Diet > Diet and Behaviour
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dietician researcher, Joan Breakey MAppSc, reviews
the literature to show the link between diet and
hyperactivity. "The often quoted position that
the relationship between diet and hyperactivity has
not been proven was based on research in the
1970s," she says in a recent edition of Journal
of Paediatrics and Child Health (33, 190-194,1997).
is now time to consider the useful studies of the
1980s and 90s that clearly show a relationship."
in the early 1970s was on artificial flavourings,
colourings and natural salicylates. BF Feingold
pioneered the study of these chemicals. In 1975 he
made the work public in his book, Why Your Child
is Hyperactive, His "Feingold Diet" was
then used world-wide by parents to deal with learning
difficulties and behavioural problems.
diet eliminates foods that contain the naturally
occurring chemical, salicylate, found in apples,
oranges, stone and berry fruits, tomatoes, cucumbers
and so on. It also eliminates artificial colours and
flavours and some preservatives, notably BHT
(butylated hydroxytoluene) and BHA (butylated hydroxy
anisole), common preservatives for fats. This diet is
unusual when compared with modern alternative
approaches which look for allergies or nutritional
factors." (Let the genius flower, Patricia
review reported that the 1970s' research showed that
small amounts of colouring did cause a reaction in
By the 1980s research was focusing on specific
chemicals, food allergens and combinations.
Widespread interest in the area led to a growing body
of knowledge about diet and behaviour. Most
importantly, there was now clear statistical evidence
that diet affected behaviour.
the most influential research of the 1980s was done
by BJ Kaplan. This research and other studies showed
that the effects of diet on behaviour vary between
individuals. It was realised that there were degrees
of reactions rather than an all-or-nothing response.
of research then expanded beyond flavourings and
colourings. Researchers found that whole foods can
impact as adversely on behaviour as artificial
foods that cause a behavioural reaction are usually
the same foods that cause an allergic reaction, e.g.
eggs, milk, peanuts, wheat, soy or fish. Unless a
child or a close relative has demonstrated an
allergic reaction to these food types it is unlikely
that they will suffer behavioural problems due to
Much recent research suggests that mood changes
are the most frequent result of dietary intolerance.
Breakey reports that the commonest in children is
of 300 normal children showed that lack of attention
(ADD) is the comonest diet reaction. (Holborow, Jnl
Learning Disabilities, 1978). These findings are
relevant to the growing body of evidence that links
criminal or anti-social behaviour with chemical
imbalance in the brain.
physical roots of mood and behaviour are now widely
discussed. An article in the British Journal of
Psychiatry (June 1997) suggested that up to 50%
of factors that contribute to ADD may be genetic.
This reinforces the link between body chemistry and
concern is their finding that if the cause of ADD is
not found it will persist into adult life in 25% of
cases. Many children were found to have had little
proper socialisation by age 23yr.
Health professionals should be aware of dietary
treatment as an option for some children. Breakey
suggests a 'diet detective process' to see if dietary
intolerance has a role to play in a childs problems.
Dietetic Association advocates diagnosis of food
intolerance only when the provoking foods or food
constituents have been clearly identified. This can
be done by checking the patients clinical history and
through the use of skin RAST, and through test diets
and food challenges.
stress that it is first desirable to eliminate other
causes that may be responsible for a problem.
contrast Holborow states that diet trials can
contribute to the diagnosis. Dietary related problems
are usually of four types:
Nutritional deficiency, especially zinc or copper.
2. Salicylates, so check the consumption of fruit,
juice and artificial flavourings and colourings
3. Allergies to foods or environmental chemicals
4. Toxic minerals or other chemicals.
Substances: natural and medicinal
salicylates, colour, flavour and preservatives, BHT,
EHA, monosodium glutamate, perfumes, amines,
development of concepts in the role of diet and
Hyperactivity from mid 1970s to mid 1980s - Joan
Breakey reviews some of the literature. Jrnl of
Paediatrics and Child Health (33, 190-194, 1997).
1973 - Feingold first linked the ingestion
of artificial colours, flavours and salicylates with
hyperkinesis and earning difficulties (salicylate
data from 1932).
1975 - The book Why Your Child is Hyperactive was
1976-78 - Three studies which refuted Feingold's
claim published. Order effect found; parent and
teacher ratings did not agree. Reported hyperactivity
reduced in only a small number with pre-schoolers
rated better on diet. Researchers challenged with 26
mg dye, the estimated daily dye intake. Chocolate was
often used as a mask in test and control foods.
1977 and 1980 - National Advisory Committee reports:
no data suggests changes in food manufacture needed;
effects asserted by Feingold not found. Clinical
Families vary in
preference for dietary treatment; some diet
responders still need medication as well; poor school
work continued in some; chocolate reported as another
aggravating Substance; brain-damaged children did not
improve. The Clinical Ecology movement influenced
1976 Stricter diet
used with some
1974 Salicylate data. Clinical findings:
in additives tolerated; some take days to reach
threshold; petrol fumes and felt pens could trigger
reactions. Food craving involved: relief by repeated
ingestion. First trial of artificial flavour [nature
identical mango] conducted; not tolerated. Is dose
important? Artificial flavours in foods are used in
10 times the dose of colours (Hulacher, pers. comm
1988). Moulds, mites and aromatic trees considered.
Diet affected symptoms in parents and siblings;
foods, as well as additives, implicated in some;
concomitant reactions (bed-wetting, 'neurotic' and
physical allergic symptoms) decreased; different
expression in susceptible females.
1978 - New Zealand
report: reaction tc additives and salicylates
differed; fevt responders tolerated salicylate
Infections, stress, inhalants increase severity of
food allergic symptoms Double-blind dye challenge
studies found short duration effect. A report stated
26 mg dye as only 40% of daily intake.
1980. 100 mg dye
effect on learning tasks peaked by 1.5 h,lasted 3 h.
Sugar connected to delinquent behaviour in popular
press, but not implicated in research -
1981. Allergic exposure may provoke both physical and
1986. Symposium on diet and behaviour, good overview.
Expectations if mechanisms were pharmacological.
1987. An overview reference on food allergy and
All foods, or ingested products including
fragrances, have a unique chemistry which when mixed
with the unique chemistry of an individual will
always have some effect. natural whole foods
generally have a beneficial, positive effect in that
the person feels that they are healthy, strong and
able to not only cope, with life, but will excell at
all levels of life.
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