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Study: Healthy Diet Helps Kids With ADHD When Meds, Therapy Fail

A review of diet studies showed that healthy eating can be a big boon for kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Although a healthy diet can’t replace medicine and therapy for those with ADHD, the study shows that it’s a great complement to those treatments. It also showed that when medications and therapy just aren’t enough, healthy food might just be the ticket to clearer thinking.

Approximately 9.5 percent of U.S. children have ADHD. One of those 5.4 million children is my ten-year-old daughter, who was diagnosed in fourth grade. While filling out forms as part of my daughter’s diagnosis process, I realized that I have it, too. I was formally diagnosed two months after my daughter.

This is the kind of extensive pediatric study review that is incredibly important to my family. I take medication every day to manage my symptoms, but we only give our daughter medication on school days. Her medication significantly affects her appetite, so we need her to be able to chow down on the weekends. As a result, her behavior is, um, somewhat less awesome on the weekends.

The study review, which was published yesterday in Pediatrics, was authored by J. Gordon Millichap, MD, and Michelle M. Yee, MD.  Seventy studies on ADHD and diet were looked at for the review.

So which diets and supplements were shown to help kids with ADHD, and which ones had no benefit?

Echoing what millions of moms have been saying for decades, the study showed that a healthy diet, rich in fish, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes was found to be the best for children with ADHD. Additionally, several specialized “ADHD diets” were shown to not be helpful in treating or managing ADHD.

The study review also showed that eliminating allergens does help reduce ADHD symptoms in children. (Mom note: Ya think? Does it come as a surprise that if your kid is allergic to something, maybe you shouldn’t give it to her?) Hypo-allergenic diets typically remove common allergens such a dairy and wheat, and replace then with typically nonallergenic foods, like rice and lamb. (Another mom note: this is only a good idea if your kid is not allergic to rice and lamb. My middle daughter was fine on both wheat and dairy, but was severely allergic to both rice and lamb. At the same time, her older sisters were both allergic to dairy and wheat, so mostly ate rice and lamb. Because Mother Nature is hilarious like that.)

Besides eating a healthy diet, one change that may help children with ADHD is supplementing their diet with Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids found in fish oils. The study showed that some children with ADHD who received these supplements saw their ADHD symptoms reduced, and got better grades in school.  However, the effect wasn’t proven for all ADHD kids across the board.  That being said, will I be asking our pediatrician if it’s okay to have my daughter try fish oil supplements? You bet your sweet Adderall I will.

Diets that were shown not to be beneficial in the study review:

  • The Feingold diet, which  eliminates preservatives, artificial colorings, apples, grapes, hot dogs, lunch meats, and soft drinks.
  • Restricted-sugar diet. Studies have failed to demonstrate that a diet high in either sugar or artificial sweeteners has any impact on cognitive function or behavior. That being said, clearly, a high-sugar diet is unhealthy.  Also?  While eating  a crapload of PixyStix may not make my daughter’s ADHD worse, it’s not going to help her behavior any when she comes crashing down off her sugar high.  So on a personal note, we’ll continue to reasonably limit sugar for our kids.

Talk back! If you have a child with ADHD, have you tried changing his or her diet? Did it make a difference?

(Photo Credit: nixxphotography)

You can read more from Joslyn at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy., where sometimes ADHD is hilarious. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter for even more funny.

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