The Mediterranean Diet and ADHD in Children and Adolescents

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UntitledThis first analysis dealing with the relation between the Mediterranean diet and ADHD in children and adolescents, uncovers some unhealthy eating habits that could play a role in the development of this psychiatric disorder.[1]

More work is now required to identify any causality, however the researchers have raised some interesting points.

One of the most common mental disorders among children and adolescents

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is researched primarily by scientists in neurobiology, and affects around 3,4% of children and adolescents worldwide. It is one of the most common mental disorders among children and teenagers, and can last until adulthood. The main symptoms are hyperactivity, impulsiveness and attention-deficit, which show more intensely in children of the same age who don’t suffer from this illness. So far, the most common intervention for ADHD is a combination of the psychological and pharmacological treatments with the intervention of an educational psychologist.

The mechanisms that link a low-quality diet and ADHD are still unknown. Previous scientific studies have associated some dietary patterns (diets with processed food and low in fruit and vegetables) with ADHD. However, it is known that an unbalanced dietary pattern can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients (iron, zinc, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, etc.) for the cognitive and physical growth and these nutritional elements seem to play an essential role in the aetiology of ADHD.

A total of 120 children and adolescents (60 diagnosed with ADHD and 60 controls) were studied in this study, financially supported by the Instituto de Salud Carlos III (Institute of Health Carlos III).

“this new research doesn’t establish a cause-effect relation between dietary patterns and ADHD, but it can help determining specific dietary strategies to improve the quality of life for both the affected patients and their families.”

A vicious circle: impulsiveness, unhealthy diets and ADHD

The relation between an unhealthy diet and ADHD could also be an example of reverse causation. “We don’t know if these kids suffer from ADHD due an unhealthy diet -says José Ángel Alda, psychiatrist at Sant Joan de Déu University Hospital- or if the disorder makes them to eat an excess of fat and sugar to balance their impulsiveness or emotional distress. We believe this is a vicious circle: the impulsiveness of children with ADHD makes them  eat unhealthily; therefore they don’t eat the nutrients they need and it all worsens their symptoms.

Mediterranean diet: nutrition and health

Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and healthy fats, provides most of the nutrients in the right proportion. The new study doesn’t state that the Mediterranean diet could be a protection factor against ADHD but it indicates that children and adolescents need healthy diets, since this is a moment when their bodies need the best nutrients to grow properly and reach a healthy life during adulthood. The authors of the study believe more studies are needed to determine if a change in dietary habits towards a healthy diet -such as the Mediterranean one- could serve to reverse or improve ADHD symptoms.


[1] Ríos-Hernández A, Alda JA, Farran-Codina A, Ferreira-García E, Izquierdo-Pulido M. The Mediterranean Diet and ADHD in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2017 Feb;139(2). View Full Paper

Materials provided by Universidad de Barcelona. Note: Content has been edited for style and length.

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