Amino Acids and Diet

Douglas Cowan Psy.D.'s picture
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ADHD Treatment with Amino Acids and Diet: Two Recent Studies

We have long held the opinion that the symptoms of ADHD could be lessened, and perhaps fully treated, by the use of amino acids and the help of specific ADHD diets such as our diet at http://newideas.net/adhd/adhd-diet. Now two studies, one from Italy and the other from Norway, give more support for our position that prescription medications, particularly stimulants, are not the only effective treatments available.

Children with Fragile X syndrome

The study from Italy looked at the effectiveness of just one amino acid in a population of ADHD children are well known as poor responders to stimulant treatment – children with Fragile X syndrome and ADHD.

Fragile X syndrome is the most common hereditary form of mental retardation, and many children with the condition also have ADHD, or at least the symptom inventory of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder . Over the years stimulants such as Ritalin have been used to treat these ADHD symptoms with these children, but with mixed or poor response. Stimulants often caused the children to be more irritable, to be less verbal, and often more withdrawn, so the researchers explored the possibility that the amino acid L-Acetyle Carnitine (LAC) might be helpful in reducing the ADHD symptoms, but without the side-effects.

The research team from the Università Cattolica in Rome studied 51 boys, ages 6 to 12, diagnosed with both Fragile X syndrome and ADHD. It was a double-blind study, so the boys were divided into two groups, one to get the amino acid treatment and the other a placebo. They study lasted for one year, with the boys evaluated at the beginning (baseline), at six months, and after a year.

The boys treated with the L-Acetyle Carnitine showed significant improvements. They were less hyperactive and had improved attention and focus, and without any of the side-effects that would be expected in this population from treatment with stimulants. In fact, there were no adverse side-effects reported by the amino acid group at all. The boys were also given intelligence tests, but there were no significant gains made on the IQ testing.

"We propose that LAC be recommended as a treatment of ADHD in FXS children," the authors state, "since it effectively reduces hyperactive behavior and improves social abilities without adverse side effects." They also suggest that these results may be applicable to children with autism, who also do not easily tolerate stimulants.

We have personally studies and observed the positive results from treatment with a combination of amino acids, lipid complexes, and homeopathic medicines in Attend with ADHD children. And we recommend that parents and physicians take a closer look at this alternative treatment.

SOURCE: American Journal of Medical Genetics. Part A published online Feb. 19, 2008. Part B will be published in April, 2008.

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ADHD and Diet: Restrict Milk

The second study had to do with diet as a treatment intervention for ADHD. It seems that at least a small group of children with ADHD, perhaps ten percent or so, have a particular type of protein imbalance that may be contributing to a child’s ADHD symptoms, or may be causing that child’s ADHD problem entirely.

Back in 1996 a group of researchers in Norway began to study 23 children with ADHD. They placed the children on a milk free diet and have followed the children since. The researchers wanted to see if the ADHD symptoms in the children, particularly hyperactivity and impulsivity, would improve by avoiding milk, or more specifically the casein in the milk.

no milk for adhdSince a one of our ADHD diet recommendations has been to stop drinking cow’s milk for two weeks, then add it back in to the diet and see if there is any adverse reaction to it, we were very interested in the observations from this study.

Milk is one of the most common food allergens in children. Studies in several countries around the world show a prevalence of milk allergy in children around 2% to 5%. Some estimates are much higher, as the researchers in this study propose. Cow's milk contains at least 20 protein components that may cause allergic responses. The milk proteins, casein and whey are the main problems. Caseins give milk its "milky" appearance and is the protein in milk that makes it possible to make cheese. Whey makes up the remainder of the milk substance.

The group was working under the theory that a metabolic disorder making it difficult to break down certain proteins, including could cause mental problems ranging from Autism to Schizophrenia to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

All twenty-three children in the long-term study, who were between four and 11 years old when the project started, had symptoms of ADHD and had been shown to have abnormal levels of peptides in their urine. All of the children followed a strict casein-free diet the first year, and the results were overwhelmingly positive. Twenty-two of the twenty-three children had “clear improvements” in their behavior and attention span.

One of the researchers noted, "One of the kids I worked with started on the diet on Wednesday and by the weekend his parents said they saw a huge positive change in his behavior.

A number of the children have since stopped following the diet for different reasons and some were put on medication, but after eight years six were still strictly avoiding all milk products and several had also cut out gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley and to some extent oats.

"We see a clear difference between those who stopped and those who stayed on the diet," said another researcher.

"It's incredible. We've seen intelligence tests that had gone steadily down suddenly turn around and go back up" after a change of diet, reported a third member of the team.

One subject in the study, who is now seventeen years old, reported that if he cheats on the diet he knows it will hurt his school performance right away. "I can tell right away when I've eaten something I shouldn't. It's really hard to concentrate. I'm always careful before tests," he says, taking a big bite of gluten and milk-free carrot cake.

Hundreds of other Norwegian children with ADHD have in recent years been put on milk-free diets to help deal with their condition, but Fosse complains many doctors don't inform parents of the option. "We want to get the word out that this can be an alternative. Parents have to do a lot of searching before they get this information," said one mother whose child has improved.

Not drinking cow’s milk is certainly a simple and safe intervention to try. And, as we like to say, if what you are doing works, don’t mess with it. But if it doesn’t work, try something else.

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