Can Diet Reduce the Symptoms of ADHD in Children?

ADHD  is a relatively common disorder affecting some 10% of children. With many parents leery of medication, there has been a rise in diet related treatments. A recent study in Pediatrics took a look at many of these diets to see if they were effective in treating the symptoms of ADHD.


While their finding did indicate that healthy eating could help reduce symptoms they were quick to warn that parents should not rely solely on diet to manage their child’s illness.


To conduct their study, researchers analyzed 70 separate studies on diet-based ADHD treatments including a sugar restricted diet, a diet that avoids potential food allergens, the Feingold diet and a diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Read on below to see how each diet fared.


The Feingold Diet
This diet tests to see if certain behaviors or symptoms are being triggered by synthetic food additives. The diet was originally invented to help people with food allergies but it was discovered that one of its side effects was improvement in attention span and behavior. The diet eliminates all additives such as artificial coloring and flavoring, aspartame and artificial preservatives. While researchers admit that this diet is not without merit they were unable to specifically find any proof of efficacy when it comes to controlling ADHD symptoms.


While there is a common perception that sugar triggers hyperactive behavior in children researchers were once again unable to find any connection between reduction in sugar and the easing of ADHD symptoms. They were also unable to find any evidence that consuming high levels of sugar or sweetener affected the cognitive function or behavior of children.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids
While there is some evidence that children who regularly take omega-3 supplements performed better in school and saw a reduction in ADHD symptoms the results were not consistent and ultimately inconclusive.


Food Allergens
Some families have tried eliminating potential food allergens such as nuts, gluten, chocolate and dairy products replacing them with hypoallergenic foods. Millichap, a member of the study, had this to say: “We find the hypoallergenic diet might be effective, but difficult for families to manage them.”


Researchers found that across the board the most effective diet was simply a healthy one. A diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fish and legumes seemed to be effective in reducing ADHD symptoms. This conclusion is also supported by an Australian study that found that children who consume a “western-style” diet of red meat, fast food and dairy were more likely to suffer from ADHD.


While diet does seem to play a role in the exhibition of ADHD symptoms, researchers worn that the disease should not be managed by diet alone and should be discussed with your child’s pediatrician.

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