(720) 727-7105 | 400 McCaslin Boulevard, Suite 210, Louisville, CO 80027

The ADHD Candida connection is a thing. Could it be a key connection for your child? ADHD challenges millions of children globally. With about 11% of US kids carrying an ADHD diagnosis, ADHD is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder in children under age 17. In my pediatric nutrition practice, as I go through the nutrition assessment process for kids with ADHD, I often come across this ADHD-Candida connection.

What does an ADHD-Candida connection mean? It can mean that your child’s ADHD features – at least in part – are actually a downstream effect of a disrupted gut microbiome that invited Candida overgrowth. Candida overgrowth can cause or exacerbate many features of ADHD, including impulsivity, insomnia, brain fog, sugar cravings, picky appetite for carbs and starches, or swings in mood and focus that seem to revolve around food. In fact, ADHD sufferers may have a distinct gut microbiome that changes neurotransmitter balance in the brain – including the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is a target molecule for stimulant drugs given to children for ADHD.

Other microbes appear to be consistently imbalanced in ADHD kids’ guts too. While Candida is a fungal species, there appear to be shifts in bacteria species in the ADHD gut microbiome too. These can drive inflammation and oxidative stress, impacting the brain enough to actually create core features of ADHD.

Other clues to the ADHD-Candida connection are that kids with ADHD often suffer from constipation. Candida overgrowth is a good way to become constipated! If constipation is on the list of an ADHD-diagnosed child’s features during our nutrition intake, I will confirm if the ADHD-Candida connection is in force with some lab studies for stool and urine. I use stool culture for fungal species, aka stool mycology (yeast culture from stool, here’s a sample report). This will show if Candida is over-abundant in the child’s gut. It will also differentiate fungal species; there are many strains of fungi (yeast) that might populate a human gut besides Candida. Stool yeast culture will look for over-abundance of these too, strains like Saccharomyces, Geotrichum, or Rhodotorula. Lastly, this test will demonstrate which medications and herbal antimicrobials cleared any found fungal overgrowth on this child’s sample, giving clues to the game plan forward.

But fungal species like Candida can be sneaky. I sometimes find a stool mycology to be negative, or within normal range, even when the child has downright unmanageable impulsivity, inattention, volatility, sugar cravings, bloating, stool accidents, or constipation. To confirm whether or not the ADHD-Candida connection is part of the story, a urine microbial organic acid test is useful. It captures the products of Candida overgrowth in urine, like tartaric acid, arabinose, or high oxalates. If this is positive, it’s likely that a child is harboring a fungal burden that may be part of the ADHD problem. And we didn’t have to draw any blood to find out! You can also draw blood to see if the child’s immune system has “noticed” a Candida burden, by looking for elevated antibodies to Candida, but in my experience, this is not as useful as the stool and urine testing.

One of the quirks of the ADHD-Candida connection is something called “auto-brewery syndrome“. In this scenario, a person’s gut actually makes its own ethanol when they eat carbohydrates, due to a heavy burden of Candida. As home beer brewers know, sugars drive the fermentation process so alcohol ensues. Many reports exist for this affecting adults, including a man pulled over for drunk driving when he had had no alcohol to drink. In that case, the man’s troubles began after he had been given antibiotics – which will reduce helpful gut bacteria while allowing fungal species to flourish.

While published reports describe this in adults, many parents have described to me what sounds like a mini-version of auto-brewery syndrome in their ADHD kids. One parent related that her child was given (a lot of) Skittles candies during a school party. A fourth grader, he soon raged through the room, knocking over furniture, jumping on desks, to the point where his classmates hid under their desks – ! If your child craves sweets and carbs, is picky or refusing for protein foods, and becomes hyper, silly, or combative after getting into sweet treats, this is a tell tale sign that the ADHD-Candida connection may be in the mix. Another notable clue is a history of thrush or other obvious fungal infections in the child’s past.

The good news is, it’s quite treatable with medications (where indicated, check with your doctor), anti-fungal herbs, or probiotics to restore balance and eradicate the fungal load. I have witnessed many an impressive turn-around in kids with ADHD who have restored a balanced microbiome. This process usually means that kids end up with better appetites, more nourishing diets, and better bowel and sleep habits too.  Work with me to find out if this is impacting ADHD features for your child, and to build a plan to support a healthier, calmer, more focused state of mind.