We explore the best foods and supplements to include in your diet to help manage the symptoms of ADHD.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects how you behave. Although symptoms are very diverse, many people with ADHD can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating, and may be more likely to act on impulse. How it affects you or your child will differ from anyone else you know with this diagnosis.
Below we explain how nutritional therapy and lifestyle measures can help manage symptoms and improve brain function.
Nutrients for Optimal Brain Functioning
The Magic of Magnesium
Magnesium plays a key role in the formation of neurotransmitters. These are chemicals that help send messages between your brain cells. So, if you are deficient, it could be affecting your brain chemistry.
Magnesium has an important role in serotonin production, which helps to regulate your mood. It also helps you get to sleep as it is converted into melatonin and dopamine metabolism. This is the “reward” and “motivation” neurotransmitter.
Studies show that about 50% of people in the US and Europe get less than the recommended daily amount of magnesium. Yet, the true figure is likely to be even less. This is because many individuals do not eat enough plant-based foods, where magnesium is found.
Magnesium is also vital for energy production, in addition to other key nutrients, such as iron and co-enzyme Q10.
Ironically, some ADHD medications deplete magnesium stores in the body. So correcting a deficiency may also have the added benefit of helping your medication work better.
Magnesium is also involved in more than 300 reactions in your body, including:
- Energy creation: helps convert food into energy
- Protein formation: helps create new proteins from amino acids
- Gene maintenance: helps create and repair DNA and RNA
- Muscle movements: helps with the contraction and relaxation of muscles
- Nervous system regulation: helps regulate neurotransmitters, which send messages throughout your brain and nervous system
- Hormone regulation: helps with normal insulin secretion and insulin action in your body’s tissues
Taking a magnesium supplement can have profound effects on energy production, sleep quality, anxiety levels and impulsiveness.
However, it’s important to note magnesium supplements must be at correct dose for your body and split throughout the day.
Correcting other nutrient deficiencies is also very important. Functional tests can be organised at the Clinic to assess any potential deficiencies.
Fats and Brain Health
Did you know that 60% of your brain’s dried weight is fat? This is one of the reasons a low-fat diet can be so damaging to your health. You also require fat in your diet to obtain fat soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E and K.
Many fats are made in your body, but the essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) are not. Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly important for brain health, are found primarily in fish, especially “oily” fish such as salmon. While you can obtain some plant-based omega-3 fats, studies have shown that some individuals have difficulty converting them into omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA.
Omega-3 fats support:
- Membrane functioning and receptor site formation of brain cells (neurons), without which they don’t work properly.
- Serotonin and dopamine synthesis. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that helps control mental activity, mood, behaviour and helps you sleep. Dopamine helps regulate impulsive behavioural tendencies and is part of the brain’s “reward centre”.
- The number of dendrites that come of our neurons, which help communicate messages and number of synapses (the bridges between neurons).
Testing can be especially helpful here to ensure that your levels are optimal. To make sure your omega-3 Index remains in the target range, it is best to re-check it every 6-12 months.
Omega-6 fatty acids are also important and can be obtained via seeds and some unprocessed organic omega-6 oils. However, Arachidonic acid from the omega-6 family is an inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid. In excess, omega-6 fats may lead to inflammatory diseases and mood disorders and compete with the amount of omega-3 fats we need.
Non-organic poultry, meat, eggs, both organic or non-organic grains (wheat in bread, pasta, flour) and cereals are also high in omega-6 fatty acids.
What Supplements are Good for ADHD?
- B vitamins – important for energy metabolism.
- Vitamin C – helps to convert dopamine to adrenaline. Low levels can impact how you handle stress and getting to sleep at night.
- Oligomeric proanthocyanidins (or OPCs for short) – can help normalise brain waves, neurotransmitter functioning, histamine regulation and reduce free radical damage.
However, it’s best to test for your nutrient levels to know what your body needs to support your ADHD.
Ditch the Sugar and Eat More Protein
While supplementing with vitamins and minerals can be extremely helpful, they often don’t work well unless your diet is optimised for your needs.
Diets high in refined carbohydrates – such as biscuits or breakfast cereals (with added sugar) – do not contain essential brain boosting nutrients. Instead, try to include more healthy carbohydrates such as vegetables, cabbage, cauliflower, and other green leafy vegetables. These foods also contain much needed fibre and phytonutrients for your gut microbiome and gut-brain axis.
Protein is another vital building block for neurotransmitter formation. It is found in meat, fish and eggs, as well as nuts, seed, legumes and grains.
Protein (and fat) is also one of the key regulators of your blood sugar. When your blood sugar – and insulin – rise and fall too rapidly, this can result in many symptoms associated with ADHD:
- Mood swings
Blood sugar levels that remain too high (hyperglycemia), or too low (hypoglycemia), or that fluctuate too rapidly, can contribute to emotional dysregulation. As a result, if you have less than optimal blood sugar regulation, in addition to changes in dopamine and adrenaline neurotransmitter activity, this could make your symptoms worse.
Changing your diet and working out what supplements to take can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be, especially if you work alongside an experienced functional nutritionist. In addition, it can be extremely rewarding.
Remember, you are not defined by your diagnosis. There are a lot of natural treatments to help you or your child improve attention, lift mood, reduce hyperactivity and decrease medication side-effects.
Working with a functional nutrition practitioner can help:
- Optimise your diet and nutrient status and will take into account any other health challenges you may have.
- Support serotonin and dopamine production by assessing your diet and ensuring you take sufficient vitamin and mineral co-factors.
- Reduce medication side-effects, where possible (NB: It is important to work alongside your psychiatrist if you are taking any ADHD medications).
- Make referrals to other health care professionals, such as mindfulness practitioners, if indicated.
As well as helping clients who have ADHD, we have helped people with many health conditions or symptoms including auto immune and neurological disorders, digestive health, mood and fatigue fertility, thyroid health, PCOS, weight loss and hormone imbalances.
If you would like to speak to a member of the team, the quickest and easiest way is to call us on 020 3332 0030.
Author Melody Mackeown
Melody is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and Health Coach with a degree in Psychology and a Masters degree in Nutrition. Melody has a long-standing interest in digestive health, autoimmune conditions, cognitive health and women’s health (including fertility and hormonal disorders). Melody adopts a holistic (mind and body) approach to help clients, to enable them to restore their health to their maximum potential and has seen many people achieve significant improvements in their health and quality of life.
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