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Adv Pediatr. 1986;33:23-47.

Dietary influences on neurotransmission.


Diet clearly influences neurotransmission. This can be important in grossly undernourished children. It can also be important in children in whom normal homeostatic mechanisms governing food intake are bypassed. Subtle differences in behavior can occur with physiologic variation in food intake. Components of foods can also be used as drugs. Starvation can impair neuronal maturation and can have lasting effects upon behavior and intellectual performance. The extent of starvation's impact upon the brain depends upon whether undernutrition occurred during a critical phase in brain development. Short-term fasting has small, but significant, effects upon intellectual performance. Even when gross malnutrition is not present, subtle changes in diet may modulate brain function. Tryptophan, tyrosine, and choline in the diet are used as precursors for neuronal synthesis of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, and acetylcholine, respectively. It is likely that the brain's sensitivity to certain components of the diet exists to permit monitoring of food intake by the central nervous system. Tryptophan, tyrosine, and choline may be useful in treatment of humans with sleep disorders, pain depression, mania, hypertension, shock, or dyskinesias. Other components of the diet that may affect behavior include food additives, sugar, and caffeine. Food additives may exacerbate hyperactive symptoms in a small proportion of children with attention deficit disorder. Given that there is little potential for harm and that there is a subpopulation that may respond, a trial of a diet that contains no food additives may be a valid diagnostic approach for children with attention deficit disorder who do not respond to stimulant therapy or for children for whom stimulant therapy is not desired. Refined sugar has been blamed for many behavioral abnormalities. Subtle effects of carbohydrate upon behavior have been reported, but the existing data do not support the hypothesis that sucrose or fructose exert special effects upon neurotransmission. Caffeine is easily detected as a stimulant by humans, but it has little effect upon cognitive function. Administration of large doses of vitamins has no beneficial effect in most humans with schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder, autism, Down's syndrome, or drug addiction. Large doses of niacinamide may even be harmful, as they may cause hepatic damage.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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