New Study on Keto Diet for ADHD - Impressive Results
A new study just came out about ADHD and food which might just blow your mind.
The study found that a ketogenic diet significantly reduced ADHD symptoms in test subjects.
And when they compared these results to those of test subjects given the most popular ADHD medication, the results were very similar, underlining the fact that a ketogenic diet is a very viable alternative to ADHD medication.
By the way, make sure to read to the end of this article as I have a special invitation just for you that I know you’re going to like.
But maybe you’ve never heard of this before and you’re thinking, what? Keto? What’s that got to do with ADHD? In that case you’ll want to check out my blog post called “How a Ketogenic Diet Reduces ADHD: Four Possible Mechanisms,” and then come back here for the afterparty.
Now those of us who work with ketogenic diets to reduce ADHD symptoms often talk about how we need more research on how this way of eating can help people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Now while there is some research about it already, we want more! More research!
Keto as a Treatment for ADHD
So, the good news is this new study just came out and its results do show a great improvement in ADHD symptoms for the test subjects who went on keto.
The bad news is, the study was very small, we’re talking 60 participants total and the participants were . . . rats. Yup. They were rats.
Now here’s a very quirky aside, they used two types of rats in the study. And I already know what you’re thinking, wait, what?
Rats with ADHD? Now I’ve heard it all, lady.
I know. I know. Hear me out. There is a type of rat called a Spontaneously Hypertensive Rat. And these are lab rats that come from selective breeding.
Very long story short, but a very interesting Google rabbit hole to go down, they were created as a way to study cardiovascular disease and they made them by breeding ‘em and breeding ‘em and breeding ‘em, lots of hot hot rat lovin’ going on here, until they had these rats with high blood pressure.
And as it turns out, these particular rats also display a lot of characteristics that are very similar to some of the ones us ADHD folks have, especially those of us that have hyperactivity and impulsivity. So that’s how they did the study. Yes, I know, rats aren’t people, but their findings show dramatic changes in these key areas:
- levels of neurotransmitters in the brain
- gene expression
- the gut microbiome of the rats
So if you feel like geeking out with me, I’m going to briefly walk you through what they found.
So to measure behavior, what they did was they observed the rats for five minutes once a week over the course of 28 days, so five times in total, and they basically measured how much they moved around and how much time they were able to be still for.
Now, they had rats with ADHD-like symptoms and rats without, but let’s just focus on our ADHD-like rats. In these guys, they divided them into three groups:
control group - no medication, “normal” diet
medication group - given the most popular ADHD medication at the moment
keto diet group - placed on a ketogenic diet
On Day 0, before starting the treatment, all the rats moved around and stayed still pretty much the same amount.
One week later, the rats on medication moved around quite a bit less and were able to stay still for longer. So the medication had a very rapid effect on them. The keto rats didn’t show much of a change at all that week. Until . . .
week two. Now here’s where it starts to get interesting.
Starting in week two, the rats on keto did begin to move around a bit less and were able to stay still a bit longer, and this continued throughout the rest of the experiment. If you look at the graph, the medication “wins” in that it did reduce movement more than keto did, but don’t worry keto lovers, we’ll win some of the other ones in just a bit.
Levels of Neurotransmitters in the Brain
This part was, in very scientific terms, so freaking cool.
I’m going to do my best to summarize this, even though I’m not a neuroscientist. At the end of the 28 days, they measured levels of various neurotransmitters in the brain and here’s what they found. Omg pay attention to this part it’s really, like, wow.
When compared to the control group, both the brains of the rats on meds AND the brains of the rats on keto show significantly higher levels of serotonin.
The rats on meds had just a little bit more than the keto rats. Don’t worry, we will triumph soon, my keto people, hang on. If you need a refresher on what serotonin is, it does so many things, but you can think of it as a happiness chemical if you want the very simplest explanation.
So both keto and meds increased this happiness chemical in the study participants brains. Nice.
So guess what? In the rats that received medication, their norepinephrine levels went up substantially, and in the keto rats, their norepinephrine levels went up even more.
Yay! We won that one!
They also found a boost in something called adenylate cyclase, or AC, and cyclic-adenosine monophosphate, or cAMP, in both the brains of the keto rats and the medicated rats.
There was more of a boost of AC in the keto group and more of a boost of cAMP in the medication group.
