The terms……attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) seem to be thrown around/out loosely nowadays. However, it is definitely not something to be taken lightly. Symptoms of these disorders can have devastating effects on an individual, and can make day-to-day life a struggle. Unfortunately, many of the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD/ADD, such as Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Dexedrine, and Focalin…….have devastating long-term effects as well. The course to finding a holistic alternative to treat these disorders can be daunting, and requires patience……as a trial and error period is most definitely required. However, I hope the information in this post can help in the process.
ADHD and ADD are neurological and behavior related conditions that cause difficulty in concentrating, impulsiveness, and excessive energy. Other common symptoms are depression, anxiety, mood swings, difficulty with anger management, chronic lateness, difficulty with direction following, disorganization, procrastination, and low self-esteem. The average age of ADHD diagnosis is 7 years old, although symptoms of ADHD typically first appear between the ages of 3 and 6 years old. Research indicates that the increase in ADHD is directly linked to the food we eat. Several studies have also found, that ADHD has a genetic link……with environmental and dietary factors increasing the risks and in many cases, worsening the symptoms.
So……what we ingest is pretty critical. Let’s talk about the additives, preservatives, and foods to avoid that come with a huge red flag!
- Artificial sweeteners – Aspartame and sucralose (Splenda, Equal, NutraSweet, and Sweet & Low) are neurotoxins that impair brain function and health. Reported side-effects are brain fog, depression, migraines, dizziness, and……..ding, ding, ding……..increased symptoms of ADHD.
- Artificial colors – red 3, red 40, blue 1, blue 2, yellow 5/6, green 3. Let’s face it…..all food coloring is bad…..and there really is no need for it! These are neurotoxins as well, and trigger hyperactivity and behavioral problems. Hmmm..…..interesting. To make matters worse, each dye can be linked to different diseases.
- Preservatives – Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), and tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ). Some side effects are nausea, vomiting, suffocation, toxic effects on lung tissue, liver/kidney damage, increased liver weight, and redness/dryness/irritation on skin.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – Commonly added to soups, canned vegetables, and processed meats. Side effects reported are hyperactivity, numbness, nausea, drowsiness, weakness, chest pain, headache, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing for asthmatics, burning sensation, and tingling.
- Pesticides – My best advice would be to always try to buy organic for foods/produce when possible, and know the brands you are buying. Not all organic is created equal. Pesticides have been linked to hyperactivity and impulsiveness…..with long-term side effects of skin irritation, organ failure, respiratory disorders, birth defects, endocrine complications, brain damage, and cancer.
- Nitrates – Commonly used as a preservative for cured meats. Nitrates alone are not harmful, however, once eaten…….nitrates convert to nitrite. Nitrites become a potentially harmful substance once they combine with amines (products of protein breakdown in meats), to form nitrosamines.
- Artificial Flavors –Increases hyperactivity due to the way it affects the brain of an individual with ADHD. It is also known to cause nervous system depression, dizziness, headaches, seizures, allergies, fatigue, tumors, bladder cancer, and brain damage.
- Sodium benzoate – A synthetic chemical which is found in carbonated and fruit beverages, shampoos, body lotions, deodorant, mouthwash, and over the counter prescription drugs (pills, cough syrup, topical medications). This has been found to enhance/trigger hyperactivity in children. Studies have also found that the chemical significantly increased damage to DNA (which triggers cell mutation and cancer), when it was added to cells in various concentrations.
- Sugars – Reduce your intake……that’s all there is to it! That’s right…..try to say no to candy, soda, desserts, and fruit juices.
- Soy – A common food allergen that can disrupt hormones that cause ADHD.
- Gluten – Excites the nervous system. Look for gluten-free and 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.
Now…..on to some foods/supplements/essential oils you will want more of!
- Consume healthy fats – Avocado, coconut oil, and ghee.
- Poultry – Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps the body to synthesize proteins and aid in the production of serotonin. In many individuals suffering from ADHD/ADD, imbalances in serotonin levels has been indicated.
- Fish oil – The EPA/DHA in fish oil are critical for brain function. Not only does it act as an anti-inflammatory, but it has also been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD and improve learning.
- B-Complex vitamin – Individuals with ADHD may need more B-vitamins to help with the formation of serotonin…..especially vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is needed not only to maintain a healthy nervous system, but for the body to make as well as use essential brain chemicals….serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
- Multi-mineral supplement (zinc, magnesium, calcium) – All play a role in relaxing the nervous system and a deficiency may exacerbate symptoms.
- GABA – A calming amino acid. Check with your doctor prior to adding this to your diet, as it can interact with other medications.
- Probiotics – ADHD may be connected to digestive issues. Probiotics are available in liquid form, powders, and capsules. Some great probiotic foods are kimchi, sauerkraut, miso soup, pickles (that require refrigeration), microalgae (spirulina, chlorella, blue-green algae), and kombucha tea.
- Eat breakfast – Eating a breakfast that is protein heavy, helps to properly regulate blood sugar and stabilize hormone fluctuations. So yes…..we are not talking about Fruit Loops here. None of that!
- Essential oils – Essential oils of vetiver and cedarwood are very effective in improving focus and calming down children with ADHD. Rosemary and peppermint oils have been shown to improve alertness while enhancing memory. And for a calming effect, Ylang Ylang and lavender will do the trick…..while frankincense brings heightened cognitive function, clarity, and emotional wellness.
Along with these natural alternatives…..it is important to get enough sleep, set a routine, get outdoors to soak up some sunlight, engage in relaxation (meditation, massage therapy, acupuncture), and exercise! This will help to bring organization to one’s routine, and promote a state of calmness.