Attention Deficit Disorder - ADD

ADD overview   Feingold diet   Hypoallergic diet   Sugar   Magnesium   Fatty acids   B vitamins

Discussion: Dietary Modification

The two most studied dietary approaches to ADHD are the Feingold diet and a hypoallergenic diet.

The Feingold diet
was developed by Benjamin Feingold, M.D., on the premise that salicylates (chemicals similar to aspirin that are found in a wide variety of foods) are an underlying cause of hyperactivity. In some studies, this hypothesis does not appear to hold up. However, in studies where markedly different levels of salicylates were investigated, a causative role for salicylates could be detected in some hyperactive children. As many as 10 to 25% of children may be sensitive to salicylates. Parents of ADHD children can contact local Feingold Associations for more information about which foods and medicines contain salicylates.

The Feingold diet also eliminates synthetic additives, dyes, and chemicals, which are commonly added to processed foods. The yellow dye, tartrazine, has been specifically shown to provoke symptoms in controlled studies of ADHD-affected children. Again, not every child reacts, but enough do so that a trial avoidance may be worthwhile. The Feingold diet is complex and requires guidance from either the Feingold Association or a healthcare professional familiar with the Feingold diet.

Hypoallergic Diet
In one study, children diagnosed with ADHD were put on a hypoallergenic diet, and those children who improved (about one-third) were then challenged with food additives. All of them experienced an aggravation of symptoms when given these additives. Other studies have shown that eliminating individual allergenic foods and additives from the diet can help children with attention problems.

Some parents believe that consuming sugar may aggravate ADHD. One study found that avoiding sugar reduced aggressiveness and restlessness in hyperactive children. Girls who restrict sugar have been reported to improve more than boys. However, a study using large amounts of sugar and aspartame (NutraSweet) found that negative reactions to these substances were limited to just a few children. While most studies have not found sugar to stimulate hyperactivity, except in rare cases, the experimental design of these studies may not have been ideal for demonstrating an adverse effect of sugar on ADHD, if one exists. Further studies are needed.

Nutritional Supplement Treatment Options
Magnesium Some children with ADHD have lowered levels of magnesium. In a preliminary, controlled trial, children with ADHD and low magnesium status were given 200 mg of magnesium per day for six months. Compared with 25 other magnesium-deficient ADHD children, those given magnesium supplementation had a significant decrease in hyperactive behavior.

Fatty Acids A deficiency of several essential fatty acids has been observed in some children with ADHD compared with unaffected children. One study gave children with ADHD evening primrose oil supplements in an attempt to correct the problem. Although a degree of benefit was seen, results were not pronounced.

B Vitamins particularly vitamin B6, have also been used for ADHD. Deficient levels of vitamin B6 have been detected in some ADHD patients. In a study of six children with low blood levels of the neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) serotonin, vitamin B6 supplementation (15-30 mg/kg body weight per day) was found to be more effective than methylphenidate (Ritalin). However, lower amounts of vitamin B6 were not beneficial. The effective amount of vitamin B6 in this study was extremely large and could potentially cause nerve damage, although none occurred in this study. A practitioner knowledgeable in nutrition must be consulted when using high amounts of vitamin B6. High amounts of other B vitamins have shown mixed results in relieving ADHD symptoms.

Related Health Condition: ADD.