ADHD could be linked to diet: Cohort study

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Omega-3 fatty acids, Nutrition, Adhd

A new study from Australia has suggested that ADHD in adolescents could be linked to Western diets, which tend to be high in total fat, saturated fat, refined sugar and sodium.

ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – has previously been the subject of dietary inquiry. There has been particular attention in the last 3 years to some artificial food colourings, after a study at Southampton University in the UK reported a link between cocktails of colours and hyperactivity in kids. Some research has also investigated the potential role of omega-3 fatty acids in improving childrens’ behaviour.

The new study, from Perth's Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and published in the Journal of Attention Disorders​, looked at the dietary patterns of 1800 adolescents from the long-term Raine Study and classified diets into 'Healthy' or 'Western' patterns. The Raine study has been tracking the cohort of individuals in Western Australia since their birth in 1989.

The ‘Healthy’ diet was characterised by high intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and fish, and tended to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids, folate and fibre.

The ‘Western’ diet was characterised by a tendency towards takeaway foods, confectionary, processed, fried and refined foods, and tended to be higher in total fat, saturated fat, refined sugar and sodium.

Led by Dr Wendy Oddy, the team looked at the dietary patterns amongst the adolescents and compared the diet information against whether or not the adolescent had received a diagnosis of ADHD by the age of 14 years.

115 adolescents had been diagnosed with ADHD – 91 boys and 24 girls.

“We found a diet high in the Western pattern of foods was associated with more than double the risk of having an ADHD diagnosis compared with a diet low in the Western pattern, after adjusting for numerous other social and family influences,” Dr Oddy said.

“When we looked at specific foods, having an ADHD diagnosis was associated with a diet high in takeaway foods, processed meats, red meat, high fat dairy products and confectionery,” Dr Oddy said.

Fats and nutrients?

In an attempt to explain the observations, Oddy said the Western diet may not provide the best fatty acid profile, and that an omega-3 rich diet could be better for mental health and optimal brain function.

“It also may be that the Western dietary pattern doesn't provide enough essential micronutrients that are needed for brain function, particularly attention and concentration,” she said.

Oddy did not discount the possible influence of colours and other additives – nor that there could be a vicious circle between ADHD and poor dietary choices.

“It may also be that impulsivity, which is a characteristic of ADHD, leads to poor dietary choices such as quick snacks when hungry… “This is a cross-sectional study so we cannot be sure whether a poor diet leads to ADHD or whether ADHD leads to poor dietary choices and cravings,”​ Oddy said.

The researchers say more studies are needed to uncover what is behind the observed link.

Source

Journal of Attention Disorders
Doi:10.1177/1087054710365990

ADHD Is Associated With a ‘Western’ Dietary Pattern in Adolescents

Authors: Amber L. Howard, Monique Robinson, Grant J. Smith, Gina L. Ambrosini, Jan P. Piek, Wendy H. Oddy

A new study from Australia has suggested that ADHD in adolescents could be linked to Western diets, which tend to be high in total fat, saturated fat, refined sugar and sodium.

ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – has previously been the subject of dietary inquiry. There has been particular attention in the last 3 years to some artificial food colourings, after a study at Southampton University in the UK reported a link between cocktails of colours and hyperactivity in kids. Some research has also investigated the potential role of omega-3 fatty acids in improving childrens’ behaviour.

The new study, from Perth's Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and published in the Journal of Attention Disorders​, looked at the dietary patterns of 1800 adolescents from the long-term Raine Study and classified diets into 'Healthy' or 'Western' patterns. The Raine study has been tracking the cohort of individuals in Western Australia since their birth in 1989.

The ‘Healthy’ diet was characterised by high intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and fish, and tended to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids, folate and fibre.

The ‘Western’ diet was characterised by a tendency towards takeaway foods, confectionary, processed, fried and refined foods, and tended to be higher in total fat, saturated fat, refined sugar and sodium.

Led by Dr Wendy Oddy, the team looked at the dietary patterns amongst the adolescents and compared the diet information against whether or not the adolescent had received a diagnosis of ADHD by the age of 14 years.

115 adolescents had been diagnosed with ADHD – 91 boys and 24 girls.

“We found a diet high in the Western pattern of foods was associated with more than double the risk of having an ADHD diagnosis compared with a diet low in the Western pattern, after adjusting for numerous other social and family influences,” Dr Oddy said.

“When we looked at specific foods, having an ADHD diagnosis was associated with a diet high in takeaway foods, processed meats, red meat, high fat dairy products and confectionery,” Dr Oddy said.

Fats and nutrients?

In an attempt to explain the observations, Oddy said the Western diet may not provide the best fatty acid profile, and that an omega-3 rich diet could be better for mental health and optimal brain function.

“It also may be that the Western dietary pattern doesn't provide enough essential micronutrients that are needed for brain function, particularly attention and concentration,” she said.

Oddy did not discount the possible influence of colours and other additives – nor that there could be a vicious circle between ADHD and poor dietary choices.

“It may also be that impulsivity, which is a characteristic of ADHD, leads to poor dietary choices such as quick snacks when hungry… “This is a cross-sectional study so we cannot be sure whether a poor diet leads to ADHD or whether ADHD leads to poor dietary choices and cravings,”​ Oddy said.

The researchers say more studies are needed to uncover what is behind the observed link.

Source

Journal of Attention Disorders
Doi:10.1177/1087054710365990

ADHD Is Associated With a ‘Western’ Dietary Pattern in Adolescents
Authors: Amber L. Howard, Monique Robinson, Grant J. Smith, Gina L. Ambrosini, Jan P. Piek, Wendy H. Oddy

Related topics: Science

Related news

Follow us

Products

View more

Webinars