Link Between Food Allergies and ADHD?

A controversial new Dutch study may have found a link between food allergies and ADHD. However, many experts are dismissing the findings.

The study found that in children with ADHD, putting them on a restrictive diet to eliminate possible, previously unknown food allergies or sensitivities decreased hyperactivity for 64% of them.

"There is a longstanding, somewhat inconsistent story about diet and ADHD," said Jan Buitelaar, the lead author of the Dutch study and a psychiatrist at the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre. "On the one hand, people think it's sugar that's the trigger, others think that food coloring could be causing ADHD. Our approach was quite different. We went [with] the idea that food may give some kind of allergic or hyperactivity reaction to the brain."

There have been previous studies in this field, put they were limited.

"This has long been viewed as a kind of a controversial approach," Buitelaar said. "When we started the research, I was skeptical, but the results convinced me."

In the study, of the 41 kids who completed the elimination diet, 32 saw decreased symptoms. When certain foods thought to be "triggers" for each child were reintroduced, most of the children relapsed.

Among 50 kids given a "control" diet that was just a standard, healthy diet for children, no significant changes were noted. Given these findings, Buitelaar recommended that the elimination diet become part of standard of care for children with ADHD.

However, while pediatricians acknowledge some effectiveness, they were against the elimination diet as part of the care for kids with ADHD.

"People seem to think that dietary modification is essentially 'free,' but it is difficult, socially disruptive, and presents the risk for nutritional deficiency," said Dr. Michael Daines, a pediatric allergist-immunologist at the University of Arizona.

Though Daines is willing to work with families who want to try an elimination diet for treating ADHD, he feels it will only have an effect if the child is having a true food allergy or intolerance.

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