Diet may help ADHD kids more than drugs

Posted in Latest News on Tue, Mar 15th, 2011 at 11:28 am    8 Responses


A study published in the Lancet this year, looks at the effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behaviour of children with ADHD.  There were several phases to the trial. At the start of the first phase, children were placed on a few-foods diet (rice, meat, vegetables, pears and water) which is a very comprehensive elimination diet.  In the second phase, those who had had at least a 40% improvement in ADHD sypmtoms from the elimination diet, were challenged with either high IgG foods or low IgG foods (foods that each specific child was tested to have an intolerance to – thus the foods added were individually chosen).  Following this challenge, 63% of the children relapsed. The conclusion of the study is that a restricted elimination diet may be beneficial not only in ADHD but also in oppositional defiant disorder.


The article, although widely praised, has come up against a lot of resistance from, mostly, doctors working with children with ADHD. Many have said that ADHD is a chemical imbalance and that “no handul of strawberries is going to fix that.” It is at this juncture that I would like to point out that everything we eat induces some form of response from our body. Some foods increase chemical mediators known as cytokines which can be pro-inflammatory. We know that inflammation is one of the leading causes of chronic disease. We also know that ADHD is an inflammatory state. Additionally, whilst medications like Ritalin may normalise a chemical imbalance, they work on the symptoms, not on the root cause. So whilst giving a child Ritalin may make them less hyperactive (although give them insomnia and affect their growth pattern), it will not reduce any IgG intolerances to foods they may be consuming. If you take the Ritalin away, the food intolerance will still exist. If you leave the Ritalin in, it is quite likely that other mental health problems will arise, for example, anxiety.


I am by no means saying that food is the only cause of ADHD. Issues involving mitochondrial dysfunction, immune dysfunction, gastrointestinal dysfunction and problems with detoxification are also implicated. However, should we not be looking at food hypersensitivities or intolerances as a first port of call? I challenge those working with children with ADHD to start taking a holistic approach to treatment. Prescription medication is not the only answer. It just raises many more questions.


This blog provides an article with further information on ADHD. For more guidance on dietary plans to follow or children who suffer from ADHD, read this blog



  1. Megan Jones Mar 15, 2011

    Putting the wrong fuel in a car is catastrophic … Surely the same applies applies to humans!
    A great article. Thank you Hannah. Good luck with your plight in educating the masses. Megan

  2. Briony Mar 17, 2011

    Food changes before medicating our children to the eyeballs? Sounds brilliant to me!

  3. Lynn Mar 22, 2011

    This makes perfect, sense, at the very least its worth trying a change of diet before medicating at such a young age,

  4. Peter Apr 27, 2011

    What do you think about Gluten-free Casein-free in respect to ADHD / Autism?

    I saw this book on Amazon that looked interesting.

    Lots of parents left reviews saying it made a difference.

    Meanwhile there was also an interesting report on CBC (Canada equivalent to BBC) about the rising levels of Autism/ADHD.

    Some – not all of it – may be due the report suggested to increasingly lower levels of the symptoms being required to diagnose it. Health professionals have the worthy goal of trying to catch children early as intervention in their curriculum is more effective if they do.

    However the combination of catching children early; or diagnosing children with only mild symptoms followed then by potential stigma by going to ‘special school’ and worse medication worries me.

    A much better solution I think is like Hannah and this report suggests… helping parents provide a healthy, nutritious diet that alleviates mild symptoms.

  5. Hannah Apr 27, 2011

    I strongly recommend a gluten-free casein-free (GFCF) diet as a starting point. However, it is not always just gluten and/or casein that may be causing a problem. In some cases, a ‘few foods’ diet can produce a much faster result – particularly in ADHD. One of the biggest problems with GFCF is that parents swap wheat/rye breads for the refined gluten-free alternative and consumption of things like potato chips goes up – so whilst the diet may be low in potential ‘allergens’, it becomes an issue for balancing blood sugar. And, with ADHD, it is essential to follow a blood sugar balancing diet. There is no one size fits all approach though – some children respond well to GFCF, some children need a much more restrictive diet for an initial 5 week period, SCD works well for others, etc. Nutritional intervention, however, is key. But it needs to address ADHD biomedically on 3 levels: nutrition status, immunity & inflammation.

  6. Jonathan Raulo Jun 8, 2011

    How can doctors claim a ‘chemical imbalance’ when there is no test for a ‘chemical balance/imbalance’.
    It is a term picked up from marketing media of the pharmaceutical companies trying to push their products.

  7. sickandtiredmom Oct 12, 2011

    i am sooo sick and tired of people making ridicilous assumptions abouth adhd, the medication you give your child, then writing a one sided article,about how diet changes everything, getting hundreds of comments from equally upset people crusifying mothers for DRUGGING their kids and then if you ask them if they have a child with adhd they reply with a they don’t…
    Don’t judge something you know NOTHING about, and even if you have CLINICAL STUDIES, bring them to me, and we can compare your clinical studies and my PRACTICAL studies, i have 3 years of report cards, work books, doctor’s letters, issues the school had with my son etc, pre medication and after medication!It’s Simple, your child suffers with asthma, he can’t do sport, can barely breath, does not have friends, always get’s in trouble for forgetting or not sitting still,he does bad at school, and you can change ALL OF THIS WITH AN ASTHMA PUMP,… ARE YOU GOING TO DENY YOUR CHILD a decent quality of life, just because you don’t agree with some of the side-effects???? So before you judge mother’s who”DRUGS” their children, make sure your hypocritical backyard is clean

  8. Hannah Oct 19, 2011

    Thank you Sick & Tired mom. You make some very valid comments. I think it is extremely important to understand that diet, alone, does not work for all children with ADHD. Additionally, making significant dietary changes at home can be extremely difficult to implement because many kids with ADHD are very picky eaters.

    It is interesting that you mention asthma because many children with ADHD suffer from asthma and / or eczema. Additionally, many of them have suffered significantly from ear infections as infants and toddlers and many have gastrointestinal complaints. Many also have low muscle tone. All of these symptoms are related and it is rare that I see a child with ADHD that does not have this sort of history.

    Biomedical type diets are only part of the process. It is essential to identify other problem areas from a functional medicine perspective and to address them. I discuss this in more detail in my article:

    The brain is not disconnected from the body.

    Gastrointestinal, immune, metabolic and detoxification systems feed into the brain. If you have a functional imbalance in any one of these systems, the brain will be affected. Ritalin and Concerta will not address these functional imbalances, but they do work well for many children. I have children in my clinic who are on them but at the same time are addressing the other issues that may be at the root cause of their ADHD. I am not saying that parents should take their children off this medication, I am only asking them to dig a bit deeper.

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