How To Use Nutrition To Improve ADHD and ADD
How to use functional medicine to improve ADHD and ADD. Yes, you heard that right! This is a topic you all have been probably waiting for.
It's the topic that blew up our TikTok channel, and I cannot wait to share more information in a longer form video with you here on YouTube. And it's also back-to-school season.
So I'm imagining a good amount of parents are running into this question for their children, you know? How do I improve my kiddos' focus in school? And the good news is there are research-based nutrition tools and modifications that you can make.
Some of them are pretty simple for a significant benefit.
My name is Ashley Oswald, I'm a functional medicine dietitian, and the founder of Oswald Digestive Clinic, where we help people improve and eliminate bothersome gut issues like gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and more. And if you or somebody you know wants to work with our clinic, just schedule an appointment with us.
There's research about ADHD...
There has been research coming out about ADHD for many years now. And most recently there's a big review article in 2021 in the Journal of Nutrients that talked about the microbiome's gut-brain access. You may or may not know there's this vagus nerve that connects the brain to the gut and the microbiome, like all those microorganisms, the bacteria, etc, in our gut influence our entire body.
And really what this article came down to talk about is the connection between the immune system in the gut, which is about 70% of the immune system is in the gut. And how that can cause all of our body inflammation, including neuroinflammation, so brain inflammation, and that can negatively or positively influence ADHD symptoms.
So if we can decrease that inflammation, starting with the gut, ADHD symptoms could improve. And then, of course, vice versa. Also, the microbiome influences nutrient absorption, and we're going to talk about different nutrients that have research showing that if you have a low level, this could be contributing to different ADHD symptoms that you're experiencing.
So if you can replace your level, and use some supplementation, your symptoms could get better or that of your kid or a family member or friend, etc. Also, the microbiome can influence toxin absorption. So we don't want toxins to be reabsorbed into the body and all these bacteria and bugs in our gut really have a role in playing for this.
So, number one, let's talk about inflammation and the best thing for decreasing inflammation to start is modifying your food. So eat anti-inflammatory foods. Yeah. We've heard about that Ashley, what does that even mean?
Well, we're going to talk about it. I want to tell you exactly what types of diets they're called diets, but really I like to call them eating plans, have the best research for ADHD.
Eating Plans for ADHD
So the first diet I want to talk about is the Feingold diet. And this one has specific research for ADHD, ADD, and autism, and it's going to be eliminating added chemicals, additives, dyes, added sugars, and salicylates. So added sugar, or you can probably guess that can increase hyperactivity.
I mean, you probably don't even need a big research study to show that if you have ever been to a kid's birthday party, where cake is served and you can see the difference, right in general? And then individuals kiddos with ADHD and things. It might be even more so.
And then, salicylates are in natural compounds in different foods like berries, tomatoes, grapes fruit juices, that's big ones, almonds, certain vegetables, and certain spices. And basically, these need to be broken down and then detoxified through sulfation in the body. And it's been found that kids with ADHD and autism don't have as good of an ability to detoxify that.
So it can show up in symptoms like red cheeks, red ears, irritability, aggression hyperactivity, trouble falling asleep, bedwetting, and trouble staying asleep. And so if all, any of those symptoms really line up with your kid or an individual you know, or you struggling with ADHD, it's worth cutting those foods out for like a month, month and a half. And just see if your symptoms improve.
The next food modification trial that I want to talk about is something called the Inca trial. And this was done in 2011 on 100 kids, aged four to eight, and it was basically a hypoallergenic eating plan. The kids only ate things like rice and turkey and lamb and veggies and fruits, and margarine veggie oils.
I know like it's I'm not saying that those are nutrition-dense, healthy additives, but the reason that 78% of the kids had significant improvement in their symptoms is likely because we got rid of a lot of common food triggers, which the most common food sensitivities are things like wheat and dairy and eggs and fish and nuts. So that's really significant.
Other Eating plans...
And other diet modifications that are used that people report success with include ketogenic, intermittent fasting (careful with this with the kiddos), GAPS, gluten-free, dairy-free, and then a guided elimination nutrition plan. And there are labs that can be used to help guide what foods somebody might have an intolerance to or sensitivity to versus not. So working with a professional, you can work with our clinic, can help to just kind of shortcut. But let me tell you if you wanted more so do it yourself.
