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Western Diet and ADHD

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 29 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Adhd Diet Western Mental Health Symptoms

One important area of research in the area of ADHD is how diet can impact the symptoms and management of the condition. A recent study found diets that were high in the typical Western style of foods were linked to a risk of ADHD that was more than double those diets low in these foods.

Researchers looked at nearly two thousand teenagers and analysed their dietary patterns. They adjusted the study to take into account societal and familial influences as well. Diets were classed as either ‘healthy’ or ‘Western’ for the dietary pattern.

Diet and ADHD Diagnosis

The dietary pattern was compared with whether or not a teenager had been given a diagnosis of ADHD by the time they were fourteen years old. It was found that from this particular study group, more than a hundred teenagers had been diagnosed with ADHD – with the expected difference of more boys than girls being diagnosed.

Healthy and Western Dietary Patterns

For the purposes of the study, a healthy pattern diet was considered one that had many fresh fruits and vegetables as well as whole grain foods and fish. These diets had higher levels of healthy fatty acids, folate and fibre. In contrast, the Western dietary pattern had more processed, takeaway foods along with more fried, refined and sugary foods. Overall, the Western diet was significantly higher in the total amount of fat, sugar, salt and more specifically saturated fat.

A Lack of Vital Nutrients for Health

The link between the Western diet and an ADHD diagnosis led researchers to conclude that there was a much higher risk of a young person receiving a diagnosis of ADHD with this kind of diet. One proposed theory is that the fatty acids in particular play a key role, because they are thought to support brain functioning and mental health stability.

Another potential reason might be that a Western diet fails to give individuals the important vitamins and minerals that a person needs for optimal brain functioning. This would be especially true in the areas of attention, focusing and concentration, all of which are compromised in people who suffer from ADHD.

Exposure to Food Additives

Other proposed conclusions are that the Western diet could be much higher in controversial food additives, namely found in processed, refined foods. These additives have been associated in other studies with an increase in the symptoms of ADHD.

Understanding the Link Between Diet and ADHD

One criticism of the study, however, is that the impulsive behaviours often seen in people who have ADHD could lead to poor dietary choices. They may choose sugary and fatty snack foods when they are hungry rather than healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables.

ADHD and Diet

Researchers agree that more studies are needed to understand if it is a poor diet that leads to ADHD or if it is the symptoms of ADHD that lead to a person making poor dietary choices. It does, however, show that diet is an area that should receive attention when it comes to ADHD. Hopefully future studies can bring more clarity to the association, helping us find ways to prevent and manage ADHD.

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