New Study Finds Kids With ADHD Helped By Diet

Posted March 17, 2011 by

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A new study assessing the effectiveness of a restricted elimination diet on the behavior of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was conducted in the Netherlands and Belgium. They enrolled 100 children (4 – 8 years) and randomly assigned them to either a group that received this special diet or to a control group that was just given instructions for a healthy diet. They were to follow the assigned protocol for 5 weeks. They were assessed before and after using using several ADHD rating scales. The assessment indicated that 64% of those using the elimination diet had a significant improvement in symptoms. (A similar study was conducted in the UK in May of last year.)

So what does this mean?

I think that it probably means that the children who improved using the diet had a food allergy which produced symptoms similar to ADHD.  Thus, the diagnosis of ADHD may have been incorrect given these findings.

There are many other questions that were not answered.  For instance, the children’s parents knew which treatment they were receiving.  Could this have influenced their ratings?  Remember, they were recruited by advertising which may have attracted parents who wanted their children off medication and who may have believed that diet might be a significant factor.   We also know that increased positive attention by a parent can reduce ADHD symptoms. (I discuss this in depth in Total Focus.) Could increased attention have played a role in the improvement? The study lasted for 5 weeks. Can the results be maintained over a long period of time? And if the offending foods were reintroduced, would the symptoms return?

Another study published in the December 2010 issue of Clinical Pediatrics conducted a systematic and comprehensive review of all the literature related to diet and ADHD and concluded that there are a select group of children who present with ADHD symptoms who show improvement as a result of a change in their diet.  The Feingold Diet Program has been around for 35 years.  While it has its share of advocates, all of the professional societies issuing treatment guidelines have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove its efficacy as a primary treatment for ADHD.  Please go to the Feingold Diet website to learn more.  Then go to the Quakwatch as well as the Clinical Pediatrics article for another point of view.  If you are inclined to try a diet approach, PLEASE CHECK WITH YOUR CHILD’S PHYSICIAN before proceeding.

While diet appears to be helpful for some children (the size of this group is in question), another intervention that has proven to be successful when used with or without medication and most likely would enhance any benefits derived from a dietary approach is behavioral treatment.  This is often either overlooked or only partially implemented due to constrictions of time and resources.  The result is that many parents, teachers, and providers seek what seems to be the convenient solution.  However, in the latest review of the results of the “gold standard” MTA study, children whose family received behavioral interventions had the best long-term outcome.  Parents who are  looking for an alternative from medication as well as for significant, long lasting improvement may be surprised at the results they achieve by investing just a few hours per week working with their son or daughter implementing researched-based interventions.


Dr Robert Myers is a child psychologist with more than 25 years of experience working with children and adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and learning disabilities and is the creator of the Total Focus Program. Dr Myers is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at UC Irvine School of Medicine. "Dr Bob" has provided practical information for parents as a radio talk show host and as editor of Child Development Institute's website, which reaches 3 million parents each year. Dr. Myers earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.

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  1. Concernedmama (Edit) Report

    My son is ADHD. He is now 12 years old and has been medication free for the last 4 years. We have found that the older he gets, his symptoms of ADHD lessen. We have restricted his diet and found success. We took out things like ravioli, spaghetti, hot dogs, sodas, etc… We introduced organic dairy, fruits, vegetables, and meats. We were astonished in the difference! Changing our diets was the best thing we could have done. It even helped our 13 year old daughter, who at the time was on a hormonal roller coaster. I think we as parents should pay more attention to the food we allow our children to eat. There are additives and processes that our bodies just can’t process.

  2. bjgnhd (Edit) Report

    In the US, it’s called the Feingold Program. We’ve used it for the past 15 plus years. My son was kicked out of day cares because of aggression. We began following the Feingold Program, eliminated the “offending foods” (specifically low fat milk products and a preservative BHT were the culprits) and he was much better thereafter.

  3. Marcia4968 (Edit) Report

    I have been using a variation of the Feingold diet on my sons since my oldest son was 4 years old. He is now 19 1/2. I was not willing to have him diagnosed with ADHD and did not want him on drugs when I found a book in my grandmother’s barn on the Feingold diet. It made such dramatic improvements in my son that there was no denying it. When my youngest son was born, he is now 11, I decided to start him out on the Feingold diet and he does remarkably better in school than my oldest did (which may just be personality differences), although I am not as strict with the youngest as I was with the oldest, he can absolutely not have anything with any Red food dye in it at all. The other colors, I try to keep at a minimum, but not as strictly. Red seems to be the worst offender with my boys….

  4. Madisonwithkids (Edit) Report

    I believe in SOME kids. My oldest of 3 quickly changes to negative behavior after chocolate pudding, chocolate cake, etc. While most would assume it’s a sugar reaction, both of these boxes mixes contain Red 40 or Yellow 5 which studies show cause ‘hyperactivity’ or ‘aggressive behavior’ among other things. These additives & more are synthetic, derived from petroleum and banned in some countries for use in food! I’m NOT a fanatic about this, just becoming aware & observing the difference. Any parents looking for behavior solutions, this is worth a shot. My research comes from a little book called Eat Safe by Bill Statham, and the Feingold Assn who has great newsletters you can get free by e-mail.



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