The reason why the keto diet is so favored is clear – it carries the capacity to help people slim down and sustain their weight, in addition to being demonstrated to aid those with seizures, diabetes, and hypertension.
Can it be employed to naturally handle ADHD indications as well? Here’s what the science tells us to date.
Do you find it hard to pay attention? Do you have an impulse to keep moving when you should be in a state of ease? Do you find yourself constantly interrupting others?
It is widely recognized what the features of ADHD are, but it cannot be accurately described in such a straightforward manner, as it has many more complexities.
Typically, ADHD is indicated by an inability to control behavior, as well as by challenges in four neurological sectors including working memory, controlling emotions, speaking inwardly, and analyzing and forming behavior.
Due to the complexity of features associated with ADHD, the condition is commonly divided into three distinct forms: inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, or a combination of both.
Inattentive type – when six (or five for people over 17 years) of the following symptoms occur frequently:
- Struggle with paying attention to detail and makes careless mistakes.
- Has problems staying focused on tasks or activities, like lectures, homework, and conversations.
- Does not seem to listen when being spoken to.
- Does not follow through on instructions and doesn’t complete schoolwork, chores, or job duties (may start tasks but quickly loses focus).
- Does not manage time well, has messy, disorganized work, and misses deadlines.
- Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort.
- Often loses important things, such as school papers, books, keys, wallet, cell phone, and eyeglasses.
- Is easily distracted.
- Forgets to pay bills or do daily tasks, such as doing chores and running errands.
Hyperactive/impulsive type – when six (or five for people over 17 years) of the following symptoms occur frequently:
- Fidgets and/or squirms constantly when seated.
- Not able to stay seated when necessary.
- Runs about or climbs where it is inappropriate.
- Unable to play or do leisure activities quietly.
- Always “on the go” or active.
- Talks more than is necessary.
- Talks while other people are talking.
- Has difficulty waiting for things, such as standing in line.
- Interrupts or intrudes on others without permission. Older teens and adults may take over what others are doing without asking.
There is no lab test to diagnose ADHD. The process of diagnosing requires gathering information from parents, teachers, and others, completing questionnaires, and undergoing a medical examination (including screening for eyesight and hearing) to rule out other medical conditions.
It should be remarked that these indicators are not caused by a person’s stubbornness, antagonism, or lack of comprehension of a job or commands.
The signs and indications of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are the external presentation of numerous adjustable and immutably unchangeable elements that hinder the correct operation of the mind.
The Keto Diet
A ketogenic diet is similar to the Atkins, Paleo, and South Beach diets in its high deprivation of carbohydrates.
However, in contrast to other diets, the keto diet is heavy in fats.
No single macronutrient intake ratio is necessary for adhering to a keto diet, but some popular iterations consist of 70-80% fats (e.g. eggs, cheese, cream, and meats), 10-20% proteins (seeds, nuts, fish, and meats are all permissible), and 5-10% carbohydrates (precluding things like sweets, grains, white potatoes, beans, milk, and the majority of fruits), as per Harvard T.H. review of the diet. Chan School of Public Health.
When a person cuts way back on their intake of carbohydrates, the body has no glucose stores left to use as a source of energy and has to depend on dietary and stored fat as an alternative. This fat is then broken down into molecules referred to as ketone bodies.
This metabolic reaction is titled ketosis, and can often be referred to as deceiving the body into believing it’s lacking food.
The ketogenic diet has become well known for its ability to assist with weight loss (according to a 2013 study from Brazilian scientists which concluded it was more successful than a standard low-fat diet), yet further research suggests it can be used to regulate type 2 diabetes and enhance symptoms in those affected by mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
The keto diet has been around for decades. In the 1920s, medical practitioners uncovered that maintaining a stringent ketogenic protocol could lessen, or even eradicate, spasms in minors with certain epileptic issues.
Although there is not yet a definitive explanation for why a ketogenic diet can decrease the occurrence of seizures, a recent UCLA study headed by Dr. Elaine Hsiao hypothesizes that it is due to alterations of certain intestinal bacteria that influence the chemical messengers of the brain.