And let’s not get too technical here but these are substances that we can think of as communicators on a cellular level. At higher levels, they play a part in reducing inflammation, tissue protection, and can even be anti-aging. Not too shabby. (3)
In addition to improved levels of a bunch of neurotransmitters, guess what, they also found an effect on gene expression. This is also referred to as epigenetics.
When we talk about epigenetics, we’re not talking about changing the actual gene itself, but rather changing the way the gene works. (4)
So this part of the study I found to be fascinating, as I had only read about this in a theoretical context up until now.
So, check it out, both the rats on medication and the rats on the ketogenic diet showed significant upregulation of the protein expression of a gene called DRD1.
This gene encodes the D1 subtype of the dopamine receptor, which is the most common dopamine receptor in the brain.
This receptor is responsible for such things as regulating memory, attention, impulse control, and our ability to move from one place to another. (5)
So to put that in a simpler way, they found a correlation between being on a ketogenic diet and this super important gene being able to better do its thang.
And the last major finding from the study was about the gut microbiome.
And here’s where I’m going to get feisty, y’all. It boils my blood when I hear people online rambling on and on about gut health and what do they almost always say?
You need more fiber!
And they tell you to basically eat like a rabbit and walk around with a distended belly in a perpetual cloud of your own diabolical farts.
This is terrible advice, first of all.
As a side note, studies have shown that the only thing that’s really associated with diverticulosis, which is where the colon basically starts to pouch out and break down, is an increased fiber intake and an increase in the number of bowel movements a day.
Let me say that again another way: fiber can actually be very bad for you.
So all these people who are telling you that you need more fiber for your gut health are actually doing you a huge disservice. (6)
There’s a much better way to improve your gut health, including the composition of your gut microbiome.
I’ll give you three guesses as to what it is. The first two don’t count.
It’s keto of course!
Going on a ketogenic diet has been shown to greatly improve gut health. And in severe cases of gut distress, your best bet might actually be to do something like a carnivore diet, which has pretty much no fiber at all. (7).
So, what happened in the study?
If you compare the ADHD-like rats to the non ADHD-like rats, you can see that the rats that were bred to have ADHD like symptoms had pretty much no gut bacteria in the phylum bacteroidota, whereas the non ADHD-rats did. Bacteria in this phylum are considered beneficial to humans when they’re in the gut. (8)
The rats that were placed on a ketogenic diet underwent a substantial increase in the amount of bacteroidota bacteria in their little rat bellies.
And here’s something that suprised me a lot: The rats that were placed on medication also experienced a dramatic increase in their number of this phylum of bacteria in their gut microbiome.
This concept was completely new to me. I didn’t know that stimulant medication could actually do that to your gut bacteria, but I did find one other study that showed this as well. Mind blown.
The researchers also observed a number of other changes in the gut microbiome in the rats that were placed on a ketogenic diet, and also examined what effect that might have on them. These changes in the gut microbiome of the keto rats are related to two important metabolic changes.
They can increase amino acid metabolism and decrease sugar metabolism. Nice.
And, overall, the diversity of the gut microbiome increased substantially in the rats on the ketogenic diet.
So Now What?
All right so, what do we do with all of this?
Well, I personally think it’s fascinating to see these comparisons in a very objective way.
We know that medication does help many people with ADHD, but not everyone responds to it, many people don’t enjoy the side effects of medication, some people either can’t or just plain don’t want to take it, and getting your hands on it often requires a substantial investment of time, money, or both.
Meanwhile, at the moment there is an ADHD medication shortage going on, so even if someone does respond really well to medication and has no complaints about it, there’s a very real chance that they might not always be able to get their prescription filled.
Because of all of these reasons, I think the ADHD community needs to work to get the word out more about ketogenic diets and their potential to serve as a replacement for ADHD medication.
At the moment very few people are aware of this powerful therapy and I think that any clinician working with ADHD clients should be duty-bound to at least mention this alternative to medication.
In the meantime, we’ve got the internet.
Remember at the beginning I mentioned that I had an invitation for you?
Well, here it is! I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be hosting an online get-together, a shindig, a jamboree, a rendezvous, a party of sorts, darling,
and I want to you to be there.
It’s not going to be a boring lecture or a sales pitch. Ew and ew.
It will be an interactive forum where we’ll work together to bust through ADHD blocks.
Click the link below to learn more and RSVP. Can’t wait to see you there!
ADHD Diet: What They're Not Telling You about Brain Health and Food