Boys are notoriously known for being more active and aggressive than girls, with the phrase “boys will be boys” offered as an excuse for many different types of energetic behavior. Alternatively, many boys show aggressive or hyperactive behavior that may be related to certain illnesses or conditions and cannot be justified by gender. Diet therapy is often used as a method of treating some types of negative behaviors in children with diagnosed conditions, and elimination or addition of certain foods, such as milk, may have some positive effects.
Many parents of boys with autism have found success with eliminating casein from their children’s diets. Autism is a condition that is typically characterized by impaired social interactions, repetitive activities and sensitivities to sensory stimuli. It is 3 to 4 times more common among boys than girls. Casein is a type of protein found in milk and dairy products and eliminating casein from the diets of autistic boys may help to improve negative behavior as well as some types of gastrointestinal issues associated with autism. Although a casein-free diet remains a controversial treatment for children with autism, many parents have found success with this approach.
Milk allergies may play a role in the behavior of some boys, including those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This condition is characterized by excitability, hyperactivity and problems with concentration. According to the Foundation for Integrated Medicine, there are many different types of foods that could cause hyperactivity among children if an allergy is present. An allergy to cow’s milk is one of the most common types of food allergies associated with hyperactivity. Milk allergies may also affect other aspects beyond behavior, including skin changes, headaches or runny noses.
Milk contains an amino acid known as tryptophan, which is important for growth and development in babies and nitrogen regulation among adults. Tryptophan is also essential for the creation of serotonin, a type of neurotransmitter found in the brain. Serotonin is associated with behavior regulation and low levels of serotonin may be connected with impulsive and aggressive behavior. Maintaining serotonin levels through dietary tryptophan, such as that found in milk products may help to moderate aggressive behavior among boys.
Growth and Development
Despite the potential negative connections between milk and behavior, milk is an important nutrient for boys in the early years of development, as stated by Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization that trains professionals about toddler development. Milk provides fat and calories important for toddler growth and myelination, which is the formation of the outer sheath that protects nerve cell axons in the brain. These axons are responsible for transmitting messages between neurotransmitters in the brain, which may have an impact on mood and behavior.
- Orthomolecular.org; Nutritional Influences on Aggressive Behavior; Melvyn R. Werbach, MD; 1995
- Foundation for Integrated Medicine; Nutritional Therapies for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; Leo Galland, MD
- Zero to Three: General Brain Development
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Tryptophan—Overview