20 Gut Health Tips for Kids with ADHD
Is one of your kids struggling with ADHD? You've come to the right place. Let's talk about the effects that gut health improvements (including probiotics) have on ADHD, so you can work on helping your child from the gut where so much health starts.
ADHD is prevalent these days, wreaking havoc on personal lives, families, and kids in school. There are drugs on the market to deal with it, and lots of different natural remedies for ADHD, but what if there was a way to help support your body from the root of the problem?
Energy, excitement, and bursts of activity are surely normal (and entertaining!) aspects of being a kid that any parent is happy to see. But in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), these traits can show up more intensely:
out-of- control hyperactivity
constant disruption of those around them
having trouble focusing
difficulty shifting between tasks
Unlike typical bouts of wandering attention, ADHD is a medical disorder that researchers believe is the result of a chemical imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. It can affect many aspects of a person’s life, including learning, connecting with others, organizational skills, and time management.
As a parent, this can be disheartening when you begin to peel back the layers to discover that a medical disorder may be at the root of your child’s focus and behavior troubles. But if you feel your child might have ADHD—or if they have already been diagnosed—don’t worry. You are not alone (LOTS of parents struggle with this), and you have more options than you might think.
Help for ADHD
Obviously, as parents we will do whatever is possible to set our kiddos up for independent, healthy, and fulfilling lives. So the question becomes: what’s the best option for achieving this when approaching ADHD?
For those dealing with ADD and ADHD, there are several options from drugs to natural supports, and even a few "off the beaten path" options like brain games for kids.
If you’re like most parents, psychiatric medications like Ritalin might seem an obvious choice to improve your child’s school and family life (because let’s face it: an ADHD diagnosis can impact everyone involved). Drugs are an "easy" choice but not always what a parent wants to turn to.
But how do these drugs work? What's interesting is that these drugs help ADHD children by increasing neurotransmitters norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin in the central nervous system.
But guess what else also does that?
Yes, the same neurotransmitters that are given a boost by ADHD drugs are actually naturally created in our guts by trillions of microorganisms that live there (a.k.a. our microbiome) and then delivered to the brain.
This all literally all begins in the gut, and this is important to understand when looking at ADHD.
The Gut-Brain Relationship
Our little ones’ brain health and the gut are more connected than most parents realize.
In fact, making sure the gut microbiome is healthy and teeming with a diversity of friendly flora may have a big impact on the chemical balance in children’s brains, along with their overall health and development.
You see, those bacteria in the gut can communicate with the brain directly. They do this by sending messages via the vagus nerve, which runs from our brainstem all the way to our abdomen.
Gut microbes are crucial for the creation and regulation of neurotransmitters needed by the brain to produce healthy signals throughout the body—the same neurotransmitters that drugs like Ritalin are designed to increase in ADHD children.
But most of that serotonin isn’t being made in the brain—about 80-90% of it is made in the GI tract!
This is why we need that healthy balance of bacteria in our little one’s belly: to promote a healthy balance of chemicals in the brain.
Gut Health and ADHD Symptoms
Gut bacteria support nearly every facet of health and are part of the inner ecosystem of microbes that develop in each of us, beginning in the womb.
That’s why healthy gut flora are important for so many functions in the body, including optimal mental and emotional function (the creation of neurotransmitters and proper chemical balance in the brain), which is crucial for children with ADHD.
For the gut microbiome to be healthy, it requires an abundance of good bacteria, also known as probiotics. About 85% of gut microbes should be a variety of probiotics in order to optimize important functions in the body and brain.
This is easier said than done, since so many things work against us (and our children) when it comes to the good flora we need to keep us healthy and thriving.
Here’s a quick list of things that can wipe out the good guys...
10 Things that Damage Good Gut Health
1. Processed and sugary foods
Processed foods are often full of GMO oils that can destroy the gut. Plus these foods are full of refined carbs and sugars that lead to gut issues including candida and leaky gut.
2. Preservatives, pesticides, emulsifiers, dyes, artificial fragrances
There is so much wrong with all of these. Just avoid them as much as possible.
3. Prolonged stress
Stress has many bad effects on the body and the brain, with impaired gut health being one of them.
4. Certain medications
Besides antibiotics, other meds also affect the gut--birth control pills being one offender.
5. Widespread presence of and overuse of antibiotics
Antibiotics kill life. That is what their name means. They destroy not only the "bad guys", but also the "good guys" in the gut. That's why you often have gut issues after taking an antibiotic and need to restore the balance.
