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How can nutrition help my ADHD child?

Written by 
Florence Gardam
'How can nutrition help my ADHD child?' blog post.

How can nutrition help my ADHD child?

Your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, and now you’re scouring the internet trying to find reasons and things you can do to ‘cure’ your child. It’s overwhelming, and it’s possible you are full of guilt. What did you do as a parent to cause this?

The answer is – nothing. There is no one to fault here. And I want to make it clear from the very start that this blog is not saying that nutrition is the cause either. Whatever you are feeding your child doesn’t ‘give’ them ADHD. However, there is some evidence to show that making simple changes to diet, you can help to improve their symptoms.

By discussing ways to change your child’s nutrition, you may be able to help them concentrate and focus better, socialise, and interact with their friends and feel calmer and more confident – all changes that will make their school experience a more positive one.

How does the gut and brain interact?

This all sounds like outcomes you want. But can food really affect on your child’s ADHD?

First, let’s consider how the food we eat can impact on our brain. Food is digested in your gut – a microbiome of bacteria, yeasts and so on. Your gut is also home to its own nervous system, a network of millions of neurones that form part of the gut wall. Your gut bacteria, within their microbiome, regulate digestion, take the nutrients from food that you need, and keep your immune system functioning. They also work hard to create many of the neurochemicals that your brain uses, such as serotonin and dopamine. A food intolerance can cause an inflamed gut, which then interferes with the production of those vital neurotransmitters.

Your digestive system and brain are directly linked via the vagus nerve. So, if you have ever had a ‘gut feeling’ – it really could be your gut sending messages directly to your brain. With such an important job, you can see why a healthy gut leads to a healthy mind and body. A varied diet leads to a varied and healthy gut microbiome, sending clear messages to your brain. A more restricted diet can lead to a less healthy microbiome – and that can lead to those messages becoming more confused.

How nutrition can impact on ADHD?

We already know that certain food can impact on our behaviour. Caffeine, as you probably already know, stimulates the brain. We believe that it does this by preventing adenosine – the neurotransmitter responsible for making you sleepy – from interacting as efficiently with the receptors in your brain.

Coffee is just one example of how the food or drink we consume is digested in the gut and directly impacts on the neurochemicals used in the brain. It makes sense that other foods we eat can also affect the brain. Studies are ongoing to discover more about this interaction.

Research has shown that children with ADHD may have lower levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These neurotransmitters help with memory, motivation, mood, and attention. By making changes to our nutrition, it follows that we can support the gut to change the messages to the brain. If we can increase the amount of fibre fruit and vegetables in your child’s diet, this will help the microbiome to diversify and help children to focus more and improve their mood and memory.

Simple nutritional changes to create big impacts

An issue for parents of children with ADHD, as with all parents, is that they just don’t have endless amounts of the time in the day to change eating habits. As a qualified nutritionist, my aim is not to make wholescale changes to your shopping basket. It’s to introduce small, manageable changes that can be enjoyed by the whole family, without need for separate menus.

For example, children with ADHD have been shown to have more trouble digesting gluten. When the gut cannot digest gluten, found in wheat or even casein from milk effectively, it creates a substance called Caso morphine. This has a similar effect to opiates on the receptors in the brain which can impact on behaviour and learning.

So, if your child has a breakfast of wheat-based cereal in milk just before school, it’s more likely that they will experience a surge in hyperactivity and lack of attention just as the school day begins. A nutrition plan may include a suggestion to swap their breakfast to a simple meal of bacon and eggs, which means lots of protein. This reduces the impact of an insulin surge and helps balance blood glucose, all of which can improve symptoms of ADHD.

Nutritional changes should be introduced gradually. Through our ongoing consultations we will make changes that suit your lifestyle and are having positive impacts on your child’s behaviour. To discuss your child’s unique nutritional needs, book your consultation today.

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