I HAVE ADHD PODCAST - Episode #264

May 21, 2024

Feeding the Mind: Debunking the Diet-Only ADHD Management Myth

Today we delve deep into the complex and often misunderstood relationship between diet and ADHD symptoms. I’m bringing you a topic that’s close to my heart, sparked by my own journey and curiosity about the potential of nutrition in managing ADHD. But, as we’ll explore, it’s not as straightforward as it may seem.

I’ve always been fascinated, and admittedly a bit skeptical, about how what we eat impacts our mental health, especially when it comes to ADHD. With a rise in functional medicine practitioners advocating for diet as a panacea, I felt compelled to take a closer look. Can dietary changes alone truly manage ADHD without medication? It’s a question that many of us grappling with ADHD have pondered.

From personal experience, I can tell you that managing a strict diet can be a Herculean task for someone with ADHD. We’re talking about a condition that inherently makes planning, prioritizing, and resisting impulses more challenging. Yet, there’s this growing narrative suggesting that if we just ate the right foods, we could overcome these hurdles on our own.

But what does the research say? In today’s episode, we’ve dug into the studies and found a sobering lack of substantial evidence supporting the idea that diet alone can significantly alter ADHD outcomes. While no one denies the benefits of improved nutrition on overall health, suggesting it as a standalone solution for managing severe ADHD is not only misleading but potentially harmful.

The conversation around diet and ADHD doesn’t stop with us adults. There’s immense pressure on pregnant mothers with ADHD, bombarded with claims about how their diet could impact their child’s health and potential ADHD. It’s a heavy burden, rooted in the oversimplification of ADHD’s causes. Today, we debunk some of these myths, emphasizing ADHD’s complexity and how it’s shaped by a tapestry of genetic and environmental factors.

Another critical issue we tackle is the widespread misinformation about ADHD medication. It’s alarming how non-medical professionals feel emboldened to make broad claims, contributing to the stigma and confusion surrounding these evidence-based treatments. Despite our critique of oversimplified solutions, we acknowledge the undeniable role of a healthy diet in enhancing well-being. But to suggest it can ‘cure’ ADHD? That’s where we draw the line.

As we wrap up today’s episode, I want to remind everyone that while diet is important, managing ADHD is a multifaceted journey. This is why I’m excited to introduce our coaching membership program FOCUSED designed for adults with ADHD. Our program recognizes the value of a comprehensive approach, incorporating medication, lifestyle changes, and personalized support to navigate the complexities of ADHD together.

Here is the study that I mention in this episode: Nutrition in the Management of ADHD: A Review of Recent Research

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Kristen Carder

Welcome to the I have ADHD podcast, where it’s all about education, encouragement and coaching for adults with ADHD. I’m your host, Kristen Carter and I have ADHD. Let’s chat about the frustrations, humor and challenges of adulting relationships working and achieving with this neurodevelopmental disorder. I’ll help you understand your unique brain. Unlock your potential and move from point A to point B. Hey, what’s up? This is Kristen Carter and you are listening to the I have ADHD podcast, and medicated. I’m caffeinated. I am regulated and I’m ready to roll.

Hi, hi. Hi, how are you? Welcome to the show. So glad you are here with me. Thank you for pressing play on this podcast. I can picture you in your car on the way to work or running, or doing your dishes or folding your laundry or just sitting maybe outside in the sunshine. And I’m just so glad that you’ve got me in your ears and that we get to hang out today we’re going to talk about weather diet impacts ADHD symptoms, can you quote unquote cure your ADHD with your diet? Is it worth it? Uh, can you manage ADHD without medication? By just changing your diet, we’re gonna go into it today. And the reason why we’re talking about this today is hilarious. I post something to Instagram that I thought was really funny. And people freaked out, all freaked out. And listen, if you don’t have a sense of humor, you probably shouldn’t be following me on Instagram, I just want to throw that out there like I am not going to hold back when it comes to just kind of poking fun, and being silly, and maybe just saying some things that are over the line.

