By Betty Hooper
For over 25 years I have collected a massive amount of evidence relating to the treatment of children diagnosed with ADHD, (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), a condition characterised by excessive hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. The label ADHD was assigned by the American Psychiatric Association in the 1980’s, who following a show of hands, created this new “disease” which they attributed to “a brain dysfunction” which they claimed was not curable, but treatable.
According to a Ministry of Health publication entitled “2001 New Zealand Guidelines for the Assessment and Treatment of ADHD,” pharmacotherapy is superior to alternative treatments and as a general rule, stimulant drugs are the first line of defense, the drugs being Ritalin or Rubifen. It further claims that “over 70/80% of children exhibit improvement in their symptoms of ADHD while on stimulant medication.” The evidence I have seen does not support any of these assertions.
Firstly, ADHD is not the result of a brain dysfunction. It is in large part due to a poor diet that contains man-made additives used for artificial coloring and/or preserving. Consequently, the treatment with Ritalin and Rubifen, which can have dreadful side effects, such as drowsiness, hypoglycemia, weight loss, worsening of ADHD, nausea, fever, palpitations, arrhythmia, is not justifiable. Since the end of World War II, there has been a vast increase in the number of additives in off-the-shelf food items in conjunction with an increase in the number of fast-food outlets selling highly processed food. According to the ADHD.org.nz website, it is now generally agreed that 2-5% of the school- age population are affected by ADHD. This suffering is largely avoidable.
When I worked as a teacher with special needs children between 1942 and 1953, I did not see any of the behavior problems that parents and teachers encounter today amongst those said to be suffering from ADHD.
In order to test the hypothesis that ADHD was due to diet, I traveled to Cuba in late-2005. I selected Cuba as it leads the world in organic
farming and takeaway outlets are virtually non-existent. Also, all school children receive a freshly-cooked organic midday meal, plus milk and vitamin tablets if required. When I arrived I stayed with an ordinary family and was lucky enough to find one that was able to introduce me to pediatricians at a university, whom I was able to converse with about the problems we have with hyperactive children here in New Zealand.
Interestingly, they advised that ADHD is virtually unknown in their country and said that while they knew about Ritalin and Rubifen, they had no use for it. On their advice, I visited four Cuban schools and spoke with the principals, all of whom said the children were well behaved. They said they did not have problems with bullying, abuse directed towards the pupils and staff, a fascination with fire, truancy, vandalism or depression – all symptoms of ADHD. In addition, I did not see any youngsters playing up, nor did I see any special needs classes within the ordinary school curriculum, as we have in New Zealand. So if Cuba with its population of about 11,400,000 has a virtually unknown ADHD problem, why with our relatively small population of around 4, 115,000, do we have so many children being pushed up to the psychiatrists’ road and put on Ritalin or Rubifen? What has gone awry?
I strongly suspect that the medical profession has been deliberately misled. The official literature on ADHD in New Zealand claims that while dietary treatment is popular among many parents and some clinicians, clinical trials have not produced unequivocal evidence that the approach is effective. This is not true. Dietary treatment has been shown to work in numerous trials and there is a vast body of literature to support this line of attack. For instance, one of the best known advocates of the dietary approach was the late Dr Benjamin Feingold, a Director of Pediatrics at the Kaiser Medical Centre in San Francisco. He demonstrated that artificial coloring and flavoring, preservatives and the naturally occurring salicylates in fruit and vegetables could cause hyperactivity. The Feingold diet, which is free of these, is now used successfully worldwide, including in New Zealand, where I have witnessed it benefit children greatly. There is strong scientific evidence to support this approach amongst non-ADHD children also. Last year in the Lancet medical journal it was reported that Jim Stevenson, a psychologist at the University of Southampton, recruited 300 children, aged 3, 8 and 9 years and put differing quantities of additives and food colour in their juice. The first group drank the usual amount of food with dye that a British child drinks, the second group had half as much, while the third group received no food additives or dye in their juice. Subsequently, Stevenson had parents, teachers and a computer measure the children’s level of hyperactivity and found that the children consuming the drinks with preservatives and dye exhibited significantly higher levels of hyperactivity, . Changes to diet have also been shown to reduce criminal behaviors. Superintendent Peter Bennett from the West Yorkshire Police conducted a trial with nine children who exhibited persistent anti-social, disruptive and/or criminal behaviours who were all found to have a number of food allergies or intolerances and mineral imbalances. These children were put on a restrictive dietary regime and hey presto – all of them improved, both physically and psychologically and the ones who remained on the diet, did not re-offend, . Professor Andrew Kemp, a child allergy specialist of the Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney, said in May this year, he believed that removing artificial colours and preservatives from the diets of children with ADHD should be considered a first-line treatment to reduce hyperactivity, . He stated that there is a strong case for trialling elimination of additives in ADHD kids given the evidence, the harmless nature of such intervention and the large numbers of children taking drugs for hyperactivity. What a shame the voice of commonsense is not heard more often. In my opininon, it is high time the entire medical association “looked outside the square” as Professor Kemp suggests and started by experimenting with changes to children’s diets, instead of prescribing harmful, addictive drugs. ADHD is largely manmade and hundreds of children are being unnecessarily medicated, when all they may well need is a healthy, organic diet.
1. Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community, by McCann D et al., The Lancet – Vol. 370, Iss. 598, 3 Nov 2007, p.1560-1567
2. The Shipley Project, by Bennett CPW et al., J Nutr Envir Med 1998;8(8):77-83.