· By PYM STORE
Gut Health & ADHD: Can Restoring Gut Health Help ADHD Symptoms?
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has largely been understood to be caused by a neurological imbalance; a deficit in the neurotransmitter dopamine. However, more and more research is pointing to a different story. Perhaps gut health has a bigger role to play than we initially thought!
Let's dive into what the research has to say about the link between gut health and ADHD. We'll also talk about the best diet for gut health and best probiotics for gut health and ADHD.
What is ADHD?
Before we dig into the research on gut health and ADHD, let’s do a quick overview of the basics. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder or neuropsychiatric disorder, usually diagnosed in childhood before the age of 12. However, adults may be diagnosed with the condition too, often after having been dismissed or unacknowledged in childhood when it first manifested.
The most common presentations include :
- Poor attention and concentration
- Constant need to move or fidget
- Emotional dysregulation
- Difficulty making decisions
- Trouble finishing tasks
- Frequently losing things
The first-line conventional treatment for ADHD in children and adults is stimulant medications, which can be very effective and safe when given properly, however perhaps not sustainable. They are also at a high risk for side effects, including weight loss, suppressed appetite, irritability, and more .
Non-stimulant ADHD medications are also available if stimulants are not an option, but they tend not to be as effective as stimulants .
Well-researched non-pharmacological treatments include psychosocial therapies like psychoeducation for the family and patient and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) .
With that said, let’s move on to ADHD and gut health.
The link between ADHD and Gut Health
For decades, the predominant thought on what causes mental illness like depression, anxiety, and ADHD is an imbalance of neurotransmitters (such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) in the brain. But more research on the gut-brain axis has showed us that isn’t the whole story.
While more research needs to be done, there seems to be at least a connection between a disordered gut and ADHD, even if we can’t definitively say that one causes the other.
A few examples:
- Research showing gut bacteria differences in children with ADHD challenges the idea that the condition is solely related to neurotransmitters .
- Another recent study showed that fungal dysbiosis in the gut, were “significantly increased in ADHD patients compared to the healthy controls” . This suggests that curbing Candida growth may improve symptoms of ADHD in certain individuals.
- Other studies show that taking antibiotics during pregnancy may be linked to a higher risk of ADHD in offspring (in both human clinical trials and lab studies on mice) [5, 6], perhaps by impacting fetal development through the mother’s gut . The same risk of ADHD wasn’t found for infants who received antibiotics only out of the womb, in their first years of life .
- High levels of a leaky gut biomarker called zonulin appeared to correlate with more severe ADHD symptoms in children .
The Gut-Brain Axis and ADHD
The gut is often referred to as your "second brain" thanks to the 100 million nerve cells that line your gastrointestinal tract. More formally, this is known as the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS not only aids with nutrient absorption, enzyme release, and neurotransmitter production, but it also communicates directly with the brain via the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is a long wandering nerve that connects the brain to the gastrointestinal system, among other essential organs, including the heart and lungs. Dysbiosis and inflammation in the gut can negatively impact the vagus nerve, which impairs communication with the brain and compounds inflammation.
Research has shown that inflammation in the gut can contribute to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression . While there hasn't been much direct research on the role of gut inflammation and ADHD symptoms, it's not illogical to assume the connection.
How to improve gut health for ADHD
Now that we know poor gut health may contribute to ADHD and a healthy gut may reduce ADHD symptoms, let's see what we can do to improve gut health!
Research has shown that what we eat or don't eat can have a great impact on our gut health . One meta-analysis study found that a diet with a high diversity and amount of whole plant foods, along with fish and eggs, supported a diverse and healthy gut microbiome .
The study also found that less healthy dietary patterns (dairy desserts, conventional meats, processed foods) resulted in more "bad" gut bacteria that are significantly associated with higher risk of cardiac events, strokes, and type 2 diabetes.
While there isn’t a specific diet tied to improving ADHD, two large meta-analysis research reviews linked healthy diets (veggies, fruits, legumes, fish) to lower ADHD risk in kids and teens, whereas Western and junk food diets raised the risk [13, 14, 15]. Another study suggested that certain synthetic food colorings might affect attention in kids with ADHD .
Based on these studies, a good diet strategy for ADHD seems to be eating as many whole-food, antioxidant-rich, nutrient-rich foods as possible, and the least amount of processed foods possible.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that restore the gut microbiome. When the gut becomes unbalanced with unhealthy levels of certain bacteria, probiotics can help restore the balance. They've been shown to secrete protective substances, which may turn on the immune system and prevent pathogens from taking hold and creating major disease .
One study found that 3 months of supplementation with the probiotic strain Lactobacillus acidophilus had a beneficial impact on ADHD symptoms in children .
Another study on children supplementing with Bifidobacterium bifidum for 8 weeks found that their ADHD symptoms were reduced .
Mood Biotics contain 6 research-backed strains of prebiotics and probiotics to support gut health and mental wellness. Mood Biotics contains:
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Lactobacillus helveticus
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
Several research studies point to a link between gut health and ADHD symptoms. By eating a diverse, whole-foods, plant-based diet and supplementing with certain prebiotics and probiotics, you can support your gut health which in turn may reduce ADHD symptoms.