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Diet may affect kids' ADHD symptoms, study finds

Eating healthier foods may lead to better focus and attention

Young child eating watermelon
Photo (c) hobo_018 - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Ohio State University explored how kids’ diets may affect their ADHD symptoms. The findings showed that following a healthier diet, including eating more fruits and vegetables, is likely to reduce the severity of ADHD symptoms and improve kids’ focus and attention abilities. 

“What clinicians usually do when kids with ADHD start having more severe symptoms is increase the dose of their treatment medication, if they are on one, or put them on medication,” said researcher Irene Hatsu. “Our studies suggest that it is worthwhile to check the children’s access to food as well as the quality of their diet to see if it may be contributing to their symptom severity.” 

Improving diet may improve ADHD symptoms

The researchers conducted a few studies to better understand the link between kids’ diets and their ADHD symptoms. All three studies pulled data from 134 kids between the ages of six and 12 who were part of the Micronutrients for ADHD in Youth (MADDY) Study between 2018 and 2020. None of the children were taking medication for their ADHD when the study began. 

In the first study, the children’s parents answered questionnaires about their kids’ diets over the course of three months and their typical ADHD symptoms. The second study evaluated the efficacy of a supplement with 36 vitamins and minerals that were designed to treat ADHD symptoms. Finally, the third study examined how food insecurity can affect kids’ emotional regulation. 

The overarching theme from all three studies was that healthy eating was linked with less severe ADHD symptoms. The participants were better able to focus and pay attention when they were eating more fruits and vegetables.

Similarly, parents noticed improvements in their kids’ ADHD symptoms and overall emotional regulation when they took the specially-designed supplement. The supplement was three times as likely to help boost the kids’ focus and behavioral skills. 

The researchers explained that diet may play such an important role in ADHD symptoms because of the ways that food can affect neurotransmitters. When kids consume more vitamins and minerals, it may boost the neurochemicals that affect overall brain function. 

Food insecurity can affect ADHD

The third study focused specifically on food insecurity, and the researchers learned that struggles to access food can be detrimental to kids with ADHD. The study showed that food insecurity was linked with more anger and irritability. 

“Everyone tends to get irritated when they’re hungry and kids with ADHD are no exception,” Hatsu said. “If they’re not getting enough food, it could make their symptoms worse. 

“We believe clinicians should assess the food security status of children with ADHD before creating or changing a treatment program. Some symptoms might be more manageable by helping families become more food secure and able to provide a healthier diet.” 

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