6. Toxins in the environment and home
Besides those listed above, there are other pollutants to consider like flame retardants, chemicals in cleaning compounds, air pollution that comes in from the outdoors or from appliances.
7. Limited time outdoors (limited exposure to soil and animals)
Exposure to animals and soil is a good thing as it exposes us to small amounts of soil based organisms that can be beneficial to the gut.
8. Over-sanitizing (ex. antibacterial soaps)
Antibacterial soaps have been linked to the destruction of good bacteria (Source).
9. Cesarean birth vs. vaginal birth
When babies are born via C-section, they miss out on the benefits of mom's gut flora that lines the vaginal cavity.
10. Not being breastfed
Breastmilk contains beneficial bacteria along with so many other things that benefit baby's well being.
Probiotics and ADHD -- How to Restore Your Child's Gut Health
Ideally, we should expose our children to healthy bacteria as early as possible (even prenatally through maternal probiotic supplementation) and avoid practices that damage our friendly flora. This will give kids healthy connections between gut and proper brain chemical balance.
But since many factors in our modern environment can negatively affect the microbiome, one of the best ways to ensure our kids are continually exposed to strong probiotic colonies is through high-quality probiotic supplements.
In one promising study, probiotics combined with other nutritional supplements were shown to be just as effective at improving symptoms of ADHD as Ritalin (1). This makes sense because as we’ve already discussed, the neurotransmitters needed for healthy brain balance are produced in the gut!
In another fascinating trial, researchers gave 75 infants either probiotics or placebo for the first six months of life, and then followed them for thirteen years. At the end of the study, none of the kids in the probiotic group had developed ADHD, compared to 17% of kids in the placebo group (2).
10 Steps to Balance the Gut and Improve Mental Function
If we’re not actively stocking our guts with good gut bacteria, the scales will likely tip and the bad guys will soon outnumber the good guys. Thankfully, you can help your children fortify and improve their gut health.
Replenish your child’s gut and encourage focus
1. Take a high-quality multi-strain probiotic formula to balance gut bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. The best probiotics can withstand stomach acids and enable the bacteria reach the gut alive to perform their health-enhancing duties. Otherwise, the stomach's acidic environment might make the probiotic totally useless, which is a huge waste of money.
We've tried a bunch of probiotics over the years, and it's a complicated field for sure.
One thing to note is that if you or your child has histamine intolerance, you might wish to read this post on low-histamine probiotics when choosing what probiotic to take.
The following is a GREAT line of gut / brain health products from Amare. We have seen lots of benefits in our house using this line. They pay a LOT of attention to detail--quality control and formulation. And if you have a picky child, the Kids' Pack tastes great--and you know it's not easy to have kids get better if they won't take something!
Their products work specifically on the gut brain axis, and that is known to have a great effect on things like ADHD and ADD. The testimonials from this line are pretty amazing.
1. Consider colostrum. Colostrum is known to have all kinds of gut and overall benefits. A simple internet search will show you. I use the only certified 6 hour colostrum--it worked when a leading brand didn't. I get better energy, focus, and more.
2. Eat probiotic-rich foods such as non-dairy yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup, pickles, tempeh, and kombucha tea.
3. Consume prebiotic foods to ensure the friendly flora in your gut stay alive and thrive! Prebiotics are a type of nondigestible fiber that feeds the probiotics in your gut. Some popular prebiotics include oats, bananas, Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, garlic, leeks, and onions. You can also purchase a prebiotic like this one that we use.
4. Encouraging free playtime to help alleviate stress almost instantaneously while encouraging a more balanced microbiome.
For more microbiome-boosting, get kids outside to play and get extra dirty. This exposes them to healthy microbes that help to keep their digestive tract and immune system strong year long.
5. Revamp the family diet.
Focus primarily on whole, plant-based foods, preferably those that are organic, hormone, pesticide and antibiotic free. Include fresh vegetables with every meal to nourish the body with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
6. Avoid or reduce exposure to products that interfere with our body’s natural hormones (endocrine disruptors).
These can include items that contain BPA (plastics and aluminum cans); dioxins (animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy); atrazine (non-organic corn and unfiltered drinking water); phthalates (plastic containers and plastic wrap); arsenic (unfiltered drinking water); perfluorinated chemicals (non- stick pans or stain and water-resistant coatings) and pesticides (non-organic produce). Please, please, make sure that you have a good water filter in your home.