I just think that’s funny and fun. And I like it when other people do that. That’s the kind of content that makes me chuckle That makes me get into it. And so like if that’s not for you, that’s okay. Listen to this podcast. Don’t follow me on Instagram. But I want to tell you about the real because this is what sparked today’s conversation. So the copy or like what the real said was when people tell me they just manage their ADHD through diet and exercise and are unwilling to try medication. Unwilling to try medication. So here is the audio, I think it’s hysterical. I’m gonna play for you.

When you see and realize what you missed out on, you aren’t going to

okay, this is supposed to be funny. Like, listen, if you’ve been trying to manage your ADHD without medication, and then all of a sudden you give medication a try your it is very likely, statistically speaking, anecdotally speaking, it is very likely that you’re going to be like, Oh, M F G, I cannot believe how much has changed with medication and that it was just a funny, fun, supposed to increase engagement real? And let me tell you, it did increase engagement because some people freaked out some people freaked out. So it really got me thinking, okay, can ADHD be managed with diet? With exercise?

I can’t talk about both diet and exercise in one podcast is just too overwhelming. It’s too much for me to do. So I really focused this week on researching whether or not diet actually does improve ADHD symptoms. So can I improve my diet and improve my ADHD symptoms? Is it worth it? Is it something that, you know, that is a viable solution, I know that there are people out there and maybe this is you that have tried a bunch of different medications, they don’t feel good in your body, you don’t like the way it makes you feel. The benefits do not outweigh the cost to you in terms of side effects that is so valid. And honestly, that you that I was talking to, I was just trying to poke a little bit of fun at people who maybe are like on the diet and exercise train, who are just like it’s amazing. I it’s as if I don’t even have ADHD anymore.

And I’m gonna get into it because I want to tell you right off the bat, if you are able, if you’re able to summon the executive function that it takes to eat a clean or a high Whole Foods content diet, if you’re able to adhere to some sort of like Mediterranean diet or you know, I don’t know low foods diet or just like nuts like oh I eat or nuts or Whatever if you’re able to muster the executive function that it requires to eat a very restrictive diet do you actually have ADHD? I’m just gonna ask, like, do you if you’re able, without medication to muster to gather the executive function required to plan and prioritize, and shop and organize and cook, and not be swayed by your impulsive tendencies and not be distracted by other foods and you don’t have a high propensity for reaching for the carbohydrates, and the sugars, which are what our ADHD brain craves, because we lack dopamine, if you’re able to muster that executive function without medication? Do you even have any HD?

I would just really, really question it. Like, without medication, I just I know I’m ranting on this, okay, listen to the tone of my voice. He go crazy. I know I’m ranting on this, but like, there’s so much involved, I have tried it. I went to a functional medical practitioner, functional medicine practitioner, and you know, did all the woowoo testing. And I apparently had a parasite. And I had all of these deficiencies. And she gave me all of these supplements and it cost $700 A month. So just gonna throw that out there. The privilege required the privilege required to do that huge. I tried to keep a diet record, you know, a record of what I ate couldn’t do it. I tried to eliminate the things that she asked me, Oh, you shouldn’t be eating gluten. No, you shouldn’t do that. She had all of these things that I should eliminate. And I was just like, lady, I can’t do it. I tried so hard. But the executive function required to eat in that way without a personal chef without a personal shopper without a husband who was just going to be like, Oh, babe, don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of all of your food needs for you. I literally could not do it. She also told me that ADHD medication causes seizures.

She was like, Oh my gosh, you should not be taking that ADHD medication causes seizures. And I was like, Oh my gosh, it does. I should never take any TD meds again. And then I researched it. I was like, Girl you crazy? Like, why do people say these crazy? Why do people say these crazy things. So I just want you to know that like, I have tried to go that route of managing my ADHD with diet. And so maybe this entire episode is just projection and a rant because I couldn’t do it. Maybe that’s that maybe that’s what this is. But for what it’s worth, this is what you’re getting, because I am bitter that I couldn’t do it. And I am bitter that there are people out there on Instagram, saying like, Oh my gosh, like ADHD medication is really bad for you. It has long term negative effects, not not researched. Not that is not based in any sort of research. And you should just manage it with diet. Oh, okay, thanks. I’ll just get right on that. I’ll just go find the money, the time, the energy the executive function required to improve my diet. Now. i This is also I’m also like activated because I did interview a functional medical practitioner and listen, y’all if you are one of those, I love you.

