As a parent of an ADHD child I know you are willing to try just about anything if it will help.

 I have friends and acquaintances who swear that their children’s ADHD symptoms were improved by a myriad of different approaches – diets, systems, meditation, exercise, essential oils, supplements, magic… oh, wait. With all of these stories and people emphatically telling you, “you just have to try…,” it’s hard to know what is actually worth trying.

 One of my goals on this site is to point you in the direction of reputable sources and information so that you can make educated decisions about what to try and what to ignore. I know that you’ve got a thousand things on your plate, and the last thing you need is to spend your time, money and emotional energy trying treatments and protocols that don’t give you much value.

So, let’s get on with it! In this post — What does the GUT have to do with your child’s ADHD?

What We Know About ADHD and Gut Health

Science is pretty clear. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees: There is a strong connection between brain function, behavior, and the digestive system. Scientists have specifically drawn a connection between gut health and many disorders, including autism and ADHD.

 This topic is so complex that it’s impossible to get into all of the “science” behind what is known about this connection in just one blog post, so I’ve shared just a few nuggets of information that I find relevant and then get into what exactly you can do about exploring this concept with your child.

 We know that the gut – and specifically, the millions upon millions of bacteria within it – interact with the brain in multiple ways, including the immune system and the nervous system. We also know that your gut actually has its own complex network of neurons that is referred to as the Enteric Nervous System (often called our “Second Brain”). {Read more about your Second Brain & ADHD here}

When they say “complex” they really mean it! Here are just a few fun facts:

  • There are actually more neurons directly surrounding your child’s gastrointestinal tract than in their entire spinal cord!
  • Ninety percent of your child’s serotonin levels (an essential neurotransmitter) are housed in the gut – not the brain in your head!

It’s no wonder we see significantly increased levels of digestive problems in children with ADHD. {Here’s a link to info about a study confirming the correlation between ADHD and common digestive symptoms including constipation and incontinence.}

As a total side note, it dawns on me that this really should be the beginning of the end for the stigma-ridden term “mental health”. I mean really, if all of our depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, and other general craziness is being caused or exacerbated by the physical state of our bellies, shouldn’t we really start recognizing it, treating it, and talking about it as just a plain old illness?

Exactly how our Second Brain interacts with those little bacteria critters in our guts is still a bit of a mystery. However, the prevailing medical position is that optimizing gut health will positively impact mental health (and vice versa – eat crap, feel like crap).

Increasing gut health means altering the bacterial environment (i.e., the “microbiome”) with pre- and probiotics. You can do this through real food, supplementation, or both. But either way, the science is pretty clear: get good bacteria into your kids’ bellies. Stat!

I mean, check this out – the results of a recent clinical study involving 75 infants is absolutely astounding. Researchers gave half of the newborns a probiotic (specifically, Lactobacillus rhamnosus) for the first six months after birth while the control group did not receive the probiotic. Thirteen years later all of the children were assessed for ADHD and Aspergers’ Syndrome (AS). Seventeen of the children in the control group tested positive for ADHD or AS, while none of the children who received probiotic supplementation tested positive. The researchers concluded that probiotic supplementation “may reduce the risk of neuropsychiatric disorder development later in childhood…” {Click here for a copy of the study}.

OK, so you’ve bought in. Gut health is imperative to help your child’s ADHD symptoms. But what do you do?

Well, there is a spectrum of approaches you can take from nothing… to going all-in Do you have to go “all-in” or can you just make some strides toward improved gut health? (I don’t know about you, but the thought of limiting my child’s diet that severely gives me panic attacks)

Second, implementing changes around this theory to determine whether ADHD symptoms get better is harmless for the most part, beneficial to most people (whether or not you have ADHD), and some of the changes are super easy to implement.

Seven Things You CAN Do To Improve Your ADHD Child’s Gut Health

Below I’ve listed a number of seven interventions you can use in the order of easiest to most difficult.

Now, listen… as you read this list I know many of you will experience your mom-guilt kicking in telling you that you have to go to the extreme side of Elimination Diet… I mean, why wouldn’t you do everything you possibly could to help your child?! Stop it. Just Stop It RIGHT NOW.

I’m going to let you off the hook and tell you while I tried a version of the Feingold diet I found it so hard to maintain that I let it go. I gave up. In our house we use #1 and #2 below. Basic supplementation and diet – when I can actually get my kids to eat the damn foods I put in front of them. It’s good enough for us. Every family / child is different.

  1. Supplementation: Begin your child on high-quality pre- and probiotics.
  1. Diet: Begin regularly feeding your kiddo foods that contain both pre- and probiotics. I’ve provided you a lot more information, including great diet ideas in this post here!
  1. Talk to Your Doctor: Visit your doctor to discuss any bowel issues your child may be experiencing. In the event your medical doctor doesn’t have any helpful suggestions – or you’re hungry for more information – consider visiting a more holistic practitioner, like a chiropractor, nutritionist, or ADHD coach / therapist.
  1. Monitor: Keep track of your kid’s behavior before and after certain foods. Use a journal or food diary to connect the food to how your kid feels and acts after eating. If you notice any correlations, take that information with you to see an immunologist or gastroenterologist. (Just an FYI, I find this exercise worthless unless I’m focusing exclusively one offending food/ingredient at a time.)
  1. Testing: Get your child tested for food allergies or sensitivities, and see what pops up. Obviously, if there is something you confirm as a food to avoid, eliminate it from your child’s diet. (Genetic testing is beginning to take a role in guiding diet as well. Much more to come on that topic!)
  1. Restrictive Diets: Try the GAPS diet or Feingold Diet. Experts and acquaintances claim these diets heal many issues related to poor gut health and restores health.
  1. Elimination Diets: Go for a full-fledged Elimination Diet. Before embarking on your journey into Elimination Land, talk to a physician or nutritionist to ensure that you continuing to provide your child the nutrients he or she needs during this time period. (And good luck. May the ADHD gods and goddesses be with you. Honestly, this is an exercise that I personally could never be successful at long-term. If you have tips and tricks for other mommas about how you successfully navigated an elimination diet, leave your story in the comments!)

Finally, do your own research and get educated. The science in this area is constantly evolving. Find a physician who is staying on top of the medical research, and seek out nutritionists, physicians, or ADHD coaches that can help develop better gut health for your kiddo!

 

Together, we have this!

XoXo,

Honestly Erin

Disclaimer: I’m not a physician, and I’m definitely not offering any medical advice. This article is for informational purposes only. The content in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. Rather, I’m pointing you in the direction of reputable information and providing my personal experience so you can make your own choices in consultation with your health care professional(s).