Natural Remedies for ADHD

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Natural remedies are treatments that do not involve a prescription from your doctor. People have been using natural remedies to address their health issues for millennia. They are now generally referred to as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and commonly involve nutritional strategies and lifestyle changes.

Although we have the benefits of advanced medicine, there may still be a place for natural treatments too.

There is a tendency to think a choice needs to be made between medication and alternative options. However, for ADHD, it is helpful to include a combination of both, in order to find the most effective way to treat and manage symptoms.

Here is a list of practical and natural remedies for ADHD.

Get Your Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals play an important role in natural remedies for ADHD. You can eat vitamin-rich foods and may also consider taking vitamin supplements. Here is a list of vitamins and minerals that have been found to be helpful for people with ADHD:

Vitamin B6 and Magnesium

The B vitamins are essential for a healthy nervous system. Vitamin B6 is especially important for ADHD, as it is involved in the production of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. Vitamin B6 and magnesium metabolism are connected. If magnesium levels are low, this can cause problems similar to ADHD, such as reduced attention span and irritability.

A deficiency in B6 might result in poor memory, trouble concentrating, and increased activity.

Taking magnesium and B6 together may be helpful in managing ADHD symptoms.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is involved in a variety of functions and is needed for the brain to make neurotransmitters.

Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that regulates dopamine.

If you have low levels, it may contribute to attentional issues.

Iron

Iron is needed to make dopamine. Low iron levels have been associated with ADHD symptoms. Your doctor can check your iron levels and prescribe a supplement if you need one. It is not advisable to take an iron supplement without medical advice.

Take an Omega-3 Supplement

Research shows people with ADHD have lower levels of omega-3 compared to their peers who do not have ADHD. The benefits of taking an omega-3 supplement may include improving ADHD symptoms, resulting in, for example, increased attention, focus, and memory, and may help with your overall approach to treatment.

Eat a Clean Diet

"Clean eating" is a great term to describe a style of eating that avoids processed foods, additives, and chemicals. Here are some things to avoid when you are eating clean to help your ADHD symptoms.

Sodium

The body needs some salt to function at its best. However, too much salt can contribute to a range of health problems from headaches to hypertension. Sodium benzoate is in many foods and drinks and has been associated with high scores on ADHD rating scales.

Become an avid reader of product labels to get an idea of how much salt you are consuming in your diet at the moment.

Then develop ways to reduce your intake, so it is not more than the recommended daily amount. The American Heart Association says the ideal amount of salt intake is 1,500 milligrams or less per day.

MSG

Monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer that is added to many foods, including salad dressing, bouillon cubes, and baby food. There have been adverse cognitive reactions to MSG reported in some studies.

HVP

Hydrolyzed vegetable protein is also a flavor enhancer used in foods like chili, sauces, dips, and soy vegetarian products. While HVP can contain MSG (often 10 to 30 percent), manufacturers of a product that has HVP are not required to disclose on the label if it contains MSG.

Yeast Extract

Some believe that yeast extract is a type of MSG. It is seldom talked about and often goes undetected, even by label readers who know to look for MSG.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant. Many people self-medicate with caffeine before being diagnosed or use it to treat their ADHD. Caffeine enhances dopamine and increases focus and alertness. It also has an addictive quality and excessive use may put stress on the adrenal glands. It triggers the fight or flight response and can result in side effects like anxiety, nervousness, and insomnia. Caffeine can also interact negatively with stimulant medication.

Some people with ADHD find they can enjoy a small amount of caffeine, while others find its negative effects outweigh any enjoyment they get from a morning coffee. If you find caffeine causes any unpleasant side effects, eliminating it from your diet could help your ADHD symptoms. Be sure to read labels, as caffeine can be added to drinks, food, and medication where you might not expect it to be.

Sugar

Sugar tastes good. However, it does not contain helpful nutrients for the ADHD brain. Overuse can result in energy crashes and problems with memory and focus. Sugar does not cause ADHD, but it can magnify symptoms in someone who has it.

Artificial Sweeteners

Although the evidence is mixed, some studies link artificial sweeteners with biochemical alterations that can interfere with cognitive functions and emotions.

Have Stable Blood Sugar

Eating regularly (yet not constantly snacking) helps to control blood sugar. This helps to avoid focus and attention issues, irritability, and low physical energy that come with unstable blood sugar levels. If you skip meals or eat food that is high in simple carbohydrates (including sugar), your blood sugar levels may be a little like a roller coaster with highs and lows all day.

Some ADHD characteristics make eating regularly challenging. For example, hyper-focusing might mean you forget to eat because you are so engrossed in your activity. Tasks like meal planning and grocery shopping can be difficult. In addition, ADHD medication can suppress your appetite.

Here are some ADHD-friendly suggestions to keep your blood sugar stable:

  • Get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning so you have time to eat breakfast.
  • Eat protein for breakfast—perhaps eggs—as protein helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.
  • Set an alarm for lunch and dinner so you remember when it is time to eat.
  • Learn ADHD-friendly ways to plan meals and shop for groceries.
  • Carry healthy snacks with you when you leave the house. This way if you are hungry you will be less likely to reach for a sugary snack.

