Elimination Diets for ADHD: What the Science Shows
Anisha Patel-Dunn, DO, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer at LifeStance Health in San Francisco, says that lifestyle changes like maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and keeping a structured daily routine may all be good ways to supplement an overall treatment plan for ADHD. But, she says, these strategies are by no means a replacement for ADHD medication or therapy.
“Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that eliminating certain foods is an effective treatment for ADHD,” says Dr. Patel-Dunn.
A research review found that there’s no sufficient evidence to show that any food or nutrient-based strategies could help treat ADHD.
Another review, which focused specifically on elimination diets, showed that they offer no clear benefits for managing ADHD.
At the same time, while there is no conclusive evidence that elimination diets help treat ADHD symptoms, it is clear that what you eat can affect ADHD symptoms for better or worse, says Shanna Pearson. Pearson, who has ADHD, is the founder and president of Expert ADHD Coaching, a company geared toward helping adults and college students with ADHD.
For example, following an elimination diet — or any other diet that causes cycles of high energy followed by heavy crashes — will directly impact the mood and actions of someone with ADHD, Pearson says.
“If you’re on an elimination diet, and this causes you to be hungry, tired, cranky, low energy, then you’re only going to exacerbate your ADHD symptoms, which is exactly the opposite of what you want,” she explains.
In contrast, following a diet that helps keep your energy level stable may make it easier to focus, follow through on things you start, and complete challenging tasks, Pearson says.
A better approach is to adopt healthier eating habits that are realistic and doable over the long term, she says.
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What to Know Before Trying an Elimination Diet
Because elimination diets are not evidence-based treatments for ADHD, Patel-Dunn advises her patients with ADHD to avoid them.
“According to our clients who try to eliminate too much too fast, they might feel great for two to five days, but it isn’t sustainable long term,” she explains. “You also won’t be clear on which food is causing which results.”
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