Episode 127 – Nutrition For ADHD Part 1

Key Topics Covered

ADHD Nutrition Brains.

  • This has been one of the most requested topics so far.
  • It’s important to note that nutrition won’t “cure” ADHD, but symptom management could be improved.
  • There is a lot of information to cover, so this will be split into two parts.
  • Part 1 will cover:
    • Nutrients of interest.
    • Logistical challenges.
    • Elimination diets.
  • Part 2 will cover:
    • Food colours.
    • Sugar.

Nutrients of Interest

  • There are a lot of nutrients that are commonly deficient in those with ADHD. But this creates a ‘chicken or the egg’ scenario about which causes which.
  • Our focus is on nutrients that have been linked with improved symptoms when addressed.

Iron

Iron Foods

  • Addressing an iron deficiency can help.
  • But this is far more relevant when you factor in that iron deficiency is significantly more prevalent in those with ADHD.
  • For example, one small study found that 84% of children with ADHD were low in ferretin vs 18% in the control group.

Omega-3s

Sources of omega 3

  • A systematic review found that 13/16 studies on omega-3 and omega-6 supplementation found improvements in symptoms.
  • If dietary omega-3 intake is not already high, it makes sense to address this, whether through food or supplements.
  • The proposed mechanism is that it helps the transmission of chemical messages in the brain and also reduces oxidative stress.

Zinc

Zinc Foods

  • Supplementing zinc, if addressing a deficiency, can help.
  • In fact, every study that has been done on zinc supplementation and ADHD has found benefits in symptoms.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D

  • Supplementation if addressing a deficiency likely helps, although the research is weaker in this area.

Magnesium

foods rich in magnesium on a table with letter blocks spelling magnesium

  • Some research has found that people with ADHD tend to have lower levels of magnesium in the body compared to those who don’t have ADHD.
  • Therefore, magnesium supplementation may help improve symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity in those with magnesium deficiency.

B Vitamins

  • One 2016 study found that adults with ADHD tended to have lower levels of certain B vitamins, including B2, B6, and B9.
  • Lower levels of both B2 and B6 were also associated with an increased severity of ADHD symptoms.
  • Research on addressing these issues has not been as promising as other areas though. 

Multivitamin

Multivitamins

  • As a clear sign that micronutrients matter, two studies have been done on multivitamins and both have found benefits.

Logistical Challenges

ADHD women thinking about a lot.

Not all of these will be relevant to everyone. Challenges will depend on how ADHD presents in the person, however these are some common ones seen in practice:

  • Poor appetite.
  • Loss of appetite from stimulant medication.
  • Forgetting to eat during the day (hyperfocus).
  • Overeating at night.
  • Binge Eating Disorder.
  • Food sensitivities.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Impulsive decision-making.
  • Emotional eating.
  • Poor planning and preparation.
  • Commonly restoring to takeaway/dining out.
  • Eating for stimulation & dopamine seeking.

Solutions

Again, not all of these may be relevant. However if implementing any of these can help, that is a win.

Prepping & Reminders

  • Planning and prepping everything in advance if possible.
  • Make a grocery list or order groceries online.
  • Find what works for you, whether it is calendars, checklists, reminders and alarms. This may help as a reminder to eat.
  • Meal prep in advance.
  • Utilizing time-saving items: Slow cookers, air fryers, pre-cut vegetables, frozen fruit and vegetables, microwave rice, or even pre-made meals.
  • Use visual reminders: Place foods you want to eat more of in your line of eyesight. 

Meal Strategies

  • Prioritizing breakfast is probably a good thing for helping with a lot of aspects.
  • If you take medication that suppresses appetite, it could be worth having breakfast prior to this.
  • Have set small frequent meals and snacks. 
  • Taking nutrient supplements if relevant. If it is unrealistic to get through food, using a supplement can help. 
  • Reducing distractions during meals: Eating in a comfortable environment with minimal distractions (like TV, phone, or noise) can help you focus on your food and eat more mindfully. 
  • Getting enough sleep, staying well hydrated, and reducing stress can all help too. 

Elimination Diets

Food on calender. .

  • Elimination diets have been consistently effective in research 
  • 10 out of 12 studies on the topic found consistent improvements while participants were on an elimination diet.
  • For context, in those 10 studies, 50-80% of participants experienced noticeable improvements in symptoms. In another 11th study, 24% of participants had noticeable improvements. 

Oligoantigenic Diet

  • The most effective approach so far has been an “oligoantigenic diet” which basically means a diet that avoids common food allergens. 
  • For example, they would avoid foods such as cow’s milk, cheese, eggs, chocolate and nuts. But there are varying levels of strictness. 

Few Foods Diet

  • The most commonly used approach is called The Few Foods Diet – which as the name implies, is highly restrictive. 
  • It involves an elimination phase, a reintroduction phase, and a personalization phase. This total process can take as long as 18 months.

Should You Do It?

  • Whether it is worth pursuing an elimination diet is an individual decision.
  • A few things worth factoring in:
    • The research looks way more promising than it actually is. When proper blinding is used, the effect size drops to about ⅓ of what the average has been so far. 
    • That therefore means there is still real benefit there. It is just smaller than the unblinded research has found.
    • The research has also only really looked at the elimination phase. We suspect that after going through the whole personalization process, symptoms would remain similar – but it also may look slightly less effective after that process.
    • It is incredibly restrictive and a tough process to go through.
    • If binge eating was a factor, adding this restriction would be risky. Plus even without binge eating, nutrition for ADHD is tough enough as it is. 
    • The best-case scenario found in research involves that 50-80% success rate. So even if that was a fair assessment, it means 20-50% of people didn’t get a noticeable benefit.
    • This is where I think it makes sense to pay attention to your personal situation. For some people, going down this route makes sense. For others, it doesn’t. 

Relevant Blogs / Resources

Blog Posts

Studies Mentioned