ADHD is a complex thing. As awareness and research surrounding ADHD–attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—continues to advance, it seems as if we’re learning something new about it every day. In recent years, a growing mountain of research has suggested a particularly important link between gut health and mental health: turns out, the trillions of bacteria in your gut have a strong influence on mental health, and may even play a part in the development of neuropsychiatric conditions such as autism and ADHD.
This has several implications for ADHD treatments and the high comorbidity rate of gastrointestinal disorders with ADHD, so let’s dig in.
According to a review published in the January 2021 issue of Nutrients, the microbes and germs in your stomach, dubbed the gut microbiome, influence your mental health via the gut-brain axis, a communication network of sorts connecting the gut, brain, and nervous system. While research is still limited about ADHD’s relationship with gut health specifically, experts do know that we ADHDers have a different composition of gut bacteria than people without the condition. So, what does that mean for us?
Well, the differences in our gut makeup are likely the reason why an alarming number of ADHDers suffer from a variety of gastro disorders, which can range from irritable bowel syndrome to Crohn’s disease. That may be why some treatments for ADHD just fall flat–certain routines and organization journals may work for some, but for those who have a particularly unhealthy gut, stomach-targeted treatment may be a future solution to alleviate the more severe symptoms of ADHD. While the conclusion of currently ongoing studies is needed to determine whether our gut bacteria are the cause of ADHD in the first place, the link between stomach and brain has been pretty well established.
Further research is also needed to see whether interventions that alter the gut microbiome— probiotics, supplements, and yogurts that contain live beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms—can ADHDers manage our symptoms. Currently, we don’t have enough information, according to researcher Cassidy-Bushrow.
“When we understand that better, we will be better able to potentially design probiotics that can influence the gut microbiome to have a healthier composition and thus function,” she explains.
What Can I Do To Better My Gut Health?
While the science behind all of this is still developing, there are a few ways that ADHDers can potentially ease their gut problems, and subsequently their ADHD symptoms.
- Get More Sleep – Sleep not only helps with problems like impulsivity and hyperactivity, but it can actually help our stomach, too. Good sleep is associated with more diverse healthy bacteria and other microorganisms in your gut, according to research published in October 2019 in PLoS One.
- Eat a Plant-Rich Diet – Eating plenty of greens has been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD and promote a healthier gut microbiome, so make sure to get enough! If standard vegetable side dishes don’t do it for you, look into more fun recipes like roasted vegetable-infused tomato sauce for your spaghetti, or air-fried vegetable “fries”.
- Spend Time Outdoors – If you have regular access to nature, take advantage of it–your ADHD and gut will thank you for it. Says one Dr. Mazmanian, a medical microbiologist at Pasadena’s California Institute of Technology, “Some scientific theories posit that greater contact with environmental microbes can supplement our own protective microbiota, supporting healthy immune function and helping to build adaptive immunity.”