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Can a Keto Diet Tackle ADHD and Improve Focus?
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Can a Keto Diet Tackle ADHD and Improve Focus?

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on 2022 August 22
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3 min
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ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is one of the most common mental illnesses in children. However, for some people, ADHD can persist into adulthood and cause significant problems at work or in their personal lives.

ADHD usually affects boys. According to studies, about 13% of young boys aged 3–17 are diagnosed with ADHD, while among girls, this rate drops to 6%. Research suggests that half of those diagnosed will carry their symptoms into adulthood.

Overall there are about 6 million young people in the United States alone diagnosed with ADHD. This condition is usually characterized by three main symptoms: difficulty sustaining attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.

blog keto ADHD

As it is common, ADHD is also wildly underdiagnosed since most parents (and even doctors) can mistake it with a “condition” called being a proactive child.

But real problems start once you hit your 20s and those symptoms start impacting your responsibilities, personal life, and work. People with untreated ADHD are described as conflicting, tardy, absent, and unreliable at work. This leads to frequent conflicts, job changes, and volatility.

As of now, there are no known ways to prevent or cure ADHD. Fortunately, there are plenty of studies on how we can potentially alleviate many of the symptoms. And one of the best things you can do is to simply alter your diet.

Does Diet Affect ADHD?

There is undeniable evidence that our brain function directly correlates to what we feed our bodies. Diet affects sleep, mood, and cognitive functions, among others. But can it impact mental conditions?

A correlation between attention deficit and nutrition has been long talked about, but now the observations are finally being grounded by scientific research. The food and drinks can actually make it easier to remember things or, vice versa, make us foggy-headed and forgetful.

All foods consist of the three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. For people with ADHD, the consumption of carbohydrates, especially “simple” carbohydrates like wheat, should be limited for a couple of reasons.

blog keto ADHD

First, sugars in simple carbohydrates raise our blood sugar levels soon after eating them. This can usually constitute increased hyperactivity, racing thoughts, and so on. Shortly after these spikes, our blood sugar plummets down. This causes low energy, poor concentration, and mood fluctuation.

These energy and mood swings are mainly present in people with ADHD. Although carbohydrates are somewhat necessary for everyone because they are an essential and easily accessible source of energy, it is recommended for ADHD patients to follow a ketogenic diet that consists primarily of proteins and healthy fats.

Keto and ADHD

According to research, proteins and fats are more than capable of substituting carbohydrates as a source of energy. 

Protein-rich foods are made from amino acids essential to the production of dopamine, also known as the “feel-good” hormone that increases motivation to do things since you’re feeling pleasure.

It is proven by research that proteins also help us think more clearly, have more energy, focus for more extended periods, and follow through with tasks.

However, fats are the main driving force behind improving the ADHD brain. Although there is not much research done on humans, ketones, which are produced when our body is breaking down fats for fuel, are proven to drastically increase focus, improve cognitive function even among Parkinson’s patients, and provide even more energy per unit of oxygen used than glucose.

A 2001 study proves this case. Although the number of examined children was pretty low (65), researchers saw “significant behavioral improvements in attention and social functioning.”

blog keto ADHD

The same goes for research with animals. During 6-month-long research, it was found that a ketogenic diet significantly improved ADHD-related behaviors in dogs, including excitability, chasing, and trainability.

Another research with rats indicates that just after 24 hours, the subjects in the ketogenic diet group were less distracted and showed less exploratory behavior.

Findings

Interestingly, all studies – both on humans and animals – show a profound correlation between a ketogenic diet and cognitive improvements. Therefore, it is correct to assume that treatments that elevate ketone levels can be beneficial when dealing with conditions such as ADHD.

However, more research on humans needs to be done, especially since ADHD is prevalent in about 13% of young males. For half of them, this condition will prevail in adulthood, too.
And although ADHD can not be cured or prevented, transitioning to a ketogenic diet can alleviate loads of symptoms and improve overall cognitive function.

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed byRosmy Barrios, MD
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