A new study, the first of its kind, suggests that a Mediterranean diet may be linked to fewer diagnoses of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The study, carried out by researchers in Spain, and titled “The Mediterranean Diet and ADHD in Children and Adolescents”, reinforces the theory that there is a relationship between diet and incidence of ADHD.
Approximately 3.4% of children and adolescents worldwide are affected by ADHD, making it one of the most common neurological disorders affecting this age group. This figure may be as high as 11% of children in some Western countries. A diagnosis is more common amongst boys than girls and may persist into adulthood.
Common symptoms include short attention span, poor impulse control, inability to focus, and overactive behavior.
Children and young people with ADHD are more likely to report problems with friendships, more likely to get into trouble at school or with law enforcement, and are at increased risk of injuries and hospitalization. Young people with attention difficulties are at increased risk of being involved in motor vehicle accidents, drink driving, and traffic infringements.
Previous studies have linked dietary patterns with an increased incidence of ADHD, namely diets that include an excess of processed food, coupled with a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. Certain food additives, commonly found in processed foods, have also been implicated. Although diet has long been suspected of playing a role in the onset or exacerbation of ADHD symptoms, the specific mechanisms by which diet might influence behavior requires more investigation.
Researchers in the latest study, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that any potential relationship between diet and ADHD may actually be the result of a vicious cycle. The poor diet causes or exacerbates ADHD symptoms, and the ADHD symptoms drive the individual to over-consume foods that are high in sugar and fat when then leads to nutrient deficiency, which further aggravates symptoms.
One hundred and twenty children and adolescents took part in the study – 60 who was recently diagnosed with ADHD, but not currently receiving pharmaceutical treatment or nutrient therapies, and 60 control subjects. Those with ADHD were significantly less likely to adhere to a traditional Mediterranean diet (despite being located in Spain). There were several other interesting factors revealed by the study – those with ADHD were likely to eat at fast-food restaurants more frequently, and more likely to skip breakfast, than controls. ADHD subjects, on average, consumed higher amounts of soft drinks, sugar, and caffeine than control subjects.
The Mediterranean diet is the traditional diet in Mediterranean countries, characterized by high consumption of fruits, vegetables, and olive oil, and moderate consumption of lean sources of protein, such as chicken or fish. The diet, noticeably low in refined sugars or oils, and other processed foods, has been linked to other health benefits, such as the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity.
Current intervention strategies for ADHD generally involve behavior therapy, psychological support or counseling, and medication for severe cases. Poor dietary habits in children and adolescents can also lead to nutrient deficiencies, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, iron, and zinc, during a crucial period of growth and development. These nutrients, often lacking from processed or “fast” foods, are essential for healthy cognitive and physical development, and necessary for many vital biochemical reactions.
This latest research may help to define clear dietary guidelines to improve outcomes for young people with ADHD and their families.