Learning & Developmental Disabilities


How the Best Yeast-Free Diet is used for ADHD Treatment
and Learning Disabilities and ADD

by Bruce Semon, M.D., Ph.D.

This page is based on Dr. Bruce Semon’s clinical experience and research. Dr. Semon is a Board-Certified child psychiatrist. This page discusses how yeast can cause ADHD, ADD and Learning Disabilities, and the best ADHD Treatment, ADD Treatment and Learning Disabilities Treatment comes through changing diet. For detailed explanations, including an more case studies, and how you can treat ADHD and ADD–we recommend that you read An Extraordinary Power to Heal.

Dr. Semon is available to see patients and for consultation. For more information about his medical practice, call 1-877-332-7899, or click here.

The following is a description of a an adolescent boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who used a yeast-free diet as ADHD treatment.  He used the diet  found in our books Feast Without Yeast and An Extraordinary Power to Heal  and the non-absorbed anti- yeast medicine nystatin. This case is taken from Dr. Semon’s book, An Extraordinary Power to Heal. After the case, an explanation of why this ADHD treatment works is presented.

Case of Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Treatment of  change of food choices

Mark, 15, had a long history of attention problems. He had been on a number of medications and on Dexedrine, he had not eaten very well. Because he was not growing well, the Dexedrine had been stopped. Mark had then grown substantially but he was still having much difficulty with paying attention and with being too active. He was fidgety and restless and could not focus and he was distractible. Mark had no learning problems but he did not like to do homework. The prior year he had not done homework. He had so much difficulty with concentration he could not concentrate well enough to make Kool -Aid. There were also numerous marital problems in this family. The parents were not together. Mark had respiratory allergies.

Mark was started on the anti-yeast diet and nystatin. He came back three weeks later and was calmer and required fewer reminders to do his homework. He was taking care of his homework on his own. He was now working two nights per week at a convenience store. He was getting along better with his sister. The school had no complaints. He was not dozing off or daydreaming. He was staying on task. He was not wandering off and he was staying with household tasks. His father noted a big change. He had received a B+ on a business test. He was cooperating with wearing his glasses.

In three weeks, years of attention problems and hyperactivity were reversed.

No one knows the cause of ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and the cause of learning disabilities. However, we do know from one major study of the brain in ADHD, that the brains of adults with ADHD are slowed down. This study, researched by Dr. Zametkin and published in the New England Journal of Medicine (1991), was done in adults with ADHD who had never been treated with medicines.

The researchers gave the patients a radioactive compound which resembles glucose, the sugar the brain uses for energy. The researchers also gave the same radioactive compound to adults that did not have ADHD. They measured the uptake of this radioactive compound. The more the compound is taken up by the brain, the more active the brain is. The researchers found that in many areas of the brains of people who had ADHD, less of the radioactive study compound was taken up by the brain. These areas, 30 out of the 60 measured, were less active in the brains of people with ADHD. The areas that took up less of the compound also tended to be the brain areas which have more to do with higher level thought processes.

These results were different from the control group results.

Based on these results, we can think of the brain in ADHD as slowed down and not as active, especially in the parts of the brain that concern higher level thinking. Academic researchers have no answer for why they find such decreased activity in the brain.

In a later study, the same researchers showed that giving the commonly prescribed drug Ritalin did not change the activity level of these same brain areas in ADHD adults. If slowing down in the brain that has been observed is a reflection of the primary problem in ADHD, then Ritalin is not reversing the primary problem.

There is no comparable study for learning disabilities but one can imagine the brain to be slowed down also. ADHD and learning disabilities often go together.

How does decreased activity in the brain lead to “hyperactivity,” inattention and difficulty with concentration?

It appears that the parts of the brain which are easiest to slow down are the parts of the brain which do the thinking. The parts of the brain which control motor activity are not as slowed down. So these parts appear to be more active if other parts of the brain are slowed down. This greater motor activity makes a person look “hyper”.

How does the brain come to be slowed down?