Eat Protein

Including protein with meals can help in managing ADHD symptoms. Not only does protein help to stabilize blood sugar levels, protein also influences neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, are biochemical messengers that allow communication between brain cells. Protein provides a supply of amino acids, which are what neurotransmitters are made from, helping the brain to function at its best.

Neurotransmitters, in particular dopamine and norepinephrine, are an important feature in treating ADHD. For example, stimulant ADHD medications work by increasing the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the synapses of the brain. By eating protein you are helping your ADHD naturally, and you can perform better throughout the day. An ADHD-friendly meal includes a balance of protein, and fiber (such as from vegetables, unprocessed fruit, or oatmeal).

Discover If You Have a Food Intolerance

A study found that people with ADHD have a greater chance of having food allergies and food intolerance than people who do not have ADHD. If a person has a food allergy and eats that food, typically a reaction is experienced fairly quickly. Symptoms might include itchiness or hives, or a more severe reaction, such as swelling of the tongue or problems breathing. Food allergies can be diagnosed with a skin test or blood test.

Food intolerance or sensitivities are harder to detect than allergies. For example, they might not show up in blood results, and the effects of eating a certain food might not be as immediate. (This means some people are skeptical that food intolerances exist.) Yet they can still negatively affect one’s quality of life. For example, your energy levels can be affected. There might be changes in your behavior like more impulsiveness and a decrease in brain clarity or ability to concentrate. Food intolerances are personal, both in terms of what food or foods you are intolerant to and how they affect you.

Because blood tests are not a reliable way to test for intolerances, a good way to discover if you have any is to try an elimination diet. There are two ways to do this. You could eliminate all the top allergens (soy, wheat, dairy, corn, yeast, peanuts, eggs, shellfish, and chocolate) at the same time. Alternatively, eliminate one at a time and see if you notice a reduction in symptoms. Eliminating all the foods at the same time can result in a restrictive diet, which is hard to maintain. There is also the potential that you would not meet your nutritional requirements. Working with a nutritionist is helpful if you decide on this option. For some people, eliminating one food at a time is an easier alternative.

Discover If You Have a Food Dye Intolerance

Food dyes can be found in a wide variety of foods and products like candy, cereal, snacks, medications, and toothpaste. Some studies have found a connection between food coloring and additives and hyperactivity in children. It might be that your child is sensitive to some food coloring but not all of them. An elimination diet will allow you to see which food dye or dyes have an effect. The best way to avoid food dyes is to become an expert at reading labels before buying a product. A product might identify the food dyes used, like Blue No. 1 for example. If the product has several colors, the label might say "artificial colors." Eliminating food dyes from a diet does not necessarily mean you have to stop eating certain types of food; sometimes it just means switching brands.

The Feingold diet is an elimination diet designed for people with ADHD. It allows only a few food dyes or additives. It has been criticized for being very restrictive, and it is not advised that it be the only way you treat ADHD. However, it is a diet that might help to identify food sensitivities.

Exercise

Exercise improves ADHD symptoms, including the executive functions. There have been many research studies done to look at different types of exercise and how they help ADHD. The verdict is that there is not one exercise type that is better than another. Instead, the important factor is to pick one that you enjoy and will feel motivated to do regularly. It could be running, spinning classes, yoga, or a martial art. If you have a tendency to get bored, you could include a variety of your favorite exercise types.

Energetic Play

Exercise is excellent for children with ADHD, too. It helps all their ADHD symptoms, including hyperactivity and impulsivity. Children might enjoy an organized sport or martial art class. They can also benefit from lots of opportunities to participate in exercise throughout the day with energetic play. This could be jumping on a trampoline, running in the yard or park with friends, or hopping on a bike.

Go to Sleep

Getting enough hours of sleep every night helps ADHD. However, ADHD behavior can sabotage good sleep hygiene. For example, hyper-focus or procrastinating on projects until the last minute can mean you end up going to bed late. Having a busy mind can make falling asleep feel impossible. This, in turn, makes waking up in the morning hard because you are sleep-deprived. Getting less sleep than you need affects your ability to focus and concentrate. It also affects your mood and general health. Although making sleep a priority and changing habits around sleep might feel like a daunting task, it is a great natural way to help ADHD.

Sources:

Almog, M., L. V. Gabis, S.Shefer, and Bujanover. 2010. Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Pediatric Patients with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders. Harefuah 149(1):33-36

Beezhold, B. L., C.S. Johnston and K.A. Nochta, 2014. Sodium Benzoate-Rich Beverage Consumption is Associated with Increased Reporting of ADHD Symptoms in College Students: A Pilot Investigation. Journal of Attention Disorder 18(3): 236-241

Hawkey, E., and J.T. Nigg. 2014. Omega-3 Fatty Acid and ADHD: Blood Level Analysis and Meta-Analytic Extension of Supplement Trials. Clinical Psychology Review

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