Thank you for the work that you do. I still take my kiddo to a functional medicine, medicine medicine practitioner, I’m not against it, I still, I still give them my money. And I still take their supplements and do the things when traditional medicine is just not working. Okay. But I interviewed her thinking that that would be a good idea. And it wasn’t. And she just said, so many things. That made me feel like oh, you don’t get me at all. So one of the things I said was like, I know that fiber is really important. And I’ve been taking a fiber supplement. And it’s I’ve seen like a really marked difference in just the way that I feel. And I was saying it like, look at me, I really feel like I’m improving my nutrition and my health. And she just like almost with a drip of disdain was like I would never recommend taking a fiber supplement. You need to get your fiber through Whole Foods. I looked her in the face and said, Well, I’m never going to do that. I’m never going to get all of the required are nutrients from Whole Foods, I don’t even like Whole Foods, I can’t even stomach to eat vegetables. They’re disgusting. I’m sorry, I don’t like them. I have ADHD, I also have a measure of like defiance or some sort of like demand avoidance, or I’m just like, I don’t want to just, I’m going to drink my ag one every morning, I’m going to put a scoop of fiber supplement in there, and I am going to choke it down for 30 seconds and move on with my life and then eat what I want to eat. And sometimes that includes vegetables or a salad or something. But for the most part, Neil, Neil, I’m sorry.

I just I am so annoyed with people who make it sound easy, like, oh, all you have to do is change your diet. Oh, okay. Is that all I have to do? Things? I never even thought about that. Like, as if there is not so much information about, you know, improved health with diet, like if it were easy, I would totally do it. If it came naturally to me, I would totally do it. If it didn’t require massive amounts of executive function, I would totally do it. But guess what, I am an adult with ADHD I have a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs my ability to adult, it impairs my ability to plan, prioritize, organize, remember, self reflect, control my emotions, when it comes to not eating the thing that I want to eat? Like, all of that goes into whether or not I can sit down and eat a salad versus eat a hamburger? I’m going to choose actually, it’s going to be a cheeseburger, every single time, every single time. Now, is this a character flaw? Maybe. Maybe this is just a character flaw. Maybe I did something to coach myself on the fact that I just don’t want to. But also, maybe, and this is we’re going to get into the research. And a big piece of the research says that people with ADHD do not adhere to healthy diets. That is a large piece of the research that we’re going to be talking about today. People with ADHD do not want to adhere to a healthy diet. There is a low compliance rate for those with ADHD like yeah, no, I couldn’t told you that myself. Why do we even have to study that, but I guess we need the data. Okay.

