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ALLERGIC REACTIONS: FINDING THE CAUSE OF YOUR CHILD'S HYPERACTIVITY

 

Naturally, it would be helpful if a test existed to identify the foods at fault in hyperactivity. But as we mentioned in earlier chapters, skin tests rarely detect food allergy accurately, and blood tests are very expensive. For those reasons, many pedia­tricians feel that elimination diets are still the best method.
Dr Doris J. Rapp, author of Allergies and the Hyperactive Child, has done some of the most extensive work on diet and hyperactivity. To find out if hyperac­tivity in a child is related to food, Dr Rapp recommends that parents put their child on 'a simple diet composed solely of fruit, vegetables and regular meats (no sausage, luncheon meats and the like) for one week, and then restore the questionable foods one each day during the second week (i.e., milk, wheat, eggs, sugar, dyes, corn and chocolate) and note the effect of each food.
Incidentally, salicylate-containing foods may cause problems in children allergic to aspirin, a salicy­late compound. But Dr Feingold told us that he had recon­sidered the role of salicylates and thought that they weren't nearly as much of a problem as additives.
To help identify those children who are most likely to respond to a change of diet, Dr Rapp gives this thumbnail sketch of the child who most often experiences food-related hyperactivity: 'If they have dark eye circles, bright red ears and a glassy look when the Jekyll and Hyde behavior develops, the answer may be a food.
'These children often have associated classical hay fever or asthma symptoms, headaches, abdominal complaints, leg aches and [other] behavior problems.
The symptoms are often triggered by the very foods they crave (sugar, peanut butter, orange juice, apple juice) or foods they detest'.
The nicest thing about dietary control of hyperactivity, say doctors who use it, is that it's totally safe.
'In medical school we learn, or common sense tells us, that if a treatment will not harm and may help the patient, then it should be available to the patient and used,' says Dr Richard G. Wanderman, of Memphis, Tennessee in a letter written to a medical newspaper and supporting dietary therapy of hyperac­tivity. 'Is there anyone who will say that a good, nutritious diet without added chemicals, overly processed foods and poorly prepared foods will harm a patient?' (Family Practice News.)
An added bonus is that even normal but active children behave better on a controlled diet. In a study of 300 elementary school children, researchers found that after two weeks on the Feingold diet, even non-hyperactive children were less easily distracted, could concentrate on work or play, and were less fidgety and demanding of attention (Journal of Learning Disabilities).
The only real problem with a controlled diet is that some hyperactive children may begin to see themselves as sickly or somehow different from other children. Parents can minimize that problem by taking a positive attitude towards dietary changes and following these tips.
•  Don't give a hyperactive child the impression that you find preparing special dishes to be a burden or nuisance. Instead, make 'safe' foods that the whole family can enjoy.
•  Include the child in meal planning so he or she feels that his or her personal preferences count. That way, the diet will seem more like a game than punishment or therapy.
•  Keep the child off cola drinks, tea, chocolate and other caffeine-containing foods. The last thing an overactive child needs is more stimulation.
•  Read labels like a hawk. Be sure to watch out for unsafe ingredients in products such as toothpaste and chewing gum -or anything that goes into your child's mouth, for that matter.
• Routinely record your child's behavior and diet, even if it is a simple matter of rating how good or bad the day's behavior was on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being excellent or uneventful, and 1 being the worst).
•  In addition to eliminating the bad foods, increase the good. That will build up the child's resistance to colds, sore throats and ear infections. Your child will be sick less often and have a better self-image.
•  Don't overreact to minor infractions. Kids can't be expected to have any more willpower than adults when it comes to sticking to a diet 100 per cent. Accept the fact that, once in a while, Johnny or Susie will sneak a soda or whatever. To help minimize these opportunities, though, keep plenty of safe foods in the cupboard and refrigerator - with enough variety available so that your child has lots to choose from. And be sure to send your child off to school with a favorite 'safe' snack or two tucked in his or her lunch box.
•  Be on the alert for all forms of sugar, including corn syrup, honey, brown sugar and molasses. Doctors say that sugar in any form seems to fuel hyperactivity, no matter what else the child is allergic to. A pediatrician in Denver told us that he recommends diluting fruit juices with 50 per cent water, to help reduce a child's total sugar intake.
Set an example. Children are born mimics, and you're going to have a hard time getting a youngster to avoid sugar and additives if you routinely swig soda and snack on junk food.

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