ADHD and Food Allergies, Part II
by 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, parenting issues, and education. You
may visit his website, ADD
ADHD Advances, and sign up for the ADD ADHD Advances
||Do Food Allergies Really Exist?
The formal medical societies like the AMA claim there is no
such thing as food allergies. Rapp and her friends have been
screaming for decades that they do exist. So, what is the
bottom line? Does it really make sense that what a child eats
can affect him so strongly that experts will diagnose him
as having ADHD?
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We know that the brain is a highly complicated and sensitive
organ. We know that many foods have a physiological effect on
the body without inducing a classic allergic response.
For example, people who are sensitive to monosodium glutamate
can have a severe reaction to eating it. The chemicals in red
wine affect certain people. We also know that ingesting certain
foods alters brain function. Diet has been proven to influence
neurotransmitter function. Components of foods can also be used
as drugs. For example, tryptophan, tyrosine, and choline have
been used in the treatment of sleep disorders, pain, depression,
mania, hypertension, shock, or dyskinesias.
The logic of Rapp's argument is so strong and there is enough
circumstantial evidence, that I feel that the question is really
the other way around. We know that the brain is intricate and
has tremendous metabolic requirements. We know that some people
have very strong reactions, including behavioral changes, to certain
foods. These things are undisputed. If it turns out that foods
do not elicit significant problems in sensitive children, in my
opinion, we would need to explain why not!
Are we really seeing an allergy mechanism to food? I prefer to
stay out of that debate. Rather than be ostracized by the doctors
who specialize in allergy, I feel it is safer to call them food
sensitivities. There are no doctors who specialize in sensitivity.
Does Your Child Have Food Sensitivities?
A large number of ADHD children may be having a negative response
to food, and this response may be the primary cause of their ADHD.
In what type of child should you suspect food allergies?
The following is a list of symptoms that resulted from food allergies
in certain children:
- Changes in mood
- Sleep disturbances
- Delay in sleep onset
- Other headaches
- Abdominal pain
Research shows that by treating the food allergies all of these
symptoms can be relieved.
If you see your child's symptoms in this list it is possible
that food allergies may be contributing to his problem. If your
child also has other allergic problems, such as allergy or asthma,
then food allergies are almost certainly contributing to his problems.
What Should You Do?
As I wrote in How to Help the Child You Love, there are a number
of approaches to diagnosing food allergies. None of them are well
substantiated and all of them have difficulties. Yet, many people
find that these diagnostic techniques worked for them.
Therefore, I'd suggest you could use them provided you have it
on good authority that the person administering them has a strong
record of success. In my experience, these techniques are more
of an art than a science. They really depend upon the talent of
As I said last time, the best approach to finding food allergies
in your child is an elimination diet. It doesn't really matter
which one you choose. I prefer the three that I outline in How
to Help the Child You Love.
Researchers claim that the percentage of ADHD children whose behavioral
symptoms are affected by foods ranges from 60% to 75%. This, however,
is probably not an accurate number. Parents who consent to have
their children participate in diet studies usually believe they
have observed food-induced problems in their children.
Therefore, children who participate in these studies are more
likely to respond to foods than the general population. The truth
is we do not know what percentage of ADHD children will respond
to dietary changes, but it seems that the number is significant.
Treating the food sensitivities in ADHD children has a number
of advantages over using medication. One major advantage all the
current methods of treatment can be used to treat pre-school children.
Most clinicians do not use medication on pre-school children.
A more significant advantage of treating food allergy is that
when it works, it works all day. In contrast, Ritalin wears off
in about 4 hours.
All this, of course, is providing that food allergies really
The main thing to remember is that if you think your child has
food allergies, then the biggest mistake you can make is to go
to an allergist. They don't believe in food allergies. And whatever
you do, do not go to an allergist and ask to have your child provocation-neutralization
tested for food allergies. He is going to laugh at you.
Food allergy is an alternative medicine diagnosis. Still, there
are physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating these
sensitivities, but they no longer call themselves allergists.
Rapp and her group were so ostracized by the formal allergy societies
that they eventually broke off and formed a new field called Environmental
Therefore, if you want a physician to treat your child you need
to find an Environmental Medicine specialist. They are not so
common, but they are around.
As I mentioned before, there are a number of approaches to treating
food sensitivities. The one you can do yourself is to use an elimination
diet. I devoted a large section of How to Help the Child You Love
describing exactly how to use elimination diets to diagnose and
treat food sensitivities.
In the final analysis, I feel it is fair to say that many ADHD
children have sensitivities to the foods they eat. These sensitivities
may exacerbate their ADHD symptoms. I won't go so far as to say
that food allergies cause ADHD. That means that if your ADHD child
has severe food sensitivity, treating that sensitivity may not
get rid of his ADHD.
However, until you treat his food allergy, nothing else you do
will really help your child's ADHD, either.
Anthony Kane, MD