Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) are neurological and behavior-related conditions that cause difficulty in concentrating, impulsiveness and excessive energy.
Individuals with ADHD symptoms not only have a challenge in concentrating, but have a challenge sitting still. Those with ADHD are typically more disruptive than individuals with ADD.
ADHD often has an onset age of 7, but this disorder can continue through teen years and well into adulthood. It’s estimated that ADHD affects 9 percent of American children between the ages of 13 and 18 and over 4 percent of adults. (1)
According to the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health, “the number of children being diagnosed with ADHD is increasing, but it is unclear why.” Most physicians and research indicate the increase in ADHD is directly linked to the food that children eat, how they sleep and even how they breath.
In fact, recent research suggests that sleep deprivation, circadian rhythm disturbances and sleep-disordered breathing (including mouth breathing) may lead to the induction of ADHD-like symptoms. (2)
Researchers suggest that the long-term consequences of ADHD include dire psychological, educational and psychiatric consequences. Early diagnosis and intervention are important factors in preventing the debilitating effects of this condition.
Root Causes of ADD/ADHD
According to several international studies, ADHD has a genetic link. In addition, there are environmental factors, and dietary concerns that many researchers believe increase the risk and in many cases, worsens the symptoms.
Refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, and chemical food additives, nutritional deficiencies, preservatives and food allergies are all causes of ADD/ADHD.
In children, a partial cause is related to a lack of interest or forcing children to learn in a manner to which they are not geared to learn. Some children learn better by seeing or doing (kinesthetic), rather than by hearing.
Symptoms of ADD/ADHD
The severity of symptoms can vary greatly from individual to individual, depending on environment, diet and other factors.
Children may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms of ADHD/ADD: (3)
- Difficulty in concentrating and diminished focus
- Easily distracted
- Easily bored
- Difficulty organizing or completing tasks
- Prone to losing things
- Doesn’t listen
- Difficulty in following instructions
- Fidgety behavior, squirming
- Extreme difficulty being still and/or quiet
Adults may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms of ADD/ADHD: (4)
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating on a task, project, or conversation
- Overwhelming emotional and physical restlessness
- Frequent mood swings
- Prone to anger and a hot temper
- Low tolerance of people, situations, and surroundings
- Unstable relationships
- Increased risk for addiction (5)
The most common treatment of ADD/ADHD today is using medications such as Ritalin and Adderall, both of which have been linked to suicidal thoughts and personality changes. Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant, that can cause nervousness, agitation, anxiety, insomnia, vomiting, an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and even psychosis. (6)
Adderall is an amphetamine that is highly addictive with prolonged use. Side effects include tremors, hallucinations, muscle twitches, high blood pressure, fast or irregular heartbeats, and extreme mood swings. (6b)
With these side effects, it is easy to see why so many people are seeking effective natural remedies for ADHD. The good news is there are natural remedies for ADD/ADHD that are both effective and without the scary side effects of prescription medications, and this includes following an ADHD diet.
Top 5 Natural Remedies for ADHD
While I believe that incorporating new foods into the diet alongside eliminating dangerous triggers foods are important, these five supplements represent key natural remedies for ADHD.
1. Fish Oil (1,000 milligrams daily)
Omega-3 supplements have been shown to benefit ADHD patients, as the EPA/DHA in fish oil are critical for brain function and are anti-inflammatory. Supplementation has been shown to reduce symptoms and improve learning.
2. B-Complex (50 milligrams daily)
Children with ADHD may need more B-vitamins to help with the formation of serotonin, especially vitamin B6.
3. Multi-Mineral Supplement (including zinc, magnesium and calcium)
I recommend that anyone with ADHD take 500 milligrams calcium, 250 milligrams of magnesium and 5 milligrams zinc twice daily. All play a role in relaxing the nervous system and a deficiency may exacerbate symptoms.
4. Probiotic (25–50 billion units daily)
ADHD may be connected to digestive issues, therefore taking a good quality probiotic daily will help maintain intestinal health.
5. GABA (250 milligrams twice daily)
A calming amino acid, ask your doctor before taking GABA, as it can interact with other medications.
Bonus ADD/ADHD Remedy
Rhodiola Rosea has been proven effective at improving the focus of both adults and children. It works by increasing the sensitivity in the neurological and nervous system that produce serotonin and dopamine, which are both essential for effective ADHD symptom control.
