Every year, more parents are being told that their child should be tested for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 5.4 million children between the ages of 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2007. Of these children, more than 66 percent receive medication.

Symptoms of ADHD can vary from child to child and include forgetfulness, excessive daydreaming, inability to sit still, constant fidgeting, trouble controlling their emotions and trouble taking direction.

While ADHD drugs may help a child concentrate by controlling the problem, it is not a cure and there is no conclusive evidence proving a long-term benefit.

So the question remains: What can we do about it?

Many believe that addressing diet, anxiety, lack of sleep, inflammation and even thyroid problems can help reduce symptoms. Dr. Randy Naidoo of Shine Pediatrics in Plano, Texas, suggested focused, brain-based therapies which strengthen weaker areas of brain function, through various means like medical, chiropractic or occupational therapy.

Naidoo believes that there are several “bio-medical issues with external manifestations that look like ADHD” that often lead to an incorrect diagnosis. These include gluten and casein sensitivity which Naidoo states “can have an opioid-like effect on the brain” creating a mental haze, or “brain fog."

Cerebral folate deficiency or MTHFR homozygote mutation, which leads to a poor ability to convert synthetic folate to active folate, are two further pathologies that can create cognitive issues. An amino acid deficiency due to inadequate protein intake can also lead to problems with concentration. Essential fatty acid deficiency can lead to increased temper tantrums and poor sleep.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there is no research linking artificial food colorings to ADHD, but some children may experience fewer symptoms on an additive-free diet.

According to the Journal of Pediatrics, sugar can affect the behavior of normal children. Low blood sugar or not enough protein, can create behavior problems and inattention.

To help concentration throughout the day, protein should be eaten as part of every meal and snack. Nutrients from fruits and vegetables are needed for all biochemical processes and a diet lacking certain nutrients can affect behavior, attention and learning. Underlying food sensitivities can also affect thoughts, feelings and actions.

Naidoo recommends eliminating processed foods, refined carbohydrates, chemicals and food dyes; stating that even though there is inconclusive evidence concerning their effect, they are an “unnecessary burden on the body.” He believes that if a food is not natural, it will create stress in the body, either in the form of increased demand for digestion, imbalances in the endocrine system due to unnecessary insulin spikes or reactions with the nervous system.

While there are several factors that can affect symptoms, large population studies looking at families that eat processed foods versus unprocessed foods, and comparing the incidence of ADHD has yet to be done. Naidoo stresses the importance of families being given these alternatives before looking into a pharmacological option.

Naidoo explained that there are also other important factors to keep in mind before labeling a child as having ADHD. A child’s social component and living situation can have a direct effect on how well they perform and focus in school. It should also be noted if a child has issues in more than one environment, it could be a situational problem, not ADHD.