Kids on speed or diet for ADHD?

We recently received this report from a Western Australian mother:

Last year my 6 year old daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and given a trial of Ritalin.  I knew there had to be a better way so I began searching and found Fed Up. In week 4 of the elimination diet I did not give the Ritalin to her (on the Thursday and Friday) and the teacher did not notice!!!!!!!!  [1252]

As this mother found for herself, the science shows that diet can be as effective as Ritalin for ADHD, if you get the diet right – and this involves using a comprehensive elimination diet, not just avoiding artificial colours or sugar. All 11 studies listed in the references below have found that symptoms of ADHD and/or oppositional defiance can be induced by certain foods in some children, yet physicians routinely fail to offer parents a trial of diet before prescribing medication – or even to give meaningful support to families who chose to use diet.

I would like to see families who have just received an ADHD diagnosis routinely offered a trial of diet before medication. If interested, they should be given a referral to an experienced and supportive dietitian for a trial of the RPAH Elimination Diet with challenges to find out exactly what the triggering foods are. See our list of supportive dietitians and this comment from dietitian Joy Anderson:

As a dietitian who uses the RPAH Allergy Unit Elimination Diet in my everyday practice, I can assure you that it does work brilliantly in the majority of cases, in infants (via mother's breastmilk), in children and in adults as well. However, it needs to be done properly … The diet should be supervised by an Accredited Practising Dietitian with experience in food-chemical intolerances and conducted as a test diet, for a limited period of time - usually only 3-4 weeks in duration. Occasionally it may go longer, but the dietitian ensures that nutrients are adequately compensated for. The challenges are then performed in a timely manner and the diet refined to be liberalised as much as possible, while only avoiding the problem foods long term. I have many, many satisfied clients who were fobbed off by other health professionals in the past, because they didn't 'believe' in food-chemical intolerance.

I wish this is what had happened in our family. Instead, it took us 11 long years to find out exactly what the problem was. You can see the story of my personal journey in our new ebook


Every day we hear from others who are experiencing similar problems. You can read our ADHD story collection with 92 pages of reader experiences and successes.

Elimination diets are not easy to do, and parents need support, especially at first. My husband  Howard and I have spent the last 22 years providing diet support to parents through talks, our website and facebook group and it seems that we are achieving our aims. We were pleased to read the following post:

I just wanted to send my congratulations to the moderators and members of this wonderful group. Everyone I have seen posting on here has been supportive, uplifting, and informative. This is a real change from the normal on facebook, and I as a mother have found this group wonderful. Thank you. - Natasha from facebook group

I would like to say thank you from me too, to the thousands of families who have helped through the years by sharing their stories of desperation, hints, recipes and happiness for publication.

The last word  … goes to a reader:

We made many trips to specialists and psychologists and others, with no explanation as to why we had a totally uncontrollable child (becomes defiant, hyperactive, impossible to reason with, plain silly, very loud, noisy, annoying to others, demanding, pushy, and if something doesn't go her way ... watch out ... fully blown tantrum  including slamming doors, storming out the house, screaming, yelling, crying that goes on for a long time. Can't and won't follow simple instructions, becomes distracted easily, goes off track and off task, becomes destructive She also finds settling at night really difficult ... can't seem to switch off.)  We chose to try Failsafe before we filled the prescription for Ritalin that we had been given, and thankfully it worked! Thanks to your book, Fed Up, we have seen incredible results and are now on track. – read the full story  [1166]

Scientific references

Pelsser L et al, Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behaviour of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (INCA study): a randomised controlled trial, Lancet. 2011

Pelsser LM at al. Effects of food on physical and sleep complaints in children with ADHD: a randomised controlled pilot study. Eur J Pediatr. 2010

Pelsser LM et al. A randomised controlled trial into the effects of food on ADHD. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2009

Boris M, Mandel  FS. Food and additives are common causes of the attention deficit hyperactive disorder in children. Allergy. 1994
Carter CM et al. Effects of a few food diet in attention deficit disorder. Arch Dis Child. 1993

Egger J et al. Controlled trial of oligo-antigenic treatment in the hyperkinetic syndrome. Lancet. 1985

Kaplan BJ et al. Dietary replacement in preschool-aged hyperactive children. Pediatrics. 1989

Schulte-Korne G et al. Effect of an oligo-antigen diet on the behaviour of hyperkinetic children. Z Kinder Jugendpsychiatr Psychother. 1996

Schmidt MH et al. Does oligoantigenic diet influence hyperactive/conduct-disordered children, a controlled trial. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1997

Breakey J et al. A report on a trial of the low additive, low salicylate diet in the treatment of behaviour and learning problems in children.  Aust J Nutr Diet 1991 full text

Swain A et al. Salicylates, oligoantigenic diets, and behaviour. Lancet. 1985

Further reading

ADHD and Diet factsheet

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