Food and Behaviour Research

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Nutritional epigenetics education improves diet and attitude of parents of children with autism or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Dufault R, Adler K, Carpenter D, Gilbert S, Crider R (2024) World Journal of Psychiatry Jan 19;14(1):159-178 doi: 10.5498/wjp.v14.i1.159 

Web URL: Read this article on PubMed


Background: Unhealthy maternal diet leads to heavy metal exposures from the consumption of ultra-processed foods that may impact gene behavior across generations, creating conditions for the neurodevelopmental disorders known as autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Children with these disorders have difficulty metabolizing and excreting heavy metals from their bloodstream, and the severity of their symptoms correlates with the heavy metal levels measured in their blood. Psychiatrists may play a key role in helping parents reduce their ultra-processed food and dietary heavy metal intake by providing access to effective nutritional epigenetics education.

Aim: To test the efficacy of nutritional epigenetics instruction in reducing parental ultra-processed food intake.

Methods: The study utilized a semi-randomized test and control group pretest-posttest pilot study design with participants recruited from parents having a learning-disabled child with autism or ADHD. Twenty-two parents who met the inclusion criteria were randomly selected to serve in the test (n = 11) or control (n = 11) group. The test group participated in the six-week online nutritional epigenetics tutorial, while the control group did not. The efficacy of the nutritional epigenetics instruction was determined by measuring changes in parent diet and attitude using data derived from an online diet survey administered to the participants during the pre and post intervention periods. Diet intake scores were derived for both ultra-processed and whole/organic foods. Paired sample t-tests were conducted to determine any differences in mean diet scores within each group.

Results: There was a significant difference in the diet scores of the test group between the pre- and post-intervention periods. The parents in the test group significantly reduced their intake of ultra-processed foods with a pre-intervention diet score of 70 (mean = 5.385, SD = 2.534) and a post-intervention diet score of 113 (mean = 8.692, SD = 1.750) and the paired t-test analysis showing a significance of P < 0.001. The test group also significantly increased their consumption of whole and/or organic foods with a pre-intervention diet score of 100 (mean = 5.882, SD = 2.472) and post-intervention diet score of 121 (mean = 7.118, SD = 2.390) and the paired t-test analysis showing a significance of P < 0.05.

Conclusion: Here we show nutritional epigenetics education can be used to reduce ultra-processed food intake and improve attitude among parents having learning-disabled children with autism or ADHD.