Parents may be able to control ADHD in their children through diet, a new study review concluded Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
In many cases, parents use drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall and their generic equivalents to quiet hyperactivity in their children, but a current drug shortage may have parents scrambling to find alternative treatments.
Besides, treating children through diet is often much less costly than drugs.
Supplemental diet therapy is simple, relatively inexpensive, and more acceptable to patient and parent, wrote authors J. Gordon Millichap and Michelle M. Yee at the Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago. Public education regarding a healthy diet pattern and lifestyle to prevent or control ADHD may have greater long-term success.
The researchers warned that diet should not be the first line of defense against ADHD, but could be used to help other therapies. Though not medical advice, the authors found certain trends in the published literature that suggest that changing a child's diet can have a profound impact on their ADHD. The researchers found that contrary to popular belief, diets that restricted sugar or additives did not correlate with decreased levels of ADHD.
1. The Feingold Diet
The diet is based on the premise that certain foods and food additives affect behavior in children including anything with orange and red dyes. Advocates say the diet works by eliminating coloring, flavoring and other artificial preservatives, but the current Pediatrics study found no evidence that supports the Feingold Diet.
In practice, additive-free and oligoantigenic/elimination diets are time-consuming and disruptive to the household; they are indicated only in selected patients, the authors concluded.
2. Sugar Restrictive Diet
Remember that first rush of sugar when you were young and how it revved your motors? Probably not, but your parents likely remembered. The researchers doubt that sugar actually creates ADHD in children, contrary to popular notions. Many experts argue that a low-sugar diet is best to prevent disease in children beyond ADHD. The authors realize despite their findings, the perception that sugar makes a kid more hyperactive is unlikely to change, CBS News reported.
3. Hypoallergenic Diet
More promising, but problematic still, some prescribe the hypoallergenic diet that replaces allergy-producing foods such as milk and milk products, nuts, wheat, chocolate and replaces the foods with those that do not cause allergies such as potatoes, tapioca, carrots and lamb.
We find the hypoallergenic diet might be effective, but difficult for families to manage them, Millichap was quoted in HealthDay.
4. Low-Fat Diet
Best yet, a diet that includes fish, vegetables and whole grains improved symptoms in ADHD in children and eliminated red meats, junk food and dairy foods high in fat. In a sample study from Australia, one research group found that children who eat a diet high in calories and fat had a higher tendency of developing hyperactivity than children who ate a balanced healthy diet.
The meta-study didn't find the root cause of ADHD, but suggested that a healthy non-Western diet can help reduce symptoms of the disease that affects 5.4 million U.S. children - or nearly one in 10 American children.
I am a firm believer that 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, Roberto Lopez-Alberola, an associate professor and chief of pediatric neurology at University of Miami School of Medicine, told HealthDay. Lopez-Alberola was not involved in the current study.
The fast foods. The processed food. The preservative-rich foods . . . 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, he said.
Study author Millichap said that diets can be considered one of the first lines of defense against ADHD.
Diets can be used in the treatment of ADHD, but it's usually not a first choice with most parents, Millichap told HealthDay. But some parents prefer it and don't like medications at all. That's one of the reasons for considering the diets. Another is if there are side effects or adverse effects from the medications. Then one might turn to dietary treatments.
In some cases, the placebo effect can come into play as to why parents say one diet may work, when researchers find across the board that it in fact doesn't.
For better or worse, medications are the single most effective treatment available for ADHD, Adesman said. We don't have data to suggest dietary interventions are any more effective than medications, and there is little, if any, data to suggest dietary interventions are as effective as medications, Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, told HealthDay.
Families are welcome to explore and pursue alternative approaches, but they need to recognize that oftentimes there is limited research to support or justify their use and the benefits will likely be less substantial than conventional treatment.