What might be a good approach?
So number one, transition to just real whole foods. So farmer's market, what would you find at the farmer's market? What would your grandparents have eaten like a lot of colors or just a lot of natural, from-the-earth ingredients that you recognize and then make sure to have protein at every meal?
Protein is really important for neurotransmitter production, like serotonin, and serotonin is the one that can regulate mood and sleep, which we all know if you're not sleeping well, it can cause irritability and trouble focusing the next day. So 90% of the serotonin production is made in the gut. And serotonin is made from protein.
So not only do you need to be eating enough protein, but your gut needs to be healthy enough to break it down. So if you're struggling with things like gas and bloating, diarrhea, or constipation, that would be number one. Look to get to the root cause of that.
Get your body back into balance because that's what is so important for all over body health. And we do have a FREE GUIDE: 5 Ways to Improve Gut Health, which talks about these different categories of functional medicine that you'll want to pay attention to when working to heal your gut. So if that interests you, you can download it for free.
And then the other thing about having protein in your meals is that it can help to balance blood sugars. So balanced blood sugars can decrease that hyperactivity and that irritability. And so for example, if somebody is having oatmeal and honey or maple syrup at breakfast, it sounds like a really healthy, nutritious breakfast, right?
"And a lot of people make this mistake because it's just very carbohydrate dense."
So it's going to be spiking your blood sugars, maybe in an hour or two, you're going to get like sleepy or irritable. So try to have some protein with that. Some people, for example, will make their oatmeal with egg whites. The yolk of eggs is not unhealthy.
That's a myth. But, the egg whites and the oatmeal just cause it tastes better without the yolk, or just do some hard-boiled eggs.
And you can get those healthy fats from the yolk too, or switch up your breakfast, totally have an omelet, etc. And then from there, you have this foundation of real whole foods, I would encourage you to start with the Feingold diet.
Cut out those salicylates, and just be super careful without having additives and preservatives and fake dyes, but you should on the whole real foods already and see how that goes, see how your symptoms improve from there.
And then again, keep looking for possible root causes as to why you or your kid might not be tolerating different foods. If you do this and you end up with like five foods that you're eating without getting bad ADHD symptoms, we should really then hone into root causes of the gut.
You know, are you making enough Stomach acid? Do you have other things contributing to gut inflammation beyond just food?
Let's next, turn the page and talk about micronutrients and what micronutrients can positively or negatively affect symptoms of ADHD. And because I don't want to bore you on this topic and I think it would be more helpful for me anyway, I'm just going to list out the single nutrients in this blog.
And then I'm going to put a link below where you can download this really great guide that has a little paragraph on every one of these nutrients and the research, and specifically how it could positively or negatively affect ADHD symptoms.
Spectracell ADHD Micronutrient Chart w/ References: https://assets.speakcdn.com/assets/26...
2021 Article in Nutrients (check PubMed for many more articles and other references about nutrition for ADHD!) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti...
I say positively or negatively because it is one of those things where if you have a deficiency replacing that can positively help your ADHD symptoms, but if you have a deficiency, then of course you're getting probably more negative symptoms for ADHD because of this one really notable one is magnesium. Interestingly Adderall and Ritalin can deplete the body of magnesium, but replacing the magnesium stores can improve emotions, hyperactivity, and focus.
Another one I really want to highlight is vitamin B6 because this one has research showing it to be as effective as Ritalin. And they think that could be because of how it can increase serotonin production. So that's pretty significant. And we started medication advice; I can't give you advice through YouTube videos.
I can't possibly know your medication history or I can't possibly know your medical history. So take it all with a grain of salt.
And then zinc is the one that we talked about in the TikTok video. Carnitine is needed for fatty acid metabolism. So that's how that could benefit ADHD. If you're replacing low carnitine stores, serine, and folate, low levels can make ADHD worse.
And some people will have the snip MTHFR. That's really a popular one that people are talking about now. And so if you have that snip, you could be at higher risk for ADHD because it's more challenging to optimize folate levels. Glutamine, choline, and then antioxidants. Because if you don't have enough antioxidants, you're going to have too much oxidative stress in the body.
