Like many parents of children with ADHD, I’ve always been interested in the connection between ADHD and diet. I know that what you eat can affect your behavior. After a big meal you might get sleepy. When you are hungry, you can become irritable. Eating too much junk food can make you feel sluggish. But can what you eat really reduce ADHD symptoms?
Over the past year, a few studies have been published that suggest nutrients and certain vitamins do make a difference in some people with ADHD.
Almost half the children with ADHD who received supplemental nutrients containing 13 vitamins, 17 minerals and four amino acids showed significant improvement of ADHD symptoms compared to a second group who received a placebo, in a study published in October 2017 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
According to the researchers, the results were modest but there were improvements in several symptoms as well as in overall function. They indicated that the micronutrients reduced impairment and improved inattention, emotional regulation and aggression. They said micronutrients also have the benefit of having a “low rate of adverse effects.”
Another study found that low levels of certain B vitamins could play a role in the severity of symptoms in adults with ADHD. There were 264 participants in the study; 133 had previously been diagnosed with ADHD. The researchers looked at levels of vitamins A, B2, B3, B6, B9, B12, D and E. They found that low levels of vitamins B2, B6 and B9 was significantly associated with ADHD and that low levels of B2 and B6 were associated with more severe levels of ADHD.
The scientists did indicate that levels of B vitamins are often lower in smokers, and that there is a higher incidence of smoking in people with ADHD. However, they pointed to other research that found that children with ADHD also have lower nutrient levels. It is also possible that ADHD medications, which decrease your appetite, could contribute to the lower nutrient levels. They also noted that there was a higher prevalence of vitamin D deficiencies in those with ADHD.
The researchers believe that low vitamin B levels might contribute to ADHD symptoms. Vitamins, especially B vitamins, “play important roles in the formation of different neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which are involved in ADHD-related traits.” They suggested that identifying and resolving vitamin deficiencies might help in treating ADHD.
A well-balanced diet is always best. Individual nutrients might not be as important as your overall diet, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Researchers concluded in a study published in 2011 that “a Western-style diet may be associated with ADHD.” In contrast, they said, a Mediterranean diet, which consists of unprocessed foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts and limited red meat, might help to reduce symptoms of ADHD.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.