There are a number of chemicals both from the diet and from yeast in the intestinal tract which sedate (slow down) the brain. Let me explain further. I suggest, based on my clinical experience and my review of the research literature that these chemicals may be at least partially responsible for the research findings described above.

The yeast Candida albicans is a normal resident inside of our intestinal tract. This yeast can also be found at times in the mouth and in the vagina. Sometimes this yeast overgrows and the doctor recognizes this overgrowth of yeast as a yeast infection of the vagina or in the mouth, where this infection is commonly called thrush.

Bacteria are also resident inside the intestinal tract, sharing space with the yeast. After one uses antibiotics, such as to treat ear infections or strep throat, the yeast grow to fill in the space left by the removal of the bacteria. Even after the antibiotics have been stopped, the yeast continue to grow at a higher level.

Researchers in Colorado published in 1987 in Pediatrics a study of children referred to the University clinic for learning problems. Of those children found to be hyperactive, they were more likely to have had more ear infections. The authors note that some children with ear infections experience partial loss of hearing due to persistent fluid behind the ear. No one has directly correlated temporary periods of hearing loss with hyperactivity. However, antibiotics are given for ear infections and may be the cause of the hyperactivity by causing yeast to grow. Whether previous intake of antibiotics is correlated in any way with later hyperactivity has never been studied.

Pregnancy and the use of birth control pills can also make yeast grow more.

Yeast make a number of chemical compounds which are then picked up and absorbed into the body. These compounds are quite toxic to the nervous system. These compounds include toxic alcohols and aldehydes, as well as the powerful nervous system poison hydrogen sulfide. Alcohols depress the nervous system and at least some aldehydes are anesthetic agents, which of course put the brain to sleep. These chemicals slow the brain down so that the brain no longer works correctly. These chemicals should be cleared by the liver so that these chemicals never reach the brain. However in some people, these chemicals are apparently not cleared, reach the brain,  and cause symptoms such as inattention and difficulty with concentration.

There are also chemicals in the diet which slow down the brain. Barley malt, the raw material for making beer, contains chemicals which slow down the brain. Vinegar, chocolate and pickles also contains such chemicals. I explain this process and which foods affect the brain more thoroughly in Feast Without Yeastand An Extraordinary Power to Heal.

In my clinical practice, I have found that the way to reverse this intestinal yeast problem is to modify diet (exclude certain foods from the diet) and to take the anti-yeast medication nystatin. This drug is not absorbed and kills the yeast living in the intestinal tract. Then the yeast can no longer make the toxic chemical compounds. Fortunately, because nystatin is not absorbed, nystatin causes no side effects except for a little nausea. No harmful side effects have ever been caused by the use of nystatin. This is a low-risk therapy.

The diet contains many foods which contain yeast compounds. Some of these yeast chemicals are toxic to bacteria and will clear space for the yeast to grow again. If these yeast chemicals are left in the diet, nystatin will not do much good because the yeast keeps growing back. To treat yeast these foods must be removed from the diet. Removal of these dietary yeast products enables the body to clear itself of yeast chemicals.

The diet for Candida problems consists of removing fermented foods from the diet. The worst offenders are alcoholic beverages and non-alcoholic beer, vinegar, barley malt, chocolate, pickles, and aged cheese. I explain the diet very thoroughly, including how to implement the diet for children, in An Extraordinary Power to Heal and Feast Without Yeast:4 Stages to Better Health. Feast Without Yeast has more than 225 recipes that are easy to make and taste great! Our new cookbook, Extraordinary Foods for the Everyday Kitchen contains more than 125 additional new, original recipes and more than 60 menus to help you plan meals.

How good is this therapy for ADHD and learning disabilities?

All children I have seen who have adopted this anti-yeast diet have calmed down and behave better. Usually with this diet and the anti-yeast medicine nystatin, drugs such as Ritalin are no longer necessary.

Other Cases

Anna Z.

