Can Micronutrients Improve Gut Bacteria Associated With ADHD?

Gut Health and ADHD

Researchers are increasingly making the connection between gut health and overall well-being—it contributes not only to digestive health, but also to immune response, obesity, and diseases such as cancer.

According to a review of studies that surveyed the impacts of gut bacteria on human health, bacteria are important elements within the gut, which is colonized by 100 trillion microbes. While gut bacteria carry out crucial bodily functions such as supplying essential nutrients, they can also negatively impact human health when their composition undergoes changes. These changes can occur due to a variety of factors, including the use of antibiotics, illness, stress, aging, unhealthy dietary habits, and lifestyle choices—and these changes can ultimately lead to the development of chronic diseases.

Gut health can impact the brain, too. The presence of unhealthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract is associated with a range of mental health disorders, from Alzheimer’s and anxiety to ADD/ADHD. Therefore, improving gut health—and understanding how that can impact the symptoms associated with various mental health conditions—is of increasing interest to researchers. For example, in one study that examined children from ages 7 to 12 who were diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, it was found that giving the participants supplements with micronutrients (including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids) “was associated with improved overall function, reduced impairment and improved attention, emotional regulation, and aggression,” when compared to those taking a placebo.

The presence of unhealthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract is associated with a range of mental health disorders, from Alzheimer’s and anxiety to ADD/ADHD. Click To Tweet


The human gut is a complex and interconnected system, lined with about 100 million neurons (more neurons than are found in the peripheral nervous system or spinal cord) that communicate directly with the brain. A 2021 scientific review explains that the term “gut-brain axis” describes the back-and-forth communication between the gut microbiome and the central nervous system—also referred to as the “microbiota-gut-brain axis,” or MGBA, to underline the importance of the gut microbiota in this interaction. Three main pathways make up this axis: the nerve pathway, the neuroendocrine pathway, and the immune pathway.

The gut’s microbiome” refers to the approximately 100 trillion micro-organisms (bacteria, yeast, and more—also called microbiota) that reside in the human gastrointestinal tract. A study that examined the role of microbiota in inflammatory disease and immune response detailed the microbiota as a collection of microbial populations that protect the intestine against colonization by external pathogens, as well as against potentially harmful micro-organisms that are already present within the body.

When these harmful components multiply, they lead to infection and disease. Thus, maintaining a healthy gut is important for a healthy brain and for optimal mental health. And a healthy gut needs healthy bacteria. In general, the gut needs about 85% beneficial bacteria to maintain health and wellness—so, when the harmful bacteria numbers elevate above 15%, a variety of problems may ensue.

These problems can include mental health issues, including ADD/ADHD, which affects 9.4% of children between the ages of 2 and 17, as well as 5.4% of adult men and 3.2% of adult women. With such widespread effects, researchers are understandably looking at the link between ADD/ADHD and dysbiosis, a term that refers to imbalances in the gut’s microbiome.


As diet plays a role in gut health, and gut health is associated with ADD/ADHD, it is common for children with this condition to have sensitivities to foods, such as gluten, artificial dyes like red dye #40, and dairy, among others. This creates further problems in the immune system and triggers inflammation. But in the 10-week study of children ages 7 to 12 with ADD/ADHD, those who took micronutrient supplements had reduced levels of harmful bacteria associated with the condition and higher levels of healthy bacteria.

The study noted the hypothesis that changes in the human gut microbiota by micronutrients “may have a biochemical effect via the vagus and spinal nerves,” which enable the back-and-forth communication between the gut and the brain (i.e., the gut-brain axis). “Through this pathway, metabolites can act as modulators in neural, immunological, and hormonal signaling, which have important implications for health and disease,” the findings stated. And, as noted, diet is possibly one of the most influential factors on the microbiome.

Furthermore, the study adds that the microbiome has been previously observed to play an important role in anxiety-like behavior in animal studies, as well as in the development of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as depression, ADD/ADHD, and autism. With pharmacological treatments for ADD/ADHD offering possible drawbacks—negative side effects or lack of effectiveness, for example—it’s of interest to determine the ways in which dietary choices can play a role in better health outcomes for those with ADD/ADHD.


While the study’s researchers found that “micronutrient treatment did not drive large-scale changes in composition or structure of the microbiome,” the relative frequency of Actinobacteria significantly decreased after the micronutrient treatment. This change was largely attributed to species from the genus Bifidobacterium and was accompanied by an increase in the relative frequency of species from the genus Collinsella.

Further research will help establish the role that Bifidobacterium has in the development of neuropsychiatric disorders, but these findings suggest that micronutrient administration could be used as a safe, therapeutic method to modulate the presence of Bifidobacterium, which could therefore help regulate the behavioral effects of ADD/ADHD. This pilot study, which looked at a small number of children (17 total), highlights the need for further investigation in a larger sample of participants. Still, the researchers added that a large recent international study found that children with ADD/ADHD had significantly higher levels of the Bifidobacterium bacteria in their gut than those without the condition.

Lead researcher Dr. Aaron Stevens, a geneticist at the University of Otago, Christchurch, shared with Neuroscience News that his findings are part of a growing body of evidence that indicates the human gut microbiome, or gut bacteria, could play a part in the onset of neurodevelopmental disorders. In light of the study’s indications—that micronutrients may offer a safe therapy for those with ADD/ADHD—more research is needed to determine the biological connection between ADD/ADHD, diet, and the microbiome, and to further examine the role of Bifidobacterium on these kinds of disorders.

At Amen Clinics, many patients with ADD/ADHD also struggle with gut health issues. This is why Amen Clinics physicians include nutritional psychiatry as part of a comprehensive ADD/ADHD treatment plan. Recommendations generally include trying an elimination diet for one month to see if it improves symptoms, taking nutritional supplements to get the necessary micronutrients, and taking a daily probiotic to enhance gut health and brain health.

ADD/ADHD and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Would bad gut bacteria or fungal issues cause insomnia?

    Comment by Cynthia Avalos — October 19, 2023 @ 4:14 PM

  2. excellent post!

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