Food Intolerance & ADHD

There has been a rise in the number of kids diagnosed with ADD, according to a recent article in the New York Times. Now 11% of all school-aged children has ADHD, and 1 out of every 5 high school boys will receive an ADHD diagnosis. This represents a 40% increase in the past decade, which is raising many questions among experts – such as are ADHD medications being overused?

But what is leading to this increase, and what if many of these cases were simply a food sensitivity? According to this NPR article, a study conducted in the Netherlands and published on February 5, 2011 in the Lancet Journal, found that 64% of diagnosed cases of ADHD was actually caused by a hypersensitivity to food; and when the food was removed, the symptoms improved. According to the lead author of the study, Dr. Lidy Pelsser, “we have got good news — that food is the main cause of ADHD,” she says. “We’ve got bad news — that we have to train physicians to monitor this procedure because it cannot be done by a physician who is not trained.

Rarely are parents of kids with ADHD given any nutritional/supplementary options, they are simply given the diagnosis and sent home with a prescription for ADHD medication. But these medications are not without risk, including decreased appetite, depression and mood disorders, increased blood pressure, and more. So if the root cause of the inattention is food sensitivities, then shouldn’t we be treating the attention and behavior issues by first identifying and eliminating any offending foods, and adding in nutritional supplements; and if those fail – resorting to the medication?

So until doctors start to recognize and treat ADHD in this way, parents can educate themselves and find a practitioner that can help them navigate this approach to treating focus and attention issues. Although there is a percentage of kids who nutritional approaches won’t offer a full recovery, according to the study out of the Netherlands, a significant number of kids will benefit from nutritional changes. The only downside is that a food elimination diet it is not as easy as popping a pill every day. But even those that end up taking medications, many will also benefit from nutritional approaches and certain supplements.

What are the 3 most common foods associated with ADHD-like symptoms?

  1. Dairy. According to Doris Rapp, M.D., author of Is This Your Child? and The Impossible Child, dairy is at the top of the list of foods that cause behavior, focus & attention problems. Other signs that your child could have a problem with dairy? Bed wetting (past toddlerhood), asthma, temper tantrums, frequent ear upper respiratory or sinus infections, and vocal tics or throat clearing.

  2. Wheat/gluten. According to the book Dangerous Grains, written by James, Braly, MD and Ron Hoggan, M.A., “About 70% of children with untreated celiac disease show exactly the same abnormalities in brain-wave patterns as those who have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. Mood disorders are also common with gluten intolerances – including aggressive, angry, bullying, and irritable behavior.”

  3. Food colorings and additives. A total of 15 million pounds of dyes are added to foods each year, many of which are directly marketed at school-aged children. Food dyes have been linked to behavioral problems, hyperactivity, allergic reactions, and even some cancers. A study published in the journal Lancet in 2007, concluded that food dyes increased hyperactivity in children. Based on this study, the British government banned the use of food dyes, and all foods that contain dyes in Europe must come with a warning label that says “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” Read more about the Dangers Associated with Food Dyes at Disease-Proof.

These are 3 of the most common things to consider with regard to ADHD, but there are a number of other foods/substances that could be causing focus and attention problems – including high fructose corn syrup/sugar, pesticides, mercury, soy, eggs, corn – to just name a few.

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