How Food Sensitivities Affect ADHD

If you’ve been reading our blog lately, you know how much food impacts our mental health and overall well-being. Food sensitivities can have double the impact, even more than that number on the scale or your bathroom regularity. 

The thing about food sensitivities is that they can present in a host of different, sometimes ‘little’ or inconsequential ways. But if food has the potential to affect everything in our lives, including our mental health, then how does it affect those of us with ADHD? 

Let’s dive into the world of learning disabilities and explore the relationship between food sensitivities and how the symptoms may present in your life.

What is ADHD?

When we think of ADHD, the first thing that may come to mind is a little boy running around his Kindergarten classroom, disrupting everyone during naptime. This was the only commonly known form of ADHD twenty or thirty years ago. Most people didn’t realize that it also impacted adults and girls at the rate that it does. 

 

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects 6.76% of the global adult population. Some of the most common symptoms are:

Inattentiveness

Hyperactivity (note on this below)

Impulsiveness

Forgetfulness

Excessive talking

Anxiety

Depression

Mood swings

Impatience

Misophonia (hatred of certain sounds)

Brain fog

Special interests

Unfortunately, women with ADHD are often misdiagnosed because it was mostly studied in boys, and the symptoms present themselves very differently for women. For example, instead of running around the kindergarten class at nap time, the girl with ADHD would be laying there staring at the ceiling wondering why the sky is blue, what time mom is coming, why doesn’t the teacher like me…all at once.

Hyperactivity in girls and women with ADHD is often mental, and many report being unable to ‘turn off’ their minds.

Gut health and the brain.

Taking care of your gut health may greatly impact the severity of your ADHD symptoms.  For example, good bacteria help our brains produce dopamine and serotonin – the feel-good chemicals that combat anxiety and depression. 

 

This means that the two chemicals that people with ADHD struggle with most will not be hindered by the food we eat. When you eat foods that make your gut happy, your body can produce more happy bacteria, improving neurotransmitter production. 

 

The tough part of eating healthy and ADHD is that people who have it are not likely to spend much time in the kitchen unless cooking is one of their ‘special interests’.  More often than not, you’ll find people with ADHD in a drive-through or ordering their favorite meal from a food delivery service.

When you have a food sensitivity and ADHD, understanding how your food affects you is crucial to navigating your ADHD symptoms.

Confusing food sensitivity symptoms and ADHD symptoms.

Unlike full-blown food allergies, food sensitivities present a lot more subtly. You probably wouldn’t even realize you had one unless you were tested for it because you are more likely to assume that it’s just one of your ADHD symptoms. 

Here are some common symptoms that food sensitivities and ADHD share:

  • Brain fog
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression
  • Hyperactivity
  • Fatigue


For example, let’s say that you have a gluten sensitivity. You go out to dinner and order your favorite meal; a cheeseburger and a beer. An hour later, you’re lying in bed, wondering why you can’t get to sleep…despite the two 10mg melatonin gummies that you took. 

You assume that your wakefulness is because of your ADHD, not knowing that your body is struggling to process the mountain of gluten you ate. Your ADHD isn’t the culprit here; the gluten is. 

Because of the lack of sleep, you chug a couple of energy drinks the next day, but (of course) they have the opposite effect. Now you’re nodding off at your desk in the middle of a Zoom meeting with the team, ready to yell at that girl in marketing who always chews her gum as loudly as possible.

And that’s just from the gluten.

It’s time to get tested.

Most adults with ADHD are silent sufferers, hiding symptoms, expertly masking in public, and constantly battling with the broken ‘off’ switch in their brains. While understanding your food sensitivities isn’t a cure-all, it’s a step in the right direction. 

Even if you’re too impatient to prepare your meals at home, knowing what to avoid and embrace can help you improve your gut health and mental health. Luckily, getting a food sensitivity test is really easy. Check out our Bloodprint panels to learn more about what food sensitivity testing can do for you.

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