Med diet approach could help children with ADHD: Study

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The Mediterranean diet places an emphasis on nutrient-rich foods such as fruit, veg, fish, olive oil and low consumption of pork and beef. ©iStock
The Mediterranean diet places an emphasis on nutrient-rich foods such as fruit, veg, fish, olive oil and low consumption of pork and beef. ©iStock

Related tags: Mediterranean diet, Nutrition

Sticking to foods that typically make up the Mediterranean diet may prove to be an effective approach in managing ADHD, a Spanish team has deduced. 

Investigations looking into the relationship between the diet and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children found a low adherence might play a role in the condition’s development.

The data also supported the theory that ‘specific nutrients’ were just one piece of the jigsaw.  The ‘whole diet’ was considered a critical aspect in controlling the onset of ADHD.

“This new research doesn't establish a cause-effect relation between dietary patterns and ADHD,” ​said María Izquierdo Pulido, member of The Spanish Biomedical Research Centre in Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition (CIBERobn) at the Carlos III Health Institute.

“But it can help determining specific dietary strategies to improve the quality of life for both the affected patients and their families."

No causality established

school lunch children education
ADHD diagnosis and treatment rates increased dramatically in Europe. In Germany, prescription ADHD drugs increased from 10 million daily doses in 1998 to 53 million in 2008. ©iStock

While causality was not established, there was enough evidence to suggest the relationship between an unhealthy diet and ADHD could be an example of reverse causation.

"We don't know if these kids suffer from ADHD due an unhealthy diet,” ​said José Ángel Alda, psychiatrist at Sant Joan de Déu University Hospital, “or if the disorder makes them to eat an excess of fat and sugar to balance their impulsiveness or emotional distress.”

“We believe this is a vicious circle: the impulsiveness of children with ADHD makes them to eat unhealthily; therefore they don't eat the nutrients they need and it all worsens their symptoms.”

Tackling ADHD via a nutritional route has been the subject of many a study​ with the Mediterranean diet implicated in Alzheimer's disease and slower cognitive decline.

The science points to the high proportion of nutrient-rich components of the diet such as olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits, and vegetables, fish, dairy and wine.

The inclusion of fish, particularly those high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), is of great interest as its role in neurological disorder onset has achieved a certain degree of success, as one review​ has concluded.

Another review​provided proof of a small effect when the diet was supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Study details

In the study, 120 children and adolescents were enrolled in a sex- and age-matched case-control study. 60 of these subjects had been newly diagnosed with ADHD, while 60 were enrolled as controls.

Energy, dietary intake, adherence to a Mediterranean diet, and familial background were recorded.

Statistical analysis was used to determine associations between the adherence to a Mediterranean diet and ADHD.

Along with the link between the Mediterranean diet and ADHD diagnosis, the team also found a lower frequency of fruit, vegetables, pasta, and rice consumption and higher frequency of skipping breakfast and eating at fast-food restaurants were associated with ADHD diagnosis.

A higher prevalence of ADHD diagnosis was noticed in children, who excessively ate sugar, candy, cola beverages, and non-cola soft drinks and low consumption of fatty fish.

The researchers did not say that the diet could protect against ADHD but they did recommend that children and adolescents need a healthy diet, especially at such a crucial time in their mental and physical development.

Previous studies have linked diets high in processed food and low in fruit and vegetables as heightening the chances of an ADHD diagnosis.

Unbalanced dietary patterns can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients such as iron, zinc and magnesium hindering cognitive and physical growth and seemingly influencing the causes of ADHD.

Source: Pediatrics

Published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-2027

“The Mediterranean Diet and ADHD in Children and Adolescents.”

Authors: Alejandra Ríos-Hernández, José Alda, Andreu Farran-Codina, Estrella Ferreira-García, Maria Izquierdo-Pulido

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