ADHD, Not a Ritalin Deficiency

In one of my classes we were discussing the use of Ritalin medication as a performance enhancer in sports.  You know a medication is widely prescribed when its use in high school and college sports becomes debatable.  According to an article on CNN Health, 6% of the school aged population in the United Stateshas been diagnosed with ADHD and 90% of those students have been prescribed Ritalin (  As far as I can see in the literature, ADHD is not a Ritalin deficiency.  Instead of getting to the root causes of this disorder, medications are prescribed in increasing numbers each year, making pharmaceutical companies rich and altering the neurochemistry of our children.

According to Novartis Pharmaceutical, the mechanisms of action of Ritalin in man are not fully understood.  It is a mild central nervous system stimulant that presumably activates the areas of the brain to produce a stimulant like effect (much like cocaine).  So what the pharmaceutical company is saying is that this drug does something to your brain, but we are not entirely sure what, but let us prescribe it in great number to our children and see if it helps.  This is some scary stuff.  There are other ways to treat ADHD without the potential long term side effects of a drug such as Ritalin.

For one, nutrient deficiencies are relevant in the ADHD group.  According to the research, patients with ADHD tend to be deficient in minerals, B vitamins, Omega 3 fatty acids, Omega 6 fatty acids, flavenoids, and phospholipid phosphatidylserine (PS) (Kidd, 2000).  Glucose metabolism issues have strong ties to ADHD as well.

Langseth and Dowd in 1978 showed that 74% of children with hyperactivity disorders displayed improper glucose tolerance in response to a sucrose meal (Langseth and Dowd, 1978).  Other studies have shown that people with ADHD have reductions in both global and regional glucose metabolism when compared with healthy individuals (Zametkin, 1990).  This could be caused from the pancreas over creating insulin in response to high sugar meals.  Insulin has been shown to have effects on dopamine, our neurotransmitter responsible for our memory and focus.

In fact, Ritalin blocks the reuptake of dopamine receptors allowing for an increase in the amount of the neurotransmitter around the synapse of the neuron.  This works very similar to the class of anti-depressants known as SSRIs including their ability to deplete dopamine over time, making use of the medication more and more necessary.  Much like in the case of SSRIs, there are natural treatments to increase the levels of dopamine.

For one, we need to control insulin levels.  Eating a high sugar diet can lead to an overproduction of insulin, and leave the glucose necessary for brain function stored as fat instead of used as fuel.  The amino acid L-tyrosine is the precursor for dopamine.  Eating a diet rich in animal products and if necessary extra L-tyrosine as a supplement can help give the brain the tools to build more dopamine.  Nutrients such as iron, zinc, omega 3 fats, and the B vitamins are also important to help turn that tyrosine into dopamine and excess insulin can actually sweep up the amino acids before they get to the brain.  This means sticking to a nutrient dense diet rich in amino acids, and low in sugar.  Sound familiar?



Zametkin, Alan (1990).  Cerebral glucose metabolism in adults with hyperactivity of childhood onset. New EnglandJournal of Medicine.

Langseth and Dowd (1978).  Glucose intolerance and hyperkinesis.  Food and Cosmetics Toxicology.

Kidd, Parris (1990).  ADHD in children: Rationale for its integrative management.  Alternative Medicine Review.

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Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation

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  1. PaleoMalin says

    I was reading recently that ADHD falls within specific learning difficulties and is therefore a neurological problem. Whilst I don’t doubt that diet will help/hinder (having watched my own sister go through phases of high and low sugar consumption and the effect on her behaviour), having dyslexia like specific learning difficulties myself (which is affected far more by stress then my diet, from experimentation) I do worry that an article like this does make paleo sound like a cure rather than a help.

    I want to be clear – stuff that helps conditions are good, but they are rarely miracles. If people change a child or adult’s diet to address an issue like ADHD then I think it’s important to be realistic about the level of change that will result. Aside from anything if the changes are better than pitched then the concept is sold, if it’s not as great as sold then you might lose them from something that will help improve their overall health.

    Diet has had no affect on my depression or learning difficulties but that doesn’t stop me from being paleo.

    • kevin cann says


      Thanks for the response. Sometimes diet is not enough and sometimes medication is necessary. There is testing that can be done that can help identify what neurochemicals may be defficient and then proper support can be given. Sometimes diet alone cannot alleviate defficiencies.

  2. Jessica says

    Thank you for the informative article. Out of curiosity, does this analysis include ADD, as well? My niece was recently diagnosed with ADD and is now on a prescription. It certainly has made a difference, as she went from Ds and Cs to Bs and As and is now much more attentive to her studies (she can actually come home now and tell her parents what was discussed in class and what the homework is).

    Thank you for the info!

    • kevin cann says

      It does. Most of these medications work on the neurotransmitters and there are other ways to deal with it that may not have long potential side effects.

  3. Brian says

    In addition, petroleum-based synthetic food additives are a huge ADHD trigger. FD&C coloring, flavoring, BHA BHT TBHQ preservatives should be avoided. A whole foods Paleo diet just happens to do that. A subset of ADHD patients are also salycilate sensitive and should avoid certain foods. See for more about that.

  4. says

    i was the looking for the same and related info, what you describe on your article. And found you through google search. Its helps me a lots and i understood that you are one of skill article writer/ blogger. I have book marked your blog and hope to visit again to learn more. Thanks for your valuable efforts and time.

  5. Enomis says

    Hello Robb Wolf,

    I’m 25 years old and I’m from Germany. I made my high-school-diploma with bad notes, became a nurse, now I’m studiing Biologie. My concentration ist really bad. I always had mood stanges. I’m going to study sports as well. I need the exercise. I’m eating Paleo for a year now. My life stanged and physically I imrpoved, but I have the diagnosis ADD and the nutrition doesn’t help me and I really have a balanced diet. So I take Ritalin and it stabilizes me a lot.
    What do you think about that? I think, although I’m really convinced about this way of living, and I never would stange anymore, but Paleo-Nutrition ist not the solution for everything, or every disease, sadly.

  6. Michelle says

    (sigh…) My son is 10 years old, has been raised on an organic, whole food diet… Paleo for the last 4+ years… but we recently sought (yes, sought) an ADD diagnosis and will be starting meds next week =( He is in his school’s highly capable program and is a “dream” student behavior-wise, but there have been many, many subtleties over the years that have always had me on edge and suspicious of Aspergers or ADD (3 cousins have Aspergers and 2 aunts are ADD) and they are becoming more challenging and affecting my sweet, positive boy in a negative way. Through this, I suspect that I am also ADD and scheduled an appointment for myself. It is all so very hard as I truly believe in food, sleep and exercise being so very important. I have followed a very strict AIP diet for my Hashimoto’s thyroid disease but still need meds… I’m working very hard on accepting this for him as well. But I hate it…

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