Finally, another double blind study of 24 nonasthmatic children diagnosed as hyperactive found that 17 had allergic nasal symptoms or skin problems; 17, skin reactions to dust and pollen; and nine, a marked increase in activity after taking food dye. After an elimination diet, parents noted a moderate to marked improvement in 12 children for at least 12 weeks among 11, indefinitely (J Learn Disabil 11(6): 383-88, 1978).
Once you have ruled out food sensitivities, look to one of a number of nutritional deficiencies. In Werbach's view, one important double blind, controlled study has confirmed the findings of a number of uncontrolled trials, suggesting that the symptoms of some hyperactive children are due to a deficiency of brain serotonin, the brain hormone which keeps us calm. Giving such children vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, which is required for the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin, has been shown to increase whole blood serotonin levels and in several studies, to be more effective than placebo.
In this controlled study (published in Biol Psychiatry 14 (5): 741-51, 1979) six hyperactive children with low whole blood serotonin experienced an increase in these levels after being given B6. The vitamin was more effective than methylphenidate in decreasing hyperactivity. Also, unlike the drug, the benefit of B6 continued after patients were switched to a placebo, suggesting that the B6 supplement corrected a deficiency.
"In all fairness, a related study, finding no benefit from B6 on hyperactivity, did appear as a letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine four years later (309(21): 1328-9, 1983)," writes Dr Werbach.
". . .However, its subjects were hyperkinetic children with normal blood serotonin levels, so the study did nothing to disprove the hypothesis that pyridoxine may benefit hyperkinetic children with low blood serotonin. "
Dr Werbach cautions that megadoses of B6 can have adverse effects. He recommends starting with low dosages (50 mg of pyridoxine is a low dose for adults) of pyridoxal-5-phosphate, the "active coenzyme" form of vitamin B6, and then gradually raise the dosage, depending on changes in blood serotonin levels and behavioural response.
Besides vitamin B6, hyperactive children may be deficient in other nutrients or reacting to an excess exposure to toxic materials like lead (see box, right). The solution to your child's problem behaviour may only be a matter of some careful detective work to locate the possible culprit or culprits.
Adapted from Nutritional Influences on Mental Illness by Dr Melvyn R Werbach (available for $44 from Third Line Press, 4751 Viviana Drive, Tarzana, CA 91356-5038 Tel: 818 996 4727 .