Are Diet and ADHD related? by tothepoint
May 2, 2011, 3:38 pm
Filed under: Food and Children, Foods and Health | Tags: , ,

Since ADHD was first documented as a disease in the nineteen fifties, it has grown so drastically it has become a problem of national importance. Over fifteen percent of children today exhibit symptoms of this peculiar disease.(Dell et al) What has caused such a rapid rise in this previously unheard of disorder? One highly feasible answer to this question is our change of diet. With the advent of processed foods people began to eat things that they had never consumed before, such as artificial dyes and food additives. We realize what goes into our food and yet we expect to be able to consume these poisons with impunity. I believe that something as simple as a change of diet can eliminate the problem of ADHD and related mental conditions without costly drugs and their dangerous side effects.

Now before I get too far, what is ADHD in the first place? “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a disorder characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity that occurs in academic or social settings.” (Dell et al. 96) Problems with attention include making careless mistakes, failing to complete tasks, problems staying organized etc. Problems with hyperactivity can include excessive fidgetiness, running, and excessive talking. Hyperactivity can also show up as impulsivity; impatience, difficulty awaiting one’s turn, blurting out answers, and frequent interrupting. Although many children with ADHD display both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, some individuals show symptoms from one group but not the other. This, combined with the fact that all children behave in this way at some point, makes it difficult to accurately diagnose. Now that we know what this disorder is, what are we currently doing to treat it?

Up to the present day ADHD has been treated with a stimulant medication such as Methylphenidate, more commonly known as Ritalin. This medication puts a child into a tractable mood, allowing him to more easily complete simple everyday tasks. As with any drug, however, it comes with side effects. These include but are not limited to; “sleep difficulties, stomachaches, headaches, appetite reduction, drowsiness, irritability, and nervousness, and in extreme cases to nervous tics, hallucinations, and bizarre behavior.” (Rabiner) Despite these numerous side effects, Ritalin has become the most widely used ADHD medication with its use increasing almost seven hundred percent since 1999.

Another less used treatment is the Behavioral Treatment Plan. This plan is based on the premise that specific behaviors will increase or decrease depending on the consequences they produce. Thus, a parent can increase their child’s desirable behavior by providing positive consequences when such behavior occurs. Similarly, undesirable behavior can be reduced by making sure it results in a negative consequence. In theory, if these consequences are applied consistently, the child learns that good things result from good behavior, and bad things result from bad behavior. As a result, significant improvements in behavior should occur. (Rabiner) Unfortunately this plan is not as easy as it sounds since it is hard to choose the appropriate punishment or reward and carry it through consistently.

Two widely known treatment methods have been discussed, both of which are either impossible to carry out or dangerous to the health of the child. The alternative that I recommend is the change of diet. The first attempt at anything like this was in 1975 when Dr. Benjamin Feingold pioneered his “Feingold Kaiser Permante (K-P)” diet to treat hyperkinesis otherwise known as hyperactivity.(Kavale 324) This diet called for the elimination of all artificial food additives, colors, and salicylates. Those following the diet eliminate all these things for a couple weeks. After several weeks, if the child’s behavior has improved, every few days one of the eliminated foods is restored. This is repeated two or three times if a problem occurs, to confirm that the food is really a culprit. It the subject shows no improvement when the initial foods are eliminated several other foods may be tried such as wheat, dairy, sugar, and corn products. Dr. Feingold reported fifty to seventy percent success with his diet, but since he did not conduct his research in a strict scientific manner (he did not use a control group) his results were received with the general scorn of his fellow scientists. However, parents of children with hyperactivity reported the efficacy of the diet. This spawned a debate that has lasted to the present day. Recently there have been several doctors who have come out in support of Dr. Feingold’s hypothesis. A study by New York doctors recognized that

…increasing evidence suggests that many children with behavioral problems are

sensitive to one or more food components that can negatively impact

their behavior. Individual response is an important factor for determining

the proper approach in treating children with ADHD. In general, diet

modification plays a major role in the management of ADHD and should

be considered as part of the treatment protocol.(Dell et al)

As this quote suggests, diet should be one of the more important steps in the treatment of ADHD. Natural supplements such as multi-vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids are also vital in the treatment of this disorder.(Harvard Mental Health Letter)

Despite such well documented data showing otherwise skeptics still object “this is an area where fads abound, further large scale unbiased study is necessary to inform future practice.” (Ballard 234) In other words, they are saying you can’t support a treatment that is not clinically proven; not enough studies have been done to show that it is effective for everyone.” My response to this would be that if it is not unsafe you have nothing to lose. Maybe it is not clinically proven to help everyone, but if you take an unbiased look at the studies to date, it is shown to be as effective as Ritalin.(Dell et al. 97) Those saying that the diet does not help and is possibly harmful are simply being influenced by the large drug corporations who don’t want to lose the  lucrative market ADHD provides for them.

Not only does a change of diet help with ADHD it is also helpful with the related disorder autism.  “Autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) (Autistic Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Asperger Disorder) are severe neurodevelopmental disorders with diagnostic features that include qualitative impairment in social interactions (e.g., lack of social reciprocity, marked impairment in eye-to-eye gaze, lack of joint attention), qualitative impairments in communication (e.g., lack of language development, echolalia, stereotyped, and repetitive use of language), and restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities.”(Johnson et al.) Children with this disease find it impossible to interact socially and complete tasks given to them. Although many people do not realize it, these two mental disorders, ADHD and autism, are closely related and can both be treated in the same way. The nature of autism prevents the results from being as extensive as in ADHD, but significant results are still documented.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has been on the rise since nineteen fifty. Parents and doctors are at their wits end trying to discover an effective and safe treatment. Ritalin and other stimulant drugs are being used, but the side effects prove them to be undesirable. Although the Behavior Treatment Plan is totally safe, it has shown itself to be almost entirely ineffective. Dr. Feingold unwittingly found the solution in the seventies when he realized that food additives and artificial colors were harmful and introduced the controversial Feingold Diet to treat hyperactivity. Since then diet treatments have morphed to include such things as adding mineral supplements, omega 3 fatty acids, and cutting out other item such as sugar and gluten.  Although drug companies are trying to hide it from the general public, monitoring what we eat has shown itself to be the optimal way to keep mental health problems such as AHDH and autism under control.


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