Friday, March 18, 2011

Food Intolerance and ADHD

Some of you may have heard on NPR about a recently published study that demonstrated that dietary changes can reduce symptoms in about 2/3 of children diagnosed with ADHD, so that they may not need medication. I listened to it myself, as ADD/ADHD is a special interest of mine, and did a little more research to learn more about the proposed diet, and how to implement it. Some of you may also remember my earlier article about ADHD and diet; to be clear, they are proposing something altogether different.

The interview on NPR was a bit vague, and I was left wondering what type of diet they had found was effective. The diet that was found to be successful was a food sensitivity elimination diet, based on elimination of foods found to test high on an IgG blood test. Essentially, the researchers ran blood tests on 50 children diagnosed with ADHD, determined which foods they were having reactions to, and then had those children avoid the foods for five weeks (of course they also had a control group of 50 children who weren’t avoiding any foods). At the end of five weeks, 30 out of 50 children had reduced symptoms of ADHD. For the next four weeks, those children were fed the foods that they had been avoiding for the past five weeks. Of the 30 kids who had had reduced symptoms when they avoided the foods, 19 relapsed when they started eating them again.

This is confirmation of what has been clinically observed by some naturopathic doctors in the past, that reactions to foods are part of the cause behind ADHD for some kids. The exact mechanism is not yet known, but this study indicates that in some cases, ADHD isn’t a disease proper, but rather a symptom caused by an immune response to foods.

There are, however, some factors that prevent this from being implemented immediately. One is the fact that most physicians haven’t been properly trained how to interpret these tests, or implement the necessary dietary changes, a limitation recognized by the authors of the article. Some solace may be taken in the fact that many naturopathic doctors are well-versed in how to deal with food allergies, both in testing for them as well as counseling patients on avoidance. Beyond this, however, is the question of food sensitivity testing technology. As I stated in a previous blog entry, food sensitivity testing is unfortunately not yet at the standard of other testing procedures (such as cholesterol, blood sugar, electrolytes, etc.). Additionally, the study itself doesn’t discuss the testing methods in the detail necessary to implement their methods. I am keenly interested in learning what testing method was used in this study, as it appears to be one that correlates well to clinical outcomes. As I learn more, I’ll keep readers of this blog updated on what I learn.

As always, this information should be considered as just a piece of the puzzle. ADHD is not as simple as a food allergy, it’s not as simple as a behavior problem, it’s often multiple things. Proper treatment of ADHD can include food avoidance, behavioral therapy, coaching, supplements, homeopathy, biofeedback, and even medication. There is unfortunately no magic bullet, but at the same time, the fact that so many of the interventions are lifestyle-based should encourage us, because these things are within our control. There is a lot that we as parents and practitioners can do about ADHD before having to use medications, and I encourage you to explore those options.

*For those seeking the article itself, you can find it here.