Although there is no conclusive evidence that suggests a specific type of diet will effectively manage the challenges of ADHD, we do know that a balanced diet with all the essential food groups is important and that exercise is crucial to the effective management of ADHD. We have provided this information from the CHADD site so that you are aware of the latest developments in the area of diet and ADHD.
Dietary interventions (as contrasted with dietary supplements) are based on the concept of elimination, that one or more foods are eliminated from one's diet.
The most publicized of these diet elimination approaches is the Feingold Diet.2 This diet is based on the theory that many children are sensitive to dietary salicylates and artificially added colors, flavors, and preservatives, and that eliminating the offending substances from the diet could improve learning and behavioral problems, including ADHD. Despite a few positive studies, most controlled studies do not support this hypothesis.1 At least eight controlled studies since 1982, the latest being 1997, have found validity to elimination diets in only a small subset of children "with sensitivity to foods."1 While the proportion of children with ADHD who have food sensitivities has not been empirically established, experts believe that the percentage is small.1,3,4 Parents who are concerned about diet sensitivity should have their children examined by a medical doctor for food allergies.
Research has also shown that the simple elimination of sugar or candy does not affect ADHD symptoms, despite a few encouraging reports.1,5
Nutritional supplementation is the opposite of the dietary elimination approach. While the elimination diet assumes that something is unhealthy and should be removed from the diet, supplementation is based on the assumption that something is missing in the diet in an optimal amount and should be added. Parents who are concerned about possible missing nutrients should have their children examined by a medical doctor.
While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the sale of prescription medication, the FDA does not strictly regulate the ingredients or the manufacturer claims about dietary supplements. Go to the FDA Web site (www.fda.gov) to learn about existing regulations.
ADHD is a brain-based disorder where the chemistry of the brain (neurotransmitters) is not functioning as it should. Nerve cell membranes are composed of phospholipids containing large amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6). Studies have been conducted to examine the impact of omega-3 and omega-6 deficiency and the possible impact of fatty acid supplementation. Further controlled studies are needed.1
Recently, organizations exclusively promoting glyconutritional supplements have come into business and are widely publicizing their products. Glyconutritional supplements contain basic saccharides necessary for cell communication and formation of glycoproteins and glycolipids. These saccharides are glucose, galactose, mannose, N-acetylneuraminic acid, fucose, N-acetylgalactosamine, and xylose. Two small studies showed a reduction in inattention and hyperactivity symptoms after a program of glyconutritional supplements,6,7 but a third study found no impact of the supplements on symptoms.1
The following conclusions regarding various supplements are based on an extensive review of the scientific literature:1
National Institute of Mental Health Publication No. 3572
- Treatments with supplements that "are neither proven nor found lacking in definitive controlled trials" include essential fatty acid supplementation, glyconutritional supplementation, recommended daily allowance (RDA) vitamins, single-vitamin megadosage, and herbals.
- Megadose multivitamins (as opposed to RDA multivitamins) "have been demonstrated to be probably ineffective or possibly dangerous," and "have not only failed to show benefit in controlled studies, but also carry a mild risk of hepatotoxicity and peripheral neuropathy."
- "For children with demonstrated deficiencies of any nutrient (e.g., zinc, iron, magnesium, vitamins), correction of that deficiency is the logical first-line treatment. It is not clear what proportion of children have such a nutritional deficiency." The deficiency as a cause of ADHD without other symptoms has not been demonstrated.
- Amino acid supplementation does not appear to be "a promising area for further exploration."
- "No systematic data regarding ADHD efficacy could be found for hypericum, Gingko biloba, Calmplex, Defendol, or pycnogenol."
The information provided in this sheet was supported by Grant/Cooperative Agreement Number R04/CCR321831-01 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of CDC. This fact sheet was approved by CHADDs Professional Advisory Board in 2003.