ADD/ADHD & Paleo

As time goes by and our diet gets more Paleo and we try new diet modifications, I’m getting more and more interested in natural cures to diseases/ailments/etc.  Let’s face it… Any unnatural, processed, refined additive in food is bad news bears for us to ingest.  Some peoples’ systems may be stronger than others’ and be able to appear to function regularly, but others are not so lucky. Recently, I’ve decided to research into natural remedies for some of my own medical issues/ailments: ADHD-inattentive, and urticaria (cause of which is still unknown).  I figure since I exploited John’s weakness (Crohn’s), it’s time to share mine as well…

My urticaria (target rash) has no recognized pattern of occurrence, and I’ve had the lovely random hives since sophomore year of high school. Typically presenting on my wrists and hands, sometimes up my arms, and when they used to be really bad they would be all over- feet, legs, arms, neck, etc.  You’re probably thinking uh, do you have measles or shingles?! The answer is no.  I’ve never had the chicken pox, so I wouldn’t have the shingles virus in my body, and I was vaccinated as a child, so no measles here. I haven’t had a bad rash occurrence since high school and I plan to keep it that way…fingers crossed… When they were bad, they were HORRIBLE-swollen hives, itchy, red, awful.   I’ve tried logging literally everything in hopes of finding some sort of pattern- what I touched, what I ate, what lotion/detergent/soap/shampoo etc I used- but there were no patterns.  I did notice that some foods would cause me to react more than others–such as scallops, most tablet drugs like ibuprofen and tylenol, and most hot dogs, but there are still some break outs that I can’t explain. During our round of 21DSD, I noticed that I had little to no urticaria break outs for the duration of the detox.   This made me wonder if I may be sensitive to preservatives, artificial additives, processed and refined foods.  Something to look into…

I was diagnosed with ADHD late in life- Junior year of college to be exact, and have since been prescribed Strattera, which made me sick to my stomach and caused a large amount of rapid weight loss.  After Strattera, my doctor put me on Adderal (XR and regular release) which has since then been my medication method of choice to wrangle my attention.  (Actually, John and I have all this in common as well, which makes me really want to pursue natural remedies and prevention tactics so I can learn and perfect them before the talk of adding tiny humans to the mix… Cuz lets face it, they’ll have ADHD too.) After noticing my attention and focus increasing during the 21DSD, I became interested in doing more research on diet modifications for those with ADD/ADHD. Could going paleo allow me to fully come off of my medications? My interest has spiked… time to delve into research…

I read a few articles about how those with Autism Spectrum Disorders have benefitted immensely from eliminating processed, refined, preservative and artificial additive ridden foods from their diets. Symptoms that had positive responses to this diet change included hyperactivity, behavior control, aggressiveness, temper tantrums, impulsivity, and a laundry list of other symptoms, surprisingly some of which are common to those with ADHD (no I’m not saying Autism and ADHD are the same, just that they have certain symptoms in common, stay with me.). Well, as I kept reading about the diet changes, I was realizing how paleo-like these diets really were. By definition, if you are following a Paleo Diet, you are eating whole foods, avoiding modern, processed and refined foods and eating as close to nature as possible. In addition, you are focusing on eating nutrient-dense foods to maintain energy levels while avoiding foods that could cause stress to the body (blood sugar swings, digestion issues, etc). The thought process is that ‘Paleo’ foods are the foods that our bodies evolved to use for optimal health, which is where the whole idea ‘If a caveman wouldn’t eat it, it’s not Paleo,’ came from. Paleo: based on science, evolution, and your body’s physiology. Makes sense, huh? Plus, a paleo diet is more nutritionally dense than any other diet!

Maybe we should stop asking why real food is so expensive and start asking why processed food is so cheap…

Refined foods- “If it’s popped, puffed, flaked, floured, shredded, or instant, it’s been refined.” Radhia Gleis, PhD, MEd, CCN. These are bad carbs. Man-made. Macronutrient and calorie rich, but micronutrient poor, thus not giving your body what it needs to feel satisfied–vitamins and minerals. Bad carbs such as these are the driving force in the blood sugar roller coaster.

Enriched foods—Foods that have had nutrients added back that are lost in processing. Common with breads and other grain-based products.

Fortified foods– foods that have had nutrients added to them, regardless whether they were there before processing.

Enriched and/or fortified foods have synthetic vitamins and minerals added in. When nutrients are added to foods in synthetic forms and without their cofactors (complementary nutrients necessary for proper absorption and utilization) your body cannot use them correctly. Therefore, eating enriched and fortified foods is silly and inefficient. Why would you put a certain gas in your car that wouldn’t make your car go?


After completing our 21DSD, I’m a huge advocate of cutting out as much sugar as humanly possible from my diet. I rid myself from the crazy ‘hangry’ bouts, and felt so good, inside and out! Now, if you must sweeten, sweeten responsibly! Go Organic. Be creative, but don’t over do it!! Sweeten with whole dates, raw honey, real fruit juice, maple syrup, molasses, stevia (green leaf extract), green apples, cinnamon, mashed bananas, etc! There is conflicting evidence on the effects of sugar in the diet, so to keep my post scientific I won’t suggest that ‘sugar is the devil’ for ADD/ADHD, but from personal experience, adding sugar only makes me more wired, more distracted, and more moody (yikes!)… So I stay away.


