Q:I’ve heard lots of pros and cons concerning the use of 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 on my nine-year-old son, but I don’t want to waste my time on something that won’t work. What are your thoughts on the subject?
A:I will begin by stating that I choose not to go into detail about the so-called Feingold diet, developed by research pediatrician Benjamin Feingold, but the interested reader can find ample descriptions on the Internet.
Now, to address your question, the therapist you talked with has—as we say in the South—a dog in the race. That may bias her opinion of the Feingold diet’s usefulness in treating kids 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 major ADHD symptoms finds no significant effect from a certain dietary treatment. 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. 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 (NF) published statements claiming that Feingold’s approach lacked valid scientific support. The general public was unaware, however, that NF’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. 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 on to something of value.
Perhaps the most convincing evidence in favor of Feingold’s approach is the testimonies from tens of thousands of parents who claim that what is now called the Feingold Program brought about dramatic improvements in the behavior of their child who had ADHD. And in many cases, these improvements were far better and longer lasting than those of children who had received the traditional medical treatments for ADHD.
Although these parent reports are dismissed as nonscientific by what I term the “ADHD establishment,” the issue boils down to one fundamental question: Why would these parents say that their kids’ behavior improved if it didn’t?
THE FEINGOLD PROGRAM ELIMINATES
- Artificial (synthetic) coloring
- Artificial (synthetic) flavoring
- Aspartame (NutraSweet, an artificial sweetener)
- Artificial preservatives BHA (E320), BHT (E321), TBHQ (E319)
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751.