Ever heard the saying that the gut is your second brain?
We’ve all experienced feeling emotions in our stomachs. From excitement to stress and anxiety, emotions can cause us to have butterflies, feel nauseous and sometimes affect our digestion. Our brains often send signals to neurons (the cells responsible sending and receiving signals to and from the brain) in our gut, which is why we sometimes strongly feel emotions there.
There are trillions of microorganisms (also known as microbes or bugs) living in our gut. They perform various functions; from helping us to digest food to strengthening our immune systems. This network is called the ‘gut microbiome’ and it has a strong correlation to your body’s health. Recent studies have shown that changes in your microbiome can impact your mental health and can even play a role in the development of neuropsychiatric conditions, including ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder).
Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder (ADHD) is a form of neurodiversity - a difference in how the brain is hard-wired when compared to neurotypical individuals. While for some it is a disorder that severely impacts the pursuit of day to day activities, others see it as a difference in how the brain is hardwired and are able to function well on a day-to-day basis.
Research has shown that people with ADHD have a different microbe composition in their gut to people who don’t have ADHD. One study showed that when microbiota from people with ADHD gets transplanted to mice, it changes their behaviour to ADHD-like symptoms. Another study found that differences between the microbiota of babies with ADHD and those without ADHD is linked to ADHD symptoms 10 years later.
Research looking at the link between gut microbiota and ADHD can have important implications for treatment development. At the moment, the standard treatment for ADHD is largely medication and therapy. If studies continue to confirm the association between ADHD and the gut, there could be a new type of treatment for people with ADHD that could alter or prevent the development of certain microbes.
So what’s next? Further studies are needed to explain how the gut impacts the development of ADHD. Research is also needed to uncover whether people with ADHD could manage their symptoms through the use of interventions that target the gut - i.e. taking supplements, probiotics or a specific diet. The hope is that in the future, probiotics can be designed to help balance the internal bacteria of the gut, leading to better gut health and function.
It’s widely accepted that more research is needed, however there are tips you can incorporate into your lifestyle to improve gut health, which in turn will boost your physical and mental health.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution and your diet won’t change the course of your ADHD, but it can help you manage your symptoms.
Processed food and food high in sugar, saturated fats, additives and preservatives have been linked to an increased risk of ADHD symptoms. You don’t have to become a vegetarian to manage your symptoms, but including more plant based foods into your diet will definitely benefit you.
Studies have shown that a vegetarian diet rich with plant nutrients, fibre and omega-3 can help to promote a healthier gut and lower risk of ADHD symptoms. This can include coloured vegetables, walnuts, broccoli, beans, sweet potatoes, avocados, olive oil. Fermented foods are also helpful as they contain live microbes themselves - kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, miso, kombucha and yoghurt are all great sources.
Move your body
Studies have shown that exercise can have a positive impact on both ADHD symptoms and gut health. 20-30 minutes of daily movement is enough to make a difference. Mind-body exercises (like yoga) combine physical activity with a focus on your breathing which will help you to centre your mind, reduce stress and promote gut health.
Getting a good night’s sleep is so important to keep your gut health in check. It promotes the growth of more healthy bacteria which will ease the management of some ADHD symptoms.
It can be hard to sleep when you’ve got ADHD (4 out of 5 adults with ADHD suffering with a sleep disorder). Prioritising, reducing screen time before bed, keeping caffeinated drinks for the morning time and staying consistent by trying to sleep for the same hours each day can help to improve sleep quality and wellbeing
Spend time in nature
We all know connecting with nature is good for your mental health - but it’s good for the bacteria in your gut too. Being exposed to healthy microbes in nature can supplement our own, supporting and building a healthy immune system.