Natural Approaches to Childhood Allergies and ADD

By Victoria Dolby-Toews,

Many common childhood conditions respond to nutritional and herbal supplement therapies. In the previous Caring for Kids article, we discussed remedies and preventive measures for ear infections and colic. In this issue, we’ll take a quick look at other troublesome conditions?attention deficit disorder and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADD and ADHD); and allergies.

Attention Deficit Disorders

ADD and ADHD are defined as age-inappropriate difficulty with concentration and an inability to stay on task. Kids with ADD are generally quiet and seem well behaved. Kids with ADHD, on the other hand, show age-inappropriate impulsiveness and sometimes excessive physical activity. Both types of attention deficit are associated with learning difficulties and lack of social skills.

The Feingold Diet

Benjamin Feingold, M.D., developed the Feingold diet on the premise that salicylates (chemicals similar to aspirin that are found in a wide variety of foods) are an underlying cause of hyperactivity. In some studies, this hypothesis did not appear to hold up. But in studies where markedly different levels of salicylates were investigated, a causative role for salicylates could be detected in some hyperactive children. As many as 10-25 percent of children may be sensitive to salicylates.

In addition to Salicylates, Feingold diet also eliminates synthetic additives, dyes, and chemicals that are commonly added to processed foods. The yellow dye tartrazine has been specifically shown to provoke symptoms in controlled studies of children with attention deficit disorders. Again, not every child reacts, but enough do so that a trial avoidance may be worthwhile. The Feingold diet in any form is complex and usually requires help from an experienced healthcare professional.

Essential Fatty Acids

A deficiency of several essential fatty acids has been observed in some children with attention deficit disorders, compared with unaffected children. One study gave ADD patients evening primrose oil in an attempt to correct the problem. Although a degree of benefit was seen, results were not promising. {Greene’s comment: The researchers should have used both omega-3 and omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids.}

Vitamin B6

Low levels of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) have been detected in some ADD patients. A study of six children with low vitamin B6 levels found that vitamin B6 and the prescription drug Ritalin were both effective at reducing symptoms, while only vitamin B6 corrected the vitamin deficiency. High doses of other B vitamins have shown mixed results in relieving ADD symptoms. A practitioner knowledgeable in nutrition must be consulted when using high doses of vitamin B6.


Some children with attention deficits have lowered levels of magnesium. In a preliminary but controlled trial, 50 ADD children with low magnesium were given 200 mg of magnesium per day for six months. Compared with 25 other magnesium-deficient ADD children, those given magnesium supplements had a significant decrease in hyperactive behavior.


Allergies to food or other substances may be at the root of many childhood ailments. A nutritionally oriented healthcare professional should be consulted to determine the presence of allergies and proper treatment.

For example, if there is no medical cause for bed-wetting, allergies should be investigated. Several researchers have found allergies to be an important cause of bed-wetting. For colic in infants, a double-blind study found that distress was reduced by 25-39 percent when the mother’s diet was free of milk, wheat, and nuts. Other foods are also likely to exacerbate colic in some infants, and switching from a cow’s milk formula to one that is hypoallergenic (or, better yet, to breast milk) may also be helpful. The incidence of allergy among children with recurrent ear infections is much higher than among the general public. In one study, more than half of all children with recurrent ear infections was found to be allergic to foods. Removing those foods led to significant improvement in 86 percent of the allergic children tested.