Dietary Interventions

The concept that specific dietary components may adversely affect behavior has rested on three hypotheses:

1. Oligoallergenic diet

2. Sugar restriction

3. Feingold diet.

The idea that food might have an adverse effect on behavior was first raised in 1922 by Shannon. This concept was further elaborated in 1947 by Randolph in his description of the 'tension fatigue syndrome,' a behavioral extension of the vomiting reaction to milk proteins, and was also promoted by Speer. Their theory suggested that some children have atypical allergic reactions to various foods, consisting of subtle and behavioral effects. Their treatment entailed placing a child on a restricted diet and then adding foods one at a time to determine which foods caused an adverse reaction. This has been referred to as the oligoallergenic diet by a recent clinical/research group.

A specific focus on sugar as a nutrient adversely affecting behavior first appeared in the 1970s, with a study reported by Langseth and Dowd. Among 271 hyperactive children, these authors found a large number of children who, during glucose tolerance tests, had patterns of blood glucose levels similar to the pattern seen in adults with functional reactive hypoglycemia. Similar results have also been found in aggressive criminal offenders. A subsequent study showed that the patterns that Langseth and Dowd found can be normal variations in childhood, but the Langseth and Dowd study was followed by two correlational studies that suggested an association between sugar intake and hyperactivity. The hyperactive children who consumed more sugar displayed more hyperactive and aggressive behavior.

The third dietary intervention suggested to improve behavior was proposed by Dr. Benjamin Feingold in 1975. He reported that at least 50% of hyperactive and learning-disabled children improved when placed on diets that were salicylate and additive free. Over time, the three dietary interventions have been combined so that proposed dietary restrictions now tend to incorporate all three in their recommendations. However, it is useful to examine the scientific evidence for each of these three dietary interventions.

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