ADHD: It’s the Food, Stupid

March 31st, 2011  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  8 Comments

OK, three people have now sent me this link collection, so I should really mention it. :) Thanks folks!

It seems totally self-evident to me that putting crap into little developing bodies would cause problems. Like, duh. But apparently this is a point of contention. To date, there’s still some controversy over the role of diet in ADHD. Not everyone is willing to accept that nutrition could play a role.

Yet as Grist author Kristin Wartman comments:

Call me old-fashioned, but changing your child’s diet seems a lot “simpler” than altering his or her brain chemistry with a daily dose of pharmaceuticals. It does takes patience, trial and error, and commitment to complete an elimination diet — taking a pill to target symptoms certainly requires less effort on the part of the doctors, family, and child. No one is denying that ADHD is a complicated web of symptoms with potentially many contributing factors. But why not start by examining the most basic and fundamental cornerstone of our health — the foods (and non-foods) we put into our bodies?

A recent piece in The Lancet confirms that ADHD can be strongly affected by nutrition. As Wartman describes,

[Researchers] found that with a restricted diet alone, many children experienced a significant reduction in symptoms. The study’s lead author, Dr. Lidy Pelsser of the ADHD Research Center in the Netherlands, said in an interview with NPR, “The teachers thought it was so strange that the diet would change the behavior of the child as thoroughly as they saw it. It was a miracle, the teachers said.”

And for you adults out there who may be struggling with similar symptoms, consider how your nutrition may be relevant.

Food can change our bodies powerfully. We have the power to treat — or at least manage — many of the health conditions that plague us. Major improvements can come from changes as simple as a grocery trip!


  1. Linds says:

    April 8th, 2011at 9:31 am(#)

    You read my mind as I was just thinking about this/talking about this a week or two ago. I had been watching a Frontline about medicated kids from 2008. It was a follow up to their show on medicating kids diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. This one however looked at kids as young as 4 who were being diagnosed as bi-polar and were being treated with enough medications to knock and adult out for 3 days.

    What amazed me the most was what you would see these parents feeding their children. One young child was on a medication that caused him to be hungry all the time. His body was no longer able to tell him when he was full. For dinner he and his brother would have corn dogs and then cookies for dessert. This got me thinking, what would happen if they changed this kid’s diet and added some more physical activity into his life?

    They also mentioned that they have found evidence thought MRIs that people who are predisposed to mental illness will have certain parts of their brian which appear to be smaller then “average”. This then promted me to question “why”. Is it genetic? If we find out it is not genetic, then what is causing it? Could it be outside factors liek the environment, diet, or even physical activity?

    Food is such an important part of our physiology but we tend to forget that it can contribute to many ailments whether they are physical/emotional/behavioural.

  2. moxie says:

    April 12th, 2011at 3:39 am(#)

    After many years of depression and being diagnosed with add in my early 20’s, this was the approach I took. There was definitely an improvement in both areas when I changed my diet and made a more consistent effort to be active.

    Unfortunately that only took me so far and I still require medication. Without the medication I fear that I’m a danger to myself. I agree with the articles above, but I also get frustrated sometimes when people suggest that diet and exercise is a cure all for mental illness.

  3. Rachel (S[d]OC) says:

    April 15th, 2011at 10:19 am(#)

    I have to agree with Moxie that diet can sometimes be only part of the picture and medical intervention can often be necessary. Here is an example of such beliefs taken to extremes. I’d rather have my kid take a perscribed drug under medical supervision than self-medicate just to function.

  4. Mistress Krista says:

    April 15th, 2011at 3:32 pm(#)

    “My relationship with my parents remains poor. It might have been bad anyway because my mother has weird ideas and my father seems to see his primary role as covering up for her.” Umm ya think!?

    I think that diseases or health problems generally require a belt-and-suspenders approach. I steal from everywhere and throw everything at a problem. I begin with the least harm and work from there. It’s not either-or IMO.

  5. CrossFit Ireland » Thur, Apr 21st says:

    April 20th, 2011at 3:48 pm(#)

    […] ADHD: It’s the Food, Stupid – […]

  6. Monday, April 25th: Diet and ADHD « SouthBaltimore CrossFit says:

    April 24th, 2011at 7:10 pm(#)

    […] that their symptoms often returned when the diet returned to previous.  Read some short commentary here and here.  Note the PubMed page on ADHD, which leads with: Imaging studies suggest that the brains […]

  7. Cass says:

    April 26th, 2011at 7:24 am(#)

    This is a bit late but… my husband has ADD and has noticed a huge difference (in symptoms) from when he used to eat junk to now, when he watches what he eats. It doesn’t completely correct like drugs would but at least now he can concentrate in school.

  8. Kristen says:

    April 29th, 2011at 7:17 pm(#)

    A bit late to the ball myself, but I urge people to remember that it IS a complicated problem. The brain is physical which means our nutrition (or lack thereof) affects it, of course, and we can have physical problems in our brain just like in other parts of the bod that aren’t related to nutrition so sometimes chemical adjustment is needed.

    I’d be careful about tossing around the “easy” cure for ADHD. It can make people with ADHD really mad, and you don’t want to piss off an ADHDer. :)

    They are people who struggle every day to function off-kilter from most everyone else. It’s extremely frustrating, even when on a good diet and exercise regime and/or on medication. I was 48 when I finally figured out what is was that troubled me my entire life. Don’t tell me about self-help books – read ‘em all. Time management? Know all the techniques – doesn’t help. Exercise and good nutrition? Better, but not there yet. Medication? Much better but need time with success in my life while helped by medication to make a difference in my future. Patient, sympathetic loved ones – crucial.

    The fact that children eat way too much crapola is a problem for everyone these days. Basic nutrition “literacy” is lacking, much less agreed upon. But try parenting an ADHD child who has major problems when hungry but refuses to eat something good for herself. You struggle as a parent with making a choice between bad and evil. Planning ahead often doesn’t work because your child is predictably unpredictable or unpredictably predictable (changes predictably unpredictably). You’re caught off-guard for 12 years and still find yourself caught off-guard even when you’re a mindful parent who tries everything under the sun to help your child work with the world as it is.

    It’s so easy to toss off admonitions to those of us who struggle ourselves while struggling with a child (because ADHD is SO hereditary).

    I’ve changed my view of struggling families after realizing that those among us who can’t get their act together are probably those who suffer from physical brain problems which, in turn, are inherited by their children, and thus you see the vicious cycle, complicated by the philosophical conceptions of the self. What is free will, and what is free will undermined by the body itself?

    If you had a broken leg, I would not expect you to run on it.

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