The Link Between Protein and ADHD

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Children need to be able to attend, focus and control their impulses throughout the day in order to learn. Studies have shown that children with ADHD are at higher risk for deficits in expressive, receptive, and social language as a result of ADHD-related symptoms. For parents and professionals working with children with ADHD, it is important to understand how diet could affect those symptoms.

A study of children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder has identified a deficiency in levels of protein within the brain. The study looked at 14 boys, ages 6-12, and found almost 50 percent lower levels of an amino acid called tryptophan, a protein which aids in the production of dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin. This protein is very important for attention and learning. Low serotonin levels could contribute to increased impulsivity, a core symptom of ADHD.

With this link between protein and attention challenges, it’s possible that certain foods could have a positive effect on symptoms of ADHD. It is recommended that children eat foods rich in protein (lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, and low-fat dairy products), which are used by the body to improve brain functioning and prevent blood sugar surges linked to increased hyperactivity and impulsivity. While more research needs to be conducted on the effects of diet on these symptoms, it may be an important aspect of the overall treatment approach for children with ADHD.

Johansson, Jessica et al. “Altered tryptophan and alanine transport in fibroblasts from boys with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): an in vitro study.” Behavioral and brain functions: BBF vol. 7 40. 24 Sep. 2011, doi:10.1186/1744-9081-7-40

“ADHD Diet Plan: Foods to Eat & Avoid to Help ADD Symptoms” Additudemag.com, 15 Jan. 2020, http://www.additudemag.com/adhd-diet-nutrition-sugar.