7. Remove or reduce exposure to possible triggers, such as added stressors and video games. These flood the brain with the important neurotransmitter called dopamine, leaving very little dopamine leftover for motivation, focus, and attention.
8. Consume an abundance of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, amino acids, essential fatty acids, and phospholipids.
Foods such as chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, avocados, whole grains, olive oil, and almonds are all fairly easy foods to sneak into your child’s lunchbox or mix in with their meals. Try my Chocolate Chia Pudding, Dairy-free Ranch Dressing, AIP Guacamole, Moroccan Vinaigrette, and Almond Joy Bars to see how easily and deliciously you can add these to your child's diet.
9. Watch the carbs. Excess carbs and refined sugars can lead to gut dysbiosis which can cause all kinds of health and behavioral issues.
10. Consider Liver Support - The liver filters out all kinds of toxins so give it some support. Supplements are one way to do that, and these castor oil packs have been a huge help in our family.
As anyone with a child with ADHD knows, anything you can do to help make things more smooth is a big help.
There are loads of natural and conventional supports for ADHD that you can pursue, but why not get to the root of things? Look at the relationship between gut health and ADHD or probiotics and ADHD to see if these might be the right approach for you and your family. These things aren't a cure for ADHD, but they are great supports for the gut and brain. When you improve gut health, all kinds of other good things can follow.
Talk to your doctor to see if the suggestions in this post might be a good support to your child who is struggling with ADHD. Hopefully they can be of benefit and help your child feel better--because a happy gut leads to a happy, healthy, and balanced brain. And a healthy brain means a joyful, productive, and motivated child!
Do you give your kids probiotics?
What has helped for ADHD for you or your kids?
1. Harding, K. L., Judah, R. D., & Gant, C. (2003). "Outcome-based comparison of Ritalin versus food-supplement treated children with AD/HD." Alternative Medicine Review : A Journal of Clinical Therapeutic 8 (3): 319–30.
2. Pärtty, A., Kalliomäki, M., Wacklin, P., Salminen, S., & Isolauri, E. (2015). "A possible link between early probiotic intervention and the risk of neuropsychiatric disorders later in childhood: A randomized trial." Pediatric Research 77 (6): 823-28.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Stephen O'Connor, Emergency Medicine MD and Chief Medical Officer for Salutem Health Group. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you consult with your physician concerning any health issues.
Thanks for this!
I believe that my child has gastroparesis from a chronic lyme and/or co infection. Now it is resulting in some ADD like symptoms, depression and anxiety. I wonder if anyone has had these GBX product packs work for such a situation?
Hi Bobbie. So sorry for taking awhile to get back to you on this. I can reach out to you with more information via email as well, but ---first of all, I'm so sorry that you are dealing with so much. The Fundamentals have helped a lot of people feel more stable and less down and more calm. I am taking them myself. My boys do as well to varying degrees but I just bought my youngest the Kid's Pack and this month they have a Buy One Get on half off w/ code KIDS so it's a great price. They have a 1 year money back guarantee too which you really can't beat.
Thanks for getting back to me. I’ll be trying some other things 1st and use this later if needed. I read it’s a MLM product which I’m not really interested in. Take care.
Hi there. You are welcome. Yes, it is one. I understand your concerns. I used to have the same concerns, but changed my mind after talking with some very thoughtful people about the topic. I think that while MLMs / Direct Sales can be an ethical concern as they can be a business model that can be really misused, they also can be done very ethically and well. I have seen it both ways, just as I have seen retail companies be highly unethical. I have walked away from both. In fact, this last month, I left 1 MLM, didn't get involved with another that was a hybrid setup, and walked away from a retail company. So I'm an equal opportunity critic. :). The Amare products are good and I don't have a team. I just recommend them. Maybe that will change in the future--I don't know. But I like the products. Hope that helps!
Thank you. I dropped Facebook because the owner is a tyrant and squashed free speech and continues to do so. If it doesn’t agree with his Marxist views, he’ll squash it.
One more thing - there's a group of people talking about their experiences on Facebook. I'm happy to invite you to that if you are on there. I'll reach out via email now. Hugs.
Thanks so much for the info. My DD has been diagnosed with SPD. When she is on a good probiotic, she's 98% better. I have experienced people who would rather take the medication than change their lifestyle and diet. We have chosen to change our diets and the benefits have been great for our family. Others definitely don't understand it and that's ok, it's what's best for us. Loved the article!
