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ADHD improved by healthy eating

10th January 2012

When other treatments fail or are not available, eating a healthier diet may improve the behaviour of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a recent review of the literature.

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Some of the evidence seems contradictory, however, and researchers said that dietary supplements should not be considered a first-line treatment.

The researchers reviewed the sugar-restricted diet, an additive-free diet, diets involving megavitamins, diets involving omega-3 supplements, and the link between ADHD and the high-fat, low-fibre diets that seem to prevail in richer nations.

They concluded that the suspected role of zinc and iron deficiency deserved further study, while megavitamins may be dangerous.

In some cases, the diets the researchers studied performed just as well as a placebo, but not better.

The researchers wrote that while dietary supplements were relatively inexpensive, public education regarding healthy dieting and lifestyle may have greater long-term success.

Getting more fish, vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole-grains, was also a good rule of thumb, they said.

ADHD is often treated with Ritalin.

The disorder involves an extreme inability to focus on things.

While the precise causes of the disease are unknown, other research has shown that social and environmental factors may be involved.

Some studies have indicated that high-sugar diets and high-fat foods, as well as gestational diabetes, may play a role.

The researchers found that the Feingold Diet, which was highly touted in the 1970s and 1980s, and involves removing apples, grapes, color dyes, and processed meats from a person's diet, did not seem to have an effect.

They wrote that controlled studies failed to confirm the Feingold Diet's claims about itself, and that the regimen was difficult for parents to follow.

Other studies, which focus instead on food allergies, seemed to have an effect, but the researchers found it difficult to rule out a placebo effect.

Regarding artificial sweeteners, the researchers wrote that the majority of controlled studies also failed to demonstrate that there was a statistical link, but that avoiding high-sugar foods may have an effect.

But the placebo effect was almost built in to the process by which the parents restricted childrens' diets.

Parents were almost universally of the opinion that sugar and hyperactive behaviour were linked somehow, making it difficult to measure the results objectively.

Andrew Adesman, a paediatrician at the Cohen Children's Medical Centre of New York, who was not part of the study, said researchers still had more questions than answers when it came to ADHD.

He said he felt it was unfortunate that more research was not being done to assess the role of diet in ADHD treatment, and that drug companies in general were not willing to fund research on things they could not patent.


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