Food Strategies To Support ADHD Symptoms

In my last post, we started the conversation about the connection between ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and our menstrual cycles. The rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone across our menstrual cycles is also linked to the rise of dopamine, serotonin, glutamate and noradrenaline, the brain neurotransmitters that are affected in ADHD. 

What we eat each day and the foods that we add into each meal can have a powerful effect of all aspects of our health, including the way ADHD symptoms manifest. To be clear, I’m not saying that food is a panacea. What I am saying, is that food can be very beneficial, especially when we consider that we have 3 opportunities each day and 21 opportunities each week to add in foods that can positively impact our health. 

Here are 3 ways that food can be supportive for ADHD symptoms:

  • Support healthy estrogen and progesterone balance 

Think of estrogen and progesterone like a see saw that rises and falls depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. When estrogen is too high or too low in relation to progesterone, this imbalance can have a negative effect on many aspects of our health, including the way our brain makes the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, glutamate and noradrenaline. 

Without being too simplistic, supporting healthy estrogen levels throughout our menstrual cycle can potentially have an impact on neurotransmitters too. It also means that a healthy balance with progesterone can lessen the impact of ADHD symptoms after ovulation during the luteal phase.

Adding cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli sprouts, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, chard and bok choy helps the liver and the gut in the way that it breaks down estrogens that our body has used so that they can be excreted in our bowel movements and urine. It goes without saying, (but I’ll say it anyway!) that we need to have at the very minimum one bowel movement a day to get rid of these estrogens. If you’re not, have a look at what you can add into your meals to increase the number of healthy bowel movements – fibre, ferments and lots of water are great places to start!

  • Support gut health

Our gut (our large and small intestines) is where we produce about 80 – 90% of our dopamine and serotonin. Although these two neurotransmitters naturally decline as we move towards the end of our menstrual cycles, by supporting our gut and a healthy gut microbiome, we can positively influence the way dopamine and serotonin are made in our gut. 

An easy way to do this is by adding in the 4 Ps: prebiotics, probiotics, polyphenols and phospholipids. 

  • Prebiotics are fibre rich foods that feed the healthy bacteria that already in the gut. Some examples are oats, Jerusalem artichokes, cabbage, garlic, onions, greens, apples and bananas (the greener the better!).
  • Probiotics are fermented foods that introduce new bacteria strains into the gut. Some examples are full fat Greek or natural yoghurt, sourdough bread, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, natto and pickled vegetables.
  • Polyphenols are compounds found in plant based foods. There are over 8,000 different types of polyphenols and they most commonly act like antioxidants, reducing inflammation and the cell damage from free radicals. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, herbs, nuts and seeds are great sources of polyphenols.
  • Phospholipids are a type of fat found in plant and animal foods. They are helpful for reducing inflammation and supporting gut health. You can find these in oily fish (remember the acronym SMASHHT – sardines, mackerel, anchovies, haddock, herring, trout), full-fat organic dairy and eggs, algae and flaxseed.
  • Address nutrient deficiencies

There are several nutrient deficiencies that when present, can exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Magnesium, zinc and omega-3 are some of the big nutrient deficiencies that can be addressed through food and supplementation. 

  • Magnesium is an important mineral for supporting serotonin neurotransmission and can calm ADHD symptoms.
  • Zinc is required for serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline production.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained through food and supplements because the body cannot make these on its own.

If you have ADHD, do you notice the effects of food and supplementation on your symptoms? Does this change depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle?

Photo by Taylor Deas-Melesh on Unsplash

Le’Nise Brothers is a yoga teacher and registered nutritionist, mBANT, mCNHC, specialising in women’s health, hormones and the menstrual cycle. She is also the host of the Period Story Podcast, which aims to break taboos around menstrual health and hormones. 

Le’Nise has helped hundreds of women improve their menstrual and hormone health through her private practice and group programmes, talks and workshops for the likes of Stylist, Channel 4, Boden, Ebay and TikTok and her Instagram page. Le’Nise works primarily with women who feel like they’re being ruled by their sugar cravings, mood swings and hormonal acne & bloating. They want to get to grips with heavy, missing, irregular & painful periods, fibroids, PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, post-natal depletion and perimenopause. 

Her first book You Can Have A Better Period was released in March 2022. 

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