Keto and ADHD
ADHD, like epilepsy, is a brain-based disorder. So could a keto diet likewise reduce ADHD symptoms? Heidi Pfeifer, a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionalist who serves as a clinical expert for the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, has experienced positive results.
For over two decades, Dr. Pfeifer has been providing care for children with epilepsy who have been unable to benefit from medication.
When these kids are provided a limited or broadened form of the keto diet (40–60 grams of carbs per day), the signs of ADHD get better. Pfeiffer remarks that both modifications have led to better conduct and concentration even without complete seizure control.
A 2001 study conducted by Johns Hopkins University yielded the same outcome. By researching 65 kids with epilepsy who went on a ketogenic diet for one year, scientists reported significant positive changes in attention and social skills, in addition to a decrease in epileptic seizures.
But following a strict keto diet is not easy. In a 2010 article published in the New York Times by writer Fred Vogelstein, he recounts the extreme measures he and his wife took in order to ensure their son Sam, who is epileptic, stuck to a very specific diet; even a minimal departure from this would result in a spate of seizures.
Pfeifer states that the traditional ketogenic diet is difficult for children with ADHD. She suggests scheduling a session with a certified nutritionist who is knowledgeable in low-carb diets.
Advising an approach to moderating carbohydrate consumption while increasing fat intake, Pfeiffer recommends that one abstain from sugary treats, processed meals, and any ingredients that include white flour, dyes, or additives. Include lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains in your diet – they are full of beneficial nutrients.
This kind of eating habits stops variations in blood sugar which results in periods of energetic feelings followed by exhaustion. She states that people who consume food in this manner often report having more vitality and feeling more joyful.
Why Keto May Be Helpful for ADHD
Basically, looking into a keto diet should be considered a potential option for treating ADHD, as it eliminates a number of unhealthy foods that could make ADHD symptoms worse, while also boosting ketone production.
When our mind begins using more ketones for energy, this sets off a chain reaction that might lessen numerous signs associated with ADHD. Let’s take a quick look at how ketones may be able to do this:
Ketones are a more efficient energy source than sugar. Ketones (specially beta-hydroxybutyrate) provide energy that is more frugal when it comes to oxygen utilization compared to glucose. Essentially, by relying on ketones for energy, your nerve cells will be able to carry out their duties without creating too much harm.
Ketones increase mitochondrial efficiency and production. The ketogenic diet causes an increase in the number of mitochondrial genes as well as genes related to energy production while stimulating the creation of mitochondria.
In total, this raises the capability of brain cells, keeping them safe from the metabolic problems that may cause ADHD-related issues.
Ketones increase GABAergic tone and decrease glutamatergic tone. Glutamate, the primary stimulant chemical in the brain, serves as the starting point for the production of GABA, which is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the mind.
Glutamate plays an indispensable role in the processes of transmitting neural signals, building memories, acquiring knowledge, and controlling activities. However, if certain conditions are met, glutamate can harm or destroy nerve cells.
This could be connected to some of the signs of ADHD. It is uncertain exactly how, but evidence suggests that ketones can lower the activity of glutamate in the brain whilst simultaneously strengthening GABA activity, processes that may assist in protecting brain cells and improve performance.
Ketones trigger the expression BDNF. BDNF, which stands for Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, is a protein that encourages the development and multiplication of certain nerves throughout the nervous system.
Research indicates that ketones activate the output of BDNF, which may enhance the performance of the regions in the brain that are essential for learning, recall, and complex cognition. Specifically, these parts are the hippocampus, cortex, and basal forebrain.
This evidence points to the possibility that utilizing a combination of behavioral therapy and ketone combustion might be a useful approach to treating some forms of ADHD.
Though the keto diet can bring about a multitude of advantages, it may have an unpleasant outcome if the ADHD manifestations are due to food allergies or intolerance of the popular foods that fit with the ketogenic diet.
