Monthly Archives: October 2014

Foods, Toxins, and ADHD

Young boy reluctant to do homework

Find out what you can do about foods and toxins that worsen ADHD symptoms.

Certain foods and toxins have been associated with worsening ADHD symptoms; there are, however, things you can do to minimize this effect.

Kids can be fidgety, overactive, impulsive, and inattentive. In the age of social media, these behaviors, particularly inattentiveness, can be further amplified by the world of tweeting, Instagramming, and texting. And while some children can buckle down and focus when it matters (e.g., to do homework or to sit for a test), other children can’t. These kids are often restless, disruptive, and unfocused. And their inattentiveness and extremely active behavior affects all aspects of their lives and the people around them. These children have either been diagnosed with ADHD or will be diagnosed.

ADHD is one of the most common types of neurological disorders affecting children in the United States. Children and adolescents with ADHD have trouble focusing and exhibit impulse control and other behavioral issues; unfortunately, as they get older these symptoms persists in adulthood.

Toxins and ADHD

As an integrative oncologist, I’ve dedicated much of my career to exploring toxicogenomics—the science of how environmental toxins influence gene expression. Although I am cancer specialist, my practice is structured toward treating the whole person through a combination of allopathic approaches and integrative therapies. And many times toxins play a huge role in diseases. In fact, toxins in the environment and in food have been linked to ADHD:

  • In one study the blood concentration levels of lead, aluminum, and mercury were measured in non-ADHD children who resided near a metal-processing plant.1 These children underwent testing to assess for issues in behavior (hyperactivity) and focus (inattentiveness).  Of the three metals, lead was the only one associated with the development of ADHD-specific symptoms in the children.
  • In a six-week randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study, children who consumed foods and beverages that were devoid of sodium benzoate (a preservative) and food-coloring agents were evaluated.2 At weeks 2, 4, and 6, the children were either placed in a group that received either the plain juice (placebo) or juice that contain additives. The researchers reported that a significant increase in hyperactivity was observed among children who consumed drinks that contained artificial colors.

Avoid These Food Triggers

Because hyperactivity and inattentiveness underscore this condition, it is essential to avoid foods that exacerbate these symptoms. During your next run to the grocery store, keep these foods out of your shopping cart:

  • How Sweet It Is…Not: It’s no secret that sugar has kids bouncing off of the walls. In children with an ADHD diagnosis, foods high in sugar only worsen their condition. Sodas and fruit juices contain high amounts of sugar; don’t buy them for your kids. To ensure that your children aren’t overloading on sugars, you should read food labels. Avoid foods that contain ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, dextrin, molasses, malt syrup, and sucrose.
  • Skip the Food Bling: These attractive extras such as food coloring and preservatives are meant only to look and taste good. But the nutritional value is often lacking. Multicolored cereals, for example, should be avoided. And skip the artificial drinks that have added flavor and artificial color (Opt for 100% fruit juices instead).
  • Food Allergies: Some children have allergies or sensitivities to foods that contain gluten, wheat, corn, and soy that have been associated with hyperactivity and inattentiveness. Discuss testing for food allergies and sensitivity with your child’s pediatrician.

Pay Attention to Helpful Nutrients

Now that you have a mental checklist of what you need to avoid while shopping for your family, here are some healthier options to add to your child’s diet:

  • Omega-3 Fats: These fats are good for your health: boosts immunity, bolsters heart health, and transmits brain signals. Data show children with ADHD tend to have an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency. Which is no surprise because omega-3 fatty acids are usually lacking in the typical American diet. Increase omega-3 levels by eating cold-water fish such as tuna and salmon. There may, however, be some children who may not like the taste of fish. Studies have shown that supplementing with omega-3 improves ADHD symptoms.3,4
  • Minerals: Not all mineral deficiencies trigger ADHD. For instance, iron deficiency has been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems in children with ADHD.5 While stronger studies are warranted, preliminary findings in studies evaluating the effects of zinc and magnesium have shown promising results.6,7  Food sources for these minerals include poultry, lean meat, seafood, nuts, and fortified cereals.
  • Phytonutrients: Phytonutrients have also shown promise in the treatment of ADHD. One such phytonutrient is pycnogenol, an antioxidant from pine bark or grape seeds. Preliminary research suggests Pycnogenol® may reduce symptoms such as hyperactivity, inattentiveness, poor concentration, and visual-motor coordination problems in children with ADHD.8
  • B Vitamins: These vitamins help to synthesize neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine and serotonin) that are crucial to brain function. Research shows increasing low levels of B vitamins in children led to improvements in attention span and behavior.9

Yoga and meditation should not be overlooked; while larger-scale studies are warranted, current data on these therapies show encouraging results in improving symptoms of ADHD.10,11

Although there is no cure for ADHD, it’s manageable. Children can grow up to be well adapted, functioning adults. With early interventions such as thorough medical evaluations and treatments as well as a diet that promotes brain health, children can better manage their disease.


