Hertha Hafer (1913 - 2007)

Hertha Hafer was born Hertha Seekatz on May 6 1913 in the Westerwald near the Rhine in Germany. A highly gifted child, she was reading fluently by the age of four. As she was far advanced in relation to her peers, the local education board eventually was persuaded to allow her to be schooled at home by her grandfather, who was a teacher. She passed the Abitur – the German university entrance examination - in 1931; at that time it was unusual for a girl to even sit for this examination.

She completed the first two years of her training to be a pharmacist and then married in 1937; she and her husband had a daughter who now lives in the United States.

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, her husband was called up into the military and he was killed in action on the Russian front. She left her daughter to be cared for by her parents and went to Frankfurt to resume her studies of pharmacy. Bombed out of Frankfurt, she decided to continue her studies somewhere safer and went to Marburg, where she completed her qualification just as the war ended.

After the war she was alerted to the issue of the fluoridation of water supplies for the prevention of dental decay. She went to the American reading room and read up on this topic. Then she developed a formula for a toothpaste and took it to the pharmaceutical company Blendax, who agreed to produce and market it. This product is still on the market today. She worked in research for a number of years for Blendax. The work she did during this period on the biology of the mouth and the effect of acidic or alkaline saliva levels on teeth was preparation for the work she was to do later on ADD. She discovered that acidic influences causes tooth decay and, in partnership with a university professor, she wrote a book on the biology of dental caries. During this period she was also a founding member of the research association ORCA, which consisted of six German, six Swiss and two Austrian scientists.

She married for the second time in 1950. In 1960 she left Blendax and bought into a retail pharmacy in Mainz, which she managed for twenty years. In 1963, she and her husband adopted a fifteen month old boy, Michael. She already had her adult daughter, whom she had raised under very adverse conditions as a single widowed parent during the Second World War and the immediate post-war period. This daughter had subsequently completed her schooling, studied and married; her upbringing had presented no problems whatsoever. When, around the time Michael commenced school and he began to develop into a problem child, the Hafers had no knowledge of behaviour difficulties in children. However, she (a pharmacist) and her husband (a chemist) were both accustomed to scientific work and were therefore familiar with the making of observations, the analysis of data and the testing of theories.

The Hafers consulted numerous general practitioners and specialists. Various medications were suggested and tried; more often than not they resulted in a worsening of Michael's behaviour or the appearance of new symptoms. In her book The Hidden Drug - Dietary Phosphate, Hertha Hafer describes Michael's problems at school as follows:

"In the years following his first year of school, Michael became increasingly incapable of keeping his belongings together and of maintaining any order or system. He always forgot something - an exercise book or text book, pens and pencils or sportswear. The mess in his bedroom was just as bad as that in his schoolbag. In his restlessness and boredom he broke pencils into small pieces and chewed them to bits; he ground erasers into crumbs and splayed his pen-nib. We had to replace the contents of his pencil case once a week.

"Michael never knew what homework he had to do. He could not stay focused and lost track of a lesson after only a few minutes. He remembered and understood barely anything. At the end of each school day we telephoned neighbours to find out what his homework was and tried to teach him ourselves. It was a miracle that he learnt anything at all in primary school.

"Because Michael could not cope with his schoolwork he became bored and constantly concocted new forms of mischief. He made paper planes, threw shredded paper around, pinched the girls and pulled their hair. He ran around the classroom as he pleased, amusing his fellow pupils and drawing attention to himself. He became the 'class-clown'. "

In 1975 Hertha Hafer came across an article about the Feingold diet, developed by American allergist Ben F. Feingold. She obtained a copy of Feingold's book Why Your Child is Hyperactive. This made her aware of a relationship between certain dietary substances and children's behaviour. Then she read in Newsweek that mothers in California referred to their children’s hyperactivity as the 'hot-dog disease'; her background in the research sciences suggested that phosphate was the substance present in hot-dogs which could be responsible for such an impact upon children. She commenced to study this issue more thoroughly. After much observation and experimentation - which she describes comprehensively in her book The Hidden Drug - Dietary Phosphate, she confirmed her suspicions: the common element in the many foods which triggered Michael's behavioural problems was phosphate, a versatile food additive which during the last fifty years has been added indiscriminately to many foods.

Modification of Michael’s diet brought about a remarkable improvement in his behaviour, without the need for drug treatments. After much further research and many attempts to interest the medical establishment and the relevant health authorities in her discovery, Hertha Hafer published the first edition of her book Die Heimliche Droge - Nahrungsphosphat (The Hidden Drug - Dietary Phosphate). Publicity about her discovery led to an article in Stern - the German equivalent of Time or Newsweek - and television documentaries. The book sold 20,000 copies in its first year of publication. Despite the fact that it has never been aggressively marketed, successive German editions have sold more than 70,000 copies; the present publisher has been surprised by continuing steady sales without promotion other than by word of mouth on the part of families whose problems it has helped resolve. Thousands of families have learned how to manage their children's condition without needing to resort to drugs, psychological or other forms of intervention.

Hertha Hafer and her husband moved to Switzerland in 1982 and lived there for ten years. In 1991 her husband died suddenly and she returned to Mainz. She has continued her research and her efforts to help families affected by ADD/ADHD. She has also pursued for more than two decades, so far without success, her efforts to interest the German Ministry of Health in her discovery and the implications of that discovery for health outcomes and expenditure. Hertha Hafer passed away in 2007.

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