In order to figure out the most effective approach for dealing with ADHD, experimentation with different nutrition plans and natural therapies may have to take place. This could apply to either yourself or someone close to you.
Keto ADHD Diet
Implementing the facts stated previously can be tricky and hard to do, so we elaborated just the key details in the following food selection.
This will provide you with a more clear notion of what meals to prioritize and which to avoid when designing an ADHD diet that is conducive to a ketogenic approach.
What to Eat
- Fresh meat – beef, lamb, poultry, etc.
- Eggs — pasture-raised whole eggs are best.
- Fatty fish/seafood — low-mercury sustainably-caught salmon, mackerel, sardines, etc.
- Low-carb vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and other low-carb veggies
- High-fat dairy – hard cheeses, full-fat cream, butter, and other keto dairy products
- Nuts and seeds – macadamias, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and other low-carb options
- Low-carb fruit – avocado, tomato, olives, berries, and other low-carb fruits
- Natural keto sweeteners – stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, and other low-carb sweeteners
- Other fats – MCT oil, coconut oil, high-fat salad dressing, keto mayo, etc.
Nonetheless, particular keto-friendly foods may bring about similar reactions. If you are eager to go on a more controlled diet, you can refrain from eating some or all of the following items for a few weeks in order to check if your symptoms improve.
Downsides of the Keto Diet
People who first start a keto diet may encounter migraine, weariness, irritability, sickness, and difficulty sleeping, which can be referred to as the “keto flu,” based on Marcelo Campos, MD, in a Harvard Medical School health blog recently.
This is nothing like the flu, and the unpleasant side effects usually don’t last long; however, if they do, Dr. Campos advises to seek medical attention.
If someone follows a restrictive diet for an extended period of time, they may face a risk of developing kidney stones if they don’t drink enough fluids, according to Pfeifer.
It is important to seek medical advice before beginning any diet, particularly one that is restrictive, in order to ensure that it is the correct option. A physician or qualified dietician should be consulted.
Keeping carbs restricted might prevent getting needed tiny nutrients, so it’s essential to supplement diet with the right vitamins and minerals to keep away from lacking in any. It should be stressed that the majority of research on keto diets comprise of experiments with a limited timeframe; the implications of being on a keto diet for an extended period are still not fully understood.
And some experts are wary. Joel Nigg, Ph.D., author of Getting Ahead of ADHD: What Next-Generation Science Says about Treatments That Work—and How You Can Make Them Work for Your Child (#CommissionsEarned), asserts that there is evidence demonstrating the efficacy of ketogenic diets in reducing seizures, as well as hyperactivity in those afflicted with epilepsy. It has not been sufficiently studied how the ketogenic diet would affect those with ADHD who do not have epilepsy, so it cannot be recommended for that purpose.
Registered dietitian Abby Langer, mother to a daughter who has both ADHD and anxiety, is concerned that some parents might put their children on a keto diet even though there is no proof that it might be beneficial for their ADHD. Langer states, “I find it very worrying when people make decisions to put their child on a diet.”
This is an extremely stringent dietary regimen which could negatively affect a kid’s development and well being if not done right. It can create poor dietary habits in children that could eventually become disordered eating patterns.
Langer is opposed to calling foods either positive or negative. Langer stresses that it is not a good practice to make healthy foods forbidden for a child unless there is a valid rationale for avoidance. “I don’t think ADHD qualifies as this.”
Everyone afflicted with ADHD is different; for some people, more moderate approaches may be helpful in managing signs.
Individuals with ADHD may opt to supplement with omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil or algae supplements), consume fewer preprocessed and packaged foods with food additives, or seek advice from a dietician regarding a hypoallergenic or limitation diet, Nigg states. There is some evidence suggesting that certain dietary interventions may assist some individuals with ADHD.
He strongly advises that any restriction diet should be done under the oversight of a dietician or doctor so that optimal nutrition is maintained, particularly in young children, and may also necessitate psychological guidance as these diets are demanding to put into practice.