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  • Writer's pictureHelen Gardiner-Parks

How can nutrition impact anxiety, ADHD, and autism?

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We’ve talked in these pages about reducing anxiety through boosting our nutrition. Sure, that makes sense. Many of us experience anxiety as a transient state, so, sure, it is logical that a transient thing such as food could affect it.

But we think of ADHD and autism as fixed states, underlying conditions, immutable diagnoses.

How could food touch them? “They’re part of who I am,” we say. And, “there’s nothing wrong with me that needs fixing; I’m neurodivergent and I embrace it.”

No arguments from me on those last points.

And. Just as cleaning up my diet has reduced the impact of anxiety on my life, so, too, cleaning up the diet can reduce the impact of ADHD and autism. Again, there is nothing “wrong” with any of these conditions, certainly nothing “wrong” with people navigating them. We are not aiming for cure here. Food is not going to “cure” anxiety anymore than it will “cure” ADHD or autism.

However a few basic connections are at play.

  1. Conditions in our guts affect conditions in our minds; we may think of anxiety as coming from our minds, but think about where we experience it—in our bodies. With 90% of our serotonin—and other brain-happying neurotransmitters—made in the gut, it is imperative the gut be healthy if we want healthy serotonin—and a fighting chance with our anxiety.

  2. Kids diagnosed with autism tend to have more gut issues than their neurotypical peers, so balancing the gut microbiome is important both for the brain-happying mentioned above as well as for less time spent in the bathroom. A win-win, for sure.

  3. Same idea with ADHD. Balance the gut, make sure essential nutrients are on board, and we have a much improved chance of managing our focus and distraction issues.

It is not rocket science; it is nutrition science. And it is also great-grandma’s common sense: eat whole foods as close to their natural state as possible and our bodies will thank us by causing us fewer problems.

Easier said than done, I know.

Even for those of us who understand the benefits—who’ve personally experienced the benefits—of an unprocessed diet free of allergens* it is challenging to have it happen 24/7/365. Challenging. And even when we say, okay, let’s be realistic and aim for a 90:10 or 80:20 situation, even then we aren’t necessarily getting what we think we are.

The nutrient density of our current foods do not resemble those of our ancestors—or even of our younger selves. Due to the agricultural methods we’ve adopted, we have depleted our soils such that a carrot eaten in 1970 had more calcium, more iron, more vitamin A, than one eaten in 1999.

So if we want the same possibility for healthy brains as folks back in the day, we get to add to what is on our plates with thoughtful supplementation.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help with anxiety, ADHD, autism—among other things. If fatty fish (mackerel, salmon, anchovies, sardines), walnuts, flax seeds are in short supply in your life, you might benefit from a quality supplement—with an emphasis on quality. Even if you get plenty of fish and seeds, you will probably still benefit, to be honest!

The brain loves omega-3’s, oh yeah.

I personally use Biotics Research and Apex Energetics brands for my fish oils—and I eat fatty fish almost daily. Nordic Naturals and Green Pastures are store brands I can recommend that you can buy without a healthcare practitioner. I may still carry anxiety around with me, but it does not control my life, and my intake of omega-3's helps with that.

Be sure you know where the fish are harvested, so they’re free of toxins. Be sure they’re processed onsite—and immediately—so the oils don’t go rancid. Be sure there’s no overfishing. Be sure the supplement has a balance of EPA and DHA and that it hasn’t been refined into un-absorbability. Be sure, be sure!

Ruslan Bagdanov on Unsplash

Choosing supplements can be awfully complicated—I get it and I’m here to support you.

Please reach out if you have questions.

*In an upcoming article I will address food sensitivities and allergies—another important aspect of managing our mind and body.


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