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Pediatrics: Diet Matters

Feldman, Ellen.  ; Atlanta Vol. 20, Iss. 3,  (Mar 2017).

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These ancient words from Hippocrates still ring true today. In many disorders of children and adolescents, there is evidence that what a child eats — and also what a child does not eat — makes a difference in the outcome and management of disease states. However, there are many non-evidence-based claims and popular trends touting specific diets for childhood disorders, making it confusing for parents to choose a rational way to proceed. 1 Knowing the medical evidence for specific diets allows the practitioners to guide parents and children through this decision. The importance of recommending well-studied and medically sound nutritional interventions when considering diet modification in children cannot be understated considering, among other factors, the potential to harm the developing brain via malnutrition. Recognizing this, Erlichman et al chose to undertake a comprehensive review of dietary interventions for several common disorders of children. They chose to focus specifically on diet and not nutritional supplements; thus, the interventions do not include reviews of nutraceuticals.

Table 1 summarizes dietary interventions for common childhood disorders. Each row is devoted to one of the specified diets, contains major features of each diet, and notes disorders for which these diets can be useful (often in conjunction with conventional medication and interventions). A more in-depth discussion of each reviewed childhood disorder and the potential role of nutritional intervention follows.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder thought to affect about 11% of U.S. children between the ages of 4 and 17 years. Psychostimulant medications remain the standard treatment, but an estimated 25% of parents look toward integrative therapies to provide non-pharmaceutical options. The most common interventions reside in the realm of nutrition, with either diet modification or the use of supplements (such as omega-3 fatty acids or vitamins). 8