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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Experts Revisit Food Additives and ADHD

Research Suggests Limiting Food Additives in Diet May Help Kids With ADHD

Food Additives on Trial

The 2007 study cited by Kemp and the AAP editors included 297 British children from the general population who were either age 3 or between the ages of 8 and 9 and whose diets were closely controlled for six weeks.

During the study, the children drank either beverages with food additives or a placebo drink with no additives.

Neither the children nor the researchers knew which beverage the children were getting.

The children were evaluated for inattention and hyperactivity by parents and teachers and through a standardized computer testing.

The researchers reported that for both age groups evaluated, children who drank the beverages with the artificial additives exhibited more hyperactivity and shorter attention spans.

That 2007 study aside, pediatrician Mark Wolraich, MD, tells WebMD that most studies that have examined the impact of limiting food additives on ADHD are at least three decades old, and these studies showed benefits in only a small percentage of hyperactive children.

A professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Wolraich notes that removing preservatives from many foods might pose a health problem of its own.

"The preservatives keep the food from spoiling, so there would be less food available if we removed them from all foods," he says.

Seattle Children's Hospital associate medical director Edgar Marcuse, MD, says the new study is more rigorous than any research that has been done before, even though it was not limited to children with ADHD.

As an editor of AAP Grand Rounds, Marcuse co-wrote the editorial calling on clinicians to be more open-minded about a possible role for dietary restrictions in the treatment of hyperactivity.

"This was not a huge study, but the overall findings were rather compelling," Marcuse tells WebMD. "We don't know what this means for any individual child at this point, but I think it reopens a book that has been closed."

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