Hyperactivity and Attention Deficit Disorder
The symptoms of hyperactivity are all too familiar to many luckless parents and teachers. These are children who are constantly overactive, on the move, fidgeting; poor co-ordination; emotionally unstable; short attention span, little concentration, constant flitting from activity to activity, seldom completes tasks, failure to listen; prone to violent outbursts, destructive, self damaging. At night time they find it hard to go to bed, and often harder to get to sleep.
In recent years there's been much controversy surrounding the question of hyperactive children. This term does not apply to those who are simply naughty or badly behaved, or even difficult. It applies to children who are impossible. They are disruptive, destructive both to themselves and property, they can be violent and extremely aggressive, they have short attention spans and great difficulty in concentrating, they have learning difficulties, they never sit still and they don't sleep.
For years these children were treated exclusively as behaviourally disturbed until, in the late '60s, Doctor Ben Feingold, an allergist working in America, stumbled across a possible chemical cause for hyperactivity quite by accident. Whilst working on a project connected to flea bite allergies in children, he devised a special diet which excluded a group of chemicals called salicylates â€“ related to the aspirin family and similar to the substances produced by fleas. A number of children who were extremely allergic to flea bites were put on this diet and Feingold was astounded when many of the parents told him that not only were the children reacting less severely to the flea bites, but their behaviour had improved as well.
He then began a large scale study on hyperactive children who had been institutionalised as they were beyond control. A considerable percentage of the children responded dramatically to the diet, their behaviour changing within days. When they were challenged with a donut filled with artificially coloured and flavoured jam, their behaviour deteriorated within hours. What Feingold had established was that many of the chemicals used as artificial food additives were salicylates, and he suggested that it was these very chemicals together with natural salicylates occurring in some foods, that were the root of the problem for some children.
All children with ADHD may be sensitive to some of the chemicals. Amongst the worst offenders is the yellow colouring tartrazine, E102, which is widespread in convenience foods and especially in many of the drinks, sweets and biscuits aimed directly at the children's market. Over the last 20 years I have seen dozens of children (and their parents) restored to sanity and sleep by the simple expedient of avoiding food additives. It's worth noting that some of these can also be the trigger for asthmatic attacks, eczema, urticaria and other itches and irritations.
Fizzy drinks containing phosphoric acid (E338 -341) may be a special problem. It is phosphoric acid that gives them that fresh pleasant tingle in the mouth, and phosphates turn up in other processed foods, too, including sausages and cooked or processed meats. Phosphoric acid was for long believed to be a harmless additive with no known adverse effects. But a German pharmacist Hertha Hafer, who points out that phosphate use in foodstuffs has trebled since the '60s, is firmly convinced that they are a contributing cause for the rising epidemic of hyperactivity we are seeing today.
Hertha's own son Michael was hyperactive, and for a while both Hertha, her husband and the boy's teachers were delighted with his improvement on doses of Ritalin, the medication now given to millions of â€œproblem children" in the West. After learning of Feingold's work and putting it into practice, Hertha became particularly suspicious of phosphoric acid - which turns up in so many of the soft fizzy drinks beloved by children today. In a book The Hidden Drug published in France and Germany, she details cases where behavioural problems have disappeared, once phosphates were withdrawn from the diet. She also suggests a kitchen remedy for hyperactivity which she claims is almost as effective as a tablet of Ritalin - a teaspoon of cider vinegar in a glass of water.
Excess phosphates should be eliminated from children's diets for other good reasons: among them, that they can interfere with calcium uptake, leading to poor bone formation and osteoporosis in later life.
Nutritional deficiencies caused by a poor diet high in junk food may be at the root of thousands of cases of hyperactivity. Too little zinc is one possible cause: in 1997 the British Hyperactive Children's Support Group tested 190 children with ADD, and found that 183 were deficient in zinc. The Group has also conducted research into essential fatty acid deficiency: they found that there was marked improvement in children given between 2-3000mg of evening primrose oil a day.
