Controlling ADHD via diet

As a parent of two little boys who show signs of ADHD and learning disabilities your site is a great find and I liked reading it. I do have a question. Do you know anything about controlling ADHD with diet instead of drugs? I have been reading a lot of articles that indicate it may be caused by allergies to food and the environment. Any comments would be appreciated.

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

I am sorry that I am not informed about controlling ADHD with diet instead of drugs. I am sure it is a very dynamic field in which studies are being carried out. Behavioral toxicology is a new field that links food additives, toxins, and some naturally containing chemicals to behavioral problems. It does seem that a small amount of children are hyper sensitive to food additives and synthetic food dyes.

For me to be able to adequately answer your question I would need to carry out a literature search of current research and unfortunately, I don't have the time. What you can do is contact a clinical dietitian (call the American Dietetic Hotline to get a referral to a dietitian in your area 800-366-1655) to see if they are informed in this area. Also, any professional that specializes in ADHD should be able to point you to some helpful research to read.

In the meantime, there is no harm, and potential benefit, it having your two sons stick to a diet that includes foods only in their most simple, natural state. This will help you to avoid unnecessary and perhaps offending food additives and colors. Processed and packaged foods should be avoided for the most part, with the exception of whole grain cereals that contain no artificial flavors, colors, etc..

Purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, beans, and dairy products. Purchase bread from a source that uses only whole grains and no added ingredients, or make your own. Your local natural food store will be a great resource to you in finding minimally processed ingredients for your cooking, and will have a great choice of healthful foods for snacking such as dried fruits (buy the non- sulfered variety), popcorn, nuts, seeds, cheese, and fruit drinks.

I caution you to read information on the subject with a keen eye to the credibility of the author and the soundness of the scientific studies that were carried out. You do not want to eliminate foods from your sons' diet unnecessarily, nor treat via diet what is best treated with medication. Heed the advise of only well trained professionals. Two little boys are not what you want to use for medical guinea pigs.

A number of research articles that were cited in The American Academy of Pediatrics Nutrition Handbook may be worth looking up. They are:

  1. Weiss B. Food additives and environmental chemicals as sources of childhood behavior disorders. J Am Acad Child Psychiatry. 1982:21:144-152
  2. Lipton MA, Nemeroff CB, Mailman RB, Hyperkinesis and food additives. In: Wurtman JJ, eds: Nutrition and the Brain, Vol 4. Toxic Effects of Food Constituents on the Brain, New York, NY: Raven Press; 1979:1-27
  3. Lipton MA, Mayo JP. Diet and hyperkinesis- and update. J Am Diet Assoc. 1983; 83:132-134

Thank you for writing and good luck in your quest for information. I think it is worth your time, and you may find out some interesting things. If you come across and good resources, I would appreciate you sharing them with me, and then if other parents write in with the same concerns, I can share it with them.

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