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Mother's diets low in fat and sugar are best to help kids avoid ADHD symptoms

Harold Mandel's picture
A pregnant woman

Researchers from King’s College London and the University of Bristol have discovered that a high-fat, high-sugar diet during pregnancy may be associated symptoms of ADHD in kids who have conduct problems early in their lives.


There have been growing concerns about the large number of children appearing to be hyperactive. It appears that the diet of the mother when she is pregnant may have influence the behavioral well being of the child later on. Researchers from King's College London and the University of Bristol say that their research shows that a diet which is high in fat and sugar during pregnancy may be associated with symptoms of ADHD in kids who display conduct problems early in their lives.

Diagnoses of ADHD are often traced to prenatal experiences of maternal distress or poor nutrition

This study, which is the first to show that epigenetic changes which are seen at birth may serve as an explanation for the association between an unhealthy diet and behavioral problems, has been published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. What are alleged to be early onset conduct problems such as fighting and lying and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are the primary causes of child mental health referral in the United Kingdom where this research was done. About 40 percent of the kids who are diagnosed with a conduct disorder are also diagnosed with ADHD. This can often be traced back to prenatal experiences of maternal distress or poor nutrition.

The researchers compared 83 kids with early-onset conduct problems to 81 kids who had low levels of conduct problems. There was an assessment of how epigenetic changes, or DNA methylation, of IGF2, which is a gene associated with fetal development and the brain development of areas said to be implicated in ADHD, was affected by the mother's diet. In previous research DNA methylation of IGF2 was seen in kids of mothers who were victimized by famine in the Netherlands during World War II.

The researchers said poor prenatal nutrition, which consisted of high fat and sugar diets of processed food and confectionary, was found to be associated with higher IGF2 methylation in kids with early onset conduct problems and in kids with low conduct problems. There as also an association seen between higher IGF2 methylation and higher ADHD symptoms between the ages of 7 and 13, but only for kids who displayed an early onset of conduct problems.

A healthy prenatal diet may lower ADHD symptoms in kids

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Dr Edward Barker from King’s College London has said the vital importance of a healthy diet when a woman is pregnant has been highlighted by the finding that poor prenatal nutrition was linked to higher IGF2 methylation. There is a positive side to these findings due to the fact that it is possible to alter nutritional and epigenetic risk factors. Therefore the promotion of a healthy prenatal diet may lead to a decrease in ADHD symptoms and conduct problems in kids.

Conduct problems and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are often seen together and have both been associated with an unhealthy diet in the mother during pregnancy. It is therefore important to help pregnant women understand that they should avoid consuming too much fat and sugar. The healthier the mother's diet is the greater the likelihood her child will be healthy.

Although it is certainly logical to assume the research is right in highlighting how important a healthy diet in pregnant women is for healthy outcomes in their children the hype about ADHD should nevertheless also be addressed. Dr. Marcel de Roos, a psychologist, has reported for The Nation that ADHD is more of a hype than an actual psychiatric epidemic.

Although ADHD is a false epidemic good prenatal diet remains very important

Leading American psychiatrists such as Dr. Allen Frances have been highly critical of their own colleagues and have said that ADHD is tragically over-diagnosed and is a false epidemic. The initiatives of unscrupulous elements in the pharmaceutical industry marketing machine aimed at selling new drugs, which have potentially dangerous side effects, seems to be a major part of the problem.

Keeping in mind the heated controversy about the psychiatric label of ADHD it is nevertheless important to always stress the importance of a healthy prenatal diet for the development of healthy kids. WebMD suggests that pregnant women should eat a variety of foods to get all of the nutrients necessary for themselves and their babies.

The suggestions include two to four servings of fruit and four or more servings of vegetables, four servings of dairy products, 6-11 servings of breads and grains, and and three servings of protein sources such as fish, eggs, meat, poultry, or nuts daily. And it should be remembered that pregnant women should consume fats and sweets only sparingly. A nutritious diet for a pregnant woman serves as a good natural remedy to help ensure her baby's well being.