Variety of Opinions on How Diet Affects ADHD

Diet has not always been a factor in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. However, a new study suggests that implementing a specific diet may provide similar results achieved with behavioral therapy and sometimes medication. Although many doctors still believe that diet plays a relatively insignificant role in symptom manifestation, they are receptive to the idea.

“There’s no question that foods have effects on people’s mood, sleep and energy,” says Dr. David Schab, a psychiatrist at Columbia University in New York. But he cautions that there is not enough information available to be able to ascertain just what foods can increase symptoms of ADHD in children.

Children in the study ranged in age from 4 to 8 years old and all had been diagnosed with ADHD. Half of the children were put on a restrictive diet and the other half were advised on what to eat, but were allowed the freedom to choose their own foods. The results showed that nearly 65 percent of the children on the restricted diet reported dramatic improvement over a broad range of rating tools. Additionally, the same children re-classified their symptoms as mild, as opposed to moderate-to-severe prior to the study.

A recent article gave another perspective on this same information. Dutch researcher Lidy Pelsser, who recently conducted and published her own study on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, said that the disease most people refer to as ADHD does not even exist. She goes on to say that the majority of children who present with attention and hyperactivity symptoms only do so as a result of an over sensitive reaction to certain foods. She suggests that these symptoms can be remedied by limiting their diets.

In either case, diet may have an impact on the severity of a child’s symptoms and should always be explored in addition to other recommended treatment options.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • rachel t

    rachel t

    March 23rd, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    diet influencing behavior-something I think is very true! I just love fresh fruits and whenever I consume fresh fruits I feel like I have had something pure,healthy and nutritious.but when I do have the odd meal at a fast food joint I can almost feel my arteries choke and this in turn affects my behavior as I am generally not feeling too good and in turn do not remain my usual self while interacting with others.

    so yes,diet can influence a person’s behavior if you ask me.and this could be more pronounced in children because they are so fussy about their food and may not like too many things other than the regular loved-by-all-kids kind of foods.

  • Ashley


    March 23rd, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    I don’t think diet would play a big role in our attention spans or anything.Maybe some foods make you feel a little rusty and lazy but then I don’t see how it can actually affect how you go about things!

  • PAM


    March 24th, 2011 at 4:38 AM

    have seen the proof in action- when adhd kids in my classes switch to more natural and gluten free diets their classroom performance improves drastically and I have parents all of the time who wonder to me why this research has not been made public sooner!

  • abraham


    March 24th, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    it may be upto the person’s system as to to what level it affects is not traditionally linked to something like this but it seems like only a full research will prove this.

  • Hannah


    March 25th, 2011 at 4:49 AM

    Think of how a strong cup of coffee can affect you, and now think about how that may could throw you into overdrive especially to someone who may have symptoms of ADHD. Although I do think that in some regions this is highly over diagnosed but there are some very legitimate cases and when you look at many elements the one thing that you know that you can modify and will truly make a difference is what they eat and the things ingested in the body. The more preservatives it is bound to have an adverse effect on anyone’s behavior.

  • Rosalee


    March 25th, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    The “facts” are all over the place and most of them are uttered and repeated by those who have never set foot in medical school. I’ve heard that e-numbers cause it, that sugar causes it, that obesity causes it–I’ve heard it all. Truth is, nobody really knows what causes or affects ADHD primarily.

  • nicole


    March 25th, 2011 at 3:29 PM

    @Rosalee: Except these facts came from a controlled experiment with good results.

  • Francesca


    March 26th, 2011 at 3:25 PM

    Gluten sensitivity has been in the news a few times as a cause of autism-like symptoms. Gluten is very difficult to avoid however, and with autistic kids being innately very picky about their food, it’s probably more hassle than it’s worth.

  • Nathan


    March 27th, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    Well you don’t know until you try it Francesca! More hassle for who, the child or the parent? Gluten free food is not the most palatable, granted. Being a lazy parent isn’t an excuse not to try it to see if it helps your child. As far as I’m concerned if they are hungry enough, they will eat it.

  • Helen


    March 27th, 2011 at 4:02 PM

    Gluten free food is also very expensive and that has to be taken into account. For families on a tight budget, it just may not be possible for them to afford the products no matter how much they would like to try it, especially if they have to throw the food away. It’s not always down to laziness.

  • Gordon


    March 27th, 2011 at 4:15 PM

    Sometimes it’s the simpler things. Food can have an effect on us because of chemicals used in the rearing of the animal. I’m not saying it’s because they are genetically modified, but it’s just how the food is nowadays. Only a handful grow a garden nowadays, never mind a vegetable patch or rearing livestock. We rely on mass farm produced animals. Who knows what goes into their systems before they reach the slaughterhouse?

  • Hollis


    March 29th, 2011 at 4:50 AM

    There are so many simple changes that we can all make to improve our overall health and lifestyle. We need to go as natural as we can, avoiding artificial flavors and preservatives. We need to buy local to ensure that our food is as fresh as possible. And we have to think hard about what we are putting into our bodies and that of our children. Think about what it could do to you or to them in the future. Is that a chance that you are willing to take just for the sake of convenience?

  • Amelia


    February 3rd, 2014 at 11:08 PM

    Food we consume has so much influence on the way we behave. There should be more research on this matter. Can you recommend an information source that provide info about recommended diet for ADHD treatment?

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