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  • Writer's pictureScotti McLaren

ADHD and the surprising role of NUTRITION

Updated: Dec 10, 2023



ADHD isn't just about attention deficits - it also appears in some unexpected corners of immune function, allergies and detoxification challenges, as examples.


Let's cover some of the less-discussed facets of ADHD, for a more nuanced, multifaceted picture. I'll leave you with some potential strategies for a comprehensive approach to mental and physical health.



What's going on with ADHD


In the brain, individuals with ADHD show diminished dopamine activity in the executive centres of the prefrontal cortex—the part responsible for impulse control and attention.


Genetic factors, including genes encoding D2 and D4 dopamine receptors and genetic polymorphisms linked to increased dopamine uptake likely play a role.


In the body, there is a tendency in ADHD'ers toward allergies, impaired immune system function and a diminished capacity for detoxification. This is not what we tend to think of with ADHD .... right?



Conventional medical treatment


Treatment typically involves behavioural therapy and medication. Medications derived from amphetamines work by enhancing dopamine throughout the brain. While these drugs may improve behaviour and cognitive function, potential side effects may include appetite and sleep impairment, anxiety and irritability.



In (peri)menopause


Some issues of ADHD can become worse in the menopausal transition, and vice versa - particularly brain fog and sleep disturbances. Many women only realise they have ADHD in midlife, as their symptoms are exacerbated by hormonal fluctuations. Research suggests that the effect of ADHD medications may be reduced by fluctuating and low estrogen levels.


The menopausal transition is an important time for women with ADHD. The overlap between these two realms is near and dear to my heart, as I am going through it myself. While the issues to women are known, the research is remarkably limited. This is what drives me to do my MSc thesis on this overlap, and to focus on this in my nutritional practice. Stay tuned, I will be sharing a lot more on this over time!



Dietary and lifestyle considerations


Food allergies: There is a notable link between allergies - including food allergies - and ADHD. Elimination or desensitisation of food allergies has been found to be as effective as drug treatment in reducing ADHD symptoms in some studies.


Food additives: Many individuals with hyperactivity are sensitive to artificial food colourings, flavours and preservatives. Sugar intake and artificial food dyes have also been associated with ADHD symptoms.


Refined sugars: Recent meta-analysis identifies refined sugars as one of the most symptom-evoking foods in children with ADHD.


Essential fatty acids: ADHD'ers often have reduced EPA and DHA levels in brain tissue. DHA deficiency may increase permeability of the blood-brain barrier, exposing the brain to neurotoxins.


Nutrient insufficiencies: Common deficiencies include magnesium, zinc, and iron. In particular, zinc deficiency may be linked with abnormalities in fatty acid metabolism, reducing the response to amphetamines.


Salicylates: Found in aspirin and certain fruits and vegetables, there is limited evidence linking salicylates with ADHD.


Immune system impairment: ADHD may involve autoimmune components, with anti-neural antibodies found in blood and cerebrospinal fluid.


Environmental neurotoxins: Exposure to contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, solvents and PCBs has been linked to ADHD.


Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA): Common in those with ADHD, OSA can contribute to attention deficit, especially in childhood.



Strategies for managing ADHD


While evidence suggests potential benefits from dietary and lifestyle interventions, these strategies should be tailored to your individual circumstances. One size really doesn't fit all.


Some potential strategies:


  • Consider lab testing for stool, food allergies/intolerances and nutrient status.

  • Avoid processed foods, food additives, sugar, refined carbs, deep-fried foods and excessive alcohol.

  • Make whole foods from mainly plant sources your staple foods.

  • Consume dietary fibre and antioxidants, such as from cruciferous vegetables and dark berries.

  • Address gut health by identifying food sensitivities and gut pathogens.

  • Reduce or avoid the use of aspirin and foods containing high levels of salicylates.

  • Reduce toxic exposure by avoiding plastics, pesticides and BPAs.

  • Ensure regular exercise, stress management and hydration.


For more nuanced strategies, get in touch! Let's come up with a strategy tailored to you.


In unraveling ADHD, it becomes evident that there's more to the story than conventional treatments might suggest. Addressing the needs of the body and brain through nutrient and lifestyle interventions can seamlessly complement conventional medical strategies, paving the way for a more comprehensive and personalised approach to overall health and well-being.




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