Study: Elimination Diets Help Those with ADHD

A new study uncovered the powerful effects of an elimination diet on children with ADHD.  The study called, The Impact of Nutrition On Children with ADHD (INCA), was published in the Lancet in February 2011.

It is so wonderful to see a mainstream journal recognizing the powerful effects of diet on behavioral (and physical) symptoms and publish these findings.  Many children with autism and well as their siblings have ADHD and would benefit from the recommendations noted from this study. As well as having an affect ADHD, elimination diets also have positive effect on many of the other symptoms of autism. As such, the INCA study is valuable insight in support of diet for children with autism, and I am glad it is finally reaching the mainstream.

An elimination diet for ADHD was among the first nutritional interventions I discovered over ten years ago when I first researched ADHD and food. Among my recommendations in my initial research paper was a trial of the removal of foods or food components that are suspected to be problematic – i.e. an “elimination” diet.

And indeed, the links noted between food and behavior are very apt to the entire autism spectrum.  In fact, these early findings on ADHD became the basis for my book on nutrition for autism (Nourishing Hope for Autism), because of the similarities in underlying causes and benefits of supportive diets.

While many parents have been seeing good results, doctors demanded research before they could support the notion. Here’s that research.

One hundred children participated in the recent Lancet study. Half were assigned to each of two groups—50 children followed a 5-week elimination diet and 50 children were the control group (healthy) diet. Researchers began with a very elaborate elimination diet, and if behavioral problems still persisted after two weeks the particular child was put on an even more restrictive diet of only rice, turkey, pear, lettuce, and water

In the study, the elimination diet had a significant beneficial effect on the symptoms of ADHD in 64% (32 of 50) of children. Lead researcher, Dr. Lidy Pelsser, responded in an interview with NPR (National Public Radio) saying, “Well, what we know now is that in 64 percent of children with ADHD, ADHD is caused by food. It’s a hypersensitivity reaction to food.”

When asked about the response from teachers and physicians, she said, “Well, in fact, they were flabbergasted. After the diet, they were just normal children with normal behavior. They were no more easily distracted. They were no more forgetful. There were no more temper tantrums. Some teachers saying that they never thought it would work – it was so strange that a diet would change the behavior of a child as thoroughly as they saw it. It was a miracle, a teacher said.”

They achieved such positive results with children with ADHD that researchers concluded, it supported “the implementation of a dietary intervention in the standard of care for all children with ADHD.”

On the other hand, the study included dietary additions of foods based on particular results specific to individual IgG testing.  This portion of the study did not reveal any efficacy of using food sensitivity testing.  However, I wonder if because wheat was sometimes used in that rotation if it could be a factor in mixed results.

I hope that this is a step forward in the scientific world’s understanding of the benefit of strategic dietary intervention for psychiatric and behavioral condition including ADHD and autism. Every child benefits when parents eliminate problematic foods from their diet, and now this Lancet study helps substantiate that.

And let’s not forget adults, there are millions of adults with ADHD, and these principles apply to them as much as children.  If you are an adult with ADHD, conduct your own trial of an elimination diet.

I look forward to the day when rates of ADHD decrease by using safe, natural methods—specifically diet—to mitigate symptoms and help more people live balanced and healthy lives.

Sources:

Pelsser LM, Frankena K, Toorman J, Savelkoul HF, Dubois AE, Pereira RR, Haagen TA, Rommelse NN, Buitelaar JK. Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behaviour of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (INCA study): a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2011 Feb 5;377(9764):494-503.

Pelsser LM, Frankena K, Buitelaar JK, Rommelse NN. Effects of food on physical and sleep complaints in children with ADHD: a randomised controlled pilot study. Eur J Pediatr. 2010 Sep;169(9):1129-38. Epub 2010 Apr 17.

