What Causes ADHD?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Food and Health

Do Foods Make Kids Fidget?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

what causes adhd in kidsWhen I was a kid we didn’t have all of these fancy words like hyperactivity, ADD and ADHD. If a kid had trouble sitting still and trouble focusing on the task at hand, they were just considered “fidgety”.  So, what causes ADHD in kids?

Now that I’ve dated myself once again, let’s get to the real topic which is: “Can the foods that your kids eat have any relationship to ADD and ADHD symptoms?”

To put things into perspective, the CDC just announced that 11% of all school age children in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD. That is a 41% increase in the last decade alone. I am not going to discuss the controversy about why the incidence of ADHD is rising so rapidly in this country. That is another story for another time.

My concern is that two thirds of those children are being given stimulant medications like Ritalin and Adderall. While those medications can help reduce the symptoms, they can also cause serious side effects such as addiction, anxiety and psychosis.

So it might be time to stop and ask, is there a better way? Could the foods those children are eating cause ADHD? If so, could something as simple as changing their diet control the symptoms of ADHD without any side effects?

I’ve talked about the effect of food additives, Do Artificial Colors Cause Hyperactivity  , and the sugar content of the diet on hyperactivity in previous issues of my “Health Tips from the Professor”.

The question that I’m posing today is whether sensitivities to foods that we would otherwise consider to be healthy could also trigger ADHD symptoms?

Could The Foods Our Children Eat Cause ADHD?

Could food be what causes ADHD in kids?  Many clinicians have long felt that food sensitivities could be associated with ADHD symptoms because many of the children that they were treating for ADHD also had food sensitivities that showed up as eczema, asthma and gastrointestinal problems. But no definitive clinical studies had been performed in this area, so the idea that food sensitivities might cause ADHD symptoms remained an open question.

However, a major clinical study called The Impact of Nutrition on Children with ADHD was recently performed that suggests the answer to this question is a resounding YES – food sensitivities can cause ADHD symptoms (Pelesser et al, Lancet, 377: 494-503, 2011).

100 children from the Netherlands and Belgium with a definitive diagnosis of ADHD were enrolled in the study. The age of the children was 4 to 8 years old because it is easiest to control the food intake of children in that age group.

At the beginning of the study every child was given IgG blood tests to identify food sensitivities. During the first 5 weeks of the program the children were divided into two groups.

  • can foods cause adhd in kidsOne group was put on a restricted elimination diet consisting of rice, meats, vegetables, pears and water for 5 weeks (An elimination diet is the “gold standard” for evaluating food sensitivities because it eliminates almost every food known to cause sensitivity from the diet).
  • The second group was put on a “healthy diet” – one which met current nutritional guidelines, but did not eliminate any food or food group from the diet.

At the end of this 5-week period all of the children were evaluated for ADHD symptoms in a blinded fashion by a pediatrician specializing in diagnosing and treating ADHD.

  • An astonishing 78% of the children on the elimination diet had a reduction in their ADHD symptoms!
  • Those on the “healthy diet” showed no significant improvement in symptoms.

Can IgG Tests Identify Children Who Will Benefit From Changing Their Diet?

The first phase of the study (described above) was followed by a second phase in which restricted foods were added back to the diet of those children who had responded positively to the elimination diet.

But the foods were not added back randomly. Each child was exposed for two weeks to foods with a high IgG response in their initial screen and for two weeks to foods with a low IgG response in their initial screen. In others words the foods added back were different for each child and were based on their individual IgG results.

This phase of the trial was done in a crossover fashion – meaning that half of the children received low IgG foods during the first two weeks followed by high IgG foods during the second two weeks – and for the other half of the children the order was reversed.

And this phase of the study was also done in a double blind fashion – meaning that neither the children nor the evaluators knew whether they were receiving low IgG foods or high IgG foods during the test period.

The results of this phase of the study were also very interesting:

  • There was a substantial worsening of ADHD symptoms in 63% of the children when restricted foods were added back to the diet
  • AND – it didn’t matter whether the foods were low IgG foods or high IgG foods.

The authors’ conclusions were simple:

  • Food sensitivities make a substantial contribution to ADHD symptoms in children.
  • Don’t waste your money on the IgG tests (They have been controversial for some time).

 

The Bottom Line

What is the significance of this study if you have a child with ADHD? According to a recent study:

  • Food sensitivities make a substantial contribution to ADHD symptoms in children.
  • Don’t waste your money on the IgG tests (They have been controversial for some time).
  • The best way to see if foods trigger your child’s ADHD symptoms is to put them on an elimination diet, and if they show an improvement on the elimination diet, add the restricted foods back one or two at a time so you can identify the ones that should be avoided in the future.

Some of you might be saying that sounds difficult (it is), so why bother?

  • The answer is that 11% of school age children in this country are diagnosed with ADD or ADHD – and almost all of them are treated with drugs that can have serious side effects.
  • Using an elimination diet to find out whether your child’s ADHD is triggered by food sensitivities and then changing their diet has absolutely no side effects!

Some of you might be asking, “Are there any easier drug-free approaches that one could try, or is there any natural approach that might work for the 22% of children who don’t respond to the elimination diet?”

