In recent years, more and more research has revealed a strong link between gut health and brain health. Everything from mood and energy levels to stress and anxiety has been shown to be influenced by the gut microbiome, or the diversity of healthy bacteria in our gut.
And now, a recent study at Henry Ford Health has shown that our gut microbiome may also influence the likelihood of developing ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is one of the most common neuropsychiatric disorders in children.
The study followed children born between 2003 and 2007 to mothers who had prenatal care at Henry Ford Health. At one month old and six months old, researchers tested their stool samples for different bacteria. The children were brought back at age 10. Researchers found that six-month-old babies who had more diversity of bacteria in their gut had a higher risk of developing ADHD at age 10 than six-month-old babies who had less diversity in their gut.
How Could Gut Bacteria Influence The Development Of ADHD?
In adults, a diverse gut microbiome is associated with better health. So you might think that the babies who had diverse gut bacteria at six months old would be less likely to have ADHD than the babies who didn’t have a diverse gut microbiome. But the opposite is true.
“Over the first few years of a child’s life, the diversity of gut bacteria is supposed to gradually increase,” says Andrea Cassidy-Bushrow, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at Henry Ford Health. “In children with ADHD, we think the gut is maturing at a faster rate, resembling an adult gut more quickly than the other children. We think this maturation of the gut microbiome is causing the brain to mature in different ways. Additional studies need to be done to confirm this, but that is our hypothesis.”
How a baby is fed might influence the rate at which their gut microbiome matures. “Whether an infant is breastfed or formula fed influences infant gut bacterial diversity,” says Dr. Cassidy-Bushrow. “The time at which solid foods are introduced could be a contributing factor, too. A lot of these dietary changes occur at six months old, so diet could be a key factor.”
Babies who are born vaginally receive more bacteria from their mother than babies who are born via C-section, because the birth canal is filled with beneficial bacteria. That said, how a baby is born may not contribute to ADHD. “The few studies on C-section and ADHD haven’t found a relationship between the two,” says Dr. Cassidy-Bushrow. “But it could play an overall role in gut health.”
Could Probiotics Prevent—Or Reverse—ADHD?
Studies are determining whether probiotic supplementation in early life can improve neurodevelopment. “There is a lot of interest in Lactobacillus, a type of bacteria that has shown to have some protection against ADHD,” says Dr. Cassidy-Bushrow. “It is always best to talk with your child’s pediatrician to decide if a probiotic supplement is a good choice for your child.”
More research is needed to achieve the ultimate goal: to see whether probiotics could be the key to preventing—or reversing—ADHD altogether.
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Andrea Cassidy-Bushrow, Ph.D., is an epidemiologist at Henry Ford Health. She specializes in cardiovascular disease epidemiology, genetic epidemiology and pediatric research.