Restricted Food Diet Could Help Kids With ADHD, Study Finds

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, Medical Conditions, In The News

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Food allergies could be causing your child's ADHD symptoms. Credit: Achim Sass, Getty




If your child has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may want to consider an alternative course of treatment suggested by a new research study.

The study, published today in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, suggests that a special restricted diet -- known as the restricted elimination diet -- should be part of the standard of care for all children with ADHD.

ADHD affects 5 percent of children worldwide, the authors note, and it involves both genetic and environmental factors.

Currently, ADHD is treated with a combination of psychoeducation, parent training, child behavioral interventions and drugs, but these treatments have been shown to have limited long-term effects, according to the researchers.

Citing previous research that has looked at adverse reactions to foods on bodily systems -- like eczema, asthma and gastrointestinal problems -- the authors suggest that foods might also affect the brain, causing adverse behavioral effects.

In other words, the researchers suggest that ADHD might actually be an allergic or nonallergic hypersensitivity in some children that can be triggered by any types of foods that can cause allergic reactions.

To test this theory, the current study followed two groups of 50 children, aged 4 to 8 years, over the course of five weeks, one group followed an elimination diet while the other was given instructions for a general healthy diet. The children who reacted favorably to the restricted diet during the five weeks were then assigned to a second phase of the study, where two different groups of foods were added to the elimination diet, one after the other.

One of the groups contained foods that induced high levels of immunoglobulin G (IgG) in their blood while the other group contained low IgG foods. Immunoglobulin G antibodies are proteins made by the body's immune system that attack and destroy things that are foreign to the body, such as bacteria and viruses, so are very important in fighting infections.

The purpose of this phase of the study was to find out if igG blood tests are useful in identifying foods that trigger ADHD.

While previous studies have shown a connection between food and ADHD, the authors note that they were either based on too few subjects or only included children who were known to have allergies, which would prevent their results from being applicable to the general population -- in contrast to the current study.

"Our study shows comparable effect sizes in patients who are representative of the general ADHD population, supporting the implementation of a dietary intervention in the standard of care for all children with ADHD," the authors write.

The results suggest that dietary intervention should be considered in all children with ADHD, as long as parents are willing to follow a strict elimination diet for a five-week period under expert supervision, so that parents can be assured their growing child will not suffer from nutritional deficiencies as a result of the restricted diet.

"Children who react favorably to this diet should be diagnosed with food-induced ADHD and should enter a challenge procedure, to define which foods each child reacts to, and to increase the feasibility and to minimize the burden of the diet," the researchers write.

However, they conclude that standard treatments such as drugs and behavioral treatments should be pursued for children who do not show behavioral improvements after following the diet.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.