Holford’s deficits: potential harm to children and the Brain Bio Centre’s bad ADHD advice

The Brain Bio Centre (which is director of) specialises “in the ‘optimum nutrition’ approach to mental health problems”. It also offers what is effectively health advice on its website – and its advice pages tend to lack the usual ‘speak to a proper doctor before trying this’ disclaimer. Analysing the Brain Bio Centre’s account of ADHD will be helpful to explain why I’m worried about the online advice it gives: this advice is seriously deficient. I’ve got a few problems with the ADHD advice but, most worryingly, some of the advice looks like it could be potentially harmful to children. This is what I’ll focus on here.

The Brain Bio Centre advises that parents of kids with ADHD should “Eliminate Chemical Food Additives & Check Other Potential Allergens Such as Wheat, Dairy, Chocolate, Oranges & Eggs”. Firstly, this is rather strange advice given that “[a] chemical substance is any material with a definite chemical composition.” If you stop your kid from eating any chemicals, this mean depriving them of all food and water. Certainly, after a relatively short period of time, ADHD will cease to be a problem; death will be more of an issue, but certainly not hyperactivity.

I’m assuming, though, that the Brain Bio Centre is using ‘chemical’ in a less technical sense – it’s not quite clear what they mean, but I’d guess that they’re telling parents to avoid giving their kids processed foods. That’s reasonable enough advice – these foods often have too much salt, fat, sugar etc. in them. The problem is that the Brain Bio Centre’s advice also goes far beyond this.

The Centre states that “Foods most likely to cause allergic reactions include food colourings, flavourings, synthetic additives, wheat, dairy products, corn, yeast, soya, citrus, chocolate, peanuts, eggs and foods containing salicylates…To test if food allergy is contributing to your child’s symptoms, eliminate any suspect foods for two weeks and then observe carefully as you introduce foods one by one.” I’m a healthy adult (as I’m sure readers will be pleased to know) and eat a very varied diet – I’d struggle to maintain a healthy bodyweight and fulfil my nutritional requirements after excluding all those foods. To try to get a kid to eat a nutritious diet – and avoid excessive weight loss – after excluding all those foods would often be much harder: as any parent will know, kids may not eat everything they’re told to; they also have different nutritional requirements from adults. If a child stopped eating all the foods listed as likely allergens – and these foods were reintroduced only one food every fortnight – they could be eating a very restricted diet for quite a while.

Unfortunately, the Brain Bio Centre page on ADHD contains no warning to seek medical advice/supervision before adopting such a restrictive diet. The Centre appears to be telling parents to adopt very radical, potentially dangerous changes to diet based on reading a single webpage*. And doing this to children – to vulnerable children with learning difficulties. This is not a good thing.

This isn’t just a hypothetical concern: there has already been a report of Holford’s advice re. elimination diets causing problems. The registered dietician Catherine Collins reports that Holford advised that a child should eliminate cow’s milk and soya milk from their diet. That “child suffered sleep problems and her weight dropped as a result of the advice [Mr Holford] gave. It’s extremely worrying when it involves children with special educational needs“. This was a much less extreme elimination diet than the Brain Bio Centre website recommends, but still caused serious problems.

I’m certainly not saying that diagnosing food sensitivity through this kind of elimination diet is a bad idea – such diets can be effective, and much more effective than the unreliable technique that the Brain Bio Centre refer to as “a proper allergy test using the IgG ELISA method“. However, there are obvious risks involved in eliminating so many foods from a child’s diet all at once. This is why medical supervision is generally recommended before a radical change in diet, especially with childen. Kids are precious, and you need to be sure that they aren’t wasting away, are eating enough of the right nutrients, etc.

So, I’m sure you already know about the need to be cautious about taking online medical advice. I’m not a doctor (and nor is Holford) – so certainly don’t trust me for online medical advice. See a doctor or a dietician before trying out radical diets like this on kids – ADHD can be quite managable, but make sure you access good quality advice and support.

*although their ADHD page does list other resources (of variable quality) at the end of the page.

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2 Comments

Filed under ADHD, allergy, Brain Bio Centre, children, elimination diets, food sensitivity, Holford, IgG tests, patrick holford

2 responses to “Holford’s deficits: potential harm to children and the Brain Bio Centre’s bad ADHD advice

  1. gadgeezer

    This advice is very disturbing. A restricted diet may not be harmful in the short term but over the long term it may well be.

    I don’t know which tests/resources/expertise that YorkTest donated to Holford’s Food for Brains project (they are listed as contributors) but they took a few licks today from a consultant allergist, Dr. Glenis Scadding at a session of a House of Lords Committee that is investigating allergy and associated matters.

    Dr. Scadding refers to IgG tests as a waste of money and possibly leading to malnutrition. She delivers several excellent put-downs of the pretentions of the companies that offer these tests.

    Holford was very quick off the mark to defend YorkTest after the Watchdog criticism in January. I’ve been watching, but so far, I haven’t seen anything on the topic. Hmm – a nutritionist versus someone of the international stature of Dr. Scadding who is, you know, relevantly qualified in the field.

    Who would you put your faith in?

  2. Jon

    thanks for the info – it’s good that the Lords are looking into these tests.

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