Other vital nutrients are the B-vitamin complex - found in meat and wholegrains, magnesium found in bananas and dried fruits, cashews and peanuts, wholemeal flour, brown rice and green vegetables; and the healthy fats found in oily fish like sardines, mackerel, salmon and tuna.
The Allergy Diet
I have used this diet for over 30 years. It doesn't work for every child with ADHD, but for many it's like turning a switch and going from darkness to light. Persevere, it's no good going off half-cock as you will not achieve any degree of success unless you do it properly as follows:
1. Keep a diet diary and write down everything your child eats. It's important to keep this diary going even after any improvements have occurred. It's worth keeping a column in the diary for general behaviour and school progress. If the diet is working, but there is any sudden deterioration in behaviour, suspect that one or other of the baddies has crept in, either by accident or by cheating.
2. Any fruit or vegetable which is not on the prohibited list of Group 1 is allowed unless you suspect that it causes problems.
3. Be a label reader, reject anything which is not 100% free of artificial additives.
4. Nearly all the permitted foods are available off the supermarket shelf.
5. All children enjoy the occasional sweet treat but you'll have to make cakes, biscuits, pies, pastries, puddings and even simple sweets at home â€“ there are plenty of recipe books. Make your own ice cream too as fruits, nuts or chocolate may contain additives.
6. The best way to ensure success is to get the whole family following the diet â€“ would you like to watch while everyone else is eating all the goodies which you're not allowed?
The restriction on fresh fruits and the two vegetables can be relaxed after four to six weeks. Only give one new food in any 48 hour period so you can spot those that might still present a problem.
7. If you are going to succeed, this must be a 100 percent effort. 80, 90 or even 95 percent will not work. If your child has a mouthful of tartrazine on Sunday, and another on Wednesday, it could cause hyperactivity for a week.
8. Usually, a good response will be obvious within 7 to 21 days, in some children behavioural improvements may be noticed within two or three days, in others it might take seven weeks. If your child is one of those sensitive to, or allergic to these chemicals then you will see a benefit for all your efforts, so persevere.
9. Severely hyperactive children are frequently prescribed behaviour modifying drugs and you should never make changes without consulting the doctor.
Until recently, many children's medicines contained flavourings and colourings which cause the problems. Most are now available without them.
Foods to avoid - DOWNLOAD LIST HERE.
Further evidence of the links between food additives and ADHD became apparent when I was privileged to spend some time with American criminologist Professor Steven Schoenthaler, at Cal-state University, Turlock, California. He was then working on similar studies with juvenile delinquents who showed dramatic improvements in behaviour within weeks of being fed an improved diet.
Schoenthaler did many more studies and concluded that a combination of improved diet and simple multivitamin-mineral supplements could change intelligence and behaviour in delinquent youngsters. Penal institutions throughout the US have followed his lead and substituted junk food full of additives for real food, high fat and sugar items for healthier options, and introduced supplements. Even schools in the US have followed suit, starting with the entire New York school system switching to healthier food and seeing an almost instant improvement in learning skills, behaviour and achievement.
The most disturbing feature of ADHD is the current vogue for the prescription of the drug Ritalin. Now believed to be taken by around a million children in the US â€“ 12% of boys in the six to 14 age group are now taking this drug. The clinical advice is that this drug should only be used for children who fail to respond to psychotherapy and the 'special precautions' say it must only be used under the supervision of a specialist in behaviour disorders. I suspect it is routinely prescribed on the insistence of desperate parents, long before other treatments have been explored and without the specialist supervision advised.
Children are often on this drug for long periods, side effects are common, and withdrawal is often difficult. Ritalin is a 'controlled drug', classified with other highly addictive substances â€“ before you allow your child to limp through life on this artificial crutch of a chemical straight jacket, surely it's worth a few weeks of time and a bit of extra trouble to try the diet.
Some of my books...
- Superfoods, Superjuices, Superhealth
- Eat Well Live Longer
- Superfood Pocketbook
(100 Top Foods for Health)
- The Omega 3 Cookbook
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