A gluten free diet has been recognized by a growing list of researchers as an effective way to reduce ADHD symptoms (see ADHD And Gluten: Is There A Connection?).
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye and is found in may of the foods we love: pizza, bagels, bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, breakfast cereals, etc.
As an ADHD treatment provider and mother of a son with ADHD, I decided my family would take a gluten holiday.
I wanted to experiment with dietary changes to determine if they helped reduce my sons ADHD symptoms; I would try anything to help alleviate my son’s suffering and frustration.
I had to face some hard truths: my family’s diet was not optimal. I discovered that our love of pizza, pasta, breads, baked goods, cereals, etc. meant that we consumed large amounts of gluten.
In general, the American diet poses numerous health risks: We consume too much saturated fat, simple carbohydrates (sugar, white bread), often eat on the go, and rely on pre-packaged processed foods pumped with artificial colors and preservatives. Fresh produce is lacking and school districts consider ketchup to be a vegetable.
According to research not only do such dietary factors result in obesity and diabetes, they can also result in behavioral and mood changes in children, including worsening ADHD symptoms.
As a result, I decided that a complete dietary overhaul was required.
In the Northeast were we live, gluten-free items were initially more expensive when first introduced, but now many of them are the same price or even lower. I discovered that a gluten free diet can have both health and economic benefits in terms of saving money.
Certain items that you may not suspect, such as oats, may have been processed in a facility that also processes wheat. Read labels carefully, as wheat and wheat-based ingredients are often added to a wide variety of unsuspecting items as a binding agent in everything from frozen soups, salad dressing, ice cream, even toys such as Play-Doh.
Within a week, I noticed positive behavioral changes in my son. Episodes of hyperactivity were roughly cut in half and he reported a greater ability to focus, i.e. less “brain fog.” Homework and chores were far less of a struggle, and he increased his ability to stay on task by a few extra minutes. I observed that his mood improved and he reported that he felt more energetic (not hyperactive).
My sons positive gains were dealt a setback when he attended a birthday party and ate pizza and cake after going 2 months without gluten. The change was immediate and noticeable: increased hyperactivity, agitation, low frustration tolerance, lack of focus, task avoidance, etc. Needless to say, homework and chores were not completed.
The good news? It only lasted about 24 hours, but that episode made me even more curious about the gluten ADHD connection.
While this exercise is purely anecdotal at this point, and correlation is not causation, I am gradually gathering data over a longer period of time for a more accurate case study.
gluten free diet help all children and adults with ADHD? The jury is
still out, but making healthy dietary changes is never a bad thing in my
As an added benefit, we both feel better overall, have more energy throughout the day, and I have lost some weight without increasing my exercise regimen. That’s what I call a win-win!
Try a gluten free diet and see if your child displays positive behavioral changes. Ask questions to see if they feel more focused, have more energy, or experience improved mood.
I learned that you do not have to give up the foods you love due to the numerous gluten-free options available.
Lasting change takes 3 to 4 weeks, but you'll soon get into the habit of reading all food labels, asking questions at restaurants, etc. It becomes second nature.
You have nothing to lose and you can always return to eating junk food, but you may find out, like my family, that you don’t want to.