Can a Strict Diet Serve as an Alternative to Adderall?

New research shows diet affects symptoms of ADHD. Some doctors, though, are still skeptical

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Three to seven percent of children in the United States have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or, ADHD. Though there is no cure, the symptoms can be curbed with medication. A new study, however, published in the Lancet medical journal suggests that cutting certain foods from a ADHD child's diet can eliminate behavioral problems. The study placed 50 ADHD children on a diet consisting of a combination of rice, meat, vegetables, pears (yes, it says pears...why just pears, we do not know) and water--foods that pose little risk of allergic reaction, and compared them with 50 others not on the diet. "The behavior of 78% of the 41 children who completed the five-week restricted diet phase improved, while the behavior of those who were not on a special diet remained the same," The Guardian's Sarah Boseley reports. The researchers concluded that ADHD is not caused by an allergic reaction to food, but that "dietary intervention should be considered in all children with ADHD."

Several experts were consulted for their reactions and, while some are receptive to the research, most are skeptical.

  • Premature  The Guardian turns to Professor David Daley at Nottingham University's institute of mental health for a comment on the new study's findings. "Scientifically, I think this paper offers excellent evidence about another possible underlying cause of ADHD, but it would be premature to conclude such dietary intervention would be of any clinical benefit to children with ADHD and their parents. We need to know more about how expensive the intervention is, how motivated parents must be to make it work, and how easy it is for parents to get their child to stick to the diet," he said.
  • Worth Considering  In Bloomberg's Business Week, Dr. Jaswinder Ghuman, the author of an accompanying editorial in the same issue of the journal that featured the study, clarified how exactly this diet must be carried out. "If parents have noticed that a child's behavior seems to get worse with certain foods, it may be worth considering," said Ghuman, who is an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "But, for this diet to work, you have to be very consistent with it, and you have to pay attention to nutrition. It should be done under the supervision of a primary care doctor, and if possible, a dietitian," she advised.
  • Beware of the Risks  Eugene Arnold, MD,  professor emeritus of psychiatry at Ohio State University's Nisonger Center, Columbus, reviewed the study's findings for WebMD. Arnold warns that the diet must be supervised by experts, not parents alone. "There is a risk of malnutrition if you don't pay attention to the balance of nutrients," he says, noting that the results of the original study must be achieved again with different children before anything is proved and that parents should abandon the diet if it doesn't work. "If there is no improvement in two to five weeks, forget it," Arnold says.
  • A Good Alternative Professor Jim Stevenson of Southampton University tells Reuters that the diet may be a good alternative to ADHD medication. "Many parents are reluctant to use a drug treatment and it is important that alternatives such as the few foods approach can be shown to be effective," he said.
  • Not Convinced  But William Pelham, a psychologist at the University of Buffalo, made clear in an interview with MedPage Today that he was skeptical of the study's findings, pointing to 30 years of studies that found no link between diet and ADHD symptoms. "One open study allegedly demonstrating a relationship does not change my mind," he wrote in an e-mail.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.