How Certain Foods Cause Depression, Anxiety, ADHD & Autism
Foods That Fight ADHD-Related Depression
Do you find yourself battling both ADHD and depression? Adding the right nutrients to your diet may help you better manage.
By Beth W. Orenstein
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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ADHD and depression often go hand in hand — studies show that roughly 70 percent of those living with ADHD undergo depression treatment at some point. “One of the reasons ADHD and depression are linked,” explains Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass., “is that adults with ADHD often experience frustration in accomplishing their goals. This difficulty following through can lead to low self-esteem and a sense of discouragement and frustration, which can fuel depression.”
While a mental health professional is often the first-line treatment, a few simple nutritional strategies and lifestyle changes may also ease the emotional pain.
ADHD and Depression: How Diet May Help
Studies show that certain foods, such as those high in B vitamins and in omega-3 fatty acids — found in coldwater fish, walnuts, and canola oil — can help with depression. They’ve also been proven to help with attention and memory.
“If someone is already ingesting a sufficient amount of omega-3s and B vitamins, they’re not necessarily going to benefit from taking more,” Rossman says. However, he adds, “The reality is that most Americans are deficient in omega-3s unless they’re eating a lot of oily fish. The American diet has changed over the last several decades — there’s just a lot less naturally in our diets and so people may find that taking B vitamins and eating fish or taking fish oil capsules may be helpful in fighting depression.”
Katherine Tallmadge, RD, LD, of Washington, D.C., author ofDiet Simpleand a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, says omega-3s don’t work for everyone, and no one knows why, but for some people they can be “pretty miraculous.”
Some of the best sources of omega-3s are:
- Salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, and anchovies
- Canola oil
It is recommended that people eat about 12 ounces of fatty fish per week, Tallmadge says. That’s equivalent to two servings a week. You can get fish oil in capsule form if you can’t find oily fish fresh or frozen at your grocery store or fish market.
Good sources of B vitamins include:
- Animal products (meat, poultry)
- Asparagus, avocado, broccoli, spinach, bananas, and potatoes
- Dried apricots, dates, and figs
- Dairy products (milk, eggs, cheese, and yogurt)
- Almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds
- Shellfish including clams, oysters, mussels, and crab
- Wheat germ and whole grain cereals
People who are vegetarians need to be careful to get sufficient vitamin B12. “They may need supplements because it’s really hard to get B12 without eating animal sources of protein,” Rossman says.
ADHD and Depression: A Healthy Approach
Other supplements, such as St. John’s wort, have been shown to help people with depression. “I’m not familiar with St. John’s wort for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” Rossman says. “But it has been shown in studies to work as well as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression.”
Overall, the kind of diet that seems to be most helpful for mood enhancement is the Mediterranean diet, Rossman points out. This is a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, with controlled amounts of low-fat dairy, protein, and whole grains, and low in refined foods containing white flour, sugar, and trans fats — olive oil is the fat of choice.
People with ADHD and depression also can benefit from daily exercise, says Tallmadge. “One of the things we know that’s critical for brain function is exercise because it increases blood flow and reduces blood clotting.”
If you’re experiencing incapacitating depression, if you’re not able to engage in work or meet family responsibilities, if you’re suicidal or have any thoughts of ending your life, you should seek the help of a mental health professional right away, Rossman says. “Medication has shown to be most effective for people with clinical depression.”
However, if you have mild to moderate levels of depression, you should see some improvement in your mood and attention by getting adequate omega-3s and B vitamins in your diet and exercising for 30 minutes at least three times a week.
Sound advice that will boost your overall health, too.
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