Natural Remedies for ADHD: Other alternatives

Incidence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is steadily increasing in modern times. Adults and children across the globe search for treatments that will improve the life-altering symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity. Prescription medications frequently come with harsh side effects; therefore, these natural remedies for ADHD are a helpful asset to any regimen.

Natural Remedies for ADHD
Natural Remedies for ADHD

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder impacting skills of executive functions including attention, impulse control, social skills, motivation, memory, and the ability to learn from mistakes. It is common in children—with 8.4 percent of American kids diagnosed—and adults are also affected. This condition manifests as hyperactivity, along with problems with impulse control and concentration that interferes with work and school.

Symptoms of ADHD

The three main characteristics of ADHD are inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Those who are inattentive are easily distracted. They also:

  • Make careless mistakes
  • Misplace items
  • Suffer from forgetfulness
  • Do not listen in conversations
  • Do not follow directions
  • Fail to complete tasks
  • Daydream

Hyperactivity is active and disruptive behavior. Signs of hyperactivity are:

  • Fidgeting
  • Easily becoming bored
  • An inability to stay seated
  • Excessive talkativeness
  • Restlessness (always moving, running.)

Impulsivity or impulsiveness is behavior that ensues without thought, contemplation, or reflection of the consequences. Symptoms stemming from a lack of emotional or behavioral control are:

  • Interrupting others
  • Difficulty waiting
  • Recklessness
  • Blurting out answers to questions
  • Procrastination
  • Mood swings
  • Problems with planning and organization

Causes of ADHD

The cause of ADHD remains unknown. Researchers continue to study the factors involved but have currently established that genetics, environment, and differences in the nervous system play a role. Having a blood relative with an ADHD diagnosis increases the chances of developing the condition. Exposure to environmental toxins, maternal drug use, and premature birth contribute too.

How Do Naturopathic Doctors Treat ADHD?

The conventional treatments for ADHD are pharmaceutical medications like central nervous system stimulates and non-stimulates that work to reduce symptoms by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine. Possible side effects of these drugs are trouble sleeping, personality changes, weight loss, dry mouth, headaches, and gastrointestinal distress. Pharmaceuticals do not treat the underlying cause or comorbidities of ADHD.

Naturopathic doctors, however, treat ADHD without pharmaceutical medications. Medical professionals with a naturopathic approach consider the whole patient. They assess the lifestyle of the patient, their family dynamic, diet, genetics, socioeconomic status, and psycho-emotional tendencies to identify areas of dysfunction. The treatments they choose to implement based on the assessment are natural remedies much like the ones discussed below.   

Natural Remedies for ADHD: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, designed under the premise that thought, beliefs, and perceptions determine behavior. CBT treats a variety of mental conditions by modifying behavior through client-therapist interactions.

The therapy has recently found a place in the treatment of ADHD. Someone with ADHD has likely experienced situations where they feel inferior to their peers that do not struggle with impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity. This creates false beliefs that further their ADHD symptoms. Their low self-esteem and pessimism become automatic. A therapist helps the client recognize their incorrect ways of thinking and then practicing the skills necessary to transform them—almost like retraining the brain to think productive thoughts automatically. Skills training common to cognitive behavioral therapy in ADHD are stress reduction techniques, planning, and organization, and forming attainable goals.

Natural Remedies for ADHD: Support Groups

The support from others who understand is monumental to treating any disorder. Support groups focus on skills training and education to connect patients with ADHD and their families. ADHD causes tension in relationships, as it intrudes upon communication. Support groups are an opportunity for those with ADHD themselves to practice the social skills they struggle with, as well as for family members to confront the emotions of their loved one’s disorder. By sharing experiences, they develop hope that living with the condition is possible.

Natural Remedies for ADHD: Biofeedback and Neurofeedback

Biofeedback is a technique used to control the body’s functions. Typically, biofeedback requires a device that picks up electrical signals through the muscles. The device beeps, sets off a flashing light, or exhibits another signal as the muscle contracts to show certain bodily functions.

Biofeedback for ADHD is called neurofeedback. Neurofeedback also requires a device, but instead of muscle, the electrodes on the head monitor brain activity. In neurofeedback, the patient attempts to focus on a task while receiving messages on a computer generated by the electrodes. The messages assist the patient in controlling their attentiveness. With enough sessions, they can demonstrate the desired response to all daily tasks. Studies in the Journal Of Clinical EEG Neuroscience confirm that neurofeedback is best for inattention and impulsivity (2009).

Natural Remedies for ADHD: Diet

The foods we choose to fuel our bodies with has a vast impact on health. Our diet influences the neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, which drives behavioral and personality symptoms seen in ADHD. Consuming a well-rounded diet with adequate vitamins and minerals is a practical decision for all diagnosed with ADHD. A diet high in protein, rich in complex carbohydrates, and with omega-3-fatty acids is a good starting point.

