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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, previously ADD) is a complex neurological condition that affects approximately 1 in 20 Australians. It is characterised by symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and in some cases, excessive levels of hyperactivity. ADHD is thought to be caused by altered changes in the brain and central nervous system. These changes affect the levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Although it has previously been thought of as a condition that affects children and teens, many adults are now being diagnosed.
Management of ADHD has been pharmaceutical based. However this hasn’t been effective and can have many side effects such as loss of appetite and weight, growth inhibition, abdominal pain, headaches, sleeping problems and increased blood pressure. Nutrition and nutraceuticals (supplements) can be effective alternatives to medications, in some instances.
Here are 10 ADHD nutrition facts from an ADHD nutritionist:
Firstly, yes nutrition can help with ADHD! There are many studies that support different diets and supplements to reduce ADHD symptoms for both children and adults. As our bodies are so different, it is important to find a diet and supplements that work for you.
Did you know low iron levels can increase ADHD symptoms? Iron is a common nutrient deficiency in Australia and is often seen in people who also have ADHD. As it’s responsible for brain metabolism and neurotransmitter regulation, iron deficiency symptoms like irritability and poor concentration cause ADHD symptoms to worsen.
I’m not going to give you a list of ‘foods to avoid with ADHD’ but there are some foods that can make ADHD worse. This includes foods containing synthetic colours and flavourings. Previously it was thought that naturally occurring salicylates made ADHD symptoms worse. However, current research doesn’t find removing them to be beneficial and a high proportion of children suffer adverse outcomes when they are removed, including nutritional deficiencies and food aversion.
A German study provided 810 children aged 5–12 with ADHD a supplement containing omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids for 12 weeks. This resulted in a considerable reduction in ADHD symptoms after 12 weeks. This is due to omega-3 and omega-6 boosting the body’s production of dopamine, the neurotransmitter ADHD medications aims to increase.
Gut microbiome testing is a growing area of research however particular differences have been seen in the stool samples of those with ADHD in comparison to the general population. Bacteria of note include higher levels of Bifidobacterium, and lowered levels of Dialister and Faecalibacterium. These bacteria are responsible for managing levels of inflammation which may explain some of the causes of ADHD as symptoms do improve when these levels are balanced out.
Recent studies have shown that vitamin D levels in people with ADHD are significantly lower than people without ADHD. There is also an assication between vitamin D and dopamine levels which explains the connection to ADHD. Supplementing with vitamin D has been found to reduce impulsivity in people with ADHD and improve behavioral problems. It can also make the brain more sensitivity to medications, making them work more effectively at lower doses.
There is growing evidence ADHD is associated with poor sleep, which can exacerbate symptoms. Researchers are continuing to investigate why individuals with ADHD are at a higher risk of sleep problems, how sleep problems arise and change over time for individuals with ADHD and which outcomes are most impacted by disturbed sleep in individuals with ADHD. Some ADHD medication impact sleep and cause side effects such as insomia, which further impacts ADHD symptoms. Having good sleep routines and consuming adequate amounts of nutrients that support sleep is important when managing ADHD.
Zinc is an essential trace element, required for the metabolism of neurotransmitters, melatonin, and behavioural regulation. Poor memory, inattentiveness, and impulsiveness, appetite changes, and mood changes (sadness and irritability) are symptoms of ADHD and a zinc deficiency. Altered levels of zinc has been connected to the progression of ADHD.
About 72% of children with ADHD have a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is involved in about 300 processes in the body but for ADHD, it is important for nervous system regulation and its role in the release of serotonin and dopamine. Addressing magnesium deficiencies can help with improving sleep, moods and addressing symptoms of hyperactivity.
A study that followed 3,497 children from birth to the age of 11 found consumption of sugar did not increase the risk of being diagnosed with ADHD. However, for those who do have ADHD, the symptoms of ADHD do increase with increased sugar consumption due to the increase of insulin being released, which stimulates activity in the nervous system and consequently, hyperactivity.
Court has worked with a number of children and adults with ADHD and has helped them to improve their quality of life. If you or someone you know experiences ADHD, please book a consultation with Court, Clinical Nutritionist, for personalised nutrition and supplementation advice.