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Food May Affect Kids' Focus

Food May Affect Kids' Focus
: Main Image
A supervised elimination diet may potentially help millions of children and families affected by ADHD
For children struggling with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), following a restricted diet might help uncover hidden food sensitivities that could contribute to this complex condition.

A sign of the times?

ADHD is an increasingly common diagnosis among children, with an estimated prevalence of about 5% worldwide. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed than girls, and about 66% of children with ADHD receive medication for the condition. Characterized by impairment in attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior, ADHD sometimes goes hand-in-hand with other problems like oppositional-defiant disorder, which puts children at risk for conduct disorder and antisocial personality disorder later in life.

While the cause is not completely understood, there seems to be a genetic component, and some experts contend that environmental factors like diet can play a role. Knowing how to identify the offending foods is a challenge, though, and parents looking to blood tests for the answer may be missing out on pinpointing the foods that really cause a problem, says a new study published in the Lancet.

Uncovering the culprits

This study looked at 100 children between ages four and eight who had been diagnosed with ADHD. Half of them followed a strict elimination diet comprising mostly meat, rice, pears, vegetables, and water. Parents of the other half (the control group) were given healthy eating advice for their children to follow. Blood samples were taken at the beginning and end of this part of the trial and tested for antibodies to 270 different foods. (This test is sometimes used to help identify hidden food sensitivities; it is not the same one used to test for true allergic reactions, like those to peanuts.)

After five weeks, those children who improved on the elimination diet entered a food challenge phase: They were systematically given three foods to which they showed little sensitivity (based on the antibody test) and three to which they were apparently sensitive, and changes in their behavior were recorded.

While on the elimination diet, 64% of the children improved with a substantial relapse in behavior in 63% during the challenge phase. The relapses were not related to antibody scores, though, "suggesting that the use of [these tests] to identify which foods are triggering ADHD is not advisable," said lead researcher, Lidy Pelsser.

While more studies are needed to confirm these results, a supervised elimination diet is an inexpensive, natural option that may potentially help millions of children and families affected by ADHD. A knowledgeable practitioner can help sort out which foods are most likely to cause a reaction, making the process safer and much less tedious.

(Lancet 2011;377:494-503)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University, the nation's premier academic institution for science-based natural medicine. She co-founded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, where she practiced whole family care with an emphasis on nutritional counseling, herbal medicine, detoxification, and food allergy identification and treatment. Her blog, Eat Happy, helps take the drama out of healthy eating with real food recipes and nutrition news that you can use. Dr. Beauchamp is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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