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Hi, I’m Julie Matthews, a Certified Nutrition Consultant, Author, and Published Researcher. I teach parents and practitioners that children with autism, ADHD, and related disorders can improve and heal, and that there’s hope for their children. Then I educate and empower them to make strategic dietary changes that positively affect children’s health, which in turn helps their learning and behavior. With 17 years of experience and my unique range of knowledge, from nutrition research and clinical experience to cooking in the kitchen for my own family, I’ve created a much-needed community for parents and practitioners looking to help children with autism live happy, healthy lives. Join us.

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13 responses to “Study: Elimination Diets Help Those with ADHD”

  1. starr says:

    Were there any specific foods listed in the study? I eliminate food dyes as much as possible. I’ve heard that beef may increase ADHD symptoms

    • In the study, diet was restricted all the way down to rice, turkey, pear, lettuce, and water when needed. Any food sensitivity is more likely to contribute to ADHD symptoms and while I wouldn’t say beef is commonly a problem in ADHD, beef is the most common sensitivity as far as meat goes and could be for a problem for a particular individual with ADHD.

      • Cheryl says:

        The article says the diet was further restricted to those foods if behaviors persist. I’d like to know what the original foods were before the additional restrictions.

  2. Hi,
    I would like to let you know about a cookbook I have written. I began using an elimination diet for my son when he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. To speed things up I had him tested for food intolerances. It turned out we had to eliminate a lot – gluten, dairy, soy, egg,peanut, nut, fish, seafood, sesame and refined sugars. As a result of this I have written a cookbook called Feeding Carl, which contains recipes that are all entirely free of gluten, dairy, soy, egg, peanut, nut, fish, seafood, sesame, and free of refined sugars. I discovered that the very restricted diet he was on actually removedthe 8 most common food allergens, which make up 90% of food allergies. In the 4 plus years I have worked with this diet I have not found a cookbook like Feeding Carl.
    I am telling you about this because alternative health practitioners have recommended my book to parents of children with ADHD and autism. I know it would have made my life a lot easier to have a cookbook like Feeding Carl when I was beginning to work with diet as a method of improving my son’s health and symptoms.

  3. Deborah says:

    I found this while googling:
    “The other 50 children started an open trial with a restricted elimination diet (mainly rice, meat, vegetables, pears, and water, complemented with potatoes, fruits, and wheat).”
    http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/736871

  4. Kady Adams says:

    Hi Julie, I am wondering where I can get directions on how to do a quality elimination diet? It may seem obvious, but I have no idea where to start. Thanks so much in advance for any advice,

    Kady Adams

  5. Julie
    Fabulous that diet is being recognized for how important it is! So powerful for these kids with ADHD! And I love that you mention adults with ADHD too.

    I also find diet SO important with my clients with mood problems like anxiety and depression. Regarding the question about beef, I find grass-fed beef to be less of a problem in general (and I’m sure you’ve seen this too) and wonder if it’s the corn or antibiotics or hormones in the conventional beef?

    I also look forward to the day when diet is the first approach always – for ADHD, mood problems and everything else.

    Love your new site BTW!
    Trudy

  6. Connie says:

    I would love to know more about an ADHD elimination diet (for adults). I’ve been on SCD for 1.5 years for IBS also hoping it would help with my ADD, but I am still scatter brained, can’t organize, can’t concentrate, etc.
    I don’t eat grass-fed beef all the time, mainly because it gets pricey.
    If you know of adults with ADD who have done this elimination and had results, I would be willing to try it this fall. It seems like my ADD has gotten worse as I’ve gotten older.

    • sandra says:

      Hi Connie, did you try it yet? I am totally confident that the toxins in the air/water/soil and our food is why you have these symptoms. It gets worse as you get older because you are putting more and more of this in and it builds up and also as years go everything just gets more toxins and nutritionally depleted. Also add a bunch of nutritional supplementation to the elimination diet. Spend the money on good organic quality food and save on meds dr/pharmaceutical companies want you to be on instead. Its all about money unfortunately.

  7. Jack Reiland says:

    Academic difficulties are also frequent. The symptoms are especially difficult to define because it is hard to draw a line at where normal levels of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity end and clinically significant levels requiring intervention begin. To be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms must be observed in two different settings for six months or more and to a degree that is greater than other children of the same age.

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