In those distant days of the 1970’s, when flares were fashionable for the first time, Dr Feingold stated that childrens’ diet caused ADHD. He identified artificial food coloring and flavourings as the cause of 75% of ADHD. Subsequent research has shown that only 2% of children responded to Feingold’s Diet.
This was the first of several attempts to link diet and nutrition to ADD / ADHD.
The obvious target in the hyperactive child’s diet is sugar. Clearly children can get over excited on a sugar rush but is this the same as ADD / ADHD? The research produced mixed results, some finding that sugar has no effect, some finding it calms children and some, by the sugar industry itself, finding that increased motor activity or reduced attention span following sugar consumption. Whatever the relationship between sugar and ADHD, it is not a simple, straightforward link between cause and effect. So dropping sugar out of the diet probably will not reduce hyperactivity but most children have too much sugar in their diet and many face weight problems so there are other health benefits to controlling sugar intake.
The next target is vitamin deficiencies and here the evidence is strong for a link between nutrition and ADD / ADHD. One study found that iron deficient children had motor functioning and memory problems, both common symptoms of ADHD. A shortage of zinc has also been collared as a suspected cause of ADD / ADHD. A double-blind study on zinc supplements found they worked better than a placebo at reducing hyperactivity and impulsiveness. However the response rate for the zinc was only 28.7% were as for the placebo, the fake treatment, the rate was 20%. Zinc worked but not that much better than the placebo.
One of the problems with looking at diet, nutrition and ADHD is that diet is strongly linked to your home situation. Well off, well educated parents feed their children better then poorer, less educated people. The question is, is it the better diet that prevents ADHD in the well off children or is it because they grow up in a caring and stimulating environment?
The best advice currently available is for children to eat a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables. This will certainly help prevent weight problems and improve the child’s overall physical and neurological development. If the diet helps treat ADD / ADHD then that’s a bonus.
Also on Myomancy: ADHD and Obesity
Research: Diet and Hyperkinesis. An Update; Diet as a Treatment for ADHD [ PDF ]; Poorer Behavioral and Developmental Outcome More Than 10 Years After Treatment for Iron Deficiency in Infancy