Q. I’ve heard a lot about using diet therapies like the Feingold diet for ADHD. I talked with a therapist who specializes in treating ADHD and she was adamant that diet and nutrition have nothing to do with it. What do you think?
The therapist you talked with has – as we say in the South – a dog in the race. That may bias her opinion.
The mental health community as a whole maintains that no consistent body of science supports the efficacy of the Feingold diet or any other nutritional approach to treating ADHD symptoms. That’s true as far as it goes, but research results address averages; they do not predict individual outcomes.
Let’s just say, in other words, that a study of 100 kids presenting significant ADHD symptoms finds no significant effect of a certain dietary manipulation. What may not be reported is that the behavior of a certain number of the kids in the study did in fact improve significantly.
That seems generally to be the case with such studies. Some kids improve when put on a restricted diet like Feingold’s, but some kids don’t. (I’m not going into detail about the diet developed by research pediatrician Benjamin Feingold, but you can find plenty on the Internet.)
After eight years spent researching his approach, which involved eliminating artificial food colorings and flavorings as well as chemical preservatives, Feingold presented his impressive findings in 1973. Shortly thereafter, a group calling itself the Nutrition Foundation published statements claiming that Feingold’s approach lacked valid scientific support.
The general public was unaware, however, that the foundation’s membership included Dow Chemical, Coca Cola, and other companies who made, used and distributed the additives Feingold was targeting.
In their zeal to discredit Feingold and his work, NF subsequently paid for several research studies designed to “prove” what it wanted the public to believe – that Feingold’s approach was worthless.
In the early 1980s, however, toxicologist Bernard Weiss and autism expert Bernard Rimland published studies favorable to Feingold’s methods. Research continues to explore Feingold’s approach, and there is growing reason to believe that he was onto something.
Perhaps the most convincing evidence in favor of Feingold are the testimonies from thousands of parents who claim it brought about dramatic improvements in their ADHD children’s behavior; in many cases, improvements that were far better and longer-lasting than those resulting from medication.
Although these parent reports are dismissed as non-scientific by what I term the ADHD Establishment, the issue boils down to one this: Why would these parents say their kids’ behavior improved if it didn’t?