How an oligoantigenic diet may help your child with ADHD
What is an oligoantigenic diet?
Have you heard of an oligoantigenic diet before? No, it isn’t the latest diet craze for 2022. It’s a temporary diet that may help identify food allergies or sensitivities in children with ADHD. ADHD is the most common behavioral disorder in children, and not all kids with ADHD benefit from the same treatment(s). Some can manage their symptoms through medication, while others respond to behavior therapy. Then, there are those who benefit from cutting out or limiting certain foods. This is where the oligoantigenic diet comes in.
How does it work?
In this diet, commonly allergenic foods/food groups are taken out of a child’s diet for a few weeks. This usually includes removing foods such as milk, corn, wheat, and eggs. Foods suspected to trigger reactions may additionally be removed. Parents and their child’s medical team take note of any ADHD symptoms before, during, and after the diet to see if there have been any changes.
After the diet period ends, the removed foods are slowly reintroduced. Again, the child is monitored to see if symptoms that had improved either come back or get worse. This allows the medical team to determine which, if any, foods the child may be allergic or sensitive to.
How effective is it?
All children with ADHD respond a bit differently to this diet. Studies show that for some children, there is little to no benefit. However, other children had >40% improvement in symptoms relating to inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity. 1,2 Some kids showed a quick response to both removal and reintroduction of foods, with symptoms improving and returning within days.
In other kids, it took weeks to see any big changes. Something to be aware of is that most of these studies tested primarily boys and only looked at short-term effects of this diet.
How can I try this out?
Some questions that parents might want to think about before trying out an oligoantigenic diet:
- How realistic will this diet be for your child (and you)?
- How do you think your child might respond emotionally to this diet?
- Do you suspect food may be a contributing trigger to your child’s ADHD symptoms?
- What do you hope to gain from putting your child on this diet?
- If multiple sensitives are found, how well can your child adhere to a strict diet long-term?
- How will you handle special events like birthday parties or holidays?
If after considering these questions, you’re interested in taking the next steps, you can consult with your pediatrician or a registered dietitian. When cutting out foods or food groups, a child might miss out on essential nutrients, so it’s important to be monitored by a medical professional or team.
By: Lisa Anderson, RD
If you have more questions about an oligoantigenic diet, it’s always a great idea to speak with a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are the only credentialed experts qualified to address your unique health questions. Email us at [email protected] to request a direct consultation with a dietitian today!
Dölp, A., Schneider-Momm, K., Heiser, P., Clement, C., Rauh, R., Clement, H-W., Schulz, E., & Fleischhaker, C. (2020). Oligoantigenic Diet Improves Children’s ADHD Rating Scale Scores Reliably in Added Video-Rating. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11, 730. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00730
Ly, V., Bottelier, M., Hoekstra, P. J., Arias Vasquez, A., Buitelaar, J. K., & Rommelse, N. N. (2017). Elimination diets’ efficacy and mechanisms in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 26(9), 1067–1079. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-017-0959-1
Yorgidis, E., Beiner, L., Blazynski, N., Schneider-Momm, K., Clement, H-W., Rauh, R., … & Fleischhaker, C. (2021). Individual Behavioral Reactions in the Context of Food Sensitivities in Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder before and after an Oligoantigenic Diet. Nutrients, 13(8), 2598. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13082598
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