1.         Nicolescu R, Petcu C, Cordeanu A, et al. Environmental exposure to lead, but not other neurotoxic metals, relates to core elements of ADHD in Romanian children: Performance and questionnaire data. Environmental Research. 7// 2010;110(5):476-483.

2.         McCann D, Barrett A, Cooper A, et al. Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet. 2007;370(9598):1560-1567.

3.         Sorgi PJ, Hallowell EM, Hutchins HL, Sears B. Effects of an open-label pilot study with high-dose EPA/DHA concentrates on plasma phospholipids and behavior in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nutr J. 2007;6(16):16.

4.         Richardson AJ, Puri BK. A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the effects of supplementation with highly unsaturated fatty acids on ADHD-related symptoms in children with specific learning difficulties. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry. 2002;26(2):233-239.

5.         Konofal E, Lecendreux M, Arnulf I, Mouren M-C. Iron deficiency in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine. 2004;158(12):1113-1115.

6.         Akhondzadeh S, Mohammadi M-R, Khademi M. Zinc sulfate as an adjunct to methylphenidate for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children: a double blind and randomized trial [ISRCTN64132371]. BMC psychiatry. 2004;4(1):9.

7.         Starobrat-Hermelin B, Kozielec T. The effects of magnesium physiological supplementation on hyperactivity in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Positive response to magnesium oral loading test. Magnesium research: official organ of the International Society for the Development of Research on Magnesium. 1997;10(2):149-156.

8.         Trebatická J, Kopasová S, Hradečná Z, et al. Treatment of ADHD with French maritime pine bark extract, Pycnogenol®. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2006/09/01 2006;15(6):329-335.

9.         Mousain-Bosc M, Roche M, Polge A, Pradal-Prat D, Rapin J, Bali JP. Improvement of neurobehavioral disorders in children supplemented with magnesium-vitamin B6. I. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Magnes Res. Mar 2006;19(1):46-52.

10.        Black DS, Milam J, Sussman S. Sitting-Meditation Interventions Among Youth: A Review of Treatment Efficacy. Pediatrics. September 1, 2009 2009;124(3):e532-e541.

11.        Harrison LJ, Manocha R, Rubia K. Sahaja Yoga Meditation as a Family Treatment Programme for Children with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry. October 1, 2004 2004;9(4):479-497.

Gene Slows Down Aging

stop aging

The anti-aging market is saturated with all sorts of potions, lotions, and pills. These items are marketed to tap into our concerns (and, for some, fears) of getting older: wrinkles, frown lines, and love handles. But aging concerns are not limited to outward appearances only. Diseases of aging—cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases—adversely affect the older adults quality of life.

Which is why many scientists are dedicated to finding ways to prevent and treat these conditions. At UCLA, a group scientists have discovered two anti-aging genes: AMPK and Atg1. To study these genes, the scientists worked with the fruit fly, Drosophilia melanogaster. Why study those pesky flies that are drawn to your fruit bowl? Remarkably D. melanogaster shares over 60% of the human genome, this makes the fruit fly a powerful model for studying metabolic processes in the human body. Furthermore, scientists can target specific genes in the fruit fly and turn those genes off and on.

In a UCLA study, researchers identified and activated AMPK and Atg1 in the nervous and gastrointestinal systems. They observed that both genes had the ability to slow systemic aging and induce autophagy (cellular self-digestion) in both systems (i.e., brain and gut). Autophagy is triggered to eliminate old or injured parts of cells. If these cellular components aren’t removed from cells in time, the entire cell will be rendered useless. The build up of damaged cells in tissues interrupts normal cellular processes. For instance, the accumulation of protein plaques is the hallmark sign of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. By inducing the autophagic process, cellular debris that cause age-associated diseases are eliminated.

