Recent research (1,2) on children and adolescents has reported that elevated levels of ADHD symptoms are positively associated with unhealthy dietary habits, including a higher consumption of refined sugars, processed food, soft drink, instant noodles, and a lower intake of vegetables and fruits. However, the link between low-quality diets and risk of ADHD in adults is still not well established, which would be further explored in the ongoing Eat2beNICE research project.

What is the underlying mechanism for an association between ADHD and unhealthy dietary habits? There is still no clear answer. Nemours’ potential biological pathways, by which dietary intake could have an impact on mental health, has been proposed in the literature (2). For example, iron and zinc are cofactors for dopamine and norepinephrine production (essential factors in the etiology of ADHD), so unbalanced diet with lower levels of iron and zinc may further contribute to the development of ADHD. However, we cannot overlook the possibility of a bi-directional relationship between diet quality and ADHD, especially when the interest in the concept of “food addiction” has received increased attention.

Food addiction refers to being addicted to certain foods (e.g. highly processed foods, highly palatable foods, sweet and junk foods) in a similar way as drug addicts are addicted to drugs. Animal models (3) have suggested that highly processed foods may possess addictive properties. Rats given high-sugar or high-fat foods display symptoms of binge eating, such as consuming increased quantities of food in short time periods, and seeking out highly processed foods despite negative consequences (e.g. electric foot shocks). One human study (4) found that individuals with high levels of ADHD-like traits (e.g. high levels of impulsively, disorganised, attention problems) were more likely to suffer from problematic eating behaviour with overconsumption of specific highly palatable foods in an addiction-like manner. Therefore, food addiction may, just as substance abuse, be over-represented among individuals with ADHD.

Thus, it seems there could be a vicious cycle between unhealthy dietary habits and ADHD: ADHD may lead to a worse choice of diet, lowering the health quality, which could eventually exacerbate ADHD symptoms. We will further test the bidirectional diet-ADHD associations in the ongoing Eat2beNice project.

This was co-authored by Henrik Larsson, professor in the School of Medical Science, Örebro University and Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institute, Sweden.

AUTHORS:
Lin Li, MSc, PhD student in the School of Medical Science, Örebro University, Sweden.
Henrik Larsson, PhD, professor in the School of Medical Science, Örebro University and Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institute, Sweden.

REFERENCES:
1. Kim KM, Lim MH, Kwon HJ, Yoo SJ, Kim EJ, Kim JW, et al. Associations between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms and dietary habits in elementary school children. Appetite. 2018;127:274-9.

2. Rios-Hernandez A, Alda JA, Farran-Codina A, Ferreira-Garcia E, Izquierdo-Pulido M. The Mediterranean Diet and ADHD in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2017;139(2).

3. Gearhardt AN, White MA, Potenza MN. Binge Eating Disorder and Food Addiction. Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2011;4(3):201-7.

4. Ptacek R, Stefano GB, Weissenberger S, Akotia D, Raboch J, Papezova H, et al. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and disordered eating behaviors: links, risks, and challenges faced. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2016;12:571-9.

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We have talked before about how ADHD has been associated with obesity and the mechanisms implicated on it. I would like to explain more about this important subject so you can understand what dietary changes you can make to avoid the risk of weight gain. Most of the authors attribute the presence of obesity in ADHD individuals to disorder eating patterns, especially overeating, that means that these people are eating a higher amount of calories per day in comparison of individuals without ADHD. When a person consumes more calories or food than their body needs they start to gaining weight and this happens to all kind of people, I’m not talking only about those who have ADHD, and that becomes a health problem.

Nevertheless, there is a recent study that suggests that ADHD-obesity relationship was linked to unhealthy food choices, rather than overeating behavior (1). This means that ADHD individuals are eating the same amounts of calories per day as healthy ones, but their food choices are not good enough to meet the dietary recommendations and can lead to nutritional deficiencies that have been observed on these patients (2,3). These kinds of patients tend to eat more processed meat, unhealthy snacks, and refined cereals; instead of consuming healthy food choices like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and fish.

We can suggest that this problem it may be due to the fact that there is a lack of information related to nutrition, so it is easy to get confused on which food products are healthy and which are not.

When you go to the supermarket, you will find a lot of food options that have a label that says “light” or “healthy,” and you may buy them without analyzing if they are genuinely healthy.

So the question is “how can you know if a product is healthy or not?”

First of all, you should opt to buy fresh products such as fruits, vegetables and fish (foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals needed to maintain our mental health in good shape). And avoid consuming fast, packaged or canned food because these kinds of products contain a lot of sodium, sugar, fat, preservatives, additives and components that in high amounts can lead to health issues.

Second, if you need to buy food products that are packaged or canned, you should be able to read and understand the nutritional information and ingredients before you buy them to be sure they are the healthiest options on the market.

Here I share an example on what to search on nutrition facts labels of food products to make the right selection.

For more information on how to understand and use the nutrition facts label you can visit: www.fda.gov/food/labelingnutrition/ucm274593.htm#see3

This was co-authored by Josep Antoni Ramos-Quiroga, MD PhD psychiatrist and Head of Department of Psychiatry at Hospital Universitari Vall d’Hebron in Barcelona, Spain. He is also a professor at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

REFERENCES
1. Hershko S, Aronis A, Maeir A, Pollak Y. Dysfunctional Eating Patterns of Adults With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. J Nerv Ment Dis [Internet]. 2018;206(11):870–4.

2. Kotsi E, Kotsi E, Perrea DN. Vitamin D levels in children and adolescents with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a meta-analysis. Atten Defic Hyperact Disord [Internet]. Springer Vienna; 2018.

3. Landaas ET, Aarsland TIM, Ulvik A, Halmøy A, Ueland PM, Haavik J. Vitamin levels in adults with ADHD. Br J Psychiatry Open [Internet]. 2016;2(6):377–84.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 728018

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