Here’s a good reason for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to eat their fruits and vegetables: It may help reduce inattention issues, a new study from Ohio State University suggests.
ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active.
The symptoms can be severe, and can cause difficulty at school, at home, or with friends.
About the study
As part of a larger study, researchers asked parents of 134 kids with ADHD symptoms to complete a detailed questionnaire about the typical foods the children ate, including portion sizes, over a 90-day period.
Another questionnaire asked parents to rate symptoms of inattention – a hallmark of ADHD – in their kids, such as having trouble staying focused, not following instructions, difficulty remembering things, and difficulty regulating emotions.
Results showed that kids who consumed more fruits and vegetables showed less severe symptoms of inattention.
Children in the study, all of whom met the criteria for ADHD, were recruited from three sites: Columbus, Ohio; Portland, Oregon; and Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. Participants were either not taking medication or stopped using it two weeks before the study began.
Other studies linking nutrition to ADHD
The data for this research was collected as part of the Micronutrients for ADHD in Youth (MADDY) Study, which examined the efficacy of a 36-ingredient vitamin and mineral supplement to treat symptoms of ADHD and poor emotional control in the 134 kids aged 6 to 12.
The study that evaluated the effectiveness of the supplement showed that children who took the micronutrients were three times as likely to show significant improvement in their ADHD and emotional dysregulation symptoms than those who took a placebo.
Another study involving the same children, published earlier this year, showed that kids whose families had higher levels of food insecurity were more likely than others to show more severe symptoms of emotional dysregulation, such as chronic irritability, angry moods and outbursts of anger.
Combined, the three studies suggest that a healthy diet that provides all the nutrients that children require can help reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children.
The findings also suggest that it’s worthwhile for doctors 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.
How can diet help ADHD?
Researchers believe that ADHD is related to low levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain; vitamins and minerals play a key role as cofactors in helping the body synthesize those important neurochemicals and in overall brain function.
Food insecurity may play an additional role. “Everyone tends to get irritated when they’re hungry and kids with ADHD are no exception. If they’re not getting enough food, it could make their symptoms worse,” the researchers said.
Also, the stress of parents who are upset about not being able to provide enough food for their children can create family tension that could lead to more symptoms for children with ADHD.
The MADDY study is one of the first to look at the relationship between ADHD symptoms and diet quality among children in the United States and Canada. That’s important because Western diets are more likely than many others to fall short on fruit and vegetable intake, she said.
Source: Nutritional Neuroscience, May 10, 2022.
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