In research using rats, scientists discovered that the keto diet and ADHD are linked by regulating gut microbiota.
Previous research has found links between the gut biome and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Specifically, that children with the developmental disorder had a higher abundance of Candida albicans and lower quantities of other fungi in their gut biomes.
Moreover, diet may influence gut biome composition. For example, consuming fermented foods can improve gut health.
Because of the links between ADHD and the gut biome, Chinese researchers decided to take a closer look at potential associations between ADHD and diet.
Specifically, the scientists investigated whether the ketogenic diet, AKA the keto diet, could be an alternative therapy for ADHD by changing gut microbiota. Their research was published on August 16 in PLOS One.
To conduct the investigation, the scientists divided control rats and spontaneously hypertensive rats — an animal model that expresses ADHD-like behaviors — into groups. Each group received a regular diet, methylphenidate (Ritalin), or the keto diet for 28 days.
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The team found that in hypertensive rats, the keto diet could improve behavioral symptoms of ADHD, increase neurotransmitter expression in the brain, and increase protein expression of genes linked to ADHD.
The keto diet also increased the richness and diversity of the hypertensive rats' gut microbiota. Specifically, the diet significantly increased Ruminococcus_gauvreauii_group, Bacteroides, Bifidobacterium, and Blautia.
The researchers say the results provide new insights into the mechanisms behind the keto diet and ADHD link. They also suggest that the keto diet might help alleviate ADHD symptoms and behaviors by regulating gut microbiota.
Still, the research involved rats and not humans, so it's unclear if this diet plan would have the same effect on people with ADHD.
What is the keto diet?
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that focuses on obtaining 90% of calories from fat and restricting carbs to less than 50 grams per day. Eating this way forces the body to burn fat instead of sugar, leading to ketogenesis.
This high-fat, low-carb diet has become increasingly popular for weight loss and blood sugar management. However, it also has some drawbacks. For instance, some people report experiencing "keto flu" in the initial weeks after starting the diet, and liver and kidney issues as they continue with keto.
In addition, recent research suggests that the keto diet may increase the risk of cardiovascular events.
Because of these potential harms, people contemplating the keto diet for ADHD — especially parents considering it for their children — should talk with a healthcare provider before starting this or any other diet plan.