No more ADHD with a diet

31 January 2019

ADHD occurs in about five per cent of all children. These children are lively and have difficulty concentrating, both at home and at school. Their lives are not always easy. Tests have shown that ADHD can disappear by following a strict diet known as the RED diet. Could that diet be simplified? And how exactly does it work? Wageningen University & Research is now researching this.

“Our goal is to find out how it is possible that the RED diet has such an effect on ADHD; what exactly happens in the body and the brain when children with ADHD go on this diet,” says researcher Thea Godschalk. “We hope that our BRAIN study enables us to develop a new, simple and effective therapy for ADHD. In the future, it may even be possible to prevent ADHD. To investigate this, we need one hundred boys aged 8 to 10 who are willing to go on the diet.”

Common therapy: medication

Almost 100,000 children in the Netherlands have been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Many of these children are treated with medication. Such medication, such as Ritalin, can suppress the ADHD symptoms, but medication does not work all day, and there are often side effects. More than half of the children, therefore, stop taking medication within a year.

Moreover, the cause of ADHD is not addressed with medication. This is why the ADHD problem persists in about three-quarters of the children, also continuing into adulthood. This is a heavy burden, and it is therefore very important to find the cause of ADHD.

Cause of ADHD

The exact cause of ADHD is not known. We do know that both hereditary factors and the environment play a role. One of those environmental factors is nutrition. Research has shown that ADHD can disappear in 60% of children if the child follows a strict diet, the so-called RED diet, for five weeks. This is a ‘few foods diet’, which means that all necessary nutrients come from a limited number of ‘safe’ foods. It was also used during earlier scientific research (the INCA study).

The RED diet as an alternative to medication

The RED diet is very effective, and the behavioural improvements can be great in children who respond to food. Often medication is no longer necessary. But the diet is very strict, and the effective mechanism is not known. Moreover, the ADHD symptoms may return after eating common foods such as potato, beef or raisins. Every child reacts to different foods.

“ In the future, almost 100,000 children with ADHD in the Netherlands could benefit from the Wageningen University BRAIN study. 

Tim Stobernack, onderzoeker Host-Microbe Interactomics

More research is needed: the BRAIN study

How is it that our daily diet has such a great effect on ADHD? That is the subject of the BRAIN study, a new study that is being carried out by Wageningen University & Research.

In the BRAIN study, children will follow the RED diet (Restricted Elimination Diet) for five weeks. The BRAIN team researches what exactly happens in the body when children follow the RED diet. “The entire trajectory from the intestines, through the blood to the brain, is examined. With the help of blood, urine and faeces tests, we check whether the intestinal bacteria, for example, play a role in the sensitivity to food. We also use fMRI scans to examine what is happening in the brain. We also look at metabolites (metabolic products) in the urine, blood and stool,” says researcher Tim Stobernack. “And finally, we will examine whether certain genes are switched on or off by the diet. If that is the case, then perhaps ADHD could be prevented in the future.”

Prevention of ADHD is possible

The researchers hope to find biomarkers (measurable substances in blood, urine or faeces) that can predict whether or not a child responds to food. In the future, it may be possible to determine with a simple test whether it is useful to follow the RED diet. If there is more knowledge about how nutrition exactly works in children with ADHD, an easier diet or even a dietary supplement or probiotic could be developed, rendering the strict RED diet obsolete.

Take part in this important study

It’s an important project. “Almost 100,000 children in the Netherlands could benefit from this in the future,” says researcher Tim Stobernack. The study needs one hundred boys to carry out the study properly. The researchers of the BRAIN study are currently looking for the final fifty participants. It is important that they are as comparable as possible, and therefore, only right-handed boys aged 8 to 10 can participate. Are you, as a parent or carer, interested in your child’s participation in the BRAIN study? If so, register your son (only possible if you’re speaking Dutch and are living in the Netherlands); he could greatly benefit from the diet.

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Tim Stobernack

Tim Stobernack · Researcher Host-Microbe Interactomics at Wageningen University & Research

Children with ADHD lead a difficult life. They deserve to have the cause of their symptoms researched, and deserve the discovery of the best treatment for their ADHD. That is why we are looking into how it is possible that food has such a large impact on the behaviour of children. How great would it be to be able to treat ADHD with a simple dietary adjustment in the future? That would enable us to help these children.

There are 3 comments.

  1. By: Thouraya · 28-02-2019 at 15:04

    Hello, my son is 15 years old, he has ADD he is struggling at school and at home since many years ago.
    Please let me know what I can do to help him without medication. Many thanks.

  2. By: Brendan Shelton · 04-09-2019 at 14:49

    My wife and I are trying everything we can to help our daughter who can’t seem to calm down or stop moving. We understand she is a child and children are much more active than adults, but she is on another level. I’ll let my wife know about the RED diet and some of the happenings in the medical community that could assist our daughter as she gets older.

  3. By: David · 01-12-2019 at 08:31

    Is this related To the diet effects as described NY Dr Gundry in “The Plant Paradox”?

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