One in ten school-age children have been diagnosed with ADHD [attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder], making it one of the most common disorders of childhood. In fact, one in ten American children have a learning disorder, according to data from the National Survey of Children's Health [1]. Line up 10 gorgeous beautiful children, and 1 of them struggles with learning, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and/or inattention.  That's truly unbelievable to me!


When a parent brings me their child with ADD or ADHD, these are their top two questions:


1. Why is this happening to my child?


2. I don't want to use medication to treat his symptoms, what can I do?


Obviously, I spend a lot of time in my office answering these two questions, so I will give the abbreviated version here.  


Why does my child have ADHD?...

Boy, I wish I knew!  The short-end of the long is that there seem to be many reasons your child may struggle with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and/or inattention.


Genes play a primary role.  
A number of genes that appear to play a role in the development of ADHD have been identified. The genes identified thus far point to an imbalance of two neurotransmitters: dopamine and serotonin. [2]


Studies in humans indicate people with ADHD may clear their dopamine from their synapses too quickly compared to healthy controls. [3]  The point of connection between your child's nerve cells is called a synapse; it's where the nerve cell communicates with the other nerve cell by neurotransmitters (such as dopamine) that are released from one nerve cell to be received by another nerve cell. In children with ADHD, dopamine is cleared too quickly to help them pay attention and focus.


The role of serotonin is less understood.  Serotonin is made from tryptophan (a building block for proteins) and tryptophan hydroxylase in the digestive tract.  Serotonin exerts it's affect on most of your child's 40 million brain cells, including those related to social behavior, mood, memory and learning, appetite and sleep, just to name a few. [4] Do not underestimate the power of adequate serotonin supply!

It is interesting to note that the majority of your child's serotonin is made in her digestive system.  So you may have more control over your child's neurotransmitters than you think! If you work hard to optimize your child's digestive health, you can help her overall health including neurotransmitter health.


Genes are adaaptable.
We are learning from the field of epi-genetics that our genes are adaptable.  They can change depending on their environmental influences, including food. While a genetic set-up is likely the primary reason your child is struggling with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and/or inattention, diet plays a role as well.  

The role of diet in ADHD is generally considered "controversial" though research is mounting to show how some children diagnosed with ADHD have hyperactivity, impulsivity, and/or inattention from:

  • Refined Sugar
  • Food Additives (artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives)
  • Food Sensitivities (allergy or intolerances)
  • Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency
  • Iron and Zinc Deficiency

Diet Matters! You are what you eat. 

Junk in is junk out.  Nourish your child with REAL food. Balanced meals and snacks, with protein and fat nourish the brain. The brain is two-thirds fat and protein provides amino acids, like tryptophan, to help build neurotransmitters. My hope is that you realize the connection between the food you feed your child and how that can impact his health and happiness. The road is not always easy, but your hard work and effort is worth it!  Just look at him.

See ADHD Solutions for my answer to "I don't want to use medication to treat his symptoms, what can I do?"

Susan McCreadie, MD is a Holistic Pediatrician and co-founder of get REAL for kids™. She shows parents how to find REAL health for their child, so they can stop treating their child's symptoms and instead find solutions that help their child heal from the inside out.



1. Altarac, M. and Saroha, E. (2007). Lifetime Prevalence of Learning Disability Among US Children. Pediatrics. Feb;119 Suppl 1:S77-83.

2. ADHD Candidate Gene Study in a Population-Based Birth Cohort: Association with DBH and DRD2. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2007 Dec;46(12):1614-1621.

3. Dopamine transporter density in patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  Lancet. 1999 Dec 18 25;354(9196):2132-3.

4. Bouchez, C. (2011). Serotonin and Depression. WebMD. Retrieved November 5, 2011 from



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