I'm A Dietician With ADHD – But I Never Knew My Gut Health And Brain Were Linked

Your gut can help you manage symptoms.
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In my late twenties I became a registered dietician before I was officially diagnosed with ADHD. So when I started researching ways of managing it, I looked to my own field - nutrition.

ADHD is an ongoing pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that interferes with functioning and development. For me, personally, I experience a range of overwhelm, inattention, and impulsivity in my daily life.

When I began looking at the link between nutrition and ADHD, I became intrigued by gut health, mainly because of its role in supporting mental health and immune function. Some research has even found that our gut microbiota may affect our emotions and behaviour – as someone with ADHD, this was groundbreaking.

So, what’s the link between our gut and brain?

The ‘gut-brain axis’ is essentially a term used to represent the connection between the brain and the gut. Our brains are literally connected to our gut via the vagus nerve.

The gut microbiome is often called our ‘second brain,’ though its scientific name is the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). The primary function of the ENS is digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food we eat; however, the ENS also communicates with the brain.

Researchers are finding evidence that irritation in the gut may send signals to the Central Nervous System (CNS) that trigger mood changes.

For example, the neurotransmitter serotonin and dopamine are responsible for making us feel happy, motivated, focused, productive, and calm. These neurotransmitters are not only active in the brain but they are also found to be active in the gut. So in a sense, an altered microbiome directly impacts the ability to manage ADHD symptoms – namely, the ability to focus and be productive.

So what about nutrition when you have ADHD?

While pharmaceuticals are typically considered the first-line treatment of ADHD, nutrition is just as important – if not more important – because ADHD medications will not work as well as they could if your diet is suboptimal.

One thing that is incredibly important to note with ADHD and diet is that individuals with ADHD don’t need to follow a ‘special diet’ or do any sort of cleansing. In fact, doing a special diet or a cleanse tends to make things worse for those with ADHD.

These are my own tips as a dietician that I have for maintaining a healthy, enriched, and balanced diet for those with ADHD:

  1. Eat smaller meals every 3-4 hours.

  2. Eat adequately, which means eating enough food for your body to function correctly.

  3. Eat a variety of balanced nutrition to support your overall health and your ability to manage ADHD symptoms.

While those tips sound accessible to a neurotypical individual, they are actually something that many folks with ADHD struggle with implementing for themselves due to executive dysfunction.

Some examples of executive dysfunction include difficulty starting boring tasks, problems with impulse control, and struggling to switch between tasks.

Bring on the probiotics

In addition to maintaining a balanced and varied diet to help manage ADHD symptoms, being intentional about incorporating probiotics and prebiotics will help support optimal gut health.

In turn, a flourishing microbiome is thought to help improve ADHD symptoms. Probiotics combine living beneficial bacteria or yeasts that naturally live in our bodies. Prebiotics are essentially the food for the good bacteria in our gut, thus helping them thrive and maintain a balanced microbiome.

Our bodies have both good and bacteria at any given moment. However, the goal is to have more good rather than bad bacteria in our gut. Stress, inadequate sleep, and a suboptimal diet will impact our gut health and result in an imbalance of good and bad bacteria.

As a result, we will likely have more bad than good bacteria. Adding probiotics and prebiotics to our diet will directly impact our health by bringing balance back to our microbiome. A balanced microbiome is just one part of the picture when it comes to managing ADHD symptoms.

Examples of probiotic-rich foods include:

  • Greek yoghurt

  • Kefir

  • Tempeh

  • Fermented foods like kimchi

Examples of prebiotic-rich foods include:

  • Vegetables

  • Fruit

  • Whole grains

It is possible to live a thriving and successful life with ADHD.

While many symptoms of ADHD make it difficult to exist in a neurotypical world, there are things we can do to help us manage our symptoms.

Maintaining a balanced microbiome will not only boost immune function, but it will also support mental health mainly through optimal neurotransmitter production.

The neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin have been studied directly in the context of their relationship to ADHD symptoms. Some research has found that folks with ADHD produce less dopamine than neurotypical folks. So by supporting a balanced gut microbiome, we are supporting the production of dopamine and serotonin and our ability to focus, be productive, and feel happy and calm.

There is still so much research that needs to be done to understand the relationship between gut health and ADHD, but for now, we can focus on the science we have and use the available tools.

Pass the greek yoghurt.