Anyone who has been around the allergy word for a few years will know of the Hyperactive Childrens’ Support Group (HACSG), the organisation founded by Sally Bunday and her mother over 30 years ago. In an attempt to manage her own son’s hyperactivity Sally had investigated the work of Dr Ben Feingold, an early pioneer into the possible link between certain foods and additives and behavioural problems in children.
The Feingold programme eliminated some synthetic food additives (such as colours) while investigating whether some children could also be reacting to staple foods such as cow’s milk or citrus fruits or could be deficient in some vital nutrient such as zinc or essential fatty acids. Sally followed the programme with her son and saw an immediate improvement in his behaviour. Realising that other families could benefit from her discoveries she went on to found the HACSG and, over the next 30 years, provided invaluable help to innumerable families who wanted to try a dietary approach to managing ADHD rather than turning immediately to drug based treatments.
ADHD is a hugely disruptive and frustrating condition not just for the families of children who are hyperactive but for the children themselves. They spend most of their lives angry, but do not know why; behave badly without necessarily wishing to; have few friends, because of their behaviour, and do not fulfil their potential as their powers of concentration are so poor. They also often have digestive disorders and sleep poorly.
Standard medical interventions include parent and child training/education programmes and psychological behavioural interventions and, if these are not successful then drug treatment is the next step. (See the NICE Guidelines updated in February this year.)
But in all the many pages of NICE guidelines, diet only gets short paragraph in which NICE ‘stresses the value of a balanced diet, good nutrition and regular exercise for children, young people and adults with ADHD‘ but then specifically advises against the elimination of artificial colour or additives. The guidelines go on to suggest that healthcare professionals:
‘Ask about foods or drinks that appear to influence hyperactive behaviour as part of the clinical assessment of ADHD in children and young people, and:
- if there is a clear link, advise parents or carers to keep a diary of food and drinks taken and ADHD behaviour
- if the diary supports a relationship between specific foods and drinks and behaviour, offer referral to a dietitian………
- Do not advise or offer dietary fatty acid supplementation for treating ADHD in children and young people. 
While some of the conventional approaches do help with ADHD results are mixed while it is generally recognised that there can be significant side effects from taking prolonged courses of drugs such as Ritalin. (For much more on the management of ADHD see this section on the Foods Matter site.) Moreover educational, psychological and drug interventions are all costly in terms of both money and health professionals’ time.
Dietary intervention is free, apart from some advice from a dietitian to ensure a balanced diet, and is carried out by families rather than health professionals. It also has no side effects beyond, possibly, ensuring that the family pay more attention to what they are eating that they might otherwise have done. Artificial colours and additives have no nutritional value so their loss from the diet is no loss at all.
Supplementation with vitamins and minerals, even if the most broad brush approach of a multi-vit is taken, is cheap and, once again, has no side effects. There is also now is a good body of research now to suggest that fatty acid supplementation can be very helpful in treating ADHD/ASD in children – see the many reports on the FAB-Research site.
So why is dietary intervention not used as, at the very least, a first intervention? It may not work, or it may only be partially successful – but then no treatment is guaranteed to be totally successful. And if it does not work, then the other treatments are always there as follow ups – or can be used, often very successfully, in combination with diet. Dietary intervention does require some investment from the family concerned but the benefits to be derived for both child and the family are huge – while the savings to the health service are significant. How frustrating then the health service professionals are, effectively, advised to not even consider it!
Thank God that the HACSG has refused to be discouraged and still offers advice and the benefit of their many years of study to those families who would rather at least investigate the possibilities of dietary intervention.
There is a good deal information on their site here and they have just brought our a new ‘Brief Guide for Parents and Professionals to the Dietary and Nutritional Approach to ADHD/Hyperactivity’ which you can get by contacting them here. It is simple to follow with references to relevant research, lists of symptoms, information about the importance of zinc and essential fatty acids, advice on supplementation and on the Feingold diet.