Those parents who have a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) know how difficult a condition it can be to live with, and it is remarkably common. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.7 million children in America have been diagnosed with ADHD, and the numbers are increasing. The condition has increased an average of 5.5% each year between 2003 and 2007, and about 9.5% of American children between the ages of 4 and 17 have been diagnosed at some point in their lives as having ADHD.
The reason for the sudden surge in the rate of ADHD is not entirely clear; however, some years ago a series of studies found a significant correlation between ADHD and diet. A modified diet was developed, which was partially successful, but conflicting study results caused the support for this diet by the medical community to be lost and it was abandoned as a method of treatment until seminal British research published in 2007 revived interest in the idea.
The Southampton Study
The results of the Southampton Study, in which a drink consisting of a combination of sodium benzoate (a preservative) and artificial food coloring was fed to children, found an aggravation in hyperactivity in children at three years old, with similar and slightly lower hyperactivity in children who were between eight and nine years old. Another study published in 2010 in The American Journal of Psychiatry reached similar conclusions, suggesting that children who were sensitive to the additives in food likely had an anomaly in the genes responsible for regulating the release of histamines when confronted with potential allergens. A new follow-up study was published in February 2011 in the journal The Lancet, in which close to two-thirds of those children who had followed what is referred to as an elimination diet (a diet featuring fresh vegetables, fruit, meat and whole grains with the removal of all food additives) experienced a significant decrease in symptoms of hyperactivity and defiant behavior.
Government Refuses Regulation
Thanks to this research, discussions began once again about the possibility that the additives in food may be the culprit in the cause or aggravation of ADHD, which in 2010 led to the British government advising food manufacturers to remove most of the artificial food dyes from the products they produce. Currently, the European Union requires a warning label on those products that contain dyes that "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children."
In 2008, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed a petition with the FDA to ban food dyes due to their effect on the health of children and adults alike, a petition that has thus far been ignored by the FDA. This would include a ban on the dye Red 3, which is a known carcinogen that was banned from use in medicines and cosmetics in 1990, but is amazingly still used in food products. While manufacturers such as Kellogg’s, Mars and Kraft have removed the dyes from the products sold to the European market (because of the required labeling that would rightfully cause parents to avoid their products), they still use the dyes in food sold to American children.
As Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI notes, "At this point, American food manufacturers and regulators alike should be embarrassed that we’re feeding kids foods with chemicals that have such a powerfully disruptive impact on children’s behavior. European officials are taking the issue much more seriously, and are moving toward a safer food supply as a result."
Why You May Want to Give the Elimination Diet a Try
There is now more interest in trying to treat ADHD by following an elimination diet rather than using drugs such as Ritalin or Wellbutrin that may come with unpleasant side effects. Although a change in diet may not work for all children affected by ADHD, it has been shown to be effective in a significant enough number of cases to warrant giving it a try.
An elimination diet basically consists of removing all foods containing the additives believed to aggravate ADHD, which are the food dyes Red numbers 3 and 40, Yellow numbers 5, 6 and 10, Blue numbers 1 and 2 and sodium benzoate. In addition, the diet recommends that children eat fewer simple carbs (e.g., high fructose corn syrup, refined white flour products, candy), more complex carbs such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and more protein (e.g., cheese, eggs, meat, nuts). It is also advised that children be given omega-3 fatty acid supplements (such as fish oil) and take a multivitamin every day, as ADHD has also been found in children with low levels of zinc and B-vitamins.
You should consult your doctor before giving any kind of elimination diet a try. He or she can advise you as to which dietary changes may be of greatest benefit to your child.