Dietary Sensitivities and ADHD Symptoms: Thirty-five Years of Research

This is a great review of the research on ADHD and diet. Most of the data covered relates to food dyes and preservatives. It is great to see a lot of very rigorous research over the last 35 years including numerous double-blind studies, cross-over studies, and trials that gave food dyes versus placebo. Looking at all the data it seems clear that a percentage of kids with ADHD can be helped by dietary modification.

Authors LJ Stevens, T Kuczek, JR Burgess, E Hurt, LE Arnold
Institution Department of Foods & Nutrition, Purdue University
Publication Name Clinical Pediatrics
Publication Date April 2011

Artificial food colors (AFCs) have not been established as the main cause of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but accumulated evidence suggests that a subgroup shows significant symptom improvement when consuming an AFC-free diet and reacts with ADHD-type symptoms on challenge with AFCs. Of children with suspected sensitivities, 65% to 89% reacted when challenged with at least 100 mg of AFC. Oligoantigenic diet studies suggested that some children in addition to being sensitive to AFCs are also sensitive to common nonsalicylate foods (milk, chocolate, soy, eggs, wheat, corn, legumes) as well as salicylate-containing grapes, tomatoes, and orange. Some studies found “cosensitivity” to be more the rule than the exception. Recently, 2 large studies demonstrated behavioral sensitivity to AFCs and benzoate in children both with and without ADHD. A trial elimination diet is appropriate for children who have not responded satisfactorily to conventional treatment or whose parents wish to pursue a dietary investigation.

Drew Ramsey, MD

Drew Ramsey, M.D. is a psychiatrist, author, and farmer. He is a clear voice in the mental health conversation and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using nutritional interventions. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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