Hungry for Attention: Feeding the Disorder

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All kids are hyperactive at some point in time but a recent study by the British food standards agency shows a direct link between certain food additives and hyperactivity in kids. Here’s part one of Maureen Kane’s special report, Hungry for Attention: Feeding the Disorder.

While this area of research is not new, many parents of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are now questioning if cutting these additives out of their kids' diets will "cure" them, so we asked the experts to help you decide if changing the diet can change the behavior.

The behavior many of us associate with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is something Joangeli Kasper understands as a counselor for children with ADHD.

Kasper also brings firsthand knowledge to the table. She herself has ADHD, as do her own kids.

"ADHD is a brain-based disorder where you can't get the right neurotransmitters to the right place," Joangeli says.

As it turns out, that fuel could help regulate the behavior of kids with ADHD. The British Government's Food Standards Agency study shows eliminating certain food additives and chemicals from a child's diet could decrease hyperactivity.

The study supports research dating back more than 30 years done by Dr. Ben Feingold. The British study looked at specifically at several yellow and red colorings used in jams, drinks, and candies, as well as sodium benzoate, a preservative.

Those are chemicals that farmers at Dominion Farms stay away from. It's an all-natural beef, pork and poultry farm run by Grayson County Judge Drue Bynum and his family.

Bynum says eliminating chemicals and additives from his animals diets, eliminates them from his customers diet as well.

"Our eggs are 285% higher in riboflavin, other vitamins than store bought egg would be. They are also higher in omega 3 fatty acids."

Those omega 3’s are proven to help build nerve cell membranes in the brain, and many doctors recommend them as a supplement for ADHD kids.

But can eating all natural foods in a supplementation diet or eliminating additives and colorings from a child's diet truly eliminate ADHD symptoms, like the latest research suggests?

"There's not enough evidence," Kasper says.

While some doctors and researchers disagree the link between food additives and hyperactivity, some dominion farms customers say they've seen proof that healthier eating makes for a healthier kid.

"A woman came up to me with tears in her eyes said, ‘This has changed my life. My son has ADHD, he started eating all-natural, he no longer has Attention Deficit Disorder," Judge Bynum says.

Even some parents of children without ADHD say eliminating food additives makes a difference.

While experts like Karen Sylvester say more studies must be done before elimination diets or supplementation diets can be proven to help ADHD kids.

For a list of foods nutritionists advise ADHD kids to avoid and for more on all-natural foods, check the related links at below this story.

Feingold diet recommendations

The Feingold study recommends eliminating (then slowly reintroducing into diet one at a time, if parents choose):
*artificial colors
*artificial flavors
*artificial sweeteners (acesulfame-K, aspartame, saccharin, sucralose)
*preservatives BHT, BHA, TBHQ
*foods that contain natural salicylates include:
-almonds, apples, apricots, berries, cherries, cloves, coffee, cucumbers, currants, grapes, green peppers, nectarines, oranges, oil of wintergreen, peaches, pickles, plums, prunes, raisins, rosehips, tangerines, tangelos, tea, tomatoes

British Food Standards Agency study shows the following additives may be linked to hyperactivity in children:
*sunset yellow (E110), found in fruity drinks
*carmoisine (E122), a red coloring often added to jams
*ponceau 4R (E124), a red food coloring
*tartrazine (E102), found in lollipops and carbonated drinks
*quinoline yellow (E104), a food coloring
*allura red AC (E129), a food coloring

Local nutritionists recommend children have:
*only 8 teaspoons sugar/day
*no more than 300 mg of caffeine/day
-avoid monster drinks
-super reds, other dyes
*9 hours and 45 minutes of rest for 3rd graders

Part Two

It's a question parents of ADHD kids have been asking for years- Could changing your child's diet change their behavior? A recent British study has brought the question back into the spotlight. In part two of our series, Hungry for Attention: Feeding the Disorder, we talk with the experts about the validity of this research and what treatments they recommend.

Thirty years of research has yet to confirm if eliminating food additives and colorings will decrease hyperactivity in AD/HD kids.

"Diet is so controversial, we don't know what causes AD/HD. So many parents are scared of medication," said Licensed Dietician Karen Sylvester.

So to avoid medicating their kids, many parents are willing to try elimination diets or supplementation diets.

An estimated 7% of all school children have AD/HD, so we went to a local cafeteria to see what's on the menu, the science behind why, and what affects these foods could have on an AD/HD child.

Bill Tredennick is the Food Services Director for Sherman ISD. He says the schools feed thousands of kids a day, and while the district doesn't have a specific menue for kids with AD/HD, they do follow guidelines set by the USDA. Those guidelines are designed to meet the needs of most students.

"There's no more than 30 grams of sugar in one beverage, no bakery product can have more than 10 oz of sugar per product," Tredennick said.

Despite the restrictions in the cafeteria, most schools also offer varieties of candy and other snacks, many with preservatives and food coloring.

It's those additives that some researchers say can increase hyperactivity in kids with AD/HD.

"We have a product we offer that meets USDA guidelines, it's up to parents to don't need to buy that," said Tredennick.

While the options are there to reject certain foods, experts say regulating sugars and additives is just one piece of the AD/HD puzzle.

"Starting with diet is always a good idea, seeing a nutritionist, but we need to be careful not to put all eggs in one basket. We are not just food we are the product of our environment, so many facts are involved. If we're going to treat the whole body, we need to treat the whole body," said Licensed Professional Counselor, JoAngeli Kasper.

Kasper has AD/HD and she says diet can help improve the overall health of any child, but diet will not cure a child of AD/HD. She says each kid requires a different combination of treatments.

"Structure. Structure is important. It gives them that sense of organization, because that's what this is organizing information."

And while the research about diet and behavior is still up for debate, Kasper says one treatment is a sure thing.

"I have seen medication transform lives. If you have AD/HD...medicine will just does," Kasper said.

In talking to the experts, it seems there's no definitive link between food additives and hyperactivity. But the studies on diet and behavior will continue.

And while there's no clear cut answer for how to treat AD/HD, there are several local and online resources for people living with the condition.

For more information, click on the links below.

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