Looking at the role of the immune system and gut microbiome has provided promising new avenues for the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) through dietary changes.
Diet is an important treatment approach to consider regarding how it can affect ADHD symptoms, as it is a lifestyle change rather than a medication. A dietary approach to ADHD can be complementary to a conventional pharmacological approach, giving patients and their families more options for a personalized treatment plan.
Recently, many studies have concentrated on diet and dietary supplementation approaches to address nutritional deficiencies because as much as 30 percent of children with ADHD are non-responsive to or experience adverse effects from prescribed medications.
Some of the research many might be familiar with highlights the benefits of an oligoantigenic diet that restricts the diet to a few hypoallergenic foods; or trying a food additive exclusion diet which typically involves the removal of items such as artificial food colors, flavors, fragrances, preservatives, and sweeteners.
The aim of a food additives exclusion diet and oligoantigenic diet is to eliminate foods from the diet that trigger adverse physical and allergic reactions. The concept of these diets is based on a link between ADHD and allergic reactions to food. It has been shown that children with ADHD have an increased risk of developing allergies and vice versa.
Given that a small subset of individuals may benefit from elimination strategies, we favor a multidisciplinary approach that potentially involves multiple systems, including the metabolic, immune, endocrine, and neural systems. And that starts with healing the gut.
Does Gut Health Effect ADHD?
Nutrition has an impact on neurodevelopment, cognition, and behavior. Disruption of the gut microbiome composition, or dysbiosis, has been associated with neurological disorders.
It is the role of the microbiome–gut–brain axis to monitor and integrate gut functions as well as to link emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. It serves as the main pathway for interactions between allergic reactions, intestinal permeability, oxidative stress, and alterations in microbiome composition to affect multiple health systems.
The gut microbiome has multiple ways it can influence brain development and functioning via its direct connections with the vagus nerve, its interactions with the immune system, and by directly altering the level of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
Some Key Neurotransmitters
- Dopamine is an all-important brain chemical critical for memory and motor skills. Adequate dopamine levels are needed to allow us to focus our attention.
- Serotonin is intricately involved in numerous core physical processes, such as the regulation of sleep, appetite, and aggression. It is also a key player in mood, anxiety, fear, and a general sense of well-being.
- GABA is a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that tends to calm down or inhibit your frazzled, over-excited nerves, literally.
- Phenylethylamine (PEA) is a hormone-like substance that occurs naturally in your brain and body. It functions as a neurotransmitter that gives you heightened focus, attention, goal-directed behavior, and task completion.
Another potential indication of the involvement of the gut microbiome in ADHD comes from research on probiotics. A favorable effect of probiotic supplementation on cognitive function in children and teens was observed in one study, with participants reporting better health-related quality of life compared to peers who received the placebo. The specific probiotic strain examined was Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG (LGG)
Your intestinal wall is a first-line defense against potentially harmful substances, be it food, environmental toxins, bacteria, and other microbes. Therefore, healing the gut lining is our first line of defense to ensure the body can make the best use of the foods we feed it.
What Foods Help ADHD?
Since exposure to heavy metals is one of the most reported environmental factors implicated in ADHD, this is a good place to focus some of your dietary strategies with great benefit. A variety of essential metals, vitamins, nutrients from foods, and probiotics can lead to decreased heavy metal toxicity.
Garlic has been shown to alleviate lead-induced neural, hepatic, and renal toxicity. Tomatoes are well-known for their antioxidant properties and have been shown to significantly reduce the accumulation of heavy metals (cadmium, lead, and mercury). In addition to providing essential nutrients and vitamins, plants, berries, onions, grapes, algae, and certain probiotic strains have shown beneficial effects against heavy metal toxicity.
You might also consider foods rich in Zinc and Vitamin C. Zinc is one of the most well-studied essential metals for the alleviation of heavy metal toxicity. And Vitamin C has been widely shown to exert antioxidant effects by scavenging free radicals and has also been reported to act as a chelating agent of lead.
Which Supplements Help ADHD?
According to the results of a clinical trial recently published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, regular use of a multivitamin/mineral supplement can improve symptoms of aggression and emotional instability in children suffering from ADHD. A multivitamin/mineral formula can also improve focus.
The findings of this study are consistent with that of previous research, showing that specific nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, PEA, and phosphatidylserine can improve ADHD symptoms.
Stimulants, the first choice for ADHD drug treatment, inhibit dopamine reuptake. A micronutrient linked to dopamine metabolism is zinc — studies conducted on animals and humans associated zinc deficiency and hyperactivity.
Vitamin D deficiency is also relevant to ADHD. Studies have shown deficiencies in the serum level of magnesium and vitamin D in people with ADHD. And Vitamin D can act on central dopamine levels via different mechanisms, including calcium transition, antioxidant properties, and gene expression. A recent study co-supplementing Vitamin D and magnesium showed encouraging results in improving the behavioral function and mental health of children with ADHD in just 8-weeks.
These research findings underscore the need to optimize every child’s nutritional status, ideally based on testing. Addressing insufficiencies can assist with the optimization of brain function as well as help with many of the symptoms associated with ADHD and with minimal, if any, harmful side effects.
Dr. Dave’s Recommended Supplements
DOPA Maxx ES – Dopamine Supplement
Leaky Gut Repair Powder
4-Flora (Formally Tri-Flora) – Multi-Strain Probiotic
- DOPA Maxx and DOPA Maxx ES support the excitatory neurotransmitter systems of dopamine, norepinephrine, PEA, and Epinephrine.
- Cogniben is a dopamine-supporting supplement.
- Leaky Gut Repair is enhanced gastrointestinal support for leaky gut treatment.
- 4 Flora is a unique and effective combination probiotic formula containing a concentrated synergistic spectrum of Saccharomyces boulardii (SB), Lactobacillus, and Bifidobacterium.