Almost every week someone will email a link to the newest “study” linking diet to behavior, especially regarding children, ADHD, and sugar. A study published in “Lancet”, a British medical journal (which I won’t cite – as I do not wish to give it further credence) proclaims the effects of diet change on children with ADHD “miraculous”. First rule of science and rational thought: if someone says they have a “miracle cure” they are full of “snake-oil”. There are no miracle cures in behavioral problems with children. Even a cursory glance at the Lancet “study” revealed such enormous flaws, it is difficult to imagine how it got published. One example is that the researcher proclaimed that ADHD is really “just a couple of symptoms”. The study defined ADHD as “inattention and hyperactivity”. It would be nice if that’s all ADHD is. Inattention, distractibility and hyperactivity are nearly ubiquitous symptoms in pediatric mental health; they can be caused by anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, social problems, family problems, and health problems. Can diet impact these specific symptoms? The scientific jury is still out on this. When large scale, valid, unbiased, double-blind (in other words, scientifically valid, reliable research) is done, changes in diet to not seem to create observable behavioral changes in children. Before you throw a rotten tomato at me, take a breath. Many people fervently believe that diet will change their child’s behavior. Okay. I cannot argue with beliefs; I can only argue real evidence and facts. There are some cases in which diet will make a difference: if a child is actually allergic to or intolerant of a particular food, removing that food from the child’s diet may help them behave better. If your stomach hurts, or you itch, or you have diarrhea, you might find it hard to sit through a day of school too. Lactose intolerance, celiac sprue (gluten intolerance), and food allergies are real, measurable problems – the presence of which can be determined by a medical doctor. All of that aside, parents of children with ADHD will tell you – if you can get your child to control his eating habits, to only eat healthy foods – odds are your child doesn’t have ADHD (which is a disorder of impulse control).
To my knowledge, there has yet to be a valid, scientifically rigorous study that proved that additives or dyes cause behavioral problems in children. If a child is actually allergic to an additive or dye (which is rare) it is possible that it would make a difference. Likewise, sugar does not cause hyperactivity. Sugar was originally used as medicine to calm coughs, relieve pain, and as a sedative – not a stimulant. Sugar’s pain-relieving qualities have been well-documented and observed in hospital settings. Neo-natal Intensive Care Units (NICU’s) give premature infants sugar-water to provide relief during painful procedures.
Healthy eating habits are essential to good health. People –including children- who eat a healthy diet tend to feel better in general. Eating a diet high in processed food, poor quality protein, white flour, and yes – sugar- isn’t good for anyone. Dietary changes do not successfully treat real ADHD. Real ADHD is treated with behavioral therapy at home and school, and stimulant medication if behavioral interventions are not enough. These interventions do not “cure” ADHD; they manage it. There is no cure.
If you need help parenting with ADHD in Brentwood please call Dr. Perri Zinberg at 424.248.7790