It’s time for me to shout out the only sponsor of the I have ADHD podcast, which is ag one. Now, it’s important to me that the supplements that I take are the highest quality. And that’s why for years, like going on two years, I’ve been drinking ag one, ag one is constantly searching for how to do things better, and like same. You know, like, I want to do things better, too. And they’re at 52 iterations of their formula and counting. That’s a lot. That’s so impressive. Their team is always trying to find better ways to source and test and they aim to find the best quality ingredients available. I know that I can trust what’s in every scoop of ag one because ag one is listen to this. And NSF Certified for Sport, which I looked it up I did a Google because I was like what does this mean? It’s one of the most rigorous independent quality and safety certification programs in the supplement industry. It’s really impressive. Now taking care of my health as an adult with ADHD has always been complicated. It’s just hard. I’ve always struggled with it, but ag one simplifies it by covering my nutritional bases and setting me up for success in just 60 seconds. And some days it’s even less than 60 seconds like it is fast and easy. Ag ones ingredients are heavily researched for efficacy and quality and I love that every scoop also contains prebiotics, probiotics and digestive enzymes for gut support, which we all know is important for the ADHD brain. Now I’ve partnered with ag one for so long, and they’re the only sponsor that I’ve allowed on this podcast because they make such a high quality product that I genuinely do not mind drinking every day. And when I say every day your girl has been drinking it every day I even took the travel packs with me on vacation recently and was able to support my health while away eating fast food every day but like at least I had my ag one. So if you want to replace your multivitamin and more, start with ag one. Try ag one and get a free one year supply of vitamin d3 k two and five free ag one travel packs with your first subscription I’m at drink, ag one.com/i have ADHD, that’s drink ag one.com/i have ADHD, check it out. Okay, I sense that either you are screaming along with me, or you totally hate me. And listen, if you hate me, I just, I don’t hate you back. Just so you know, I do not hate you back, you’re allowed to disagree. You’re allowed to do whatever works for you, please, if you are like, Hey, I’ve been able to manage my symptoms with XYZ, that’s great, you do whatever works for you. But for those of us who have pretty severe ADHD, I can promise you that without medication, the diet and exercise tropes are just not gonna work for us, okay, it’s not gonna be a thing. It’s not gonna, it’s not gonna be a thing. Unless we have the money to hire someone to do it for us, and essentially like to hire someone to buy your groceries, prep your meals, essentially, like feed you. If you have the money to do that. Amazing. Do it. I know it will make a difference. And there is some evidence to show that improved diet does improve symptoms in a small way. And so yeah, it’s certainly not going to hurt, it is certainly not going to hurt. But for those of us who are just living normal lives, and like I’m, I’m a person of privilege, I will say that, but I’m not hiring a personal chef. I am not that. I’m not like, like I’m successful, but like, not that successful. You’re. So there’s a level that you’ve kind of have to reach to be able to do all of these things. And if you can do that amazing. Amazing for you. I’m so happy for you. That is not something that I’m able to do. Oh, I’m feeling it. I am so feeling it. Okay, let’s move into more of like the research based part of the program. That was the rant. Y’all endured a rant. I hope it was entertaining. But it was cathartic for me. So that was the rant. Now we’re gonna move on to the research. So I want to address the research regarding nutrition in the management of ADHD. I’ve ranted for a long time, and I hope you loved it. If you are my people, you love my rants. If you’re not my people, and you hated it, I don’t hate you back. I want to take a couple minutes though, to assess the research regarding nutrition. And whether or not it can help to manage our ADHD symptoms. There’s a couple of things I want to say. First of all, I am going to look at one article in particular called nutrition in the management of ADHD, a review of recent research, it was published July 28 2023. The reason why I’m looking at this specifically is because I don’t have the time and capacity to go ahead and pull up every single study and read it. And this is just a comprehensive overview of lots of different studies. And so in this article, which I will link in the show notes, in this article, it names a ton of studies and they do a comprehensive overview. I feel compelled to acknowledge that I’m just a girl read and research. Okay. And for those of you academics out there, you have a specific way of looking at the research. And I honor you and I love you. And I just want to let you know that I know you’re better at this than I am. I just feel compelled to say you are way better at this than I am if you are in academia, and if you have been studying how to read research for years and years, that is not my expertise. I’m just girl reading research, okay. And I’ve read a lot of studies over the last, you know, five to 10 years. And I’m going to really do my best to distill it down, make it palatable and help just the lay person with ADHD to understand and interpret the data. What’s really important for me to relay right off the bat is that every single study mentioned was done in children. It’s so annoying. As adults with ADHD really get the raw end of the deal. There is just not much research yet on adult ADHD. Side note here. It wasn’t until the 1990s that ADHD was a recognizable diagnosis in adults. So that is fairly new. We’re only talking 35 ish years that ADHD has been a recognizable diagnosis in adults. So we don’t have much research on this phenomenon. In adults, okay, so all of the studies mentioned were done in kids. And they’re all pretty small. And when I say pretty small, I’m talking 30 to 300. Children is like the norm. There are a couple studies mentioned that have a couple of 1000 kids, but most of them are so tiny under 1000 children study. Okay, so here’s where we’re going to start, I’m going to read you excerpts from this article, which remember is referencing different studies. Again, I’m going to link it in the show notes. If you want to go and like look at each individual study, and dive deeper into it. Great, please do it. We’re going to start here. No associations were observed between child diet quality, and ADHD symptoms or diagnosis, just right off the bat. We’re just gonna start there. Right off the bat, no associations were observed between child’s diet quality and ADHD symptoms or diagnosis. In a study from the Netherlands, there are findings that suggest that children presenting with more ADHD symptoms may be at an increased risk of an unhealthy diet. But that overall diet quality does not necessarily affect the risk of ADHD. This is what I was saying at the beginning. If you have ADHD, you’re going to struggle to eat healthy. And that is what the research is showing us right.