Blood Sugar levels should not resemble an amusement park ride.

Your blood sugar pretty much governs many aspects within your body. If your blood sugar is out of whack, the rest of your hormonal balance can and likely will suffer. If you know anything about hormones, you know how important having them balanced and regular is… Well, regulate/balance your blood sugar, and balance your hormones!

The ADD/ADHD ‘Epidemic’

I’m sure you’ve heard that ADD/ADHD is one of the most common diagnosed disorders in American children, and has become more increasingly diagnosed as the years progress… There’s lots that could be blamed for this—technology, increased availability for sources of distraction, our constant need to have immediate information and constant contact with others, the list goes on and on… BUT, did you ever think about how the quality of food available, readily, has decreased over the years? I’m sure you heard what is really in McDonald’s French Fries… Did that raise any red flags for you? What about other foods that say they’re healthy?! Do you trust them? No, I’m not a conspiracy theorist or trying to make you second guess everything on every food label at the grocery store, but I am trying to open your eyes to the facts that they might not be telling you the whole truth. Just like there’s propaganda in politics, there’s propaganda against so much in the food business as well. Applied education is power, people. Not everything you read on the internet is true. So, back to my point…. Let’s look into what we eat. If you or your child suffer from diagnosed ADD/ADHD, how’s your/their diet? How many items do they eat that have ingredients on the label that you have no idea what they heck they are or how to even attempt to pronounce them?! How much sugar is in it? What’s the vitamin/mineral ratio to calories like? If it’s not packaged, like meats or eggs, do you know what the animal’s diet/life was like? Has it been genetically modified? That’s another thing I want to stop and have you think about… When you hear ‘Genetically Modified Organism’, does TMNT (teenage mutant ninja turtles) pop into your head? Well, it totally pops into my head. GMO is great for farmers and crop product, meaning crops are less affected by pests and less susceptible to diseases, but what does that mean when we ingest them? Truth be told, the jury is still out on GMOs affect on our health… but why risk it? When in doubt, leave it out! That’s what I say.

Gluten-Free and Fabulous

Did you know that there could be an underlying, undiagnosed cause to your child’s ADD/ADHD? For example, if your child is gluten intolerant or has Celiac disease, and they haven’t been diagnosed yet, this disease/intolerance could be irritating the lining of their gut causing malabsorption of nutrients from the foods they are ingesting. Missing nutrients from the diet deprives the body of those necessary nutrients and it’s a downward spiral from there. Try cutting gluten out of your diet for a few weeks, then add it back in and see how you feel. If you feel like crap when adding gluten back in, doctors are recognizing this a sa positive test result to gluten sensitivity. Grains in general are not nutritional powerhouses, so if you do decide to go Paleo and have your children go Paleo, don’t worry about depriving them of any nutrition. Replace that dinner roll with a veggie side! Going gluten free does not deprive your child’s brain from carbohydrates. Veggies and fruits provide plenty of fibers and carbs AND provides far more vitamins and minerals that your children need to be healthy compared to grains.

Paleo, supplements, and the developing brain

No, going paleo won’t deprive your growing child of nutrients they need to develop properly, as long as you are building their meals appropriately for them! Focus on protein first, then fats, and then carbs (fruits and veggies). Studies show that increasing the amount of omega-3s your child eats can have positive impacts on their brain development and help curb ADD/ADHD symptoms. You can also supplement with fish oil pills or fermented cod liver oil. **BUT, as I am not a medical professional, please seek a provider’s guidance prior to altering or supplementing your child’s diet in any way!**

Paleo is a Commitment

Turning to a Paleo is a commitment of time. Yes, there will be added steps, preparation and planning, but it is 100% worth it! One downside for me was no more peanut butter… BUT, I now make my own almond butter and it’s even better than the canned peanut butter we get from the store… Added bonus? I know everything that goes into it, and there’s no preservatives or added synthetic stuff. Definitely set some time aside to menu plan and plan time to prep breakfasts and snacks for the week to have at hand. If you make it easy for yourself to follow, it’ll be easy to stick to the plan! J Include the family, get the kids to pick some recipes they want to try and help you prepare, give them a job, make them accountable for a part of it all and help them understand the why! By doing this, they will be more prone to sticking with the plan as well and it will instill long lasting life changing habits that will help them succeed! It is very important to instill optimal nutrition habits with children with a healthy, not obsessive attitude toward food. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to be ‘perfectly paleo’. Do what works for you and your family!

Closing Remarks:

And as always, with any medical diagnoses, it’s best to involve your child’s healthcare providers in your decisions on their plan of care, including diet changes. I’m not suggesting that switching their diet to paleo will solely or in any way absolve their ADD/ADHD, just merely providing an alternative ‘treatment’, ‘a cog in a wheel’, to try which I have found to help me.

I hope this can help you bring some sunshine and optimism to your ADD/ADHD like it did for me!



Check out Diane Sanfilippo’s 21DSD program, and Practical PaleoSarah Ballantyne‘s The Paleo Approach for more information on the Paleo Diet! 

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