ADD & ADHD: Does diet make a difference?

Although Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are the most studied and diagnosed psychiatric disorders affecting children, there is still little consensus about the root causes of the disorders and their appropriate treatments.   According to the CDC, almost 10% of all children in the United States have received an attention deficit disorder diagnosis.  Treatment of the telltale symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders (including chronic inattention, frequent distraction, impulsivity, fidgeting and difficulty controlling behavior) now accounts for a significant proportion of all drug use in children between the ages of 4-17.  In fact, there are now 17 different drugs approved to treat ADHD, contributing to a multibillion dollar ADHD industry.  However, a new study conducted by Radboud University Medical School and the ADHD Research Centre in the Netherlands1, presents compelling evidence that this blanket pharmacological approach to ADHD is misguided.  According to Dr. Lidy Piesser, the author of the study published in last month’s The Lancet medical journal, up to 64% of children who experience symptoms of ADHD might actually be experiencing sensitivity to foods.

Dr. Piesser and her colleagues conducted a randomized controlled trial involving 100 children between the ages of 4-8.  Half of the children were randomly selected to undergo a restrictive, low-allergy elimination diet for five weeks time.  The other half of the participants was engaged as a control group, and they were given instructions on eating a normal, healthy diet.  At the end of the first five weeks, two-thirds of the children on the restrictive elimination diet had significant improvements in their ADHD symptoms.  Further, after the initial five week phase, children whose symptoms had improved while on the restricted diet gradually reintroduced the eliminated foods to their diet.  In this second phase, 63 per cent of the children experienced a relapse of their ADHD symptoms!

Part of GetzWell Pediatrics’ functional approach to ADD and ADHD is to explore your child’s unique nutritional needs, behaviors, psychosocial circumstances, environmental exposures and a host of other mitigating factors before considering pharmaceutical treatments.  To learn more about elimination diets and other ADD/ADHD treatment protocols, contact our office at 415.825.1701 for an appointment.


Quick Tip: In addition to food reactivity, other areas of interest when treating ADHD are the roles essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency and irregular EFA metabolism may play.  In recent years, a number of clinical studies have been conducted that consistently demonstrate that a significant number of children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD are EFA deficient.  EFAs, also known as Omega-3s and Omega-6s, are critical to the process of cell development in every part of your child’s body.  One of the important Omega-3s is DHA, the most abundant fat in the brain (an organ that is 65% fat!).  Whole food sources of EFAs include fish and shellfish; some eggs; flaxseed; hemp and canola oil; chia, pumpkin and sunflower seeds; grass fed meats; walnuts; and an array of leafy vegetables.


1 “Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behaviour of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (INCA study): a randomised controlled trial.”  The Lancet, Volume 377, Issue 9764, Pages 494 – 503, 5 February 2011

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