Children presenting with more ADHD symptoms may be at an increased risk of an unhealthy diet 100% can confirm but overall diet quality does not affect the risk of ADHD huge. I also want to mention that because we lack dopamine our brain craves it, which means that we are going to likely be pulled towards sugar and carbs. And here is what some of the research says a sweet dietary pattern was found to be associated with an increased risk of attention deficit, hyperactivity and ADHD symptoms. A food item analysis of this dietary pattern showed that consumption scores for chocolate chips and fruit jams correlated positively with attention deficit, hyperactivity and ADHD symptoms. In contrast, a vegetable dietary pattern was associated with reduced risk of ADHD symptoms. So again, what this is showing is people with ADHD are drawn to sweets are drawn to chips are drawn to fruit jams. I mean, who doesn’t love a good fruit jam? But remember, correlation does not equal causation. So the fact that, you know, an increased risk of symptoms, and sweets go together does not necessarily mean that the sweets are actually the cause of ADHD. Okay? Do you remember like in the late 90s, early 2000s, or whenever it was that everyone was super concerned about food dye, like so many, so many articles, books, all of the things food dye, it causes like food coloring, it causes ADHD symptoms, blah, blah, blah. So in this article regarding food coloring, there is no convincing evidence of the efficacy of food color elimination in the treatment of ADHD. So parents don’t You don’t you don’t need to worry about it. It’s all good. Here’s another excerpt. One of the findings of observational studies suggest a role of dietary patterns in the management of ADHD. The designs of these studies are unable to establish a causal relationship between ADHD and diet. associations between a low prevalence of ADHD and adherence to healthy dietary patterns do not necessarily imply protective effects of the foods consumed in childhood. For example, the mothers of children consuming healthy diets may also have eaten healthy foods during pregnancy and have therefore provided their offspring with essential nutritional compounds during critical phases of brain development. The associations observed between ADHD risk and dietary habits may also be explained by reverse causation with ADHD behaviors leading to a preference for certain foods. Furthermore, associations between diet and ADHD may be caused by other possibly causal factors, which were not assessed. For example, lifestyle factors such as physical activity may correlate with dietary habits and maybe more important factors in ADHD symptomology children with ADHD. This is hysterical listen to this line. Children with ADHD may benefit from generally improved lifestyle choices. Oh, wow, thanks. I so appreciate you summarizing the data with This statement children with ADHD may benefit from generally improved lifestyle choices. Yeah, children with out ADHD would also probably benefit from generally improved lifestyle choices. Wouldn’t we all benefit whether you have a mental health condition or not, we’re all going to benefit from generally improved lifestyle choices. This does not mean that it’s going to treat your ADHD that it’s going to stop you from getting ADHD or, or that it’s going to be a replacement for medication. Hello, hello. Okay. What I found super interesting in these studies is that when it comes to diet, possibly improving ADHD symptoms, it actually seems to be the diet of the pregnant mother, that matters the most regarding the impact on the child’s predisposition to show ADHD symptoms, which is fascinating to me. But it makes sense as a human is developing in the womb as their brain is developing, the better the nutrients, the better the environment, probably the lower stress the lower cortisol, like, if you’re doesn’t a loving, wonderful, perfect environment, and you’re able to eat whole foods, and just totally clean, it makes sense that that would be more likely for a brain to develop, typically. So here is an excerpt here. And I quote on the basis of 77,768 Mother Child pairs eligible for studying ADHD diagnosis, and 37,787 pairs for ADHD symptoms, better overall, maternal diet quality during pregnancy was found to be associated with a small reduction in the ADHD symptom score at eight years. And the lower risk for ADHD diagnosis. That is a large study. That is the only study listed in this entire article. That is huge. And so that is promising. What I want to say about that, though, is like, wow, this, to me feels like a lot of pressure for ADHD mothers that are pregnant. It feels like pressure to me. And then it also feels like an opportunity for self blame. So I’m an ADHD mother, I birthed three children, two of them have been diagnosed with ADHD. Is that my fault? Because I didn’t eat enough, you know, nutrient rich food when I was pregnant with them. So that one, like the evidence is there. But it feels yucky. And sometimes that’s just the way it is. Sometimes we just have to accept that that’s the truth. I do not blame myself for my children’s ADHD diagnoses. Other than to be like, yeah, it’s hereditary. I have a parent who was diagnosed with it. I was diagnosed with it. I have two children that are diagnosed with it. That makes sense. Yeah, I don’t know how that sits with you. But I just want to hold your close. If, if that was tough for you, I posted this article nutrition in the management of ADHD, a review of recent research, I posted that in our Slack community because I know I have a lot of nerds on my side, or in my corner in our focus, ADHD, Slack community. And one of my favorite people in the whole world. Dominique is an academic and she broke down this information for me in such a wonderful way I so appreciated it. And I want to quote her on one of the paragraphs because it was really helpful. She says, nutrition is incredibly complex and individualized in ways that we’re only beginning to understand. Each of us have our own genetics which affect how our bodies absorb process, store and manage each nutrient. We’re only scratching the surface of this knowledge at this point. These genetics then interact with other factors like structure of our digestive system, any damage from infections, toxins, injuries, autoimmune conditions, medications, etc, which affect how we intake and absorb macro and micro nutrients. These things change over time in ways that are largely hidden to us and our digestion is not just about us, but also the colonies of bacteria that live in our gut and help us process the nutrients that we intake. Oh, and some nutrients cancel out others anti nutrients or enhance each other but only in certain doses and then she puts emojis like she’s melting because like it’s just too confusing. And I think to her point, like we can’t just say oh, just improve your diet and blanket statement everyone is going to have this quote unquote magical diet that we can just follow to improve symptoms. Now I do want to let you know if there is a little evidence that do improve symptoms. There’s evidence that adherence to a Mediterranean diet containing vegetables like Gunes, nuts, fruits, grains and fish may improve ADHD symptoms slightly. So if you want to give a Mediterranean diet a try, go for it. There is also some evidence to show that an increase in vegetable protein may improve ADHD symptoms slightly. So if you want to give that a try, for sure, give it a go. It is never going to hurt you to improve your diet. Please do not hear me say, don’t even bother. It’s not worth it. This is stupid. Please don’t hear me say that. Improve your diet, do it. It’s like that’s going to make your life better. Whether you’re medicated or not, whether you have ADHD or not improving your diet is always going to be a net positive for you. What I want to push back against is you don’t need the idea that maybe you don’t need medication, you just need to improve your diet. That my friend is some bonafide BS. Okay, that is some bonafide BS. Again,

