Inflammation in Anxiety, ADHD, Autism, and Other Neurological Conditions:
Nutrition to Calm the Nerves


In today’s fast paced world, with little rest, overloaded with toxins, and devoid of nutrients, inflammation is very common. Once triggered, it can be hard to shut off – and if certain biochemical processes persist, chronic inflammation can ensue. Inflammation acts like a fire in the body, literally burning up many of our necessary nutrients. Inflammation can be triggered by infections, irritants, and biochemical processes that have gone awry. It creates pain, and can lead to cellular damage and a cascade of health problems. In fact, inflammation is underlying most neurological and chronic disorders in children and adults. All of following conditions have been linked to inflammation: Autism1,2,3, Asthma, Allergies, ADHD4, Autoimmune conditions, Depression5, 6, Anxiety 7, 8, Inflammatory Bowel disorders, Eczema, Schizophrenia 9, 10 Inflammation is a necessary process for the immune system. When the body can’t shut it off however, it can cause serious problems. Inflammation is linked to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, as well as the myriad of mental health and mood conditions described above. Some substances that people use to “help” inflammation, like over the counter anti-inflammatories and cortisone creams, are generally ineffective in the long run and can have harmful side effects. So what can you do? Take charge by avoiding common causes of inflammation – factors you can influence, like food choices and toxic exposures.

Avoiding Inflammatory Foods

Gluten, dairy, and soy are major food sources of inflammation. Any food sensitivity or allergy specific to an individual will almost certainly create inflammation. Caffeine, sugar, alcohol and omega-6 fatty acids, such as those found in vegetable oils, are inflammatory. Processed foods containing trans-fats, artificial ingredients, and food additives are inflammatory. Foods with AGE’s (Advanced Glycation End Products) such as baked goods, fried and barbequed foods, are also inflammatory. For some people, especially those with gut inflammation grains and other starches can trigger inflammatory conditions such as asthma. Studies have shown pesticides can trigger inflammation (such as asthma and cardiovascular disease). Genetically modified foods (such as corn, soy, and canola) have also been shown to create inflammation and leaky gut in the animals fed these engineered foods. Eat organically whenever possible. Even foods that are nutritious can be problematic for some people; particularly certain food chemicals or compounds in them that some people can’t tolerate. For example, oxalates found in spinach and almonds create oxidative stress and inflammation, particularly for those with issues regulating oxalate and those that eat extremely high levels of oxalates. Histamine is an inflammatory substance. People with problems handling histamine-rich foods such as fermented foods and bone broth or foods that trigger histamine release can have high inflammation in the body. Salicylates found in nutritious foods like berries and grapes can cause inflammation in people that don’t have the biochemical support to process them. Additionally, glutamates, such as those found in MSG and other food additives, as well as those naturally occurring in certain foods, are often inflammatory. Finally, FODMAPS (an acronym for certain fermentable carbohydrates) found in foods such as onions and apples, can cause bloating, pain and inflammation in certain people, including those with SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).

BioIndividual Nutrition

However, this does not mean everyone should avoid these wonderful foods.This is where BioIndividual Nutrition® comes in. BioIndividual Nutrition is customizing the food and nutrition choices based on the unique biochemical and health needs of the individual. In other words, people that have a problem handling these foods, are more likely to have inflammation when consuming them, whether in small or large quantities. If a person does not have trouble with them, they are healthy foods and can usually be consumed without triggering inflammation (although extremely high oxalate foods are generally best consumed in moderation by everyone). If you suspect an issue with salicylates, histamines, FODMAPS, or oxalates, you can read more online, find a knowledgeable practitioner, or read my book, Nourishing Hope for Autism.

