Holistic Healing for ADHD
ADHD is a behavioral condition that causes difficulty in concentrating, impulsiveness, and excessive energy. There are three main subtypes: Hyperactive-Impulsive, Inattentive, and Combined Hyperactive-Impulsive and Inattentive. These subtypes result in symptoms of ADHD that can have devastating effects on both children and adults. ADHD often has an onset age of 7, but this disorder can continue through teen years and well into adulthood. Though these diagnoses are on the rise, diet plays a huge role: balanced and healthy eating through puberty and teen years can support the prevention of behavioral imbalance.
Refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, chemical food additives, preservatives, food allergies and nutritional deficiencies are all direct causes of ADHD (Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder). Foods such as gluten, conventional dairy, and sugar cause inflammation, which decreases blood flow to the brain. Synthetic colors added to foods can worsen irritability and hyperactivity and disturb sleep in children. While most ADHD cases can be traced back to a poor diet and nutritional deficiencies, other causes include genetic predisposition, prenatal toxic exposure to lead and tobacco, health difficulties, or nutritional deficiencies in the mother, and parental marital difficulty/tumultuous environments.
Symptoms of ADHD
Every individual with ADHD will display different behaviors at different times according to their environment, diet and other external factors.
The behaviors that children with ADHD can exhibit are as follows:
Difficulty in concentrating and diminished focus
Difficulty organizing or completing tasks
Prone to losing things
Problem following instructions
Fidgety behavior, squirming
Extreme difficulty being still or quiet
The most common treatment of ADHD today is using medications such as Ritalin and Adderall. Both are not recommended as they often bring on suicidal thoughts and personality changes.
Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant, that can cause side effects like agitation, anxiety, insomnia, vomiting, an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and even psychosis. Adderall is an amphetamine that becomes highly addictive with prolonged use. Side effects include tremors, hallucinations, muscle twitches, high blood pressure, fast or irregular heartbeats, and extreme mood swings.
Fortunately, there are a number of holistic modalities through which ADHD can be treated.
Foods To Include:
Focus on unprocessed, additive-free foods: Additive include artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and colorings that are added to processed foods. These foods can worsen symptoms of ADHD.
High B-vitamin foods: B-Vitamins are essential for maintaining a healthy nervous system. Vitamin B6 is especially essential for making and using brain chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. B6 works similarly to Ritalin and is a healthier and more effective alternative. Good food sources of B-vitamins are bananas, wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef, free-range organic eggs, nuts, and seeds.
Organic poultry: The essential amino acid, tryptophan, is found in high amounts in organic chicken. Tryptophan assists the body with synthesizing proteins and producing serotonin. Serotonin helps with getting adequate sleep, controlling inflammation, and regulating emotions. Some children with ADHD have imbalanced levels of serotonin, which can lead to increased impulsiveness and aggression.
Include high protein foods: Eating adequate amounts of protein is as important as the source of the protein. Make sure you purchase clean-sourced protein, including grass-fed organic beef, free-range chicken and eggs, wild-caught fish and raw dairy. The chemicals and additives in conventional protein sources will worsen ADHD symptoms.
Omega-3 fatty acid rich foods: These foods directly affect cognitive function in children. A deficiency in omega-3’s can lead to behavioral and learning problems. A successful ADHD diet will include two or more servings per week of omega-3 rich foods. Foods to add are wild-caught salmon, avocados, coconut oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, Atlantic mackerel, cod liver oil, and organic dark leafy green vegetables.
Iron-rich foods: Eating a diet rich in high iron foods will help reverse these ADHD symptoms. Low iron levels often cause fatigue, poor concentration and mental function, irritability, poor memory, muscle weakness, and leaky gut syndrome. Iron-rich foods include the liver and steaks from grass-fed beef, navy and black beans, spinach, swiss chard, and egg yolks.
Foods to Avoid
Personal food sensitivities/allergens: There are two ways to identify individual food sensitivities and allergens. The first is to go for IgG (food sensitivities) and IgE (food allergy) testing by an allergist. The alternative is to eliminate the top seven allergens, soy, gluten, conventional dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and shellfish, and anything else you might suspect or already know to be an allergen. This might include papaya, avocados, bananas, and kiwis (for those with latex allergies) and chocolate.
Sugar: This is the primary trigger and cause of ADHD for most children. Avoid any form of concentrated sugar including candy, desserts, soda, or fruit juices and read all packages to make sure there are not any added sugars.
Gluten: Avoid all foods made with wheat such as bread, pasta, and wheat cereal as over consumption of gluten has been linked to gut disorders affecting brain health. Gluten-free grains include millet, quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, amaranth, teff, and certified gluten-free oats.
Conventional dairy: Most cow milk dairy contains A1 casein that can trigger a similar poor-behavior reaction to gluten and therefore should be eliminated. Record what your child consumes, and if you notice problematic symptoms arise directly or up to 24 hours after eating dairy, discontinue use. Goat’s milk is easier to digest often a better option for many individuals with ADHD.
