IBS and ADHD: Are They Linked?

Someone is flushing a toilet

If you have been diagnosed with ADHD as I have, you are probably aware that it isn’t uncommon for ADHD to have a comorbidity—one or more linked additional conditions—to something like anxiety, depression, or OCD.  

However lately, I have been wondering if there is there a correlation between ADHD and stomach issues.  

It turns out, in the last few years there have been many studies surfacing about how our gut health may have an impact on our mental health and how there might be a link between the microbes in our intestines and the development of conditions such as ADHD.

Check out the article below for the link between ADHD and IBS, the link between constipation and ADHD, and what we can do to improve our symptoms.

Constipation and ADHD

Did you know that 15-17% of adults with ADHD, and more than 20% of children with ADHD, report that they suffer from chronic constipation?

While this may seem like a large enough problem in itself, it can also lead to other serious health conditions like: 

  • Hemorrhoids
  • Anal fissures
  • Ulcers
  • Obstructions
  • Rectal prolapse
  • Colon Cancer

Why do people with ADHD get chronic constipation?

According to Dr. Craig Liden, there could be several reasons for this:

  1. Not paying attention to signals from the body because we are distracted by something else instead
  2. Not having the ability to sit still on the toilet for the amount of time it would take to be successful
  3. Procrastination
  4. A lack of proper self-care activities such as eating healthy, drinking enough water, and exercising (which all help to promote regular bathroom habits)
  5. A lack of patience

IBS and ADHD

A recent study done in 2020 showed that ADHD is associated with an increased rate of comorbid conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and constipation, but not immunological-based conditions like irritable bowel disease and celiac disease.

But can our gut health actually cause us to develop ADHD?

A very recent study done by Henry Ford Health suggests this could be true. Their study looked at stool samples from children and compared them at ages one month, six months, and ten years old. They found that the children that had a more diverse microbiome (gut bacteria) were more likely to develop ADHD than those who had a less diverse microbiome. 

I find that so interesting.  

From what I have learned about gut health, all the experts tell us diversity is better for us. 

So why is this? 

According to Dr. Cassidy-Bushrow, an epidemiologist, for 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.” 

So what about anxiety and our gut health?

There are numerous studies that show that anxiety can also lead to a “nervous stomach” as it is sometimes called, or an increase in G.I-related issues.  

Add that to the fact that anxiety is a common comorbidity with ADHD, and it is no surprise that many people who have ADHD report having GI issues.  

How can we make it better?

There are several things those of us with ADHD can do to try to improve any G.I-related symptoms or conditions we might suffer from.

1) Eat healthier 

Although a healthy diet won’t change the fact that we have ADHD, it could help make it easier to manage our symptoms.  

Eating foods with high amounts of fiber and gut-healthy carbs can help. 

2) Drink more water 

Drinking more water can help us to go to the bathroom more frequently when we are constipated.  

3) Try a short-term solution 

For times of great struggle, it could be useful to try an over-the-counter laxative, or fiber supplement. However, this can’t be a permanent solution and is only meant to help get us back on track. 

4) Sleep more 

Did you know that not only does increased sleep help to reduce our ADHD symptoms, but it is also good for our gut health as well? 

5) Take your medication

Although some people have reported having increased GI symptoms that they think may be linked to their ADHD medication, there have been no studies showing that.

In fact, taking our ADHD medication can help, because, with the decrease of our ADHD symptoms, like anxiety, or not being able to sit still, it could help those GI symptoms decrease as well.

6) Go to the doctor 

If we have been having GI symptoms for an extended period of time, it would be wise to seek out the medical advice of a professional. They will be able to give advice specifically related to your own experience, medical history, and symptoms. 

There is more research coming out every day about the link between constipation, IBS, and ADHD. It will be interesting to see what this research shows in the next few years.

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