Your brain is in constant communication with your gut. This chatty activity is known as the gut-brain axis, and surprisingly it has a lot to do with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
Like a two-way street, behavior, emotions, and mood all affect the brain and in turn, the gut. And research on the link between the gut and children with neurological conditions like ADHD, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and other behavioral disorders is on the rise.
In recent years, scientific research has shed more light on the connection between our gut health and various aspects of our mental well-being, including ADHD, but first, let’s clarify what the gut microbiome is all about.
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THE GUT?
The human body is home to trillions of microbial organisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, but the largest concentration of these organisms is found in the gut.
We have over 1,000 different microbial species living in the gut.
Bacterial cells outnumber human cells 10:1 and bacterial genes outnumber human genes 150:1! So, it’s not surprising that our microbial genes have a bigger influence on our health than our own genes.
It looks like Hippocrates had it right when he said, “all disease begins in the gut.” Now the Human Microbiome Project is proving that many chronic diseases really do originate in the gut.
Here are some important functions of these vital microbes:
- Influencing mood and behavior
- Regulating hormones
- Eliminating toxins
- Regulating the immune system
- Controlling inflammation
- Regulating sleep
- Digesting food
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, commonly diagnosed in childhood but often persisting into adulthood, characterized by symptoms such as lack of focus, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and mood issues.
First, it’s important to understand that ADHD isn’t something that a child can control. It’s not a behavior problem, and it’s not something that a child is doing on purpose. Instead, it’s a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way a child’s brain works.
Some of the most prestigious scientific-based organizations in the world conclude that ADHD is a real disorder with potentially devastating consequences when not properly identified, diagnosed, and treated.
While there are multiple factors contributing to ADHD, including genetics and environmental influences, growing evidence suggests that the gut microbiome may also play a significant role.
THE GUT-BRAIN AXIS
The gut-brain axis is known as the enteric nervous system (ENS). This system includes the neurons that cover the whole digestive tract (think food to mouth – all the way to where the waste exits) The ENS also regulates the entire GI tract via the vagus nerve that communicates directly to the brain.
This is an incredibly complex and unique nervous system since it’s the only one in the body that can operate independently (without input from the central nervous system). The ENS also has more nerve endings than anywhere else in the body and more nerve tissue than the spinal cord.
Numerous studies suggest that alterations in the gut microbiota composition could impact brain function and behavior, potentially influencing conditions such as ADHD.
EXPLORING THE GUT-ADHD CONNECTION
Research has shown that children with ADHD often exhibit gut microbiome imbalances compared to their neurotypical counterparts.
The bacteria in the gut will send direct messages to your brain that influence how a person feels. Simply put, a happy gut equals a happy brain.
Specific alterations in the gut microbial diversity, reduced levels of beneficial bacteria, and abnormal microbial metabolites have been associated with ADHD. Furthermore, some evidence suggests that these imbalances may contribute to the chronic low-grade inflammation observed in individuals with ADHD, potentially exacerbating symptoms.
Several potential mechanisms may explain the link between the gut microbiome and ADHD. One hypothesis is that the gut microbiota influences neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which are essential for mood regulation and focus. Additionally, gut dysbiosis could impair the gut barrier function, leading to an increased inflammatory response that may, in turn, affect neural pathways related to ADHD.
One meta-analysis that included 247 children with autism found that they had lower amounts of certain strains of bacteria like Akkermansia, Bacteroides, Bifidobacterium, and Parabacteroides, along with higher amounts of Faecalibacterium compared to neurotypical children. Children on the autism spectrum also had less Enterococcus and Escherichia coli and higher amounts of Lactobacillus.
Considering the impact of nutrition, it’s important to note that diet plays a vital role in shaping the gut microbial community. Consumption of a Western-style diet, high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats, has been associated with alterations in gut microbiota composition and increased ADHD risk. Conversely, adopting a nutrient-rich diet, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, contributes to a diverse and balanced gut microbiota, potentially alleviating ADHD symptoms.
STRATEGIES FOR NURTURING A HEALTHY GUT AND MANAGING ADHD
Change your diet: Choose a balanced and varied diet rich in prebiotic and probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, legumes, whole grains, garlic, onion, and fruits and vegetables.
Avoid processed foods: Reduce the use of ultra-processed foods, sugary snacks, artificial additives, and unhealthy fats, as they may negatively impact the gut microbiota.
Add more fiber: Increase dietary fiber intake from whole foods, as fiber serves as a prebiotic, promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
Watch food sensitivities: Identify and eliminate food sensitivities or allergens that may contribute to gut inflammation and ADHD symptoms.
Introduce probiotics: Consider including probiotic supplements, under the guidance of a healthcare professional, to help restore gut flora balance.
While more research is needed to fully understand the intricate relationship between the gut microbiome and ADHD, evidence supports the notion that imbalances in the gut microbial community may influence ADHD symptoms.
By adopting a nourishing diet filled with superfoods like chia, hemp, and flax seeds, fostering a diverse gut microbiota, and minimizing gut inflammation, individuals with ADHD may find potential benefits in managing their symptoms.
The gut-brain link is still in its early stages of research to determine the origin of ADHD, but today many researchers believe it is one that’s worth continuing to explore because current indicators are pointing to the development of ADHD in the gut, not the brain.