And that can cause cell damage. And that could be how it affects ADHD. Again, if you want to learn more about these, please click on the link below and you'll be able to download this whole chart and read the fine print.
And then lastly, low iron can make brain function worse in kids with ADHD. Now the real cause of this could be related to gut issues. What if they might have celiac disease or some other gut inflammation that is causing them to not properly absorb iron?
And then also if somebody is on a vegan or vegetarian diet, it might simply be that they're not getting enough iron in from their eating. There are tricks to that because if you eat iron with Vitamin C, it increases the absorption and some other tricks too.
So what do you do?
You got a lot of nutrients we talked about, right? Should you supplement with all of them? Like, what should you do? So the best thing is testing.
And our clinic, we do white blood cell testing. And that's great because if you have a deficiency, we'll be able to megadose for about three to six months to properly replace. And you're going to get the best outcomes doing that.
Now, if you don't have access to that, or again, you're doing it yourself mode, you could at least start with a good general multivitamin with minerals. And I will link one of those below to help ask your healthcare provider about it.
Multivitamin Powder: https://flussonutrients.nutridyn.com/...
Multivitamin Capsules with Iron: https://flussonutrients.nutridyn.com/...
Multivitamin Capsules without Iron: https://flussonutrients.nutridyn.com/...
The trouble with that is that some of the nutrients like magnesium, there's not even enough in most multivitamins to meet the recommended dietary intake because it's a big mineral. And so they just can't fit it all in. So if you have a low level, you might need 800, a thousand milligrams a day to be replaced for at least a few months because the recommended daily intake is 400 milligrams.
So just one example, but it's at least a good start. Now, some other supplement to consider is the first one adaptogens. So adaptogens can help the body adapt to stress so they can be more of like a bandaid in ADHD. It's things like Ashwagandha, Ginseng, Rhodiola to just like kind of calm to kind of buffer out the extremes.
And then the next one is fish oil. Fish oil can help to balance out the omega threes to omega sixes. Too much omega six, and not enough omega three, as mentioned in our other topics, can contribute to inflammation in the body.
And what were we talking about? Inflammation and neuroinflammation can make ADHD worse, or they could be contributing to ADHD.
So we need to get those back into balance. Almost everybody is out of balance with these two. So supplementing with some fish oils can just help to shift that a bit and decrease inflammation.
Further, fish oil has been shown to increase blood flow in the brain, which can increase learning and memory. Some research on kids showed that just 120 to 150 milligrams a day of omega threes had significant benefits for ADHD. Certainly, try to get it from food first.
So things like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, and skipjack tuna can all be good sources of omega threes. And then just know that there are plant sources of omega threes, but they just don't convert as well in the body. So you're probably not going to get as good of benefit from it.
Alright, let's kind of wrap this up. I want to talk about a few other things that can affect ADHD before we say goodbye.
Other things that can affect ADHD
So the first one is getting outside, of course getting outside is like an activity, kids need that in order to focus properly. And then the next one is sleep. And this one's really interesting because there is a connection between gut bacteria and sleep.
So the gut and food sensitivities, so they can either improve sleep or decrease sleep. And we do hear it a lot in our clinic where we're helping people improve their gut. And they're kind of decreasing getting rid of different foods that are triggered to them, they notice they're sleeping a whole lot better, which certainly in a round-about way, will help with focus.
So a diverse microbiome, all these bugs in the gut have been shown to increase total sleep time and sleep efficiency per the research. And then to tie it all together, like one of those micronutrients, we talked about magnesium, if a kid or somebody with ADHD is low on magnesium and they start to replace it before bedtime with a good form, it can actually help their sleep.
Now, mindfulness meditation training, starting with when kids are young, is going to be so important for helping with focus. So you can look at Richard Davidson's work in Wisconsin, where they are incorporating mindfulness into the classrooms. And they're getting really positive outcomes with kids' ability to focus and learn, which is super cool.
And then lastly, you can always dig deeper. We can always do some specialty testing to get more information, to figure out root causes, as we kind of explores what's influencing what in each individual person.
I hope this was helpful. I hope that gives you some good ideas to start with.