ADHD, or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a person's ability to focus, control impulses, and manage their energy levels. People with ADHD may have difficulty paying attention, staying organized, and following through on tasks.
ADHD can impact both children and adults, and it can have various degrees of severity. Treatment often involves a combination of behavioral therapies, education, and sometimes medication to help manage symptoms and improve daily functioning. Diet can also play a role in the treatment of ADHD.
There is no official diet for ADHD, but there is more and more research being done in this area, giving us vital information for the management of this increasingly common condition. What we do know is that various nutrients can help improve ADHD symptoms. Conversely, a lack of certain nutrients may worsen symptoms and affect your ability to manage them effectively.
Some of the key areas to change dietary intake include the following;
Foods to Include
- Eat lots of fruit and vegetables – a broad variety of these can help you get essential nutrients like Iron, Zinc, Vitamin D, and Magnesium into the diet, which are essential for chemical signaling in the brain, as well as improving symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity.
- Eat lots of complex carbohydrates which are high in fiber and full of nutrients, such as wholegrain bread products, brown rice, and pasta, as well as legumes like lentils and chickpeas. These foods help to reduce spikes in blood sugar levels, which in turn can help with focus and attention.
- Eat healthy fats – omega 3’s and omega-6’s from seafood, olive oil, avocado, and nuts.
Foods to Avoid
- Avoid sugary foods, heavily refined or processed carbohydrates, like lollies, ice-cream, soft drinks, fruit drinks and cordials, cakes and biscuits.
- Avoid unhealthy fats – saturated fats and trans fats come from fried foods, meat fats, butter and cream, and should be avoided where possible, as well as trimming meat fat, taking skin off chicken, and using low-fat dairy foods.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks - too much caffeine can increase the likelihood of restlessness and insomnia, irritability, and anxiety.
Ways to increase dopamine levels:
Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that is involved in memory, attention, motivation and reward. The release of dopamine has a very positive effect and generates feelings of pleasure and the regulation of attention. People with ADHD have a defective gene that renders dopamine less effective and hence often not experiencing the usual effects.
- Tyrosine intake from protein foods: Protein contains an amino acid called tyrosine which helps in the production of dopamine. Foods like turkey, beef, eggs, and low-fat dairy are good to include regularly.
- Reduce the intake of saturated fats
- Probiotics: Found in yogurt, Yakult, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, and other fermented foods. You can also take it in tablet form. The Gut-Brain Axis is becoming an increasingly important aspect of mental health, and potentially ADHD. It is early days on the research front looking at the effect of good gut health and the development of ADHD, as well as the influence of gut health on symptoms of adult ADHD, but it can only be beneficial to improve the health of the bacteria in the gut, without adverse side effects.
- Non-nutrition Methods: Sleep, Exercise, Sunlight, Music and Meditation can help increase dopamine levels!
- Blum K. et.al. Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and reward deficiency syndrome. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2008 Oct; 4(5): 893–918.
- Pinto S. et.al. Eating Patterns and Dietary Interventions in ADHD: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2022 Oct; 14(20): 4332.