Protein should be included in every meal. Foods high in protein:

  • Black beans
  • Nuts and nut butter—peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, brazil nuts
  • Seeds—chia seeds, pumpkin, sesame, hemp
  • Lentils
  • Green leafy vegetables—spinach, mustard greens, broccoli
  • Lean meats—chicken, turkey
  • Soybeans
  • Eggs

If feeling tired, complex and simple carbohydrates prevent the sudden crash that comes with consuming large amounts of refined carbohydrates like white bread, white flour, soda, pastries, cereals with added sugar, and sweets. Do not neglect eating simple carbohydrates such as fruits. The body needs those for energy!

Complex carbohydrates for ADHD are:

  • Whole grain bread
  • Whole grain flour
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Potatoes
  • Legumes
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Butternut Squash
  • Peas

Healthy fats, especially with omega-3-fatty acids, are essential for brain health. They include:

  • Seeds—Flax, chia
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Brazil nuts
  • Fish—tuna, salmon, sardines
  • Coconut
  • Avocado

Elimination Diet for ADHD

Foods high in sugar content and harmful fillers and preservatives fuel the symptoms of ADHD. Multiple studies have proven an elimination diet is helpful for 70% of children diagnosed with the condition. An elimination diet consists of determining a sensitivity by temporarily removing an ingredient for a period of time to observe whether symptoms decrease. Omitting sugar, gluten, dairy, certain meats, and foods with dye is optimal for ADHD. For example, Harvard University trials reflect that removing artificial food dyes is approximately one-third to one-half as effective as treatment with pharmaceuticals (Schab, 2004).

Natural Remedies for ADHD: Supplements

Obtaining proper amounts of nutrients via diet is occasionally a challenge. When diet alone is insufficient or if the patient needs higher amounts than the non-ADHD population, supplementing vitamins, minerals, and other substances can drastically reduce ADHD symptoms.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain’s pineal gland during darkness. It regulates the circadian rhythm, which controls the sleep cycle. Melatonin also has anti-inflammatory properties. Many of those with ADHD experience sleep disturbances due to stimulant medications. Supplementing with melatonin is efficient at treating secondary sleep disorders, and consequently, increasing attention and memory symptoms common in ADHD.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Fish Oil

There is evidence stating that children with ADHD have lower amounts of omega-3-fatty acids in their blood, despite consuming enough fatty acids through diet. Being that over half of the brain is made of fat, and omega-3-fatty acids are a type of fat, they serve as building blocks in the brain. Omega-3-fatty acids form the outer membrane of brain cells. Supplementing through fish oil in addition to consuming fish 2-3 times per week can lessen inattention, improving working memory, and reduce hyperactivity in those with ADHD.

B Vitamins

While a total of 8 B vitamins exist, B6 and B12 have a significant effect on ADHD. B6 aids the body in making the neurotransmitter, serotonin, and B12 regenerates the brain’s neurons. Both are critical for brain function. Studies published in the BJPsych journal show that adults with severe ADHD have lower levels of B vitamins. Deficiencies of either nutrient results in symptoms similar to those exhibited in ADHD like inattention, memory loss, mood swings, and confusion, and exacerbates ADHD.

Vitamin C

As previously stated, stimulants are successful at treating ADHD because they increase dopamine in the brain. Vitamin C is effective for that reason. The vitamin modulates neurotransmitter dopamine to regulate mood, increase attention, and lower hyperactivity.

Vitamin C supplements contain ascorbic acid that can hinder medication absorption. Always consult your physician before supplementing.

Zinc

Zinc is essential for maintaining brain function. Although it has no effect on attention span, supplementing with zinc combats impulsivity. The reasons are unknown, but zinc deficiency is prevalent amongst those with ADHD.

Iron

Compared to those without ADHD, 84% of children with ADHD were found to have low levels of iron. Iron is a mineral important for brain development and behavior. It is necessary for the production, binding, and breakdown of neurotransmitters in the brain. If iron or ferritin (iron stores) are low, supplementing is known to benefit ADHD.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that affects how neurotransmitters bind to their receptors in the brain. Researchers have established that magnesium deficiency is associated with hyperactivity, irritability, sleep disturbances, and inattention. When supplementing magnesium with B6 (which increases its absorption), all 58% of children with ADHD and low magnesium levels had improvements in ADHD symptoms (Mousain-Bosc, 2004).

GABA

GABA stands for Gamma-aminobutyric acid. Technically an amino acid, GABA functions as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It facilitates the sending and receiving of the brain’s chemical messages. Professionals suspect a subset of people with ADHD has a deficiency of GABA. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience documents studies in which the control group with ADHD had lower levels of GABA than those without ADHD. Supplementation of GABA prevents the inappropriate firing of brain signals that leads to ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity.