Anti-Inflammatory Support

Eat an organic, GMO-free diet, devoid of pesticides. Fish oil is a natural anti-inflammatory. Certain herbs such as turmeric and ginger are also anti-inflammatory. NATURALLY ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS: • Antioxidant rich foods – fruits, vegetables • Herbs and spices • Fish • Olive oil • Green and cruciferous vegetables • Blueberries • Coconut oil • Fermented Foods • Kelp • Shiitake mushrooms • Wild salmon • Green tea • Papaya • Pineapple • Sweet potato Phytonutrients found in fruits, vegetables and spices have anti-inflammatory properties; however, remember that for some people, the salicylates and other food chemicals can be irritating and cause inflammation (so these recommendations would need to be customized). Do your best to bio-individualize your diet to your unique needs. If needed, seek out the support of a practitioner to understand if broader categories of food intolerances might be affecting you, your child, or your level of inflammation. Talk with your integrative clinician about inflammatory lab markers, and appropriate medical treatments. Sometimes the inflammatory process needs to be stopped, and there are useful functional medicine interventions: both natural remedies and/or medications that can help. As you are exploring and working on this, I might suggest you start with food, toxin and lifestyle factors that you can address at home. This may provide you some relief (mild to major) and help you, as your doctor determine next steps. Let us know what’s worked for you in the comments below.

1 Vargas, Diana L., et al. “Neuroglial ac- tivation and neuroinflammation in the brain of patients with autism.” Annals of neurology 57.1 (2005): 67-81.

2 Li, Xiaohong, et al. “Elevated immune response in the brain of autistic patients.” Journal of neuroimmunology 207.1 (2009): 111-116.

3 Rossignol, D. A., and R. E. Frye. “A review of research trends in physiological abnor- malities in autism spectrum disorders: im- mune dysregulation, inflammation, oxida- tive stress, mitochondrial dysfunction and environmental toxicant exposures.” Mo- lecular psychiatry 17.4 (2011): 389-401.

4 Donev, Rossen, and Johannes Thome. “Inflammation: good or bad for ADHD?.” ADHD Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders 2.4 (2010): 257-266.

5 Miller, Gregory E., and Ekin Blackwell. “Turning Up the Heat Inflammation as a Mechanism Linking Chronic Stress, De- pression, and Heart Disease.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 15.6 (2006): 269-272.

6 Raison, Charles L., Lucile Capuron, and Andrew H. Miller. “Cytokines sing the blues: inflammation and the pathogene- sis of depression.” Trends in immunology 27.1 (2006): 24-31.

7 O’Donovan, Aoife, et al. “Clinical anxi- ety, cortisol and interleukin-6: Evidence for specificity in emotion–biology rela- tionships.” Brain, behavior, and immunity 24.7 (2010): 1074-1077.

8 Pitsavos, Christos, et al. “Anxiety in re- lation to inflammation and coagulation markers, among healthy adults: the AT- TICA study.” Atherosclerosis 185.2 (2006): 320-326.

9 Saetre, Peter, et al. “Inflammation-relat- ed genes up-regulated in schizophrenia brains.” Bmc Psychiatry 7.1 (2007): 46.

10 Leonard, Brian E., Markus Schwarz, and Aye Mu Myint. “The metabolic syn- drome in schizophrenia: is inflammation a contributing cause?.” Journal of Psychop- harmacology 26.5 suppl (2012): 33-41.

Julie Matthews is a Certified Nutrition Consultant who received her master’s degree in medical nutrition with distinction from Arizona State University. She is also a published nutrition researcher and has specialized in complex neurological conditions, particularly autism spectrum disorders and ADHD for over 20 years. Julie is the award winning author of Nourishing Hope for Autism, co-author of a study proving the efficacy of nutrition and dietary intervention for autism published in the peer-reviewed journal, Nutrients, and also the founder of Download her free guide, 12 Nutrition Steps to Better Health, Learning, and Behavior.


  1. I was just having this conversation with one of my clients today. Thank you for making this information available to the masses.

  2. I feel that I suffer from inflammation

  3. I have tolerance for moderate oxalates (about 150 a day).
    I thought beets and sweet potato were “off limits” foods.
    You have them listed as “anti-inflammatory”’. They, and
    quinoa are on some lists.
    I don’t notice them causing pain in me, but was unsure
    if they caused “hidden” injuries.
    Can you advise how to know what is safe amount of
    these foods for one with minimal symptoms.

    Also, can’t coconut be pro-inflammatory with APOE4
    gene polymorphism?


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.