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There’s no evidence that the behavioral disorder ADHD is caused by diet.

However, research suggests that for some people, dietary changes can improve symptoms.

In fact, a substantial amount of research has examined how nutrition affects ADHD.

This article is an overview of these findings, discussing the foods, diets and supplements involved.

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ADHD is a complicated behavioral disorder and common treatments include therapy and medication.

What Is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral condition involving inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness (1, 2).

It’s one of the most common disorders children can have, but also affects many adults (3, 4).

The exact cause of ADHD is unclear, but research shows that genetics play a major role. Other factors, such as environmental toxicity and poor nutrition during infancy, have also been implicated (5, 6, 7, 8).

ADHD is believed to originate from low levels of dopamine and noradrenaline in the region of the brain responsible for self-regulation (9, 10, 11).

When these functions are impaired, people struggle to complete tasks, perceive time, stay focused and curb inappropriate behavior (12, 13, 14).

This, in turn, affects the ability to work, do well in school and maintain appropriate relationships, which can decrease quality of life (15, 16, 17, 18, 19).

ADHD is not considered to be a curable disorder and treatment instead aims to reduce symptoms. Behavioral therapy and medication are mostly used (20, 21).

However, dietary changes may also help manage symptoms (1, 22).

Bottom Line: ADHD is a complicated behavioral disorder and common treatments include therapy and medication. Dietary changes may also be useful.

Nutrition and Behavior

The science behind food’s effects on behavior is still quite new and controversial. However, everyone can agree that certain foods do affect behavior.

For example, caffeine can increase alertness, chocolate can affect mood and alcohol can totally change behavior (23).

Nutritional deficiencies can also affect behavior. One study concluded that taking a supplement of essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals led to a significant reduction in antisocial behavior, compared to a placebo (24).

Vitamin and mineral supplements can also reduce antisocial behavior in children and poly-unsaturated fatty acids have been shown to decrease violence (25, 26).

Since foods and supplements have been shown to influence behavior, it seems plausible that they could also affect ADHD symptoms, which are largely behavioral.

For this reason, a good amount of nutrition research has looked into the effects of foods and supplements on ADHD.

Mostly, two types of studies have been performed:

  • Supplement studies: Supplementing with one or several nutrients.
  • Elimination studies: Eliminating one or several ingredients from the diet.

Bottom Line: Studies show that certain foods and supplements do affect behavior. For these reasons, quite a few studies have looked into how nutrition affects ADHD symptoms, which are mostly behavioral.

Supplement Studies: A Research Review

Many studies have shown that children with ADHD often have unhealthy eating habits or nutrient deficiencies (27, 28, 29, 30).

This caused researchers to speculate that supplements might help improve symptoms.

Nutrition studies have looked into the effects of several supplements on ADHD symptoms, including amino acids, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids.

Amino Acid Supplements

Every cell in your body needs amino acids to function. Among other things, amino acids are used to make neurotransmitters or signaling molecules in the brain.

In particular, the amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan are used to make the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.

People with ADHD have been shown to have problems with these neurotransmitters, as well as low blood and urine levels of these amino acids (31, 32).

For this reason, a few trials have examined how amino acid supplements affect ADHD symptoms in children.

Tyrosine and s-adenosylmethionine supplements have provided mixed results, with some studies showing no effects and others showing modest benefits (33, 34, 35).

Bottom Line: Amino acid supplements for ADHD show some promise, but more studies need to be done. For now, the results are mixed.

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