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Newsletter - Nutrition and Diet in ADHD

Date: 2022

The FAB Research Update

Hello, and welcome to another FAB Research Update – keeping you posted on the latest news and research on how nutrition can affect mood, behaviour and learning, and its practical implications for using food and dietary changes to promote better brain health.

In this issue, our initial focus is on ‘Nutrition and Diet in ‘ADHD’ – where new findings include clinical trial evidence that nutritional treatments can help at least a subset of children with this condition. 

‘Upcoming Events’ – includes details of the first in our new series of Live FAB Webinars with Q&A, on Thursday 9th June*

There, we’ll be covering not just ADHD, but the latest evidence on how diet can help in managing many related conditions or symptoms - including Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ASD, Sleep problems, Mood, Anxiety and Eating Disorders – as well as food allergy and intolerance.

*This event will be recorded for all attendees - and is freely available to all FAB Associates - either live if you book, or afterwards via the FAB Associates AV Library)

This update also includes a summary round-up of just some of the latest FAB News and Research – but as ever, you’ll also find more on the FAB Website

Nutrition and Diet in ‘ADHD’

ADHD – or ‘Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder’ comes in many different forms, as well as degrees of severity.  It also rarely occurs in isolation – because most children or adults with this condition also have one or more ‘co-occurring’ conditions. These may involve any combination of:

  • Other developmental conditions (like Dyslexia, Dyspraxia or Autistic Spectrum Disorder);
  • Mental health conditions (including Anxiety Disorders, Depression or other Mood Disorders, Conduct Disorder, Substance Use Disorders, Eating Disorders, Personality Disorders) or
  • Physical health conditions (such as allergies, auto-immune disorders, obesity, or diabetes).

The huge variability within ‘ADHD’ can complicate both diagnosis and management, and is also a serious confound in many research studies – but two new reports did make efforts to consider ‘subgroups’:


Micronutrients and ADHD – New Clinical Trial Evidence

While medications can help to reduce ADHD symptoms, they don’t help everyone diagnosed with this condition, and can also have negative side effects – so there is a clear need for additional or alternative treatments for ADHD that are evidence-based.

Multi-nutrient supplementation is one possible option – and a new clinical trial has just shown that in un-medicated children with ADHD and ‘emotional dysregulation’ (irritability or anger), those who took a micronutrient supplement for 8 weeks - providing a wide range of vitamins and essential minerals - were three times more likely to have better concentration and mood compared to a placebo group.

Based on blinded clinician ratings: 54% of supplemented children showed improvement in their symptoms, versus 18% in the placebo group (p < 0.001)

These findings support those of previous, smaller trials using similar micronutrient supplementation – and although it’s not yet possible to identify in advance which children with ‘ADHD’ will respond, the safety of this approach has been well demonstrated.

And the recent book 'The Better Brain' – by leading researchers in this field – provides an accessible and practical but evidence-based guide to nutritional and dietary treatments for ADHD, Anxiety, Stress and related conditions.


Dietary Patterns linked with ADHD

Studying dietary patterns – i.e. combinations of foods, rather than specific nutrients - can help to improve our understanding of the links between nutrition and ADHD symptoms, especially given that (1) food and diet provide many different nutrients in combination and (2) nutrients work together in synergy, so their effects are usually highly interrelated.

Previous studies have already shown that children - and adults - with ADHD tend to consume unhealthier diets than the average – with higher intakes of sugary, highly processed foods and saturated fats, and lower fruit and vegetable intakes.

But according to a recent study from Spain, children with the ‘inattentive’ form of ADHD show a particularly increased risk of unhealthy eating habits,

Investigators examined the dietary patterns of children with and without ADHD (259 3-6 year-olds, and 475 aged 10-12 years), in relation to the type of ADHD symptoms they showed – either inattentive, hyperactive–impulsive, or both.

Three main types of eating pattern were identified:

  1. Western-like - high in eggs, meat (fresh or processed), seafood, savoury cereals, potatoes, legumes, sodas, and cooked vegetables).
  2. Sweet (rich in dairy desserts, sweet cereals, preserved fruit, and sweets).
  3. Healthy (high in nuts, fish, raw vegetables, fresh fruit, and olive oil).

Taken as a whole, the children’s diets failed to meet established dietary recommendations. In addition, however, the diets of children with ADHD were negatively associated with the healthy pattern, and positively associated with the Western-like diet, and the children with inattentive-type ADHD in particular had a less healthy diet than controls.

These findings support previous reports in adults that inattentive ADHD symptoms are related to bingeing or disinhibited eating behaviour, and disturbed appetite signalling. The authors speculate that negative mood and emotional dysregulation may result in ‘emotional eating’, which in turn may increase preference for unhealthy, comfort foods by stimulating the dopaminergic ‘reward’ system.

Although individualised approaches are always best, plenty of existing evidence shows that dietary changes can help in managing not only the ‘core’ ADHD symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity – but also OTHER difficulties with mood, behaviour and sleep that very often co-occur with ADHD, as well as physical health issues such as allergies or digestive problems.

For further information on how food and diet can affect behaviour and learning - as well as mood, sleep and other issues often linked with attention and concentration difficulties, in both children and adults - don't miss our upcoming FAB webinar.

Upcoming Events

Thursday 9th June:

Nutrition for ADHD and ‘Neurodiverse Minds’: Feeding better mood, behaviour, learning and sleep in ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and the Autistic Spectrum

Live FAB Webinar with Q&A, 18.00-19.30 (BST)*

Join nutrition and neuroscience experts Dr Rachel Gow and Dr Alex Richardson, to hear the latest evidence - and get your own questions answered - on:

  • How food and diet can affect symptoms of ADHD and related developmental conditions - including Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and the Autistic Spectrum 
  • Links between these conditions and Anxiety, Depression and other Mood Disorders, Eating Disorders and Addiction - as well as physical health and wellbeing.

For more information, and to book your place - click HERE

* Booking will give you access to a recording of this event + handouts of information from the presentations

So there’s no need to worry if you can’t attend on the day