Spotlight

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 6 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. https://www.progressivegrowthcoaching.com/services

  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”?

  4. By: Robert · 29-05-2020 at 12:02

    Many of us don’t get enough of the food we need throughout the day. Rather than having servings of fruits and vegetables we often opt for fries, burgers and other convenience foods. Choosing food based on what tastes good, fills us up and is quick. The problem with this style of eating is that we miss out on some of the nutrients we need. It’s not as easy or as tasty to grab an apple when we can have a bag of chips and a pop. Who can blame us for eating packaged foods or dining at restaurants? They are everywhere and it is the easy thing to do. Our lives are crammed packed with quick and convenient food. When we are hungry there are restaurant chains all over the place. Delivery and take-out save time and make life easy. The supermarket is mostly boxed brands and convenience food ready-to-eat in minutes. We go for them cause they taste good and are fast. You can find more information about it on https://pharmacyrxs.com/product-category/adhd/. After a busy day at work it so much easier to stop at a fast food place on the way home or to order delivery than to make a meal. If you want to save money you can go to the grocery store and find stuff that cooks up real quick. Many families are on tight budgets and need to make every penny count. Not only do they need to pay bills and keep everyone dressed properly. They gotta get food on the table. Parents need to get the most bang for their buck and often opt for the boxed processed foods.
    This food is cheap, fills bellies, but is low in nutrition. Nutrition is a complicated thing. Let’s face it there are way more interesting things to be thinking about than calories and minerals. The problem is that if you are not getting all of the nutrients that you need your body won’t work properly. This causes imbalances makes the symptoms of ADHD much worse. The important thing is to give your body what it needs and you will be able to control your symptoms of ADHD.

  5. By: Jeanette · 15-06-2020 at 08:13

    I was originally diagnosed as having ADHD – inattentive type. It took me longer than some to receive an ADHD diagnosis (I was diagnosed this year at 32) but once we put the pieces of the puzzle together, ADHD definitely fit. It explained every unanswered question I had with regard to my symptoms. It made sense of some long-standing struggles that I hadn’t really even thought about. It gave me the origins of some of my anxiety issues (such as anxiety around speaking and stress regarding organization).

    The more I thought about my life, the more I questioned if I was hyperactive. In childhood, I would wake up before the sun and beg to go outside, where I spent most of my time, running wild and free. At times, I would become so fixated at recess during school that I would miss the call to return to the classroom and walk into class late and embarrassed once I realized all of my classmates had already gone inside.

    As a grew up, my hyperactivity began to manifest through exercise. I became a compulsive exerciser, which is also part of my eating disorder. I have this seemingly limitless amount of energy and even after exercising for hours. I can’t seem to expend my energy tank. This could be seen as a good thing in some ways, but I often feel restless and fidget a lot because of the excess energy. I have trouble sleeping. It can also cause me to be irritable and short with others because I am frustrated with the lack of motion. I can physically feel the energy inside me, radiating from my abdomen and chest, causing intense aggravation if it is not satisfied.

    I discussed all of this with my doctor, and it became clear that I was actually combined type – both inattentive and hyperactive. I originally thought that because I am a woman that meant I was automatically classified as inattentive type. I felt odd, being diagnosed as hyperactive, but those feelings soon passed as reality set in.

    Hyperactivity doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I think it is often seen in a negative light because when some think of ADHD, they think of children (boys) getting into trouble for disrupting class or refusing to stay seated. But hyperactivity can look different in everyone. For me, it didn’t result in any trouble in school, but it did cause me personal distress. Still, I have been able to harness it in positive ways, too. My hyperactivity isn’t just external, but internal. I suspect this is true for many. My mind often races, with results in bouts of creativity and increased productivity. As long as you don’t overdo it, hyperactivity can also be beneficial to physical activity such as exercise.

    Through medication from https://pharmacyrxs.com, I’ve been able to control the negative aspects of hyperactivity while keeping some of the good. It is no longer a hindrance or disturbance in my life, and I am able to be productive and accomplish more of my tasks and goals.

  6. By: Andy · 22-09-2020 at 09:32

    This a very good read. I’ve recently brought my son to take a private adhd assessment last week. The specialist boldly specified that you should not trust it all on meds. Exercise, a healthy diet, and family support do make the ADHD go away. Thank you for this!

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