Dietary Acid Load and Mental Health Outcomes in Children and Adolescents : Results from the GINIplus and LISA Birth Cohort Studies
High dietary acid load may have detrimental effects on mental health during childhood and adolescence. We examined cross-sectional and prospective associations of dietary acid load and mental health problems in a population-based sample, using data from the German birth cohort studies GINIplus (German Infant Nutritional Intervention plus environmental and genetic influences on allergy development) and LISA (Influences of lifestyle-related factors on the immune system and the development of allergies in childhood). These studies included detailed assessments of dietary intake through a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ), mental health outcomes measured through the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), and covariates. Using logistic regression, cross-sectional associations between dietary acid load measured as potential renal acid load (PRAL) and SDQ subscales were assessed at age 10 years (N = 2350) and 15 years (N = 2061). Prospective associations were assessed, considering PRAL at 10 years as exposure and SDQ subscales at 15 years as outcome (N = 1685). Results indicate that children with a diet higher in PRAL have more emotional problems (OR = 1.33 (95% CI = 1.15; 1.54); p < 0.001), and show hyperactivity more often (1.22 (1.04; 1.43); p = 0.014) at 10 years. No significant associations were present either cross-sectionally at age 15 years, nor prospectively. Results were confirmed in sensitivity analyses. These findings reveal first evidence for potential relationships between PRAL and mental health in childhood, although we cannot exclude reverse causality, i.e., that dietary behavior and PRAL are influenced by mental status. Future studies should address confirmation and identify biological mechanisms.