Food and Behaviour Research

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Outcome-based comparison of Ritalin versus food-supplement treated children with AD/HD

Harding, K.L., Judah, R.D., Gant, C. (2003) Altern Med Rev 8(3) 319-30. 

Web URL: View this article online here


Twenty children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) were treated with either Ritalin (10 children) or dietary supplements (10 children), and outcomes were compared using the Intermediate Visual and Auditory/Continuous Performance Test (IVA/CPT) and the WINKS two-way analysis of variance with repeated measures and with Tukey multiple comparisons. Subjects in both groups showed significant gains (p less than 0.01) on the IVA/CPT's Full Scale Response Control Quotient and Full Scale Attention Control Quotient (p less than 0.001). Improvements in the four sub-quotients of the IVA/CPT were also found to be significant and essentially identical in both groups: Auditory Response Control Quotient (p less than 0.001), Visual Response Control Quotient (p less than 0.05), Auditory Attention Quotient (p less than 0.001), and Visual Attention Quotient (p less than 0.001). Numerous studies suggest that biochemical heterogeneous etiologies for AD/HD cluster around at least eight risk factors: food and additive allergies, heavy metal toxicity and other environmental toxins, low-protein/high-carbohydrate diets, mineral imbalances, essential fatty acid and phospholipid deficiencies, amino acid deficiencies, thyroid disorders, and B-vitamin deficiencies. The dietary supplements used were a mix of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, amino acids, essential fatty acids, phospholipids, and probiotics that attempted to address the AD/HD biochemical risk factors. These findings support the effectiveness of food supplement treatment in improving attention and self-control in children with AD/HD and suggest food supplement treatment of AD/HD may be of equal efficacy to Ritalin treatment.


Encouraging though it may seem, unfortunately, this kind of study does NOT provide good scientific evidence for anything.... so at best, it is a pointer to the need for further research that might do this.

  • this was an 'open' study - i.e. there was no 'placebo' treatment for comparison. This matters in order to rule out effects of expectations, or even the passage of time!
  • allocation to treatments was not randomised. Instead, parents *chose* either ritalin or dietary supplements - and their beliefs and expectations (in either case) would be expected to influence the 'outcomes'
  • of the two groups of 10 children, we are told that both got better: but there are no figures comparing the two groups!
  • parents in both groups were given additional information about ADHD. How do we know that this alone didn't produce the benefit?

These may seem like unnecessary criticisms of a well-intentioned study - but they are not. If dietary approaches are to be taken seriously (and we believe they should) then it's essential that good scientific evidence be provided - and that means controlling for the many, many factors that can influence the clinical outcome of any 'intervention'.

So - this report might suggest that some children (of some parents who believe in non-drug approaches) respond well when their diet is changed. That may be fair enough encouragement for other parents to consider such an approach. However, this study most certainly does *not* provide the scientific comparison with medication that the title boasts - which is a shame.