Should a child, who has been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, have caffeine in his or her diet? Can caffeine worsen a child’s ADHD symptoms? These are questions that are asked by many parents after their child receives an ADHD diagnosis, and although there is some controversy surrounding this subject, the general consensus is that caffeine can indeed worsen ADHD symptoms and should be avoided whenever possible. While caffeine is certainly not a cause that could lead to the development of ADHD, it can make certain symptoms more difficult to manage. To show you why this is true, below we will discuss ADHD in a bit more detail, including how the disorder affects children and why caffeine should be avoided in an ADHD child’s diet.
ADHD and Its Effects
ADHD is the most frequently diagnosed neurological/behavioral disorder in children, affecting close to 9% of all school-age boys and 3% of school-age girls in the country, and among these, 60% will continue to suffer from the effects of ADHD into adulthood. Outwardly, the disorder is characterized by three major symptoms, hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention, although not every ADHD-affected child will display behaviors related to each symptom.
The three main symptoms of ADHD have the tendency to manifest themselves in the form of certain identifiable behaviors, and because there is no specific test for ADHD in children, the frequency and severity of these behaviors are the benchmark doctors rely on when diagnosing the condition.
The cause of ADHD is not very clear, although several factors may be to blame, including heredity, smoking during pregnancy, exposure to environmental toxins, food allergies and brain abnormalities. Brain scans in ADHD children indicate that certain receptors in the brain, which under normal conditions will respond to the neurotransmitter dopamine, do not work correctly. This leads doctors to believe that in ADHD children there is an insufficient amount of dopamine being produced, which could be the result of improper nerve function that affects anterior frontal cortex of the brain—the area responsible for focus and attention.
Reasons Why an ADHD Child Should Cut Down on Caffeine Intake
Caffeine, which is found in coffee, tea, chocolate and carbonated beverages among other products, is perhaps best noted for its ability to wake us up and make us feel alert. Millions of people from around the world start their day with a cup of piping hot coffee to get them going in the morning, but what many of these people do not understand is that the caffeine in the coffee is setting their bodies up for a rollercoaster of highs and lows. After caffeine is ingested it takes mere minutes to produce an artificial high, but when that high wears off people’s alertness usually drops off even lower than where it was before the caffeine was initially ingested. This can cause fluctuations in energy levels, jitters and even irritability.
According to doctors, caffeine pulls vital minerals out of the bones, and because most caffeine sources are acidic, it lowers the natural pH levels in the body. These minerals are essential for almost every function in the body, and when pH levels are reduced it creates a condition where the body of an ADHD child is forced to work harder to maintain these functions and to find a natural balance. Ultimately, the loss of minerals that comes from ingesting too much caffeine will affect the nerve function of an ADHD child, which, as we mentioned above, can worsen the symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention.
Children with ADHD are inherently going to experience periods of hyperactivity and irritability, and drinking or eating products with caffeine will only exacerbate those symptoms, making it even more difficult for them to remain seated, focus on schoolwork and other activities and behave appropriately.