Food coloring and dyes: Children with ADHD can be sensitive to a variety of food dyes and colorings, leading to adverse behavioral reactions, including hyperactivity. For this reasons, all processed and packaged foods should be eliminated. Food dyes can be often be found in processed foods, sports drinks, candy, cake mixes, deli meats, cheeses, cereals, fish, meat, chewable vitamins, and toothpaste.
Look for these food coloring and dyes ingredients when purchasing a new product: sodium benzoate, FD&C Yellow No. 6, D&C Yellow No. 5 and FD&C Red No. 4.
Caffeine: The side effects of caffeine include increased anger and violence, insomnia, anxiety, and anxiousness. Avoid any energy drinks with a high concentration of sugar, caffeine, and additional stimulants.
MSG, HVP and yeast extract: These two additives decrease dopamine levels in children. Dopamine stimulates the brain’s pleasure and reward systems. For individuals suffering from ADD/ADHD, balanced levels of dopamine are essential. These additive are found in deli meats, veggie burgers, sauces, gravies, salad dressings, crackers, and spices.
Nitrates: Can be found in lunch meats, canned foods, and many processed foods. They are linked to an increase in childhood type 1 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and IBS. They can also cause rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, and restlessness that worsen ADHD symptoms. Additionally, nitrates cause restlessness and anxiousness, which in turn can also worsen symptoms of ADHD.
Artificial Sweeteners: They create biochemical changes in the body, some of which can harm cognitive function and emotional balance. They can also directly cause cancer, obesity, increased heart rate, infertility, dizziness, headaches, and memory loss. Avoid: acesulfame K, aspartame, benzene, cyclamates, saccharin and sucralose. Start by slowly replacing sweeteners and sugar with herbs, spices, and citrus.
Soy: This is a common food allergen that can disrupt hormones that cause ADHD. Even if a child does not have an allergy to soy, it will still disrupt thyroid function and hormone levels in the body. This can cause ADHD or make the symptoms worse.
Fish oil: The EPA/DHA in fish oil are critical for brain function and are anti-inflammatory. Supplementation has been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD, improve learning, reduce anxiety and depression, and help prevent some forms of cancer. Significant improvements in reading, spelling, and behavior have been noticed in children.
Multi-vitamin and mineral: A multi that contains a variety of B-vitamins calcium, magnesium, and zinc helps to relax the nervous system and relieve ADHD symptoms.
Children with ADHD typically need more of the B-vitamins to help maintain focus, increase concentration, fight stress, relieve fatigue, and balance energy and hormone levels.
Probiotics: ADHD may be connected to digestive issues; therefore, taking a good quality probiotic daily will help maintain intestinal health. Sugar, tap water, grains, and certain prescription medications, including antibiotics, kill healthy bacteria in the gut and decrease digestive function.
Children should take a probiotic supplement with 25-50 billion CFU’s daily, and include probiotic-rich foods, such as kefir, sauerkraut, miso, and kimchi.
GABA: This is a calming amino acid that helps to suppress nervous system activity and blocks nerve impulses. Before taking, speak with a nutritional practitioner, as it can interact with other medications.
Children with ADHD should take 250 milligrams twice per day.
Zinc: Low levels of zinc are associated with poor neurological function, poor attention, and a variety of motor disorders.
Mineral-rich foods that contain zinc include dark greens, beans, and wild-caught salmon.
Rhodiola Rosea: Improves the focus of children by supporting the nervous system and promoting serotonin and dopamine production, both of which are essential for effective ADHD symptom control.
Peppermint oil: Has been shown to improve alertness while enhancing memory.
Ylang Ylang and lavender: Have an effective calming effect.
Frankincense: Brings emotional wellness, clarity, and heightened cognitive function.
Eat breakfast every day. Starting a child’s day with a nutrient-dense breakfast helps to regulate blood sugar and stabilize hormone fluctuations. This will help with controlling mood, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity. Regular meals + regular meal times can also help!
Only responding to a child’s negative behaviors can trigger more negative behaviors - show affection as often as possible. Children living with ADHD need reassurance they aren’t “bad” children. 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 show they are capable of behaving well.
Provide opportunities for success and respond with excitement. A child knows when your reactions of being impressed or happy are genuine. To provide more opportunities for success, engage them in creative activities such as painting and sketching, or teach them basic sports skills you can practice together. Celebrate your child’s focus and creative spirit in these types of challenges.
Ensure your child engages in 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, while also providing them with the building blocks for healthy bones and muscles.
Teach your child how to cook: As described in this article, ADHD is directly linked to foods consumed and has a genetic link. It is therefore essential that your child learn what foods cause ADHD or worsen symptoms and which ones can cure it. Spend time with your child exploring exciting 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.
Spend quality time outdoors. Spending time outside may benefit children with ADHD, even if just for 20 minutes. Being outdoors can improve their concentration. Get outside as often as possible.