Whole Foods and ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder patients benefit from grains fruits and vegetables

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) As another year begins, individuals starting a new diet may be interested to know that the food they consume affects more than just their waistline.

Childhood health journal Pediatrics recently published a “State-of-the-Art Review Article” highlighting the effects of food on children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The diet recommends straying from the Standard American Diet towards a preservative-free, easy-to-eliminate approach with food.

"Grains, fruits, and vegetables are good for your daily diet."

According to J.Gordan Millichap, M.D., of the neurology division in Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, “Diets to reduce symptoms associated with ADHD include sugar-restricted, additive/preservative-free, oligoantigenic/elimination, and fatty acid supplements.”

Eating an oligoantigenic diet—or a diet eliminating foods commonly causing allergic reactions— allows the body more time to focus on balancing irregularities than digesting and eliminating toxic foods.

Dr. Millichap co-authored the study with colleague Michelle Yee, CPNP. The investigators work with Northwestern University Medical School to understand the nature of psychiatric disorders, and the goal of the study was to provide an alternative dietary therapy for ADHD cases in which pharmacotherapy is un-affective.

Millichap and Yee reviewed literature on attention deficits, hyperactivity, and dieting through PubMed, the U.S. National Library of Medicine combining more than 21 million citations of biomedical research.

Their research focused on “medication failure, parental or patient preference, iron deficiency, and, when appropriate, change from an ADHD-linked Western diet to an ADHD-free healthy diet” in order to determine a need for the therapy.

From here, the duo created a comprehensive list of foods to avoid for ADHD patients, as well as a list of foods supporting healthy function of the nervous system and other functional areas associated with the disorder.

“In patients failing to respond or with parents opposed to medication, omega-3 supplements may warrant a trial,” Dr. Millichap explains.

“A greater attention to the education of parents and children in a healthy dietary pattern, omitting items shown to predispose to ADHD, is perhaps the most promising and practical complementary or alternative treatment of ADHD.”

The research team understands that oligoantigenic and additive-free diets can be very difficult for those used to a lifetime of Western-eating; however dietary change may be necessary for recovery.

Ditching candy, soda, and fast food for a diet low in fat and high in whole foods is suggested. Whole foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, come straight from the ground and tend to hold a healthy concoction of vitamins and nutrients that are easily digestible to the human body.

Additionally, Dr. Millichap and Yee recommend iron and zinc supplements in cases of deficiency, as well as an addition to stimulant therapies.

Research on the dietary effects involved in ADHD can be dated to mid-20th century.  The Feingold Association of the United States focuses on eliciting dietary change to combat behavior and health problems associated with inadequate nutrition and allergic reactions.  

The organization is based on the work of the late Ben F. Feingold, M.D., who spent his life researching allergies and dietary affects on childhood disorders, notably hyperactivity.

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The association “believes that patients have a right to be given complete, accurate information on all of the options available in the treatment of ADHD as well as other conditions,” and they’ve designed a test to determine whether or not certain foods or food additives will affect symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Both Dr. Feingold and Dr. Millichap recommend a diet high in whole foods, avoiding preservatives and other food additives.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 9, 2012
Last Updated:
January 14, 2012