Children who consume a Mediterranean diet are less likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Barcelona.
The Mediterranean diet includes large amounts of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans, and cereal grains such as wheat and rice, moderate amounts of fish, dairy, and wine, and limited red meat and poultry.
The team also found a higher prevalence of ADHD among children who consumed high levels of candy and sugary drinks and low levels of fatty fish.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, is the first to investigate the link between the Mediterranean diet and ADHD in children and adolescents. The findings suggest that unhealthy eating habits could play a role in the development of the disorder.
However, the authors say that more research is necessary to firmly establish causality between nutrient-poor eating habits and ADHD.
The study involved 120 children and adolescents (60 diagnosed with ADHD and 60 controls) between the ages of six and 16. The children’s dietary patterns were assessed using food frequency questionnaires. The findings show that children with low adherence to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD compared to those with high adherence.
Furthermore, the team identified a higher prevalence of ADHD among children who consumed high amounts of candy and sugary drinks, but low amounts of fatty fish.
The exact mechanisms linking 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. It is also known that an unbalanced dietary pattern can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients (iron, zinc, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, etc.) that appear to play an essential role in the etiology of ADHD.
While the new research doesn’t establish a direct cause-effect relationship between dietary patterns and ADHD, it can help determine specific dietary strategies to help improve the quality of life for both the affected patients and their families, say the researchers.
Furthermore, the link between an unhealthy diet and ADHD could be an example of reverse causation. For example, said Dr. José Ángel Alda, a psychiatrist at Sant Joan de Déu University Hospital, it’s unclear whether kids develop ADHD because of an unhealthy diet or perhaps the disorder itself causes them to eat an excess of fat and sugar to balance their impulsiveness or emotional distress.
“We believe this is a vicious circle,” said Alda, meaning that the impulsiveness of children with ADHD could make them eat unhealthily, and therefore “they don’t eat the nutrients they need and it all worsens their symptoms.”
Source: University of Barcelona