Anna Z. is a six and a half year old girl who came to my office because she had some symptoms of ADHD as well as word finding problems and reading problems. She was seen about two months before she would finish first grade. Although she was tested and found to have average IQ, she was well behind in learning to read in the first grade. She could not sustain mental effort when reading. Her ability to concentrate was limited. She said she became tired when trying to read. She would frequently get out of her chair when she was supposed to be working independently. She had word finding problems. She also had great social difficulty. Other children could not relate well to her. She was defiant. She was doing strange things such as making animal sounds and barking. She would poke and pinch others when she was not included in others’ games. Her mother was concerned about her language development.

Her medical problems included respiratory allergies. Her parents were divorced. When I talked with her, she frequently said I don’t know or I don’t remember.

She was first diagnosed as having a learning disability due to her difficulty in learning to read as well as having some symptoms of ADHD.

She was started on the anti-yeast diet. She came in a month later. The parent reported that Anna was less sleepy after lunch and less tired after reading. Anna was following the rules better. She was making connections more quickly and was understanding better. Her mother said that she would like to see Anna’s concentration improve.

When I talked with her, she seemed more connected and she volunteered answers to questions. Her eye contact had improved.

She was started on nystatin in addition to the anti-yeast diet.

The next major follow up was four months later, a month after she began second grade. Her reading had improved considerably. She was reading nearly at grade level. Her other academic skills were pretty good. She was making some friends. Her behavior at both of her parents’ homes had improved.

At three months after beginning second grade, Anna’s teacher wrote that Anna had tremendous academic potential, was working hard at almost all academic tasks and seemed to really enjoy learning. Another teacher wrote that Anna had progressed from an S- to an S+ in reading from first grade to second grade. She was doing outstanding work in spelling.

Mary T.

Mary T. is a seven year old girl who was impulsive with low attention span and with a changable mood. Her mother said that she could focus when she wanted to. She was reading at grade level and was so far doing alright. She was good in art and with colors.

On testing, she was found to be high in math, but to have low spatial skills. She had little tolerance for friends. She was a leader, was bossy and was outgoing. She had trouble keeping friends because she demanded that others do it “her way”. She had low tolerance for give and take.

Her mother stated that Mary could turn into a devil child. If held, she could bite. A request for her to do something, especially if she was hungry or tired, could set her off. She could become angry at transitions times, angry at whoever was there. She could be very nice to younger kids. She loved music and dancing and Mary liked the color blue and colors in general. Her mother stated that she tried to be good but then something would switch and she would become another person.

Mary’s biological mother was a single mother and she drank during the first four months of pregnancy because she thought she would have an abortion. She changed her mind. The biological father was in jail for aggravated assault. Mary was adopted at birth.

Her only medical problem was warts on her fingers. She was otherwise healthy and she had a high tolerance for pain. She reached her developmental milestones on time and was now in the fourth grade.

In the office she was restless and was stretching in her seat.

Mary was started on the anti-yeast diet and was given the homeopathic remedy Tarentula hispanica 30C.

Mary came back five weeks later. Her mother noted that she was interacting alright with friends. She had not bitten in the last month. She was calmer and not as restless. She was having good days and bad days, but she had more good days than bad days and her good days were better than her previous good days. Her mother thought that her bad days may be due to diet causes. Her teachers had noted an improvement. Mary’s attention span was still limited but if she was directed to the work, she could stay with it. Her mother noted that cutting out chocolate in the first week had helped. When she had yeast bread, she reacted badly to it.

In the office, Mary was calmer and sat most of the time.

At this time, Mary was started on nystatin. The potency of the homeopathic remedy was increased to Tarentula hispanica 200C and the mother was encouraged to do more of the anti-yeast diet, including removing yeast bread.

Mary came back at three months after the initial visit. Her mother stated that she was now much more focused. When she became upset, she came out of it faster. She was having mostly good days and she was calmer. The teachers say she is doing better and that she could stay with work longer. She was learning and she was reading well. She was in a regular class. She still had some outbursts. She was eating more.

She had taken the remedy twice, three weeks apart and she was taking 1/4 tsp. nystatin powder four times a day in addition to the diet. In the office she was smiling and was cooperative.