So many people would rather not change their diet, but they will easily see the importance of putting the proper things in their cars, which are replaceable. Your body is not.
Good for you! It's is crucial to only put the right things in your body, or you will suffer for it later. Thanks for reading!
It was an interesting article, but there are some points (on the 10 things that affect gut flora part) that are beyond the control of parents (4, 9,10) , which in my humble opinion, if is not something that cannot be controlled shouldn't be listed, it just (might) add guilt and stress to the parent reading this. Please don't think I'm not appreciative of the information, is just parents already have so much on their shoulders. Besides his changes don't show improvement immediately (they take time) and an unhealthy gut flora alter the proper functioning of the immune system, which causes some kids get sick easily and in need of medication to fight an infection.
Hi there and thanks for reading. Some thoughts on your comments:
#4 - you are saying that meds are beyond the control of the parents? I'm not sure what you mean by that. There are so many medications that are "optional" in that there are alternatives like lifestyle changes or more natural solutions. My physician appreciates that we don't ask for medications unless totally necessary.
#9 - there is actually a school of thought that doctors in some countries opt for c-sections to readily. It might be worth looking into
#10 - are you referring to mother's who can't breastfeed?
The article was in no way meant to add guilt or stress. Information is power. If I didn't know about the benefits of breastfeeding (as our physician shared them with us), I wouldn't have been empowered to try as hard as I could to breastfeed my kids for a long time. If a mother can't, she just can't. No guilt there.
Yes, we all have so much on our shoulders. I do as well--it's overwhelming. I think that the best approach is to educate and let people do what they can. Of course a prioritized list can be helpful as well. I'm always having to prioritize what I spend my time on for our overall health.
Overall a good read and something I’ve been trying along with a host of alternative therapies. Very disappointing to read you describe medication as the “easy” choice! I don’t think there would be a good parent out there that didn’t lose sleep at night at the thought of putting their children on medication, it’s one of the most difficult and heartbreaking decisions I personally made so I found your comments ignorant and offensive.
Hi Kerry. I'm sorry that you feel that way. I didn't mean it to be ignorant or offensive. I personally have had the opposite experience where parents easily run out for meds but say they don't want to make dietary or other changes b/c they will be too hard. I hope that clarifies what I meant. I guess our experiences are quite different.
Do u think the dr formulated organic kids probiotic is a good choice as well?
Not sure which one you are referring to.
I do believe with the connection of our gut and brain. It really makes sense that when your gut was populated of mostly bad bacteria you are more likely to have diseases including depression, anxiety and even ADHD. This write up is informative. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thank you! It's for sure a crucial connection.
To make sure I understand correctly, Biome Medic is a product that helps a lot of things - including ADHD in children? I have a newphew
(almost 9) who has been diagnosed with extreme anxiety and ADHD. And looking for something to help him. Is biome medic also something good for whole family to take?
Hello Faith. So the Biome Medic's main purpose is to reduce glyphosate from the gut. Glyphosate replaces glycine (amongst doing other things) and amino acid deficiencies can lead to huge problems. I for one started taking Purium's amino acids recently and saw a fast turnaround in my health. Overnight.
The gut is called the "second brain" so any thing you do that is good for the gut is good for your whole body. A huge part of your immune system lies in the gut.
The Biome Medic is an option for anyone to take - 3 of us are taking it and my husband will start soon. We are just getting his baseline labs taken before he starts. We had our son's tested and it reduced his glyphosate load by 2/3 in just 2 weeks.
So I can't say that Biome Medic cures anything but it has been proven to remove glyphosate, reduce CRP and boost the immune function of the gut and since the gut is implicated in ADHD there should be a positive result. I hope that helps.
I should add that you might want to read this post for another thing that has helped our son: https://wholenewmom.com/health-concerns/cbd-experience/
I need to write a post about how well our oldest is doing soon. Take care.
I am looking to include Homeostatic soil organisms in my daughter's diet. We don't know what is going on with her but clearly there is an issue. I am reading The Maker's Diet and as a result am interested in HSO. I have checked your site in the past but I don't see much mention of this. Thoughts?
Hi there. I have heard both sides of the argument on that. Not sure I'm a fan of them. Are you talking about SBOs?
Did you look at the Biome Medic mentioned in the post? You might want to see the reviews on the site and see what you think.