Essential Oils for ADHD
According to a study conducted by Dr. Terry Friedmann, essential oils of vetiver and cedarwood are very effective in improving focus and calming down children with ADHD. (7)
For memory and concentration, rosemary and peppermint oils have been shown to improve alertness while enhancing memory. For a calming effect, Ylang Ylang and lavender are effective, while frankincense brings emotional wellness, clarity and heightened cognitive function.
Top Foods for ADHD
Additive-free, Unprocessed Foods — Due to the toxic nature of food additives, it is best to eat unprocessed, whole foods. Additives including artificial sweeteners, preservatives and colorings that exist within processed foods may be especially problematic for those with ADD/ADHD.
Foods High in B-Vitamins — B vitamins help maintain a healthy nervous system. Make sure to include organic wild animal products and lots of green leafy vegetables in your diet. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, vitamin B6 is needed for the body to make and use essential brain chemicals including serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
In fact, one preliminary study has found that B6 is slightly more effective than Ritalin in improving behavior! (8) Incorporate wild tuna, bananas, wild salmon, grass-fed beef and other foods rich in vitamin B6 for the improvement of ADHD.
Poultry — Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps the body to synthesize proteins and aid in the production of serotonin. Serotonin plays significant roles in sleep, inflammation, emotional moods and much more. In many individuals suffering from ADD/ADHD, imbalances in serotonin levels has been indicated according to the University of Michigan Health System. (9) Serotonin is related to impulse control and aggression, two of the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. (10)
Eat Breakfast — For some people, and especially those with ADHD, breakfast helps the body properly regulate blood sugar and stabilize hormone fluctuations. Eat a breakfast that contains at least 20 grams of protein.
Wild-Caught Salmon — Not only is it rich with vitamin B6, it’s also packed with omega-3 fatty acids. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, a clinical trial indicated that lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids had more learning and behavioral problems (like those associated with ADHD) than boys with normal levels of omega 3s. (11) Individuals, including children, should consume wild salmon at least twice per week.
ADHD Foods to Avoid
Sugar — This is the primary trigger for most children, and some adults with ADHD. Avoid any forms of concentrated sugar including candy, desserts, soda or fruit juices.
Gluten — Some researchers and parents report worsening behavior when their child eats gluten, which may indicate sensitivity to the protein found in wheat. Avoid all foods made with wheat such as bread, pasta and wheat cereal. Look for gluten-free or even grain-free alternatives.
Conventional Dairy — Most cow milk dairy contains A1 casein that can trigger a similar reaction as gluten and therefore should be eliminated. If problematic symptoms arise after eating dairy, discontinue use. Goat’s milk, however, does not contain the protein and is a better option for many individuals with ADD/ADHD.
Food Coloring and Dyes — Children with ADHD can be sensitive to a variety of food dyes and colorings, therefore all processed foods should be avoided. Coloring and dyes appear in nearly every commercially processed food. Food dyes can be found in sports drinks, candy, cake mixes, chewable vitamins and even toothpaste!
Caffeine — While some studies have shown that caffeine may help with some ADHD symptoms, it is wise to minimize or avoid caffeine, as these studies have not been validated. In addition, the side effects of caffeine, including loss of loss, anxiety, and nervousness, can contribute to the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. (12)
MSG and HVP — These two additives are believed to decrease dopamine levels in both children and adults. Dopamine is associated with the brain’s pleasure and reward systems. For individuals suffering with ADD/ADHD, balanced levels of dopamine are essential.
Nitrites — Commonly found in lunchmeat, canned foods and many processed foods, nitrites are linked to an increase of childhood type 1 diabetes, certain types of cancer and IBS. In addition, it can cause rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing and restlessness that worsen ADHD symptoms.
Artificial Sweeteners — Artificial sweeteners are just bad for your health, but for those living with ADHD, the side effects can be devastating. Artificial sweeteners create biochemical changes in the body, some of which can harm cognitive function and emotional balance.
Soy — Soy is a common food allergen and can disrupt hormones that cause ADHD.
Personal Food Sensitivities/Allergens — Eliminate the top seven allergens, including soy, wheat and conventional dairy mentioned above, as well as peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and shellfish. In addition, eliminate any foods or beverages that are personal allergens. This might include papaya, avocados, bananas and kiwis (for those with latex allergies) and/or coriander, caraway or fennel (all from the same family) and/or chocolate.
Lifestyle Changes for Children with ADHD
The challenge for the parents of a child with ADD/ADHD is not only to find an effective natural remedies for ADHD and ADD, but also to create an environment that supports their creativity and spurs learning. Here are some lifestyle changes that may help.
