ADHD

ADHD is one of the most prevalent neurobehavioral disorders in the United States. Lifestyle interventions such as exercise and a healthy diet provide promising alternatives treatments for people with ADHD, discover the changes scientifically proven to help below.

Cases per year

6 million children aged 3-17 have ADHD2.

General frequency

 4.4% of US adults and 9.8% of children aged 3-17 1 2.

Risk

ADHD can cause mental illness, and difficulty at work, at home, or with relationships.

Lifestyle medicine is a key tool in the management of ADHD symptoms and severity

I went plant based after a 16 year-old patient was able to stop 2 ADHD medications in 30 days of being on a plant-based diet.

Dr Laurie Marbas, who saw the power of a plant-based diet to treat ADHD first-hand.

Podcasts

Here are some top scientific studies that support the results our clinicians have seen first-hand:

Western diet associated with over twice the odds of developing ADHD

ADHD is associated with a "Western" dietary pattern in adolescents

This study included 2,868 participants from birth and followed up with them 14 years later to collect data on their diets throughout adolescence and incidence of ADHD. Dietary patterns were split into ‘western’ and ‘healthy’ and after analyzing the data, the researchers found the participants who had been following a western diet had over twice the odds of developing ADHD. A healthy diet was not associated with ADHD 3

Exercise improves symptoms of ADHD

Sweat it out? The effects of physical exercise on cognition and behavior in children and adults with ADHD: a systematic literature review

This study reviewed the available scientific literature looking at exercise for ADHD treatment. The researchers found acute benefits of cardio exercise on impulsivity and response time, and beneficial long-term effects of exercise on various functions including executive functions, attention and behavior. The researchers concluded that physical exercise may therefore represent an effective treatment option that could be combined with other treatment approaches of ADHD 4.

Plant based diet reduces risk of ADHD

A plant-based dietary score and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in Iranian children: A case-control study.   

A study of 345 children and adolescents found that as diets become more plant-based, the odds of having ADHD fall significantly. Children eating a diet with the most plant-foods had 68% lower odds of ADHD than children eating the least plant-based, and more animal or processed foods 5

Sleep improves ADHD symptoms in children

Impact of a behavioural sleep intervention on symptoms and sleep in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and parental mental health: randomised controlled trial | The BMJ 

Sleep hygiene practices and standardized behavioral strategies were delivered to the participants by trained psychologists during two fortnightly consultations and a follow-up telephone call. At three and six month follow-up, children receiving the intervention had significantly improved ADHD symptoms compared to the children that received standard clinical care. The intervention also improved the children’s sleep, behavior, quality of life, and functioning, mostly sustained to six months after the intervention 6.

Learn more about ADHD and treatment with lifestyle interventions below

What is ADHD?

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects people's behavior, and is characterized by difficulty paying attention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity. It is one of the most common mental health disorders in children and for many it continues into adulthood 7 4.

What causes ADHD?

The exact cause of ADHD is not known, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors. Research suggests that ADHD may be caused by differences in certain brain structures and the way certain chemicals (neurotransmitters) function in the brain.

Environmental factors, such as use of alcohol and tobacco during pregnancy, exposure to toxins during pregnancy, brain injury, and premature birth can contribute to the development of ADHD.

Recent research also suggests that diet from birth to adolescence plays a role in the risk of developing ADHD 5

Symptoms 

Symptoms can vary widely between individuals, these are the symptoms listed on the CDC.gov website 8

Symptoms of inattention:

  • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
  • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
  • Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
  • Is often easily distracted
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities.

Symptoms of hyperactivity: 

  • Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in their seat.
  • Often leaves the seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
  • Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
  • Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
  • Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”.
  • Often talks excessively.
  • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
  • Often has trouble waiting their turn.
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games) 

Diagnosis 

To diagnose ADHD in adults and adolescents, healthcare providers use the guidelines in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth edition (DSM-5). Five symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity and impulsivity are needed, that have been present in the individual for at least 6 months to an extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for the person's developmental level to diagnose that person with ADHD 8

Treatment

Lifestyle interventions including exercise, better quality sleep, and a plant-based diet represent promising additional or alternative treatment options for people living with ADHD.  

Plant foods have a protective effect against inflammation and oxidative stress which both are involved in the processes leading to psychiatric disorders including ADHD.  

Exercise likely results in enhanced generation and development of new nerve cells which may explain the cognitive benefits that exercise can have. Cardio exercise also increases hormones and proteins that are typically reduced in ADHD, such as dopamine, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is a key molecule involved in learning and memory 4

ADHD can have a vast and damaging range of consequences on an individual's life, which is why it is important to find the best, and safest, treatment options for each individual. Exercise, sleep, and movement towards a plant-based diet can have significant benefits on the symptoms of ADHD, especially in children and adolescents, and are an important treatment avenue to be explored.

An empathetic and dedicated lifestyle-focused medical team can make all the difference.

Think you or a loved one may be struggling with this and need help? Join today to make a change. 

References 

1. Kessler, R. C. et al. The Prevalence and Correlates of Adult ADHD in the United States: Results From the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Am. J. Psychiatry 163, 716–723 (2006).

2. CDC. Data and Statistics About ADHD | CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html (2022).

3. Howard, A. L. et al. ADHD Is Associated With a “Western” Dietary Pattern in Adolescents. J. Atten. Disord. 15, 403–411 (2011).

4. Den Heijer, A. E. et al. Sweat it out? The effects of physical exercise on cognition and behavior in children and adults with ADHD: a systematic literature review. J. Neural Transm. 124, 3–26 (2017).

5. Darand, M. et al. A plant-based dietary score and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in Iranian children: A case-control study. J. Affect. Disord. 313, 27–31 (2022).

6. Hiscock, H. et al. Impact of a behavioural sleep intervention on symptoms and sleep in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and parental mental health: randomised controlled trial. BMJ 350, h68–h68 (2015).

7. Sonuga-Barke, E. J. S. et al. Nonpharmacological Interventions for ADHD: Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses of Randomized Controlled Trials of Dietary and Psychological Treatments. Am. J. Psychiatry 170, 275–289 (2013).

8. CDC. Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD | CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html (2022).

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