Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders affecting millions of children and adults worldwide. It is often initially diagnosed during childhood and can usually last into adulthood. Children with ADHD are often overly active and have trouble paying attention or controlling impulsive behaviors. Pharmacotherapy has high effectiveness in ADHD treatment, but it is often associated with undesirable side effects, such as loss of appetite and weight, growth inhibition, abdominal pain, headaches, sleeping problems, and increased blood pressure.
In recent years, much attention has been devoted to the role of a well-balanced diet in the management of ADHD, especially when standard pharmacotherapy is ineffective. Nutritional psychiatry is a relatively new field that explores the relationship between diet and mental health. It posits that the food we eat can significantly impact our mood, behavior, and cognitive function, and there is growing evidence to indicate that ADHD is linked to nutritional factors. For example, certain nutrients have been shown to directly affect brain function and neurotransmitter production, which can lead to changes in attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity– all hallmark symptoms of ADHD. Therefore, chronic deficiencies of certain minerals such as zinc, iron, magnesium, and iodine and insufficient dietary intake of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids may have a significant impact on the development and deepening of the symptoms of ADHD in children.
Balanced Diet in the Management of ADHD:
One of the key dietary changes that can help manage ADHD is to consume a balanced and nutritious diet, which includes eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. A well-balanced diet provides adequate nutrients and essential vitamins and minerals. Eating well also entails avoiding processed and high-sugar foods, which can exacerbate ADHD symptoms. For instance, a diet high in sugar and processed carbohydrates can lead to rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. In addition, research shows consuming less than the daily recommended amount of vitamin C can increase ADHD risk in children, leading to irritability, impulsiveness, and inattention, making it difficult for individuals with ADHD to focus and stay on task. Another study supports the importance of a healthy diet in managing ADHD symptoms. The systematic review of two independent literature searches, which included fourteen observational studies, provided evidence of the association between dietary patterns and ADHD. According to this, a diet high in refined sugar and saturated fat can increase the risk. On the other hand, a healthy diet characterized by high consumption of fruits and vegetables may prove protective against ADHD.
Research also suggests that essential fatty acids (EFAs) play a crucial role in brain function and benefit individuals with ADHD. EFAs are found in foods such as fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and certain oils and can improve attention, learning, and memory. Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, can help reduce symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity in children and adults with ADHD. In addition, it is crucial to address any nutrient deficiencies contributing to ADHD symptoms. For example, low iron, zinc, and magnesium levels have been associated with ADHD. Therefore, incorporating foods rich in these nutrients into the diet may improve ADHD symptoms and support overall mental health.
While dietary changes alone may not cure ADHD, they can be an effective tool for managing symptoms. By consuming a balanced and nutritious diet, avoiding processed and high-sugar foods, and addressing nutrient deficiencies, individuals with ADHD may improve their mental health and overall well-being. As always, working with a healthcare provider is important to determine the best treatment for individual needs.
Del-Ponte, B., Quinte, G. C., Cruz, S., Grellert, M., & Santos, I. S. (2019). Dietary patterns and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 252, 160–173. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2019.04.061
Kim, Y., & Chang, H. (2011). Correlation between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and sugar consumption, quality of diet, and dietary behavior in school children. Nutrition Research and Practice, 5(3), 236. https://doi.org/10.4162/nrp.2011.5.3.236
Konikowska, Regulska-Ilow, B., & Rozanska, D. (2012). The influence of components of diet on the symptoms of ADHD in children. Roczniki Państwowego Zakładu Higieny, 63(2). https://agro.icm.edu.pl/agro/element/bwmeta1.element.agro-de6c7519-5417-4e0c-8d19-8cff4e095b75
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