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Better Nutrition (1989-90)

Handle hyperactivity with dietary measures

Handle hyperactivity with dietary measures – low-sugar foods without synthetic additives: includes related information

Deborah Seymour Taylor

Handle Hyperactivity With Dietary Measures

Natural low-sugar foods without synthetic additives may be necessary to keep hyperactivity at bay.

The ancient Egyptians colored foods yellow with saffron. The Romans added chalk to grains to make flour whiter and finer in texture after milling and processing. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, copper was used to enhance the color of green vegetables and to tint desserts and cake icing. In 1886, when the United States legalized food colors, artificial colors became commonplace in cheese, butter, and other commodities.

Today, artificially flavored and colored foods are as American as apple pie, and so is hyperactivity. Many people, particularly children, are highly sensitive to synthetic ingredients. The result, according to some experts, is attention-deficit disorder (ADD), or hyperactivity. Symptoms include fidgety and extremely aggressive behavior, impulsiveness, clumsiness, short attention span, learning disabilities and poor sleeping habits.

Hyperactivity ranges from mild to severe. The disorder may be caused by an intolerance to synthetic additives, excess sugar, or salicylates, a group of naturally-occurring compounds related to aspirin.

“I am aware that the American Council for Science and Health has assured the public, as has the Nutrition Foundation, that all additives are safe and don’t cause hyperactivity,” wrote Carlton Fredericks, Ph.D. in Nutrition Guide for the Prevention and Cure of Common Ailments and Diseases. “What they omitted from their report is the dose of additives that was tested — less than a tenth of the amount a child normally swallows in his daily food. When the dose was appropriately increased, some children reacted severely.”

According to Louis Cafiero, M.D., a Virginia Beach psychiatrist who specializes in treatment of the disorder, “There is no simple diagnosis for hyperactivity. But anyone who has been in the presence of a hyperactive youngster for more than a short time knows how exasperating and even frightening their bizarre behavior can be. Their motors are racing when they should be idling. As these children mature they learn various coping skills and how to control some of their destructive behaviors. However, they take with them a deep sense of failure, low self-esteem and often suffer from severe mood swings. And the problem continues into adulthood, but symptoms are masked.”

Hyperactive adults are not likely to be running around shouting and creating havoc, said Jane Hersey, Executive Director of the Feingold Association. “Instead, they are extremely nervous and can’t seem to relax. Or, they are unable to sit still during a conversation without interrupting, and have a very low frustration tolerance: your typical type A personality.”

One of the most outspoken proponents of natural approach to hyperactivity was the late Benjamin Feingold, M.D. In 1973, he published his theory, suggesting the cause was an allergy to synthetic additives, and to some naturally-occurring substances. Years of testing and research resulted in publication of his book, Why Your Child Is Hyperactive, in which he reported considerable success treating hyperactive children with the “Feingold Diet.”

It is not a simple diet to follow. Although it contains all the basic food groups, three major dietary exclusions are advised: all synthetic coloring and flavoring agents, all foods containing natural salicylates, and all aspirin-containing compounds, as well as toothpastes and perfumes. And the diet must be strictly maintained to get results.

A single piece of additive-laden cake eaten at a birthday party, for instance, can trigger symptoms which may last for three days.

Another suspected culprit in hyperactivity is sugar. According to Dr. Feingold, “One must be aware that not only refined cane sugar, but all the simple sugars which includes brown sugar, beet sugar, corn syrup, molasses and even honey may play a role in the behavior.” For a child, sugar gives an energy boost similar to what adults get from caffeine. And it doesn’t take much; less than two teaspoons can easily result in hyperactive behavior.

Hyperactivity is more than just a temporary inconvenience for the parents; it translates into antisocial behavior and possibly more serious problems for the child as he grows. “With that extra, unusable energy propelling him into hyperactivity, Jimmy can only express what he feels through anti-social behavior: anger, moodiness, irritability; he may be unable to concentrate. When it happens at school, he may be considered a `problem child’ or `slow learner,'” wrote Gary Null in The Complete Book of Vitamins and Minerals. “Conferences are held, psychometric tests are given and therapists consulted, and soon Jimmy becomes an official `problem.’ And now his problems, initially caused by simple dietary excess, become part of his family, part of his life. And, parents feel guilty and depressed and don’t understand where they went wrong.”

According to a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Ecology, hyperactive behavior in children becomes markedly worse after high-sugar snacks or meals. The study analyzed the food intake over a one-week period for children who had been diagnosed as hyperactive, against that of a control group. Trained observers analyzed each child’s behavior based on videotapes taken through a one-way mirror. They determined that high-sugar foods increased hyperactive behavior — particularly destructive, aggressive and restless behavior — while nutritious foods decreased such behavior.

If you suspect that someone in your family has a problem with hyperactivity, keep a diary of the foods he or she eats and the types of unusual behaviors that appear immediately afterward. This diary can help your doctor when you decide to seek professional help. Tracking a particular problem is easier if it becomes obvious that a particular behavior occurs at a certain time of the day, or after eating certain foods.

According to Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D., author of Orthomolecular Medicine for Physicians, supplemental vitamins and minerals are crucial for the hyperactive person — in particular niacinamide, vitamin C and vitamin B6. Check ingredient labels since some synthetic vitamins may prompt allergic reactions in sensitive people. Look for natural supplements that do not contain preservatives, dyes or other fillers.

Natural vitamins and minerals, and a variety of foods without artificial flavors and colors are available at health food stores.

PHOTO : A balanced diet of natural foods is essential for controlling hyperactivity.

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