Natural Remedies for ADHD: Herbs

Herbs are another natural ADHD remedy that acts as a stimulant without the side effects. Most find significant benefits from dietary modifications and supplementation. However, herbs elicit the greatest benefits for cases of severe ADHD. The following herbs correct the chemical imbalances that promote ADHD behaviors:

  • Ginseng for attention and memory
  • Ginkgo for hyperactivity and restlessness
  • Chamomile for problems with sleep
  • Lemongrass to relax
  • Pycnogenol (pine bark) for visual-motoric coordination and concentration
  • Rhodiola Rosea for inattention

Natural Remedies for ADHD: Exercise

Upon first impression, exercise would not seem to treat ADHD being that hyperactivity is central to the disorder. Still, physical activity is an integral component of brain health. Along with endorphins—chemicals that regulate mood, pleasure, and pain—exercise naturally increases the availability of dopamine. Since people with ADHD have less dopamine in their brain, the increase from exercise improve their attention and executive functions.

Natural Remedies for ADHD: Exercise
Natural Remedies for ADHD: Exercise

Experts recommend moderate intensity exercise four times a week to complement ADHD treatments. The physical activity can be as simple as 30 minutes of walking or activities that require sustained attention on bodily movements such as dance, gymnastics, and yoga. Most find they can regulate mood and attention through exercise. That provides motivation to remain consistent in abiding by the new active lifestyle.

Natural Remedies for ADHD: Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a meditation technique rooted in ancient Buddhism. The practice involves retraining the mind by paying attention to thoughts, emotions, and sensations that make up present experience. The practice is conducive for those with ADHD because it teaches concentration and relaxation.

Mindfulness meditation has three basic steps. To begin, locate a quiet area without distractions. Extra sensory information overwhelms the process. Be sure to get in a comfortable position sitting or lying position. Fixate all attention on slowly breathing in and out. When in a calmer state, transition to deep relaxation. Some use sensory cues like wearing a hat or listening to soothing music, while others repeat a phrase in their minds. As your mind wanders outside of the present experience, redirect attention to your breathing. Even 5 to 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation boosts one’s attention span.

Natural Remedies for ADHD: Brain Training Programs

Brain training programs are a set of tools that strengthen the brain and refine skills of executive functioning. Brain training is based on neuroplasticity, a term describing the brain’s ability to rewire its neuronal connections and change throughout any stage of life. For ADHD, brain training refers to cognitive training.

CogniFit Brain Training
CogniFit Brain Training: Trains and strengthens essential cognitive abilities in an optimal and professional way.

Brain training through online games requires a computer or smartphone device with internet access. The short 20-minute sessions are tailored to the individual’s needs. The program monitors progress and objectifies the skills most lacking such as attention, memory, coordination, reasoning, and perception. Children can especially benefit from this fun ADHD remedy.

Natural Remedies for ADHD: Sleep

Sleep deprivation is a massive contributor to ADHD symptoms—with three-fourths of adults with ADHD reporting an inability to have restful sleep. The disorder has been linked to excessive daytime sleepiness, insomnia, and restless leg syndrome. Stimulants drugs that are part of treatment typically cause them to feel awake during nighttime hours. They are also easily distracted and fail to fall asleep on schedule. The thought is that ADHD interferes with the sleep-wake-cycle or the circadian rhythm.

Regardless of a sleep disorder, lifestyle adjustments to enhance overall sleep quality can do a long way. To improve sleep:

  • Avoid caffeine late in the day
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule
  • Form a bedtime routine (i.e. relaxing bath, reading a book, etc.)
  • Put away electronics while falling asleep
  • Do not consume a meal before bed time
  • Use the bed only for sleep
  • Do not take daytime naps

Natural Remedies for ADHD: Education

Chances are, if you are reading this article, you are already taking a courageous first step forward by learning about your treatment options. Aside from the skills training in cognitive behavioral therapies, children and adults with ADHD can both benefit from education. Familiarize yourself with the specifics of the condition. Look into school or work accommodations. The educational system has numerous programs designed to teach parents and children about how ADHD affects them and their future while providing the resources necessary to overcome the obstacles. Additionally, research clinical trials or newer treatments. You never know what is available until you dedicate the time to learn. Knowledge is power.

References

Arns, M., de Ridder, S., Strehl, U., Breteler, M., & Coenen, A. (2009). Efficacy of Neurofeedback Treatment in ADHD: The Effects on Inattention, Impulsivity and Hyperactivity: A Meta-Analysis. Clinical EEG and Neuroscience, 40(3), 180–189. https://doi.org/10.1177/155005940904000311

Landaas ET, Aarsland TI, Ulvik A, Halmøy A, Ueland PM, Haavik J. Vitamin levels in adults with ADHD. BJPsych Open. 2016;2(6):377–384. Published 2016 Dec 13. doi:10.1192/bjpo.bp.116.003491

Mousain-Bosc et al. (2004). Magnesium VitB6 intake reduces central nervous system hyperexcitability in children. Journal Of The American College Of Nutrition, 23(5), 545S-548S.

Schab DW, et al. “Do Artificial Food Colors Promote Hyperactivity in Children with Hyperactive Syndromes? A Meta-Analysis of Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trials,” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (Dec. 2004): Vol. 25, No. 6, pp. 423–34.