We are about to discuss what is officially labeled as an alternative medicine treatment for ADHD.
You should understand that a synonym for “alternative” is controversial. The officially orthodox medical community does not sanction what we will be discussing. If this gives you goose bumps you had better stop reading now.
If not we can proceed.
Feingold and Food Dyes
Historically, Dr. Benjamin Feingold, was the first person to promote the idea that dietary items might be responsible for causing ADHD. Feingold focused on food additives, which are essentially anything that nature did not put in your food. Each American consumes 8 to 10 pounds of food additives every year. Feingold also implicated some natural chemicals, such as naturally occurring salicylates.
Feingold maintained that salicylates, artificial colors, and artificial flavorings were responsible for 40 to 50 percent of the hyperactivity found in children. He claimed that the most effective form of treatment for hyperactivity was to prepare and serve children foods that were free of these substances. His ideas received tremendous media attention and Feingold Associations, comprised primarily of parents, developed in almost every state.
The Anti Feingold Position
Initially, the medical community took Feingold very seriously. His idea was so popular, that it was impossible to ignore. However, after some investigation the final verdict was that Feingold was wrong.
The most vocal opposition of Feingold came from the Nutrition Foundation. In 1980, an expert review team assembled by the Nutrition Foundation concluded:
- “Based on seven studies involving approximately 190 children, there have been no instances of consistent, dramatic deterioration in behavior in hyperactive children challenged, under double-blind conditions, with artificial food colorings. . . . There are three . . . exceptions to these generally negative conclusions; but, in all three cases, the deterioration is reported by the mother with no other objective, confirming evidence available. . . . Without the confirming evidence of objective tests and/or outside observers, even these exceptions cannot be considered as definite evidence that there may be an occasional, genetically determined, sensitivity to food colorings. Though one cannot prove that no such children will be found, sufficient numbers of highly selected children have been studied to feel confident that such specific sensitivity, if found, will be rare.”
These negative findings stand in sharp contrast to the 32-60 percent of children reported by Dr. Feingold and others to improve dramatically when additives were eliminated from their diets.
Nevertheless, in 1980 the Nutrition Foundation, a well-respected group of scientists dedicated to the furthering of better health through proper nutrition, strongly rejected Feingold’s hypothesis and concluded that the additives used by the food industry are perfectly safe. Just so you should know, the Nutrition Foundation was established and funded by Coca Cola, the Life Saver Company, and a number of other food industry giants.
The Pro-Feingold Position
The information supporting Feingold is actually much easier to find. You can view most of it yourself by going to the Feingold Association web site.
I am not going into all the studies presented by the Feingold Association to prove that Feingold was right. Nor will I discuss here how they explain away the studies showing that Feingold was wrong. I deal with that in the program, How to Help the Child You Love. However, the message of all of their studies quoted by the Feingold Association web site is that food additives really do affect behavior in certain children. In other words what the Feingold Association is saying is “See, we really do have a reason to exist.” Surprise.
What is the bottom line? Feingold’s hypothesis is still very controversial. However, based on the current evidence, a good argument can be made that food additives may cause health and behavior problems in certain children. Does this mean that food additives are a cause of ADHD? More importantly, does avoiding these additives correct ADHD?
Feingold attributed 50% the cases of ADHD to food additives. Probably the number is closer to 5%. That means the Feingold diet will help only one out of 20 children. That may not sound like much, but if my child were that one, it would be good enough for me.
So what should do about all of this? For what I am about to say I will probably be permanently banded from the Feingold Association. I have already been reprimanded for suggesting that other things besides food dyes also may cause ADHD.
My final opinion on the Feingold program is that it is the right direction, but it has certain flaws.
As I discuss in How to Help the Child You Love, there are numerous things that can cause food sensitivities. However, each child probably has no more than four or five things that cause him serious problems. To recommend that every ADHD child permanently eliminate all of the dozens of foods and additives that have been shown to cause problems in some children seems to me to be a bit of an overkill. It is analogous to saying that since there are children who are allergic to cats, no child should ever own any pet.
If there is one common theme that goes through everything that I write, it is this:
ADHD children are individuals. No two children are alike. Therefore, each child has to have his own personal treatment program.
When it comes to treating ADHD, general protocols do not apply. That is why I started the program, How to Help the Child You Love. I wanted to give you as a parent a way to choose from all the available treatment options to find which particular treatments will help your child. I also wanted to do this in such a way that you would have easy access to me no matter where in the world you live, so that you could ask your questions. That is why I published it online.
The bottom line is that the principals of the Feingold should be incorporated into a more comprehensive food elimination diet. Which elimination diet? There are dozens of them out there. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose. I prefer the three that I outline in How to Help the Child You Love, for a number of reasons.
First, I feel these diets are the quickest way to pinpoint which particular foods are causing problems for your child. Why should you struggle and restrict your child’s diet to only a few “safe” foods when only three or four things cause him problems.
The other advantage of the diets I describe is that they will quickly pinpoint foods that could be causing problems in your other children, your spouse, or even yourself. When we used these diets in our own home, not only did it get my son off Ritalin in less than a week, but also it identified food sensitivities in our other children. These other children are normal. We never suspected that many of their outbursts were food related. This elimination diet literally changed our whole household in less than a week. You can read the full story at About Us
I truly feel that you should try some food elimination diet for your child. If you wish to test the items that Feingold targeted, you can easily modify most of these diets to include them. However, if your child has ADHD and you want to give him the best chance to have a normal life, then some diet is a must try.
Anthony Kane, MD
Anthony Kane, MD is a physician, an international lecturer, and director of special education. He is the author of a book, numerous articles, and a number of online programs dealing with ADHD treatment, ODD, child behavior issues, and education. You may visit his website, ADD ADHD Advances, and sign up for the ADD ADHD Advances online journal.