COLUMBUS, Ohio — There may be a much better way of treating a child’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms than using medication — and that’s by giving them a more nutritious diet. Researchers from The Ohio State University say children with ADHD who consume more fruits and vegetables see a significant drop in their levels of inattention.
In a study of 134 kids displaying ADHD symptoms, those taking a 36-ingredient vitamin and mineral supplement were three times more likely to see an improvement in their ability to pay attention and regulate their emotions — compared to children taking a placebo.
Researchers surveyed the parents of these children, asking them about their child’s daily diet and portion sizes over the previous 90 days. They also asked each parent to rate their child’s inattention — the hallmark of ADHD — which is a problem that includes having trouble focusing, an inability to follow instructions, problems remembering things, and difficulty controlling their emotions.
Results of the surveys revealed that parents saw a noticeable drop in ADHD symptoms when their children ate more fruits and vegetables.
“Eating a healthy diet, including fruits and vegetables, may be one way to reduce some of the symptoms of ADHD,” says study co-author Irene Hatsu Hatsu, an associate professor of human nutrition at Ohio State, in a university release.
“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,” Hatsu continues. “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.”
Growing evidence nutrition plays a role in ADHD
Researchers note that a previous study found that children from families who face a higher level of food insecurity are more likely to experience severe symptoms of emotional dysregulation. These include signs of chronic irritability, a poor mood, and outbursts of anger.
In the new Micronutrients for ADHD in Youth (MADDY) study, researchers gathered children meeting the criteria for ADHD from Ohio, Oregon, and Canada. Between 2018 and 2020, the children, all between six and 12 years-old, either never took ADHD medication or stopped two weeks before the study. From there, the participants either took a micronutrient supplement regularly or a placebo.
It turns out being “hangry” — or feeling irritable because you’re hungry — could play a major role in the severity of ADHD symptoms. Study authors theorize that ADHD onset has a connection to low levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Vitamins and minerals in our food contribute significantly to the creation of these neurochemicals.
“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 study author adds.
“We believe clinicians should assess the food security status of children with ADHD before creating or changing a treatment program,” Hatsu concludes. “Some symptoms might be more manageable by helping families become more food secure and able to provide a healthier diet.”
The study is published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.