Short and long-term effects of an elimination diet and healthy diet in children with ADHD: the TRACE study

Annick Huberts-Bosch
About the Author

Annick Bosch is a PhD candidate at Karakter Child and Youth Psychiatry University Centre (Nijmegen, the Netherlands) at the TRACE project and specializes in ADHD.


Food may trigger Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms. Therefore, an elimination diet (ED) might be an effective treatment for children with ADHD. However, earlier studies were criticized for the nature of the control group, potential confounders explaining the observed effects, unsatisfactory blinding, potential risks of nutritional deficiencies and unknown long term and cost-effectiveness. To address these issues, this paper describes the rationale, study design and methods of an ongoing two arm randomized controlled trial (RCT) comparing the short (5 week) and long term (1 year) effects of an elimination diet and a healthy diet compared with care as usual (CAU) in children with ADHD.


A total of N = 162 children (5–12 years) with ADHD will be randomized to either an ED or a healthy diet. A comparator arm including N = 60 children being solely treated with CAU (e.g. medication) is used to compare the effects found in both dietary groups. The two armed RCT is performed in two youth psychiatry centers in the Netherlands, with randomization within each participating center. The primary outcome measure is response to treatment defined as a ≥ 30% reduction on an ADHD DSM-5 rating scale (SWAN) and/or on an emotion dysregulation rating scale (SDQ: dysregulation profile). This is assessed after 5 weeks of dietary treatment, after which participants continue the diet or not. Secondary outcome measures include the Disruptive Behavior Diagnostic Observational Schedule (DB-DOS), parent and teacher ratings of comorbid symptoms, cognitive assessment (e.g. executive functions), school functioning, physical measurements (e.g. weight), motor activity, sleep pattern, food consumption, nutritional quality of the diet, adherence, parental wellbeing, use of health care resources and cost-effectiveness. Assessments take place at the start of the study (T0), after five weeks (T1), four months (T2), eight months (T3) and 12 months of treatment (T4). T0, T1 and T4 assessments take place at one of the psychiatric centers. T2 and T3 assessments consist of filling out online questionnaires by the parents only.


This RCT will likely contribute significantly to clinical practice for ADHD by offering insight into the feasibility, nutritional quality, (cost-)effectiveness and long term effects of dietary treatments for ADHD.

Publication information

Title: A two arm randomized controlled trial comparing the short and long term effects of an elimination diet and a healthy diet in children with ADHD (TRACE study). Rationale, study design and methods

Authors: Annick Bosch, Margreet Bierens, Ardine G. de Wit, Verena Ly, Jessica van der Velde, Heleen de Boer, Gerry van Beek, Danielle Appelman, Sacha Visser, Lisa Bos, Jolanda van der Meer, Niki Kamphuis, Jos M. T. Draaisma, Rogier Donders, Gigi H. H. van de Loo-Neus, Pieter J. Hoekstra, Marco Bottelier, Alejandro Arias-Vasquez, Helen Klip, Jan K. Buitelaar, Saskia W. van den Berg, and Nanda N. Rommelse

Journal: BMC Psychiatry

Year: 2020