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Some parents say diet helps behavior
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Q: I’ve heard lots of pros and cons concerning 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. I was thinking of trying Feingold’s diet with my 9-year-old son, but don’t want to waste my time. What are your thoughts on the subject?
A: The therapist you talked with has — as we say in the South — a dog in the race. That may bias her opinion of diet therapy’s usefulness with ADHD. In fact, 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, and significantly so.
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 choosing not to go into detail about the so-called Feingold diet, developed by research pediatrician Benjamin Feingold, but the interested reader can find ample description 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 to the 1973 annual conference of the American Medical Association. 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 funded 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 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry and the Journal of Learning Disabilities, respectively. The controversy has since settled down, but research continues to explore the efficacy of Feingold’s approach, and there is growing reason to believe that Feingold was onto something of value.
Perhaps the most convincing evidence in favor of Feingold’s approach are the testimonies from tens of thousands of parents who claim that what is now called the Feingold Program 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 fundamental question: Why would these parents say their kids’ behavior improved if it didn’t?

Rosemond, a family psychologist, answers questions at his Web site:
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