Jan. 9, 2012 -- There isn’t a specific diet or magic vitamin that will curb hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and other symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but steering clear of certain unhealthy foods may make a difference, a new review shows.
Foods that may predispose a child to ADHD include:
High-fat dairy foods
Replacing these ADHD-linked foods with healthier choices including fish, vegetables, fruit, and whole-grain cereals may help improve some of the symptoms of ADHD. These are some of the findings of a review article in Pediatrics that looked at the role diet plays in treating ADHD.
As many as 5.4 million children aged 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, a behavioral disorder marked by trouble focusing, impulsive behaviors, and hyperactivity. ADHD is usually treated with medication and behavioral changes, such as adapting a regular routine. Many parents and doctors don’t like the idea of medication and would prefer a more natural or dietary approach.
“A healthy diet should be encouraged and an ADHD-provoking diet avoided,” says researcher J. Gordon Millichap, MD. He is a pediatric neurologist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Also worth a try are supplements of omega-3 fatty acids. There is no consensus on how or even if these supplements help children with ADHD. But children with ADHD who have low levels of fatty acids may benefit from these supplements.
“Special elimination or hypoallergenic diets, omitting dyes, milk, and sugar, are time consuming and [should be] tried only with definite evidence of adverse response to these items,” Millichap says.
“What makes the most sense is to look at a child’s diet and see what changes may be healthy in general and may also help improve ADHD symptoms,” says Marshall Teitelbaum, MD. He is a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist in private practice in Palm Beach, Fla.
“Cut back on soda, junk food, hot dogs, and processed foods,” he says. Many of the restrictive diets out there such as the Feingold diet are hard for children to stick with, he says. The Feingold diet was popular in the 1970s. It aims to cut out foods with artificial coloring and flavoring and certain preservatives.
“If you are going to try something, it may as well be something that will stick,” Teitelbaum tells WebMD.
There is also a role for trial and error. “If someone is more sensitive to sugar, pay attention and keep it in moderation,” he says.
The whole family has to be on board with any changes. “You can't tell a child to eat a special diet when the rest of the family isn't,” Teitelbaum says.
Stephen Grcevich, MD, says medication and behavioral changes should always come first, especially for children with issues in addition to ADHD, such as anxiety or depression. Grcevich is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Family Center by the Falls in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.