Now that I've dated myself once again, let's get to the real topic which is: "Can the foods that your kids eat have any relationship to ADD and ADHD symptoms?"
The question that I'm posing today whether sensitivities to foods that we would otherwise consider to be healthy trigger ADHD symptoms?
Many clinicians have long considered that a possibility because many of the children that they were treating for ADHD also had food sensitivities that showed up as eczema, asthma and gastrointestinal problems.
A major clinical study called The Impact of Nutrition on Children with ADHD (INCA) suggests that the answer to this question is a resounding YES - food sensitivities can cause ADHD symptoms (Pelesser et al, Lancet, 377: 494-503, 2011).
100 children from the Netherlands and Belgium with a definitive diagnosis of ADHD were enrolled in the study. The age of the children was 4 to 8 years old because it is easiest to control the food intake of children in that age group.
At the beginning of the study every child was given IgG blood tests to identify food sensitivities.
During the first 5 weeks of the program the children were divided into two groups.
One group was put on a restricted elimination diet consisting of rice, meats, vegetables, pears and water for 5 weeks (An elimination diet is the "gold standard" for evaluating food sensitivities because it eliminates almost every food known to cause sensitivity from the diet).
The second group was put on a "healthy diet" - one which met current nutritional guidelines, but did not eliminate any food or food group from the diet.
At the end of this 5-week period all of the children were evaluated for ADHD symptoms in a blinded fashion by a pediatrician specializing in diagnosing and treating ADHD.
An astonishing 78% of the children on the elimination diet had a reduction in their ADHD symptoms!
Those on the "healthy diet" showed no significant improvement in symptoms.
This was followed by a second phase in which restricted foods were added back to the diet of those children who had responded positively to the elimination diet.
But the foods were not added back randomly. Each child was exposed for two weeks to foods with a high IgG response in their initial screen and for two weeks to foods with a low IgG response in their initial screen. In others words the foods added back were different for each child and were based on their individual IgG results.
This phase of the trial was done in a crossover fashion - meaning that half of the children received low IgG foods during the first two weeks followed by high IgG foods during the second two weeks - and for the other half of the children the order was reversed.
And this phase of the study was also done in a double blind fashion - meaning that neither the children nor the evaluators knew whether they were receiving low IgG foods or high IgG foods during the test period.
The results of this phase of the study were also very interesting. There was a substantial worsening of ADHD symptoms in 63% of the children when restricted foods were added back to the diet - AND - it didn't matter whether the foods were low IgG foods or high IgG foods.
The authors' conclusions were simple:
1) Food sensitivities make a substantial contribution to ADHD symptoms in children.
2) Don't waste your money on the IgG tests (They have been controversial for some time). The best way to see if foods trigger your child's ADHD symptoms is to put them on an elimination diet, and if they show an improvement on the elimination diet, add the restricted foods back one or two at a time so you can identify the ones that should be avoided in the future.
Some of you might be saying that sounds difficult (it is), so why bother?
The answer is that 5% of school age children in this country are diagnosed with ADD or ADHD - and almost all of them are treated with drugs that can have serious side effects.
Using an elimination diet to find out whether your child's ADHD is triggered by food sensitivities and then changing their diet has absolutely no side effects!
Some of you might be asking are there any easier drug-free approaches that you could try or is there any natural approach that might work for the 22% of children who don't respond to the elimination diet?
The answer to both questions is yes.
Simply eliminating food additives, junk foods or sugary foods from the diet helps reduce ADHD symptoms in many children.
And you shouldn't neglect the role that supplementation can play in laying a strong nutritional foundation.
I recommend a good children's multivitamin to make sure that they are getting the nutrients that they need, a protein supplement to help prevent blood sugar swings, a good omega-3 (preferably DHA) supplement to support brain health and a supplemental source of friendly bacteria to promote gut health.*
But if all else fails I would recommend trying an elimination diet to identify problem foods and then eliminating those foods from your child's diet before putting them on drugs.
To Your Health!
Dr. Stephen G Chaney
P.S. The purpose of the elimination diet is just to determine whether your child has food sensitivities that trigger their ADHD. This should be followed by a phase in which you add back foods one or two at a time to identify which foods should be avoided in the future. The elimination diet itself is not nutritionally adequate on a long term basis.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.