ADHD: Scientific Literature and the Relationship with Food Sensitivity 

By: Alletess Medical Laboratory

When it comes to ADHD, it seems like everyone has an opinion. Since differing opinions can be both overwhelming and frustrating, we have gathered the facts that are based on scientific literature to help you better understand this disorder. We will discuss scientific literature, ADHD and food sensitivity, and elimination diets. 

About ADHD: 

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder usually diagnosed in childhood but may also be diagnosed later in life. Individuals who are diagnosed with ADHD may have difficulty with concentration, focusing on one task, controlling behaviors, and can seem overactive and forgetful.

Although some may think there is a genetic component connected to this disorder, there is not a single gene defect associated with ADHD. 

ADHD can oftentimes be difficult to diagnose, as researchers are still trying to identify the cause by exploring brain scans, comparing brain areas,and examining imbalances in neurotransmitter levels. Current medications that are prescribed to treat ADHD include Methylphenidates and D-Amphetamines. 

What is the connection between ADHD and food sensitivity?

A 2020 study published in Appetite found that children with neurodevelopmental disorders, including ADHD, displayed higher levels of taste and smell sensitivity to food, which correlated to a fussier palate.

In 2018, a journal titled Medical Hypotheses published a study that examined the relationship between the gut brain axis to the exacerbation of ADHD symptoms, which was impacted by microbiome diversity. Previous studies have found that food sensitivities may lead to leaky gut and this may lead to inflammation as well as impacting the gut brain axis. All of this correlates to further imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain. 

To put this in simpler terms, individuals who have a food sensitivity and who have also been diagnosed with ADHD may be suffering from more severe symptoms, due to the correlation between the gut brain axis and ADHD symptoms. 

My patient has been diagnosed with ADHD, but I am not sure if they have a food sensitivity. What should I do? 

Food sensitivities may cause physical symptoms such as bloating and constipation which may worsen the quality of life of an individual who has difficulty concentrating. As such, food sensitivity testing may help eliminate such symptoms and promote a better quality of life.

A simple food sensitivity test can give you fast results that will show whether or not your patient is experiencing any reactivities to certain foods. The results from this test will give your patient peace of mind to ensure that their ADHD symptoms are not exacerbated by foods.

My patient has a known food sensitivity and has been diagnosed with ADHD. What can I do now? 

While food sensitivities and allergies are not linked to causing ADHD, Nigg and Holton reviewed literature in 2014 to explore how elimination diets may help individuals with ADHD lessen the severity of their symptoms. They found that there was a correlation to eliminating certain food and helping with the lessening of symptoms related to ADHD. Interestingly, they also found that artificial food coloring was a common group which should first be eliminated. 

By describing an elimination diet to your patient, in hopes that they will actually eliminate certain foods, it may be able to help them lessen specific symptoms of ADHD. 

Living with ADHD after an elimination diet

It’s important to note that elimination diets and food sensitivity testing are not an alternative to medication and there is no known cure to this disorder. We bring up the relationship between food sensitivity and ADHD as a supplement to help maintain balance in the various systems found in your body. 

The Psychiatric Times have found that elimination diets have been correlated to a 25-30% chance of improved symptoms in certain patients with ADHD. Improving symptoms and the quality of life of individuals with ADHD is definitely a step forward in how ADHD is currently being treated.