Show Affection (and Ask for It) — Children living with ADHD need reassurance they aren’t a bad child. If you only respond to the negative behaviors, it can trigger more negative behaviors. Find ways to compliment your child while holding them accountable for their actions. Remember, they are more than just the behaviors of ADHD. Give them the chance to “WOW” you.
Provide Opportunities for Success— A child knows when you are truly excited and happy for them. Provide them with opportunities where they can succeed. Engage them in creative activities such as painting and sketching. Many top art competitions in the world have “quick sketch” competitions that force artists to provide their best work in 30 to 45 minutes. Celebrate your child’s focus and creative spirit in these types of challenges.
Regular Physical Exercise and Outdoor Playtime — For children with ADHD, burning some of the excess energy of the day can help to balance hormone levels and provide your child with the building blocks for healthy bones and muscles.
Create a Child-Friendly Organizational System — Find the methods of organization that work best for your child. This may include a notebook with a checklist of daily “to dos,” a chart on the wall, or reminders in their smartphone or tablet. Teach them how to prioritize tasks including schoolwork, home chores, exercise and fun activities.
Teach Your Child to Cook — Since ADD/ADHD is linked to the foods consumed and has a genetic link, it is essential that your child learn what foods cause ADD/ADHD and which ones can cure it. Spend time with your child exploring interesting ways to cook wild fish, grass-fed beef, free-range poultry and fresh fruits and vegetables. Engage them in the menu planning and cooking process, and the dietary changes recommended above will be significantly easier to implement.
Establish Healthy Sleep Patterns — According to research published in Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, sleep deprivation and disturbances to your circadian rhythm can contribute to the onset or intensity of ADHD symptoms. Plus, researchers point out that the long-term consequences of sleep problems in individuals with ADHD include obesity, poor academic performance and disrupted parent-child interactions. (13)
If your child is struggling with a sleep disorder or constantly waking in middle of the night, consider natural interventions such as melatonin, light therapy and relaxation techniques. It’s also important to establish a nighttime routine that involves sticking to the same bedtime and wake-up time every day.
Avoid Mouth Breathing — Research out of Japan shows that individuals who habitually breathe through the mouth are more likely than those who breath through the nose to have ADHD and sleep disorders. This is due to a difference in oxygen load in the brain, which can adversely affect brain function in both children and adults. Mouth breathing causes an increased oxygen load to the prefrontal cortex, thereby causing central fatigue and sleep disturbances. (14)
Why might children breathe through their mouths instead of their noses? The main cause of mouth breathing is obstructed nasal airways. To avoid mouth breathing, you can use nasal dilators that help to decrease airflow resistance or your child can wear a face mask at night that’s called continuous positive air pressure therapy (CPAP). Talk to your child’s pediatrician about these options.
Lifestyle Changes for Adults with ADHD
Create an Organizational System That Works for You — There is no one organization solution that works for everyone. Find the system that works best for you. A simple pen and paper checklist may be what some need, while others will need a more technical application that could include setting automatic reminders, prioritizing tasks and more.
Use Technology to Your Advantage — There are a variety of apps available for smartphones and tablets for productivity. These tools can help you to plan ahead and prioritize tasks. In addition, consider noise-cancelling headphones to help stave off the distractions in your home or office.
Exercise — Regular exercise not only helps build muscles and bone, but helps to relieve stress. In addition to your regular exercise routine, try something that engages your “fun” gene too. Dance, martial arts, playing tennis or volleyball, are all great ways to burn calories, balance hormones and reduce stress.
Get More Sleep — Recent research shows that sleep deprivation and circadian rhythm disturbances are associated with the induction of ADHD symptoms. For adults struggling with a sleep disorder, melatonin foods and supplements, light therapy and neurofeedback therapy may help to alleviate ADHD symptoms. (15)
Also, sticking to a healthy, well-balanced diet, getting daily exercise and practicing relaxation techniques can help you to get the rest you need. If you do not have a sleep disorder, but need to change your sleep habits, focus on establishing routine bed times that allow for at least seven hours of sleep per night and turn off technology 45 minutes prior to sleep.
The dietary changes, supplements and recommended lifestyle changes above will help you conquer ADD/ADHD. The solutions above are equally effective for children and adults alike.
For many people, removing the ADD/ADHD trigger foods and replacing them with healthy foods that naturally fight ADD/ADHD will dramatically help treat this common neurological and behavioral disorder. Remember, detoxing from years of chemicals and unhealthy foods takes some time. Stick with the program above and kick ADD/ADHD for good!