Is there a connection between ADHD and gut health? Mounting scientific research and evidence suggest there is.
At a high level, here’s what we know:
- Children born by cesarean section have an increased risk for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
- Frequent early use of antibiotics correlates with an increased risk of ADHD.
What these two risk factors have in common is disruption to the microbiome. C-section delivered babies are not exposed to part of their mother’s microbiome and may be adversely exposed to unfriendly bacteria. Babies born vaginally are colonized predominantly by Lactobacillus, whereas cesarean delivery babies are colonized by a mixture of potentially pathogenic bacteria, such as Staphylococcus and Acinetobacter. In addition, antibiotics, as necessary as they may be, may disrupt the microbiome by killing good bacteria along with the bad.
It probably comes as no surprise then that a high percentage of children with ADHD have bowel dysfunction.
The Microbiome and Your Gut
A recent study looked at 742,939 children aged 4 to 12 and found that children with ADHD had a threefold increase in the prevalence of constipation compared with those without ADHD. Further, fecal incontinence (the inability to control bowel movements) was six times higher in the ADHD group. The study also found that doctor visits because of bowel issues dramatically increased in kids with ADHD. (It’s important to note that these issues were independent of whether the children with ADHD were taking medication.)
These results suggest the possible benefits of a whole body approach to health. Specifically, a microbial imbalance in the gut (called gut dysbiosis) may play an important role in terms of how the brain works, not only in ADHD but also across the spectrum of behavioral and brain function issues.
Herbals That Support Gut Health and Brain Function
Early-life changes in gut microbiota can alter neurological health. Another way of saying this, is that paying attention to gut health can pay dividends in brain health. Several herbs can support both gut health and brain function for both children and adults.
For example, Bacopa monnieri (Brahmi) is traditionally used for bowel issues and can help enhance memory. Terminalia chebula (Haritaki) is great for helping with constipation and is used to support mental clarity. Phyllanthus niruri (Chanca Piedra, Stone Breaker) can help with digestion, microbiome health, and kidney health. Polygala tenuifolia (Seneca) is used to support concentration and kidney health.
ADHD and Gut Health: the Complex Relationship Between the Gut and the Brain
This research about the ADHD and gut health connection is in its early stages. We’re just beginning to understand the brain-gut axis – the deep relationship between the gut and the brain. In a previous post, we looked at the connection between the gut and memory and learning. There is a growing understanding of the role our early life microbiome in the development of immune metabolic and neurological health.
While the science here is necessarily complex, a growing body is something of a moving target. The way to optimum health still aligns with the basics: healthy food, good sleep, and exercise. As research continues to expand on this subject, one thing seems certain: considering the choreography between all the body systems is the path to optimum health.