Factors that Don't Cause ADHD
Over the years, a number of myths have developed concerning causes of ADHD. As one prominent ADHD expert has put it, "Some of these were originally founded in sound hypotheses but have since been disproved. Others are sheer falsehoods; there is not now and never has been any scientific support for them" (Barkley, 2000, p. 75). Chief among these unsubstantiated claims are food additives, sugar, and bad parenting.
Back in the 1970s, Benjamin Feingold, a pediatric allergist, introduced the theory that certain food additives caused hyperactivity in children (Feingold, 1975). Specifically, he claimed that such things as artificial food coloring, preservatives, and salicylates, which occur naturally in many foods, should be eliminated from the diets of children with ADHD. The Feingold diet is highly restrictive, because so many foods contain not only additives but relatively high levels of salicylates (e.g., olives, honey, avocados, cherries, grapefruit, apples, broccoli, and cucumbers, to name a few).
Although there are still proponents of the Feingold diet, research has long ago disproved it as of benefit for most children with ADHD (Kavale & Forness, 1983).
Sugar, too, has been implicated as a culprit in causing hyperactivity. However, careful research has demonstrated that sugar does not cause high levels of motor activity in most children (Wolraich, Wilson, & White, 1996). Where the mistaken notion that sugar causes hyperactivity may have gotten its start is from the frequent observation that children are hyperactive in situations where sweets are served. Parents and teachers often remark that young children's birthday parties are an occasion for high levels of motor activity and distractibility. They often point to the sugar in the cake or cookies as causing this hyperactivity when it's more likely that the unstructured and stimulating nature of the situation are the causes .
Although research has clearly shown that food products, whether it be food additives, salicylates, or sugar, are not causes of ADHD, we should be open to the possibility that some individuals may have a relatively small reaction to foods because of food allergies. However, the evidence is overwhelming that such reactions are, at most, extremely rare.
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