I’m going to just give a little cushion and a little caveat of like, I know there are those of you out there that have tried medication and it wasn’t a good fit for you. I see you. I validate you. This is not directed at you. Please hear me say that this is directed at the idea that in general, people with ADHD are just pill pushers who need to get off meds and improve their lifestyle and make better lifestyle choices as if it were that easy, as if that’s going to improve symptoms as if ADHD is as simple as I can solve it with my diet. Okay, that’s what I’m pushing back against. Let’s all improve our diets. Let’s all let’s all do it. And like I know I’ve said that, like I don’t care I care. I’m, I’m feeling a type of way about the fact that how hard it is. But I definitely do care. I want to be a healthy human. I also want to not be pressured into managing my ADHD in a way that just isn’t compatible with my brain. And so let’s all just allow each other to treat our ADHD the way that we choose. And let’s be cognizant of the research that says like, hey, sure, healthy improving your health is going to be a good thing for you. But it’s not a cure for ADHD. It also does not cause ADHD if your diet is poor on chi. All right, my love’s I hope you liked. I hope you enjoyed the ride. Because this certainly was a ride. I’m going to talk to you next week. A few years ago, I went looking for help. I wanted to find someone to teach me how to feel better about myself and to help me improve my organization productivity time management, emotional regulation. You know all the things that we adults with ADHD struggle with, I couldn’t find anything. So I researched and I studied and I hired coaches and I figured it out. And then I created focused for you. Focus is my monthly coaching membership where I teach educated professional adults how to accept their ADHD brain and hijack their ability to get stuff done. Hundreds of people from all over the world are already benefiting from this program and I’m confident that you will to go to Ihaveadhd.com/focused for all details.

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