The ADHD Diet: Tips and Advice
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder that doctors most commonly seen in children who have trouble remembering details, concentrating, and staying organized.
It isn’t exclusively seen in children. More and more adults are being diagnosed with ADHD, and the total number of Americans being diagnosed with ADHD has skyrocketed by more than 40 percent in the past few years.
Why the sudden increase? More and more doctors, researchers and medical professionals are wondering if there’s a link between lifestyle factors — such as your diet — and ADHD.
Dietary and Lifestyle Risks and Triggers for ADHD
It’s important to note that ADHD is an incredibly complex disorder. There is currently no one-size-fits-all understanding of ADHD. However, as research on ADHD continues to grow and expand, scientists have identified potential causes of ADHD as well as triggers that may cause your ADHD symptoms to flare up.
Potential causes of ADHD include:
- According to the National Institutes of Health and The National Human Genome Research Institute, people with ADHD often have a close blood relative who also has the disorder. Scientists now think there are two specific genes linked with ADHD.
- Physical problems: Abnormal brain development and brain injury have been linked to the development of ADHD.
- Chemical toxins: New research suggests that your ADHD risks go up if you're exposed to common chemical toxins found in everyday life. This includes plastics, cleaning products, and personal-care products, which may affect brain functioning and brain development.
Once you’re diagnosed with ADHD, various lifestyle triggers can make your ADHD symptoms worse:
- Stress: Stress can trigger an ADHD episode, and just like it does with people who don't have ADHD, it can make it harder for you to focus and think (making ADHD worse).
- Lack of sleep: Poor sleep quality, or not getting enough rest, can negatively affect your comprehension skills, mental performance, and concentration.
- Food and additives: While diet can't "cure" ADHD, certain ingredients and foods have been shown to improve ADHD or worsen ADHD symptoms.
The latter bullet point is key if you or someone you know is journeying through life with ADHD, as dietary changes are something that every single one of us is empowered to take control of and change for the better.
Take back your life from the difficulties of ADHD by exploring how your day-to-day nutrition can improve your mental well-being and help you in managing and controlling your ADHD symptoms.
The Best Foods and Diets for Adults and Children with ADHD
Because the underlying scientific principles are the same, there are no foods for a specific age range when it comes to ADHD benefits. However, many parents and medical professionals start to notice the pros and cons of particular foods at an early age.
Dr. Natasha Montroy in British Columbia, Canada, says that the very first thing she does is start young boys on a whole foods diet that cuts out processed foods, dairy protein, chemical food dyes, and gluten. "They've been found to aggravate many of these conditions," she says in an interview with Alive health magazine.
She says that as soon as she does this, her patients often see immediate results. Here’s what the science has to say about the best foods to try, and the major foods and ingredients to avoid, if you have ADHD or if you’re caring for a child who has the disorder.
Start by Eating a Whole Foods Diet
According to research published in the Nature Reviews Neuroscience medical journal, the food you eat on a day-to-day basis has a direct effect on your brain, your emotions and how you think. That's because specific nutrients may influence brain hormones, affect your nervous system, and even have an impact on mental function.
“Think about it: Your brain is always ‘on,’” notes Dr. Eva Selhub in her column for Harvard Medical School. “This means your brain requires a constant supply of fuel. That ‘fuel’ comes from the foods you eat — and what’s in that fuel makes all the difference. Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.”
For optimal brain health, Harvard recommends that you move to a whole-foods, clean diet that focuses on lean proteins and plant-based meals, noting research that suggests it can reduce the risks of various disorders by more than a third.
- More fruits
- More vegetables
- More whole grains
- Less refined grains
- Less meat, unless it’s fish
- No processed foods
In other words, aim to eat food that is as close to the original form that you would find it out in nature.