Diet change may help kids with ADHD

Staff - - 01/17/2012
Food Knowledge

There’s limited evidence that any particular diet or supplement helps kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but at least some research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may help while fatty “Western-style” diets do these children no favors.

Researchers from Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago reviewed previous studies on diets and supplements that have been tried in children with ADHD. Among the diets tested: restricting sugar, which some parents believe worsens hyperactivity; avoiding food containing additives and preservatives, known as the Feingold diet; an “elimination diet” that avoids foods most often implicated in food allergies, and supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil capsules.

Little research supports the idea that sugar or artificial sweeteners affect children’s behavior, according to the review. Nor is there much evidence from controlled trials to support the Feingold diet, which advocates avoiding food that contains red and orange dyes and preservatives.

Yet, some studies have suggested some kids with ADHD benefit from an elimination, also known as a hypoallergenic, diet. But that typically means forgoing cow’s milk, cheese, wheat cereal, eggs, chocolate, nuts and citrus foods, which can be tough on the child and on the family, said study author Dr. J. Gordon Millichap, a professor emeritus at Northwestern University Medical School and neurologist at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Moreover, the results of studies on hypoallergenic diets have been mixed.

Dr. Roberto Lopez-Alberola, chief of pediatric neurology at University of Miami School of Medicine, strongly advocates children with ADHD following such a healthier diet and avoiding dyes, preservatives and other additives.

“ We ultimately are what we eat, and unfortunately as a result of our poor Western diet, we see this in the increase in the rate of obesity, particularly in the young population,” Lopez-Alberola said. “In the same way we see an impact physically, it’s going to have an impact from the neurodevelopmental standpoint. It’s not surprising we see a parallel in the increase in obesity and in ADHD.”

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