Nutritional Concerns for Adults with ADHD

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Author: Dr. Donna Schwontkowski (ret. D.C.), M.S. Nutrition, M.H.

If you’ve had ADHD since you were a child, you may feel resigned to the ‘fact’ that you have it for the rest of your life. However, did you know that you have the power to control the way your brain’s nerve cells work by using basic principles of natural healing, especially nutrition?

Your Brain is Constantly Changing

The primary concept to keep in mind to access this power is one called neuroplasticity. This means that the brain has the ability to adapt to demands and stimulation during a person’s entire life. By exercising your brain with some of the latest online brain training games, you can improve its global cognitive functions in a short period of time (see These types of games are ‘food’ for the neurons to grow.

Give the Body What It Needs and Expect the Brain to Respond

However, you still must take care of the basic physical health of the structure of the brain itself – the nerves and its synapses. By providing the foundational nutrients – protein, fat and carbohydrates – and vitamins and minerals, you support your brain for all its needs. 

Below are six guidelines on diet for maximum brainpower. Using them, you may surprise yourself about how well your brain really can work! Give them a trial of about a month and see what happens. The guidelines are similar to those recommended for children with ADHD.

  • Are you eating enough protein in your diet? The minimum protein level for an adult is usually three ounces of protein (chicken, fish, beef, pork, lamb, turkey, bison) for lunch and dinner each, and another few ounces for breakfast (two eggs). One glass of milk or yogurt counts as two additional ounces of protein. If you’re a vegetarian, you still need 60 grams of protein per day as a minimum. When this minimal requirement is not met, it impacts brain function and hormone levels.
  • Decrease your consumption of sweets and processed foods. These foods do nothing to build brainpower or to build healthy brain tissue, and encourage inflammation and the production of free radicals. The artificial colorings and preservatives may have excitotoxin properties to the brain. Once eliminated, you may notice clearer thinking.
  • Vegetables and fruits are protective of brain tissue. Are you eating enough? Juicing vegetables may be an easier way to consume the bulk of your vegetables. By upping your vegetable and fruit servings to eight per day, it’s possible that the phytonutrients will ‘fill in the metabolic gaps’ and activate synapses that have been inactive for quite awhile. Besides this, you may notice uplifted moods as scientists have noted in some studies.
  • German scientists are reporting the emerging importance of GABA for those with ADHD and other brain disorders. The herb Passiflora incarnata (passion flower) acts to modulate the GABA part of the nervous system and has been used for centuries by medicine men, shamans, and women in cultures worldwide. This herb and/or evening primrose oil may be a good addition to the diet of adults with ADHD.
  • Clean out these foods from your diet: crackers and baked goods with trans fats or vegetable oils, all vegetable oils and margarines, except for olive oil and palm oil. These fats are highly unstable and produce free radicals that damage brain tissue. Add an omega 3 fat supplement and continue to eat butter, coconut oil and olive oil.
  • Other herbs that are commonly suggested by 83% of caregivers for children with ADHD include ginkgo biloba, ginseng and St. John’s wort. It’s possible that these same herbs will make a difference for adults, too. Consider adding them to your diet. For example, you could start with one cup of ginkgo tea daily, or take two capsules of a brain boosting formula. Monitor your progress.

Make boosting your brainpower a priority for 90 days and keep a journal of the changes along the way. You just may find that ADHD becomes a thing of your past.


Modulation of the gamma-animobutyric acid (GABA) system by Passiflora incarnata L. Phytother Res 2011 Jun;25(6):838-43.

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