The answer to both questions is yes.

  • Simply eliminating food additives, junk foods and/or sugary foods from the diet helps reduce ADHD symptoms in many children.
  • You also shouldn’t neglect the role that supplementation can play in laying a strong nutritional foundation for your child. I recommend a good children’s multivitamin to make sure that they are getting the nutrients they need, a protein supplement to help prevent blood sugar swings, a good omega-3 (preferably DHA) supplement to support brain health and a supplemental source of friendly bacteria to promote gut health.

But if all else fails I would recommend trying an elimination diet to identify problem foods and then eliminating those foods from your child’s diet before putting them on drugs.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (2)

  • Art Bikssonnette

    |

    Steve, I’ve lost your recent article on Lies Food Stores tell. May I have a copy. You are really doing so much to help us

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Art,

      All of my “Health Tips” are archived. Just go to https://www.healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com and type the appropriate term into the search box. In this case either “lies” or “food label” should do it.

      Reply

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Latest Article

High Protein Diets and Weight Loss

Posted October 16, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do High Protein Diets Reduce Fat And Preserve Muscle?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Healthy Diet food group, proteins, include meat (chicken or turkAre high protein diets your secret to healthy weight loss? There are lots of diets out there – high fat, low fat, Paleolithic, blood type, exotic juices, magic pills and potions. But recently, high protein diets are getting a lot of press. The word is that they preserve muscle mass and preferentially decrease fat mass.

If high protein diets actually did that, it would be huge because:

  • It’s the fat – not the pounds – that causes most of the health problems.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so preserving muscle mass helps keep your metabolic rate high without dangerous herbs or stimulants – and keeping your metabolic rate high helps prevent both the plateau and yo-yo (weight regain) characteristic of so many diets.
  • When you lose fat and retain muscle you are reshaping your body – and that’s why most people are dieting to begin with.

So let’s look more carefully at the recent study that has been generating all the headlines (Pasiakos et al, The FASEB Journal, 27: 3837-3847, 2013).

The Study Design:

This was a randomized control study with 39 young (21), healthy and fit men and women who were only borderline overweight (BMI = 25). These volunteers were put on a 21 day weight loss program in which calories were reduced by 30% and exercise was increased by 10%. They were divided into 3 groups:

  • One group was assigned a diet containing the RDA for protein (about 14% of calories in this study design).
  • The second group’s diet contained 2X the RDA for protein (28% of calories)
  • The third group’s diet contained 3X the RDA for protein (42% of calories)

In the RDA protein group carbohydrate was 56% of calories, and fat was 30% of calories. In the other two groups the carbohydrate and fat content of the diets was decreased proportionally.

Feet_On_ScaleWhat Did The Study Show?

  • Weight loss (7 pounds in 21 days) was the same on all 3 diets.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused almost 2X more fat loss (5 pounds versus 2.8 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused 2X less muscle loss (2.1 pounds versus 4.2 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • In case you didn’t notice, there was no difference in overall results between the 28% (2X the RDA) and 42% (3X the RDA) diets.

Pros And Cons Of The Study:

  • The con is fairly obvious. The participants in this study were all young, healthy and were not seriously overweight. If this were the only study of this type one might seriously question whether the results were applicable to middle aged, overweight coach potatoes. However, there have been several other studies with older, more overweight volunteers that have come to the same conclusion – namely that high protein diets preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss.
  • The value of this study is that it defines for the first time the upper limit for how much protein is required to preserve muscle mass in a weight loss regimen. 28% of calories is sufficient, and there appear to be no benefit from increasing protein further. I would add the caveat that there are studies suggesting that protein requirements for preserving muscle mass may be greater in adults 50 and older.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Forget the high fat diets, low fat diets, pills and potions. High protein diets (~2X the RDA or 28% of calories) do appear to be the safest, most effective way to preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss in a weight loss regimen.

2)     That’s not a lot of protein, by the way. The average American consumes almost 2X the RDA for protein on a daily basis. However, it is significantly more protein than the average American consumes when they are trying to lose weight. Salads and carrot sticks are great diet foods, but they don’t contain much protein.

3)     Higher protein intake does not appear to offer any additional benefit – at least in young adults.

4)     Not all high protein diets are created equal. What some people call high protein diets are laden with saturated fats or devoid of carbohydrate. The diet in this study, which is what I recommend, had 43% healthy carbohydrates and 30% healthy fats.

5)    These diets were designed to give 7 pounds of weight loss in 21 days – which is what the experts recommend. There are diets out there promising faster weight loss but they severely restrict calories and/or rely heavily on stimulants, they do not preserve muscle mass, and they often are not safe. In addition they are usually temporary.  I do not recommend them.

6)    This level of protein intake is safe for almost everyone. The major exception would be people with kidney disease, who should always check with their doctor before increasing protein intake. The only other caveat is that protein metabolism creates a lot of nitrogenous waste, so you should drink plenty of water to flush that waste out of your system. But, water is always a good idea.

7)     The high protein diets minimized, but did not completely prevent, muscle loss. Other studies suggest that adding the amino acid leucine to a high protein diet can give 100% retention of muscle mass in a weight loss regimen – but that’s another story for another day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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