There’s a new review in Pediatrics, a well-respected child journal on “The Diet Factor in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” This is well timed as I just had the fortune to meet Dr. Lidia Zylowska who has been involved with mindfulness based practices for the treatment of ADHD and has a new book coming out – The Mindful Prescription for Adult ADHD. See her information here: http://www.lidiazylowska.com. Another good resource is from Dr. Richard Brown and Dr. Patricia Gerbarg who also have a related book, Non-Drug Treatments for ADHD.
In the Pediatrics journal, published 2012, the authors review the evidence in the literature for specific diet and their effects on ADHD and ADHD-like symptoms. Below are some key points.
Their first review on Omega 3’s (healthy fatty acids found in fish and vegetables) shows some good initial studies that show promise in helping with some symptoms, though the research is still inconclusive. Still, the authors note they do use it in their own clinic as the side effects are very low to none and the health benefits are positive for multiple causes.
The second summary is for the Fiengold diet which gained popularity in the 1980’s and then waned, though there appears to be renewed interest. The Fiengold diet requires elimination of synthetic dyes, food additives, and preservatives. It requires significant diet restrictions but findings have shown that there appears to be a small subset of children who do have worsening of their symptoms when exposed to these chemicals.
The oligoantigenic (hypoallergenic/elimination) diet requires eliminating foods that can cause allergies or sensitivities. These foods include “cow’s milk, cheese, wheat cereals, egg, chocolate, nuts, and citrus fruits.” There have been several small and large studies showing significant improvement in many children with these diets. There’s no way to know if this will work unless actually done, so there is a significant commitment to this method. However, it seems to be worthwhile for those motivated to try.
Other diet measures that have shown some initial promise include the treatment of iron and zinc deficiencies. However, these studies seem to be small and may be limited to certain populations.
Eating healthy has generally been found to have positive benefits on children – not only for symptoms of ADHD, but for their physical, cognitive, and emotional health. While some of the diet changes can be quite extreme, there are some that are much more common sense and easy, safe, and beneficial to apply.