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Nutrition in ADHD – part 2

Nutrition in ADHD. Food and nutrition plays a key role in human health. We need to eat well to provide the nutrients required for our complex bodies to function.

Neurodivergent persons' needs are even higher, and yet it is even more difficult for us to eat right. Food is addictive, in more ways than one. When we ADHD folk eat, we often look for that dopamine kick. When we add in the need for more serotonin, and we want carbs and salt…

Obviously the long term effect of poor dietary choices are a whole host of health problems. (Even if you stay skinny.) Obesity, poor blood sugar regulation, reduced energy from low nutrient choices. For women uncontrolled blood sugar raises testosterone, and in men it lowers it, neither is good for our health. Dieting and cutting out food groups is not necessarily what we want either, as this may disrupt our neurotransmitters further.


Gut health

We make a large proportion of our serotonin in our gut, but our gut needs to be healthy for this to happen. The correct bacteria needs to be present and inflammation needs to be controlled. Whilst there is always some inflammation in the gut, as it reacts to the thing we ingest, but too much can cause gaps to open up between the cells in the gut lining. If these gaps are large enough to let through proteins that would normally not be let through without being broken down first, this is referred to as gut permeability.


Gut permeability -> inflammation -> serotonin -> gut-brain axis -> dopamine -> mood is disordered and ADHD impacted


The inflammation which disrupts the intestinal lining, can be caused by numerous things;

  • Pathogens

  • Reduced good bacteria, which is unable to fight the pathogens. If there isn’t enough good bacteria, there is space for the pathogenic bacteria to grow

  • When we lack in a good bacteria, we might experience increased flatulence, as food ferments before it’s broken down. When we avoid a food group for a long time, the corresponding bacteria may reduce in numbers, therefore causing imbalance. Beans and lentils is a good example.

  • Antibiotics cause imbalance as they not only reduce pathogens, but also "good" bacteria.

The summary is that an imbalance in the gut microbiome therefore may cause increased fermentation, inflammation, and permeability. Further alcohol, medications and environmental toxins also cause damage to the microbiome and indirectly causes inflammation in the tissue.


Gluten/Dairy – in ADHD

Celiac disease is over-represented in ADHD, but even in people without celiac disease gluten may cause issues. Gluten stimulates zonulin, which is a hormone which controls the permeability in the gut. Which means that gluten can cause intestinal permeability and inflammation, even in people without a direct physical intolerance to gluten.

In the intestine gluten or casein proteins stimulate the opioid receptors, and it's been shown in several studies that neurodivergent persons symptoms can be improved by giving up these two food groups. But this decision should be taken in context with all your symptoms.


So, let's review what happens when we eat gluten… and how it impacts ADHD and autism.

Gluten causes increased gut permeability, which causes increased and chronic inflammation in the gut, this reduces the capacity of the good bacteria to create the environment needed for serotonin to be produced at the optimum levels. This affects ADHD, as reduced serotonin increases the symptoms. Our mood is also impacted and we fell less motivated to do things. Chronic gut permeability has also been found to be related to inflammation of the blood brain barrier, and therefore cause mood issues.


Omega 3 and 6

Children and adolescents with ADHD have been shown to have significantly lower plasma and blood concentrations of poly unsaturated fatty acids, such as fish oil. Particularly lower levels of omega‐3 PUFA. Omega-3 deficiencies have been found to alter dopaminergic and serotonergic systems, potentially modifying cerebral receptors in specific regions of the brain.


Exercise and dopamine

Natural dopamine hit which regulates all your hormones. ›Avoid HIIT, as this puts a high strain on your adrenals and may assist your body in reaching ›burn-out. Do weights, and go slow when you try to get fit again. Other movement sports such as yoga an pilates are much better for our mood long term.


Mind body techniques for calming your nervous system may include:

  1. Meditation, walking, spending time in nature, ›

  2. camping, ›

  3. seeing friends, ›

  4. arts and crafts, and ›

  5. even a chosen line of work.

In summary: ADHD is complex, and whilst the medications can work wonders for most people, there is a lot we can do to support our mental well-being by choosing the right diet and by getting some targeted nutrients onboard.


Everyone is different and your nutritional needs will be different, so I wont recommend supplements today, but we can safely say that we all feel better when we eat whole foods, stay off the alcohol, keep to a one or two coffees per day, and do some light exercise.

If you want to take a step further, try quitting gluten and dairy, but remember it has to be complete quit and for a few weeks to help heal that gut lining. And it might not be your magic pill. But if you suffer brain fog, it is almost certain that you will feel better.


Thank you for reading, my name is Caroline Kennedy, and I specialise in ADHD and autism, as I live with both conditions myself.

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