The activation of intestinal AMPK boosted the fruit flies’ lifespan by about 30%. The fruits flies lifespan is about 6 weeks, but after AMPK activation the flies lived for roughly 8 weeks. AMPK autophagic activity is not only tissue specific but also systemic; the activation of AMPK in one area signals an autophagic ripple effect throughout the rest of the body.

Also, to show causation, not correlation, between autophagy and longevity, the UCLA scientists deactivated the Atg1 gene, which shut off autophagy. Consequently, anti-aging effects were absent in the fruit flies.

Glucose obtained from food is broken down to make cellular energy (ATP). When ATP is low, AMPK acts as an energy sensor and becomes activated. There is another way to activate AMPK: metformin. Metformin comes from an herb called the French lilac. In European folk medicine, the herb dates back to about 300 years for its use as an antidiabetic treatment. In 1955, metformin was first used as an approved antidiabetic drug in Europe. Besides activating the AMPK gene, metformin turns on numerous tumor suppressor genes. So its controls blood sugar, slows down aging, and fights cancer. Metformin also has a favorable safety profile, which is why I recommend this drug to my patients as an antidiabetic and adjuvant chemotherapeutic drug.

AMPK is an essential part of protecting the body from age-related diseases. The UCLA study turned on the AMPK gene in the brain and gut. As it pertains to the development of AMPK-delivered treatment, the brain poses some difficulty because it’s not as accessible as the gut or other organs. The science, however, is not available; it could take years to develop this type of anti-aging treatment. Do worry. I have you covered with plenty of options to promote health and longevity:

Boost your metabolism with physical activity—the higher your resting metabolism, the more calories you’re burning. Start slow and get into a routine. Once you are comfortable, increase your repetitions or length of time you workout.

Drink lots of H2O—The body is made up of over 70% water. Water is required for various cellular activities: for example, water lubricates joints, transports nutrients and oxygen and other substances to cells, and eliminates waste.

Get a Good Night’s Rest—After a sleep deprived night, what do you see when you look in the mirror? Dark circles under your eyes, perhaps. How do you feel? You probably feel agitated, groggy, and fatigued. Get ample rest. You’re body needs it. Adequate and restful sleep maintains a healthy immune system, improves learning and memory, and promotes safety. In fact, sleep deprivation has been estimated to contribute to about 100,000 car accidents each year and results in 1,500 MVA-related deaths.

Eat Right—Eat a diet that is balanced in healthy carbs, fats, and proteins. Consume loads of organic fruits and vegetables. Add herbs and spices to your meals such as turmeric and garlic—both contain nutrients that fight cancer.

Antioxidant Supplements: Are They Good For You?

Natural Antioxidant Supplements

If you have joint pain, then there’s a supplement to help you with your arthritic problem. Maybe you’re concerned about memory, you can find something at your local pharmacy for that too. Suffering from fatigue? No worries because you’re bound to find something to give you an energy boost. No matter what your health woes might be there’s a supplement you can find to help you. And antioxidant supplements are incredibly popular because they fight against harmful free radicals, which are substances that destroy tissue and lead to health problems like heart disease and cancer. But many studies are reporting an opposite effect that antioxidants are harmful to your health.

While the FDA requires manufacturers of supplements to disclose information on the label (e.g., such as a complete list of ingredients, a descriptive name for the supplement, distributor information), manufacturers don’t need FDA approval before they market their supplements. In fact, the safety and efficacy of supplements are strictly the manufacturers’ responsibility, unlike pharmaceutical drugs that must undergo rigorous testing and clinical trials to demonstrate the drug’s safety and effectiveness before they can be marketed to the public.

A Deeper Look at Studies

To complicate matters even further, the body of research on the use of antioxidant supplements is quite overwhelming—with some research in support of or against the use of antioxidants. From news headlines to tweets to the evening news, the coverage of pro- and anti-antioxidant studies has people running to buy supplements one day and dumping their pills the next day. For example, one study explored the effects of beta-carotene in smokers; the study reported that beta-carotene increased lung cancer risk among smokers. It should be noted, however, that a synthetic form of beta-carotene was used in the study. The downside of using synthetic beta-carotene is that it’s not from a natural source. Also, beta-carotene is one of many carotenoids found in plant-based foods. So isolating beta-carotene doesn’t mimic how nutrients in food work together in the body. Besides, fruits and vegetables contain multiple nutrients in which antioxidant activity is one of many functions; nutrients also work to boost immunity, trigger cancer cell death, and detoxify the body.

