Dr John Briffa: Iron age

Reports of exponential growth in the rates of obesity in UK children have led to renewed calls for more activity and exercise to be worked into their lives. However, while some children appear to be immobilised by an inherent inertia, others may have a different problem: children suffering with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are typically physically frenetic, and may also exhibit a range of mental issues, including impulsiveness and mood swings. For ADHD-afflicted children, life can be both fast and furious.

My experience is that kids with ADHD often respond well to a diet that is as low as possible in sugar and artificial additives. In addition, I have found supplementation with omega-3 fats and/or magnesium helps to bring calm and order to an overactive body and mind. However, my attention was recently diverted by research suggesting that iron might temper hyperactivity in kids.

In a study published in December's Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, the iron levels in children with ADHD were compared with those of unaffected kids (controls). Researchers found that 84 per cent of affected children had abnormally low iron levels, compared to only 18 per cent of controls. The lower the iron level, the more pronounced the ADHD symptoms tended to be. Whatever role iron has in regulating mood and behaviour may be related to the fact that it is necessary for the functioning of dopamine - a brain chemical that has diverse effects on physical and mental processes. Scientists have suggested that dopamine depletion is a factor in ADHD, indirect evidence for which comes from the knowledge that Ritalin (a common drug treatment for ADHD) boosts dopamine levels in the brain.

Studies in which iron treatment has been tried as a treatment for ADHD are thin on the ground. However, one study found that just a month of iron supplementation did lead to a significant reduction in hyperactive symptoms as assessed by the sufferers' parents.

Excesses of iron can be damaging, so it is important for iron levels to be assessed prior to treatment. Measuring blood levels of a substance called ferritin is the best gauge of iron levels in the body. For those with ferritin counts that are low, I suggest emphasising iron-rich foods such as red meat, nuts and seeds, and for more rapid results, supplementation with NDS iron, an absorbable form of iron (available by mail order on 01273 720 720). Mounting evidence suggests that for children with ADHD, iron might turn out to be a very precious metal indeed.

Dear John

I am a man in my midthirties, and suffered from severe acne on my face and back as a teenager. Apart from odd spots on my back, this has resolved, but I am left with acne scarring on my face. I am considering dermabrasion, but I wonder if there is something less aggressive I could try first.
ML

Natural remedies can help reduce the appearance of even old scars. One product that has a good reputation is rosehip oil. This contains beneficial fats that are believed to help in the regeneration of the skin protein collagen. I have found that rosehip oil, applied once or twice a day for some months, can be quite effective in reducing acne scarring and scars that are the result of surgery or injury. Rosehip oil is available under the brand name Rosa Mosqueta from Rio Trading (01273 570 987). Another natural remedy that seems to help is vitamin E oil. This should be rubbed into the affected area once or twice a day for several months. You can either buy bottles of concentrated vitamin E oil or use the contents of soft gelatine capsules containing vitamin E oil.

Nutrition news

Last week, I highlighted the benefits to be had by having consistency in our eating patterns, and I recommended dried fruit as a healthy between-meal snack. In a study which was published this month in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the nutritional attributes of dried fruit were evaluated. A variety of dried fruits were assessed for their content of antioxidants - nutrients that have disease-protective properties through their ability to neutralise the action of damaging molecules known as free radicals. In test-tube studies, dried fruits were found to have significant antioxidant potential, with figs and prunes being particularly potent in this respect.

As part of this study, scientists also fed dried figs to a group of subjects, and then measured antioxidant action in the body. The eating of dried figs was found to lead to a significant boost in internal antioxidant action, which lasted for about four hours. The authors of the study concluded that dried fruits are a good and convenient source of beneficial nutrients, and they recommended that dried fruits assume a more prominent place in the diet.

· If you have any issues you would like Dr Briffa to address in his column, please email him on john.briffa@observer.co.uk. Please note that Dr Briffa cannot enter into any correspondence. You can also visit www.drbriffa.com. Before following any recommendations in this column, you should consult your own medical adviser about any medical problems or special health conditions.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.