Tuesday, 7 April 2015

ADHD & Diet

Our brains are extremely sensitive to nutrient availability and are the most energy demanding organ in our body. In fact, our brain requires approximately 125 grams of glucose every day (a very important reason not to cut out carbs).

An astonishing 60% of our brain (dry matter) is fat. This fat comes from and is directly influenced by our diet! Our diet can change cognition, learning, behavior, sleep, focus, and memory by influencing the brain's development.

Children with diagnosed ADHD have significantly lower levels of omega 3 and omega 6 fats: arachidonic acid (AA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These children (from the same study) also had a higher number of behavioral problems and higher incidences of those behavior problems, as well as temper tantrums and sleep deficits.

Note: Arachidonic acid is an Omega-6 fat. Decosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid are Omega-3 fatty acids. In the typical Canadian diet, we do not get enough omega-3 fats.

Another study also found that lower levels of AA and DHA are linked with more learning difficulties and more visual or auditory deficits.
In fact, the physical symptoms of many children with ADHD (more urination, greater thirst, dry skin) are like those of a fatty acid deficiency.

Foods for healthy brain development:* 

  • Fatty fish, seafood (eg. salmon, sardines, herring, cod liver)
  • Flax seed oil (great to hide in smoothies, salad dressings, or in cereals)
  • Ground flax seeds (go rancid quickly: best to refrigerate)
  • Hemp seed oil
  • Fish oil
  • Omega-3 enriched eggs
*It's also recommended not to restrict fat consumption from whole foods in children.
See "Dietitians of Canada" for a list of foods with omega-3 fats & the amount of omega-3s they contain.

TL;DR ADHD is a multifactorial condition that is associated with low levels of AA and DHA (omega 6 and omega 3 fats). A diet rich in omega-3 fats can help healthy brain development and may prevent ADHD.


Stevens, 1995: Essential fatty acid metabolism in boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/62/4/761.full.pdf

Mazurak, V. Anti-aging Nutrients: Can the aging process be slowed? [Pdf document]


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