Is it ADD or NDD? 12 Possible Inattention Culprits

September 29, 2011
Categories: ADHD, Kids, Nutrition

September is ADHD Awareness Month.

There are a number of physiological reasons that kids might be having trouble focusing or paying attention in school, including and not limited to – ADHD.   In the past decade, cases of ADHD have risen from 6.9% to 9% according to the CDC. It is estimated the 3-5% of school aged kids have ADHD, with more boys receiving the diagnosis. Many cases of ADHD also go undiagnosed each year. But many cases of ADHD are also misdiagnosed.

12 Possible Causes for ADHD-Type Symptoms:

There are numerous reasons that can lead to poor attention and focus. Below is a list of 12 common culprits of underlying medical issues, including but not limited to ADHD that can cause problems with mood, behavior, focus, and attention in class.

1. NDD:

According to Dr. William Sears, some kids that are suffering from attention problems simply have what he calls NDD – Nutrition Deficit Disorder.  What we eat feeds our brains, bodies, and mood.  If we make poor dietary choices, it can cause problems in energy, focus/attention, and mood; all of which can cause performance problems in school.  A recent Australian studyfound that consuming a “Western” or Standard American Diet (SAD), increased the likelihood of an ADHD diagnosis.  Generally characterized as more packaged, sweetened, processed, fried and refined foods – in general, the SAD contains more convenience foods.  Consuming a diet that is low in healthy fats, fiber and lacking nutrients can reduce the brain’s ability to function optimally.  Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for optimal brain function.  According to a 1996 Purdue University study,boys with learning and behavior problems have lower levels of the omega 3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in their blood.  Omega 3s are found in:  fatty fish like salmon, some nuts and seeds (like flax and chia seeds), and fish oils.  Adding a fish oil or another omega 3 supplement in the morningis an easy way to boost those omega 3s.  Kids definitely will run the other way if it smells or tastes fishy, so here are some delicious options, with no fishy taste or smell:

Barleans Omega Swirl – tastes like a smoothie, and comes in a variety of delicious, sugar-free flavors.

Chia Seeds – vegetarian source of omega 3s, also a great fiber source.  Add to yogurt, smoothies, oatmeal, pancake batter and add to any homemade baked goods.  Chia seeds are high in ALA, which the body converts to DHA.  Chia seeds can boost endurance and hydration.  Chia seeds have amazing nutritional properties, read more about how chia can lower cholesterol, and the hydration and endurance benefits chia can offer athletes.

Read: Breakfast of Champions for some good breakfast tips to help your kid get off on the right start for school.  But while a better diet can offer small or large improvements in attention, it may not be the full answer for everyone.

2. Food allergies and sensitivities

Food intolerances alone can cause symptoms that closely resemble ADHD.  The most common culprits are dairy, wheat and/or gluten.  Even if your child does not test positive for a full-blown allergy, they could be sensitive to a particular food.  Other signs that your child could be sensitive to dairy or another food – digestive issues, a constant runny nose, raised bumps or eczema on the skin, bed-wetting, moodiness, the feeling/need to clear their throat, headaches, recurrant infections (ears, sinus), dark circles under eyes, and more.  Trying an allergy-elimination diet is a simple cost-effective way to see if there is a behavior change associated with the removal of that food.  Remove the food for 2-3 weeks, and then reintroduce several times in one day.  Notice if there is a decrease in symptoms when the food is removed, and an increase in the symptoms when reintroduced.  Do not attempt this method without the help of a Doctor for any suspected or diagnosed severe food allergies such as peanuts, which can be life-threatening

3. Chemical Sensitivities

Chemical sensitivities have been linked in several studies to worsening of ADHD and Autism symptoms.   According to the Mayo Clinic, kids who are prone to hyperactivity should especially avoid foods with yellow dye numbers 5, 6 and 10; as well as sodium benzoate and red dye number 40.  But even some natural compounds can be a problem – salicylates are naturally occurring chemicals that can create issues in individuals with ADHD. Dehydrated fruits, fresh berries, tomatoes, tea, licorice, peppermint candy/extract, cucumbers and spices such as curry powder, paprika, thyme and rosemary can all contain salicylates.4.

