6, iron, and vitamin D are prevalent. Children with such conditions are more than often notoriously fussy eaters and tend to drive the deficiencies even further. Supplementation can reduce symptoms associated with ADHD and support pharmacological treatment.


There is still good evidence to suggest that increasing essential fatty acids is good for the brain. Fish oil is high in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is recommended. DHA is the portion of fish oil that supports healthy brain development and function. It is n't a case of one fish oil suits all children. Children with ADHD may show improved symptoms with Green Lipped Mussel Oil or a mix of omega 3,6 and 9.


Magnesium supplementation is prescribed to children with behavioural conditions for its function in helping them relax and support their sleep quality.


Mare often required if the child is a fussy eater. A good childrens multivitamin can reduce the depletion of prescribed medications.


Children with ADHD are prone to low ferritin levels. A French study showed that 84% of children showed deficiencies in iron. Low iron in children affects the development of central nervous system and causes behavioural complications. Please do not supplement iron in children without pathology confirmation of deficiency.


Even though children with ADHD are characterised as hyperactive they actually have low cortisol levels. Exercise, fresh air and physical activity assist in positively charging their cortisol levels.


Children with ADHD often present with poor digestive health, this is most likely caused by an imbalance in the necessary microflora. This affects the absorption of many nutrients including iron, zinc, vitamin D and B group vitamins. Many children with ADHD and ASD will gravitate towards high sugar and high carbohydrate diet, this can create yeast overgrowth (candida) in the gut.


Ritalin (MPH) is still the most common treatment of ADHD. Ritalin which is prescribed to improve symptoms associated with ADHD. Ritalin action increases the brain and adrenal glands production of Dopamine, noradrenalin and adrenalin. It does reduce hyperactivity however the side effects need to be considered. Ritalin side effects include: rapid heart rate, restlessness, insomnia, dry mouth, constipation, nausea, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and weight loss. These side effects are consistent with any drug that contains an amphetamine constituent.

It is these common side effects of Ritalin that then often require further medication. It is not uncommon to see a child who is ADHD prescribed Ritalin who also requires, anti-anxiety and sleeping medication.

Such side effects are caused due to the medications depletive effect on magnesium, B group vitamins and zinc. Such vital nutrients are required for the brain to produce GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) this is our inhibitory neurotransmitter. It is required to keep the mind in rest and digest state rather than the constant state of stress. Such medications place enormous stress on the adrenal system. Nutritional medicine is effective in reducing Ritalin's side effects.

For all children who are prescribed behavioural medication nutritional supplementation should be prescribed in conjunction not just as an alternative option.


  • Sherzada, Awista (2012) "An Analysis of ADHD Drugs: Ritalin and Adderall," JCCC Honors Journal: Vol. 3: Iss. 1, Article 2. Available at:

  • Konofal E, Lecendreux M, Arnulf I, Mouren M. Iron Deficiency in Children With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004;158(12):1113–1115. doi:10.1001/archpedi.158.12.1113

  • James Ahn, Hyung Seok Ahn, Jae Hoon Cheong, and Ike dela Peña, “Natural Product-Derived Treatments for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Safety, Efficacy, and Therapeutic Potential of Combination Therapy,” Neural Plasticity, vol. 2016, Article ID 1320423, 18 pages, 2016. doi:10.1155/2016/1320423

  • Hechtman, L 2012 Clinical Naturopathic Medicine Elsevier, Australia

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