Antibiotics during labour and delivery has been the cause of my sons adhd I’m quite certain.
I've tried so many different probiotics.? None of them helped any of my issues. None killed off the candida over growth either. I never saw a change in my two boys till till we all starting use Plexus Probio5. The change in my health issues along with seeing the changes in my boys has all been a blessing!!!??
Interesting. The only thing is that it contains ascorbic acid which isn't supposed to be good for you, from what I have heard. I've read that it kills good bacteria in the gut - have you heard this?
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can have adverse reactions if taken in large quantities (over 2000 mg per day). Plexus Pro Bio 5 contains 150 mg per tablet. Plexus Biocleanse also contains ascorbic acid. Many multivitamins do as well. Consider all medications and the food eaten daily & one could be over doing it, but 2000 mg is a huge amount. Recommended daily is 100 mg.
I have to agree! ProBio5 is the only probiotic I have ever used that actually WORKS. I could feel a difference within the first week of use. I never noticed a difference with other probiotics.
Hi Beth! I don't know if you or Rachel are aware of this but there are a lot of concerns being raised about there being GMOs in Plexus products. Have you looked in to that?
There are no GMOs in Plexus products. They are nom-GMO, 100% vegetarian, and almost all of their products are gluten free as well. They are very high quality supplements. I truly loved your informative article and I understand you are promoting another probiotic, but you may want to do some more research into other products before you share incorrect information.
Hi again, Alese.
I am not saying that b/c I am promoting another probiotic. In fact, I have a bunch of probiotics on my site and am not loyal to any one brand--and I am looking in to more. I am happy to talk about this with you but please don't accuse me of saying something like that just b/c I have something else on my site. I have willingly removed companies (both MLM and non) from my site b/c of ethical issues and I will do it again. I don't think I make much if any income off of the link to Hyperbiotics on this post. If you want I can go and see how many of their products were purchased through my link in the past year but I can almost guarantee you that it's very minimal.
If you look at these posts you can see other probiotics that I have mentioned / recommended:
So I was going to ask you if you could find a place on the site that stated that the company's products were non GMO but instead I decided to contact the company myself. I just got off the phone with them. There are, to be fair, some older posts on the internet, criticizing Plexus for having some likely ingredients in them, and some of those ingredients have changed. For example, polydextrose was initially a main ingredient in the Slim but now it appears that xylooligosaccharide has replaced it, so that would appear to be a positive move in the non GMO direction.
However, to be fair, there are some products that are labeled as non GMO and others that are not labeled that way. This is what the customer service person said whom I spoke with:
"I think that there is a mix [of GMO and non GMO products] b/c if we were completely non GMO then that would be stated."
So either the products aren't all non GMO or the company's site hasn't been updated / labeled appropriately.
I hope that helps. If you think that I have shared something incorrect, please do let me know b/c I don't wish to do that. However, I will point out that your stating that there are no GMOs in Plexus products appears, from all that I can tell, to be an incorrect statement. Thank you and I do appreciate your kind words :)!
You have a great, informative page here! There are a lot of things on the internet from the past that do incorrectly state things about Plexus products. I very much appreciate your research. I apologize if I was incorrect in my previous reply. Thank you for taking the time to check it out. I will be more careful with my wording in the future. This is directly from their site and where I got the information: "We’re on the cutting edge of health science, with a range of products focused on every aspect of your health and happiness. We help your body get rid of the bad stuff, pave the way to better digestive health, and feed your system to benefit the body and mind. Our goal is to make products that are the highest quality non-GMO, 100% vegetarian, and gluten free, wherever possible. Most importantly, Plexus products work. They’re all for health, so there’s health for all."
So you can see that I took that to mean they are all non-GMO. I will check with company and see which products are and are not non-GMO. Thank you, and keep up the good work here on your page.
Hi again, Alese. I really appreciate that - thanks for following up. It seems to me that some of the products are non GMO and the others are not. That doesn't mean that they are GMO but it could. I think it's odd that the vanilla and chocolate drinks don't have the same designation. Regardless, it seems that they appear to be moving in a good direction from what I can tell.
Thanks and hope to see you around again!
This is the probiotic we have been using with the kids:
Do you have an opinion about this product?
I'm sorry but I don't have an opinion on that but I would recommend checking out this post that I just did recently. https://wholenewmom.com/health-concerns/low-histamine-probiotics/