4. Dyslexia

A language disorder that affects perception, communication; and the ability to read, write, and spell, 10-15% of the population has dyslexia, yet only about 5% are diagnosed with the disorder.  About 60% of people with ADHD also have dyslexia.

5. Sleep Apnea:

Often characterized by loud snoring, mouth breathing, enlarged tonsils/adenoids, and daytime sleepiness; kids with sleep apnea stop breathing several times throughout the night, so they just are not getting restful sleep.  Poor sleep can lead to poor performance, low attention, and other problems in school.  It is important to diagnose sleep apnea because in addition to attention problems, it can lead to poor growth, headaches, high blood pressure, as well as heart and lung problems later in life.

6. Visual Processing Disorder

(VPS) is a difficulty correctly processing the information that the eyes take in.  Not a problem with sight or sharpness, VPS occur in the brain.  Even kids with 20/20 vision can have difficulties discriminating foreground from background, forms, size, and position in space.  Visual processing disorder frequently can result in dyslexia and poor academic performance.

7. Stress:

Family changes such as a move, divorce, or the loss of a pet or family member can all cause issues with behavior and attention.  The difference between stress-induced attention issues and ADD, is that the onset of the behavior can typically be linked to the stressful event or time period.

8. Heavy Metal toxicity:

Studies show that Lead poisoning  and other heavy metals and other environmental causes can lead to symptoms that resemble ADHD.

9. Anema

Iron Deficiency Anemia should be considered if you have a child that is being evaluated for ADHD or behavioral issues.  Magnesium:  A 1997 study found that found magnesium deficiencies in 95% of ADHD kids tested.  DHA: A 1995 Purdue University study revealed that individuals with learning and behavior problems had lower levels of the omega 3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in their blood. Zinc deficiencies are also linked to ADD and attention problems.

10. Right Brain/Visual-Spatial Dominant:

People who are right-brain dominant tend to be very creative, out of the box thinkers, and good with spatial solutions.  But they may not excel in a linear learning environment which relies heavily on sequencing and auditory lessons.  Sitting down to dozens of worksheets is a right brain learners worst nightmare.  Find out which hemisphere of your brain is more dominant.  The best scenario is to be balanced between the two, but many people will be more dominant on one side or the other.  Teachers who use visualizations, and hands on learning, can help right brain dominant people connect to the lessons.

11. Autism/Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD)/Sensory Processing Issues

Now affecting 1 out of 110 children, learn more about Autism and the related disorders from Autism Speaks.  Read about how the GFCFSF diet can improve symptoms of Autism.

Click here for some other possible causes of ADHD-type symptoms. A child with any of the above disorders is not a ‘bad’ kid, their brain might just not be functioning optimally – even with an improved diet.  Some people might benefit from nutritional supplements, therapy, medication, or a combination.  If you have tried all the dietary and allergy elimination approaches and still suspect that another issue that could be affecting your child’s attention, see below for a short list of books and websites that can offer more information.  Or email to schedule a personal nutrition consultation. A study from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that eating a healthy diet in childhood can be associated with small increases in I.Q.

12. ADHD:

Defined as inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity, or a combination of these symptoms, which are out of the normal range for their age. The symptoms must be present before age 7 and for more than 6 months; and also be severe enough to cause disruption in school, at home, and with friends.  Not all kids with ADD are hyperactive.  Some kids (especially girls) suffer from the inattentive kind of ADD only, which is more likely to go undiagnosed because they do not exhibit the “typical’ behavioral issues associated with ADHD. According to Dr. Amen, ADHD is not a single disorder, but one of six different disorders.  So a drug that successfully treats one type, might make another type worse.  Read more about ADHD from the Amen Clinics.



Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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