In recent years, a number of studies have shown that the trillions of bacteria and other microbes parked in your intestinal tract have a strong impact on your mental health and may even play a significant role in the development of neuropsychiatric conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Those microbes in your belly—which scientists call the gut microbiome—affect your mental health through the gut-brain axis, a communication network connecting the gut, brain, and nervous system, according to a review published in January 2021 c nutrients.
If ongoing studies confirm the link between gut bacteria and ADHD, new treatments that alter, eliminate or prevent the growth of certain microbes in the gut may become available to people with ADHD, which affects nearly 7.2 percent of children and 3.4 percent by Adults Around the World, trans Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).
Currently the standard treatments for ADHD include medication and therapy, he says Aya Osman, Ph.Dpostdoctoral fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who studies the relationship between the gut microbiome and neuropsychiatric disorders.
Although research has a long way to go, experts have already made some key discoveries about this connection.
ADHD and gut microbes: What researchers know so far
Studies show that people with ADHD have a different composition of bacteria and other microorganisms in their gut than people who do not have the condition.
“Some of the most compelling evidence comes from studies in which the gut microbiome of people with ADHD was transferred to mice, and those mice then showed behavioral and brain changes compared to mice that received a gut microbiome from [people without ADHD],” says Andrea E. Cassidy-Bushrow, Ph.Dsenior scientist at Henry Ford Health in Detroit, who has studied the link between the gut microbiome and ADHD.
One such i study published in April 2020 in Microbiomein which microorganisms from the intestinal tracts of people with and without ADHD were transplanted into mice, found that mice that received microbiota from people with ADHD experienced changes in brain areas “that were previously reported to be altered in several neurodevelopmental disorders,” the researchers wrote.
In another study, published in April 2022 c Pediatric research, Dr. Cassidy-Bushrow and her colleagues examined the gut microbiota of 314 infants using stool samples collected when the infants were 1 and 6 months old. After 59 of the children had been diagnosed with ADHD by age 10, their stool samples were re-examined. The researchers found that distinct differences in the gut microbiome of children with ADHD were evident when they were infants compared to children without ADHD.
“Our study showed that these gut microbiome differences may begin in infancy, with 10-year-old children with and without a diagnosis of ADHD having different gut microbiomes in the first 6 months of life,” says Cassidy-Bushrow.
What questions still need answers?
“Larger studies are needed … to hypothesize whether — and perhaps how — the gut microbiome influences disease development,” says Dr. Sarkis Mazmaniana medical microbiologist at the Cal Institute of Technology in Pasadena and an advisor to Seed Health, a company that manufactures live biotherapeutics.
Future research is also needed to shed light on whether interventions that alter the gut microbiome – such as probiotics, supplements, and certain foods, such as yogurt, that contain live beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms—can help people with ADHD manage their symptoms. We don’t have enough information right now, says Cassidy-Bushrow.
“When we understand this better, we will be better able to potentially design probiotics that can influence the gut microbiome to have a healthier composition and therefore function,” she explains.
4 ways people with ADHD can improve their gut health
Although more evidence is needed for a link between the gut microbiome and ADHD, she is it’s possible to improve the health of your gut microbiome now, which in turn will improve your overall mental and physical health. After consulting with your doctor, take the following steps.
1. Eat a plant-rich diet
Although no diet can change the course of ADHD, certain eating patterns can make managing your symptoms easier.
For example, a study of nearly 15,000 preschool children in China, published in the November 2018 issue European Journal of Clinical Nutritionmainly related to vegetarian diet with a lower risk of ADHD symptoms, while processed foods, such as ready meals, many breakfast cereals and hot dogsare associated with an increased risk of ADHD symptoms.
Likewise, a review published in the March 2022 issue Nutritional science and human health revealed that vegetarian diets promote a healthier gut microbiome than diets containing meat.
Don’t want to go vegetarian? According to Dr. Mazmanian, it is not necessary. Simply including more plant foods in your daily diet will improve your gut health. “Just as there is no one universally healthy microbiome, there is no universally ‘perfect’ diet,” he explains.
Key nutrients to include:
- Diverse sources of plant fiber and polyphenols (aka good-for-you compounds in plants), such as colorful vegetables, walnuts, pomegranates, berries and green tea
- Fibers and microbiome-friendly carbohydrates, such as those in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beans, and sweet potatoes
- Omega-3 and monounsaturated fatty acids from foods such as salmon, sardines, avocados and olive oil
- In general, minimally processed foods that are low in sugar, Saturated fatpreservatives and food additives
2. Prioritize your sleep
It’s probably no surprise that adequate z’s control ADHD symptoms—lack of sleep can worsen ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity and impulsivity, according to CHAD. But did you know that sleep can also be crucial for gut health? Good sleep is associated with a greater variety of healthy bacteria and other microorganisms in the gut, according to research published in October 2019 PLoS One.
The problem is that people with ADHD tend not to get enough sleep. CHADD estimates that about three out of four children and teens and four out of five adults with ADHD have a sleep disorder.
To enjoy better sleep every night:
- Aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
- To be avoided caffeine late afternoon or evening.
- Turn off your phone and other electronics before bed.
- Try to keep your bedroom temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, which many doctors recommend as the ideal temperature for comfortable sleep, according to Basis for sleep.
If you still have trouble sleeping, be sure to let your doctor know. Sleep disorders are treatable health conditions.
3. Get enough exercise
Moderate to intense aerobic exercise may ease ADHD symptoms in children and teens, according to a review of 30 studies published in the October 2017 issue Complementary therapies in medicine. It also has a positive effect on the composition of the gut microbiome, according to a review published in the April 2019 issue Exercise and Sports Science Reviews.
How much exercise is enough to make a difference? Less than 20 to 30 minutes a day, say CHAD experts. Types of aerobic exercise you can try, with your doctor’s approval, include:
4. Spend time outdoors
Being in nature is good for both mental health and your gut microbiome, Mazmanian says. “Some scientific theories suggest that greater exposure to environmental microbes may supplement our own protective microbiota, supporting healthy immune function and helping to build adaptive immunity [the ability of the immune system to fight off harmful bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens]”, he explains.
Research published in December 2020 in Scientific reports found that exposure to bacteria in nature improves both gut health and behavior among preschoolers. Another study, published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Beingfound that regular time spent in nature and green spaces reduced symptom severity among children with ADHD.