The Connection Between ADD and Diet

It has long been known that consumption of certain foods and beverages can have a noticeable and particularly bad effect on children, causing severe problems. For example, children with sensitivities may become extremely hyperactive after having coloured cordials or fruit syrup drinks, hot dogs, various junk foods and cola drinks. ADD, ADHD and related conditions are ones for which conventional medicine offers mainly drug treatments; stimulants which suppress symptoms but do not remove causes. Other management techniques - such as psychological intervention, educational and behavioural management programmes - often do not produce the desired results. Hertha Hafer's research explains why this is so.

Hafer's background as a researcher has made it possible to make a connection between the food we eat and the symptoms which manifest themselves as ADD/ADHD. While it has long been known that some foods can make the condition worse, why was not known. Hafer's genius lies in her close analytical investigation of the chemical components of the foods we consume. She discovered that there is a common component in the foods that affect ADD children.

That component is phosphate. Hertha wrote down her findings and published them in a book The Hidden Drug - Dietary Phosphate (Cause of Behaviour Problems, Learning Difficulties and Juvenile Delinquency).

From the time of Feingold onwards there has been much research conducted into the connection between ADD/ADHD and certain foods. Some studies have suggested remarkable results for a certain diet; others have proved inconclusive. Generally the results obtained from attempts at dietary management of ADD/ADHD have been so muddled and conflicting that many parents have understandably given up on this approach.

Why then would the Hafer-diet work where other dietary management attempts have failed to produce consistent results?

Hafer argues that other diets have failed to provide consistent results because the problem constituent - phosphate - was not recognised in earlier studies. Many experimental diets eliminated some of the sources of excess phosphate but permitted other problem foods to continue to be consumed. Thus such diets and experiments yielded very variable and conflicting results. Hafer's approach lies in the identification of added phosphates in modern, processed diets and avoiding them. The experience of thousands of families in Germany, Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe provides strong support for her claim.

Phosphate is a very common ingredient in modern diets. It is a highly versatile food-additive which food manufacturers use in abundance. It is used in the form of preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilisers, thickeners; it is added to the flour aerators in self-raising flours; it is put into soda and cola drinks in the form of phosphoric acid and the list continues. Industrial phosphates are produced each day in most countries by the tonne.

There are also a number of natural foods that have elevated phosphate levels. Naturally occurring phosphates are designed to nourish fast growing animals and plants. Whilst they do not present as big a problem as the manufactured foods, it nevertheless is important to be aware of their presence.

In this context, it is important to mention that ADD/ADHD is not a condition with a long history, unlike a wide range of other health problems which have been recorded regularly for thousands of years. ADD/ADHD is not reported in countries where people continue to eat a traditional diet of unprocessed foods. However, in countries in which there has been progressively a shift to processed and convenience foods and in which natural foods high in phosphate have become more readily available throughout the year, ADD has become a major problem.

These two developments have proceeded in parallel: the greater the intake of phosphate-rich food, the higher the incidence of ADD. This alone does not prove a cause and effect connection between the high consumption of phosphate-rich food and the high incidence of ADD/ADHD but it does suggest the possibility of a relationship between the two.

Furthermore, it is important to note that phosphate is an essential mineral, an essential nutrient that is vital for many life processes in our bodies. Traditional, pre-industrial diets provided the exact quantities needed for the correct functioning of all cellular activities. Modern diets, however, provide very much more phosphate than what the body needs. But because this element is needed for the healthy development of bones, skin and teeth and because it is such a useful and versatile food additive, food chemists and manufacturers have assumed that added phosphate is totally harmless and beneficial to the human diet.

Accordingly, the Hafer-diet is not a phosphate-free diet. To eliminate all phosphate completely from the diet would ultimately be dangerous: the body cannot function properly without phosphate. There are, however, few if any known records of health problems caused by insufficient phosphorous in the diet. The phosphates exist in abundance and are consequently found in a wide range of foods.

Hafer argues that if excess phosphate is removed from the diet, children with ADD/ADHD will benefit enormously. For these reasons, she proposes a phosphate-reduced diet. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that the acceptable daily intake of phosphorous is 70 mg/kg body weight. Not everyone's metabolism is identical, so it is possible that the precise amount optimal to our bodies varies from individual to individual. However, the aim is not to exceed the recommended daily intake. And yet, one German study (c.f. The Hidden Drug - Dietary Phosphate) has revealed that on average people were consuming between two and three times the recommended maximum amount of phosphate.

In summary, Hafer's research shows that there are some people who are sensitive to the high intake of phosphate minerals. The result is an upset in the delicate mineral balance, leading to other mineral deficiencies affecting the nervous system and resulting in all the symptoms, which are typical of the problem behaviour of the ADD child. People who do not suffer from this sensitivity can consume relatively high amounts of phosphate in their diet without observable adverse effects. The tendency to the sensitivity is hereditary; for this reason it is strongly recommended that in families with an ADD child the whole family should go onto the phosphate-reduced diet, since it is highly probable that other family members will also benefit.

ADD and Related Conditions

Mineral imbalance and mineral defiencies caused by excess phosphate intake affects the entire metabolism, resulting in a myriad of other conditions: asthma, hay fever, allergic eczema, migraine headaches, gastro-intestinal disorders, osteoporosis and other problems. The human body consists of millions of highly specialised cells, which need a controlled environment to enable them to carry out their life processes. Minerals control the chemical equilibrium needed for cells. Hence, it is easy to see that an excess of anything may upset the balance.

Hafer also suspects that it is very probable that there is a link between phosphate sensitivity and a range of other afflictions of modern society. These include: alcoholism and more serious drug addictions, depression, juvenile delinquency, adult criminality, deaths caused by accidents (e.g. the high incidence of deaths of young males in road accidents) and the epidemic of teenage and young adult suicides.

Hafer recommends a diet-based management therapy which helps most affected children to some extent, many benefit enormously. Change can be achieved in very many cases without recourse to medication or other intervention programmes.

Although research in the area of dietary phosphate has been slow to proceed, Hafer's theories are gradually appearing more and more convincing in the light of recent studies. For examples, read the articles posted on the Supportive Evidence link. Other examples can be googled on the net. Science Daily for example has published articles that show that higher levels of phosphate in the blood are linked to increased levels of calcium in the coronary arteries, a key indicator of atherosclerosis and future cardiovascular disease risk. They have also published articles that suggest that a high dietary intake of phosphate may promote tumor development and contribute to tumour growth in skin cancer. whereas restricting phosphate intake may help prevent cancer.

Hafer's research suggests that there is no cure for phosphate sensitivity. The high dietary intake of phosphate will cause a relapse and it may take three to four days for the body to eliminate the excess from its system.

However, the good news is that the reduced-phosphate diet is not unduly restrictive; it is a nutritious, healthy diet; children who benefit from it experience such positive changes in their own sense of well-being that they soon become only too happy to comply with it. Adhering to the diet soon becomes a way of life.

The information on the recipe pages will help you get started with the phosphate-reduced diet.

Return to top

Or click How do I know if this can help my child, myself, my family?

PhosADD Australia email:
ABN: 64021647394