ADHD and Diet
There is a lot of information and opinion about different diets and their purported benefits to those of us with ADHD. However, very little of it is backed up by meaningful scientific research.
Studies which claim to support the benefits of particular supplements or diets are very limited and lack the rigorousness of peer-review or a large enough sample size. Beware of spurious claims when research is lacking!
Here are some common claims around ADHD and diet:
"People with ADHD are lacking certain vitamins/minerals, so taking supplements will ease ADHD symptoms. Also, herbal supplements are a natural, safer alternative to prescription medication."
There's no evidence to support the claim that people with ADHD lack particular vitamins or minerals. Supplements may well correct deficiencies, but there is little evidence that they have any impact on ADHD symptoms.
Prescription medications are heavily regulated. In contrast, many herbal supplements are completely unregulated. And remember, just because something is "natural" doesn't necessarily mean it is healthy or appropriate — after all, arsenic is natural!
Herbal supplements can have side effects, and some can actually interfere with prescription ADHD medications.
Some studies have shown that omega 3 oil improves some symptoms, but only when there was a deficiency in omega 3 to begin with.
Sugar, Additives and Gluten
"Sugar and artificial additives cause hyperactivity, and gluten causes inattention."
There’s no evidence to support the idea that eliminating certain foods has a direct impact on ADHD symptoms, but people with ADHD are more likely to be sensitive or allergic to specific foods.
Cutting out those foods may make people feel better, which may make their ADHD symptoms seem less severe, but eliminating foods doesn't actually lessen symptoms.
"There are special ADHD diets that can lessen symptoms and even "cure" ADHD."
Diets such as the ketogenic diet and the Feinberg Plan have no significant data to show any improvement in ADHD symptoms.
A Healthy Diet for ADHD
None of this means that a healthy diet is not beneficial for those of us with ADHD. While eliminating certain foods or taking supplements may be a waste of effort, adjusting our diets to include more healthy foods is particularly useful in supporting other ADHD treatments and strategies.
A healthy diet is good for everyone and includes high-quality proteins, lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. It limits unhealthy fats, simple carbohydrates and sugars, and highly processed and fast food.
While it won't "cure" or "treat" ADHD directly, a healthy diet can be very beneficial for regulating ADHD symptoms. It allows our bodies and minds to function at their best, reduces the risks of health problems, and provides a steady release of energy throughout the day. It's so much easier to deal with our ADHD when we are already fit, healthy, and energised.
There are also considerations specific to having ADHD:
We are at greater risk of type 2 diabetes. Following a healthy diet reduces the risk of developing this illness.
Irritability and impulsivity are symptoms of ADHD, and hunger exacerbates both. Eating regular, healthy meals allows us to avoid prolonged hunger and regulate our energy levels.
Food sensitivities are more common amongst those of us with ADHD. If you think you may be sensitive to some foods, make a note of any significant events (for example, a sudden mood shift shortly after eating something). Try talking to your doctor if you see a pattern emerging. They will be able to offer advice and refer you to a specialist if necessary.
Eating disorders are more common amongst those of us with ADHD.
If you have (or think you have) an eating disorder, please don't feel ashamed. Eating disorders are often (but not always) related to our ADHD, so addressing and treating the ADHD can help alleviate the underlying causes and relieve overall stress and anxiety.
It's important to speak with your doctor, therapist, or other specialist to help you make choices you feel comfortable with and work through your eating disorder at your own pace.
It would be wonderful if the negative symptoms of ADHD could be "fixed" or "cured" with something as simple as a change in our diets! Unfortunately, the internet is replete with people claiming exactly that.
Some of these people are undoubtedly well-intentioned individuals who found something that works for them and want to share it with the world — their only mistake being in assuming that what worked for them will work for everyone.
However, many such people are out to make a quick buck, often claiming that "big pharma" is trying to get us all hooked on drugs and in the same breath advertising their own supplements, diet plans, or alternative treatments for sale — often at grossly over-inflated prices.
By all means, make sensible and gradual alterations to your diet if you believe it to be unhealthy, but always consult your family doctor about any changes you make.
ADHD: Bitesize is on hiatus for a few weeks, as Elizabeth is starting a new job with long hours. Once it settles down, the blog will be back! Currently, new posts are targeted for the start of May 2021.