In another study, researchers found that antioxidant supplement use is associated with advanced aging. They go even further to say that free radicals promote longevity. The researchers increased the levels of free radicals in nematodes (these round worms have nervous systems that function at the same level as higher functioning organisms), and it resulted in the increased lifespan of the worm. Cell death is triggered to kill damaged, old, or abnormal cells. While free radicals target cells by triggering apoptosis only healthy cells can defend against free radicals, while weaker cells will die. So free radical damage is a selective process that is needed to eliminate weaker cells and allow stronger cells to survive. The findings of this study are intriguing because they turn free radicals, which have had a bad rap for causing tissue damage, into a necessary process for cell survival—allowing only the strong to survive. And the use of antioxidant supplements prevents that process.

Yet antioxidants are an important part of our health because they do help to keep tissues healthy in our present-day environment (refined foods, polluted air and water, cigarette smoke). And surprisingly, free radicals are borne of a process that is required for our survival—the production of cellular energy.

A Closer Look at Free Radicals and Antioxidants

For the most part, people think free radicals are bad and antioxidants are good. Yet this view is too simple and doesn’t describe the entire interaction between these two substances. The free radical–antioxidant relationship requires balance. Free radical attack is also referred to as oxidative stress and is a sequela of a natural process by which our body uses food to produce energy (ATP) by a process aptly named oxidation. Our body needs energy to carry out cellular activity; one of the pathways to produce cellular energy is called oxidative phosphorylation (OxPhos). Carbon-carbon bonds of food are broken down to produce ATP—the energy currency needed by every cell in the body. OxPhos takes place in the mitochondria (an intracellular warehouse for energy storage) and uses oxygen to break the bonds between carbon molecules to produce ATP. During the process of OxPhos, some unpaired electrons escape the ATP producing machinery to interact with ambient oxygen, and this leads to the development of free radicals. The free radicals have unpaired electrons, so they act as scavengers stealing electrons from various components of cells like cell membranes or DNA.

Antioxidants are molecules that act as a barrier to protect cells from the oxidizing damage of free radicals. The antioxidants happily give electrons to free radicals and wait for another antioxidant to replace the electron it has given away. The difference between free radicals and antioxidants is that the latter is quite stable even after it loses an electron to free radical molecules. While the body is equipped with its natural stores of free radical fighters, the body can deplete its antioxidant stores easily while defending against poor diet, lack of exercise, and poisons that invade our water and air. Even glutathione, an abundant and potent antioxidant made by the liver, is used up readily because of excessive toxic offenders. Here are just a few examples:

  • Halogenated hydrocarbons (commonly found in non-stick cookware, pesticides, plastics, and herbicides) are toxins that pollute ground water.
  • Cigarette smoke toxins are in the trillions and quickly use up the bodies antioxidant supply.
  • OTC drugs such as Tylenol® damage the liver, which is the organ responsible for making glutathione.
  • Diets that are low in fruits and vegetables and high in processed foods and refined sugars lack the nutritional support; poor diet tips the scale in support of free radical attack.

High-quality, not synthetic, supplements are meant to boost your health. Especially in today’s world where poor diet, over-the-counter drugs, lifestyle choices, and the environment have a significant impact on health. Supplements play a significant role in health. For instance, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends folic acid supplementation for all women planning or able to have children in order to prevent neural tube defects.

Some antioxidants used in isolation can be harmful because that’s just not how a healthy diet works. Eating a healthy diet that includes plant-based foods and organic lean meats provide a variety of health-promoting nutrients that carry out myriad functions to protect the body. The analysis of studies show that the use of 3 or fewer synthetic antioxidants doesn’t affect health in a positive way; in fact, it may carry some bad side effects. But the use of 5 or more antioxidants is associated with health benefits. Nutrition is a complex process that involves many variables. However, clinical trials that explore nutrients are usually setup in a similar way to drug studies—the cause and effect (or lack of one) is based on a one-on-one relationship, which is hardly the case when it comes to food. Good health depends largely on many nutrients interacting together.

While I’m a proponent of pharmaceutical-grade supplements, I believe supplements are a secondary option to food and should only be used to support not replace a good diet. Nutritional deficiencies begin with taking a look at what is in your cupboard and refrigerator and what is one your plate. Leave processed foods on the shelves at the supermarket. Instead, eat organically produced meat, fruits, and vegetables. This is always a great place to start when it comes to a healthy lifestyle because you’re getting a variety of healthful nutrients that support the body’s natural defense systems to protect against advanced aging and disease.