Addressing ADHD, Naturally
By Sarah Axtell, ND • July 23, 2013
Early Development of ADHD– Addressing the Root Cause
Stress management starts in the womb. During pregnancy, if mom is stressed and not managing her stress effectively, her adrenal glands produce excess amounts of cortisol (ie. “stress hormone”). That cortisol can be passed onto her child, resulting in high levels of stress from an early age. These are the 8-9 month early walkers, as their cortisol (aka “go, go, go hormone”) is driving them to reach the next milestone. Then eventually these children go to school and cannot sit still and have difficulty focusing. They are given the diagnosis of ADD or ADHD and treated with stimulating medications, such as Ritalin.
The child is essentially in a state of adrenal fatigue. They are not Ritalin-deficient. The Ritalin is acting as a stimulant to the child’s over-active nervous system and exhausted adrenal glands. When adults are stressed and feel depleted (and are in a state of adrenal fatigue), they often reach for coffee or sugar. This makes them feel good temporarily, providing for short-term focus and energy….but consuming these stimulants, coffee and sugar, is one of the worst things you can do to your adrenal glands. It is further exhausting the adrenals, just like the Ritalin in the case of ADHD.
During the last two decades, the incidence of ADHD has dramatically increased. While medications can be helpful in the short term, they are suppressing symptoms and not typically addressing the root cause of the illness. At Lakeside Natural Medicine, we take a more holistic approach than mere palliation. You can expect these areas to be addressed in your child with a goal of addressing the root of the problem:
- First and foremost, diet must be addressed in cases of ADHD. Stable blood sugar is crucial for attention and focus (and also for adrenal health). A diet rich in fat and protein stabilizes blood sugar compared to sugar and carbohydrates which cause a spike in blood sugar. Eliminate the packaged, processed foods, such as granola bars, breads, crackers, cookies, and pastas. Include foods high in protein and fat such as avocados, coconut, nuts, seeds, nut butters, turkey, chicken, fish, beans, and hummus.
- Identify and remove food sensitivities. Wheat and dairy tend to be the biggest culprits because of the inflammatory proteins these foods contain. Wheat contains gluten, which can be a neurotoxin for individuals with ADHD. And dairy contains an inflammatory protein, casein, which can also be problematic in neurological conditions. In addition to wheat and dairy, other food sensitivities that could potentially ramp up the nervous system include corn, sugar, soy and eggs. Talk to a naturopathic doctor about ways to identify what your individual sensitivity is.
- Eat the color of a rainbow. I often talk to patients about the health benefits of a colorful diet. Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables at each meal. Smoothies in the morning can be a great way to get veggies in- simply add a handful of fresh or frozen kale or spinach to your morning smoothie. It won’t change the taste- you won’t even know it’s there.
Healing the Gut
- Nutritional deficiencies can be due to an inadequate diet or poor absorption. Once food sensitivities have been identified and eliminated from the diet, healing the gut is an essential part of treatment so that optimal digestion and absorption of essential nutrients can take place.
- As a naturopathic doctor, my goal of course is to prevent ADHD, and this starts in the womb. Helping pregnant women manage stress is not only beneficial for mom, but also for baby.
- Limit screen time. Children need to go outside and play in the soil, sand and sun. Too much screen time can be too stimulating and stressful for their developing nervous systems. Limit screen time to 3-4 hours per week.
- Consider Adrenal supportive nutrients– B vitamins (see below) and Vitamin C
- Children thrive on routine! Our bodies have many internal rhythms- from our heartbeat to hormones to the sleep-wake cycle. Having a routine helps our internal rhythms function more optimally.
- Eat at the same time everyday, wake at the same time every morning and go to bed at the same time every night.
- Essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 fatty acids, are brain food. Western diets tend to be lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, resulting in ADHD, depression, anxiety as well as skin conditions such as eczema.
- Include ground nuts or seeds in your diet and your child’s diet. You can add ground pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc to oatmeal, smoothies, sauces, applesauce.
- Consider fish oil supplementation. See this post for more info on fish oil and flax seeds.
- B vitamins, especially vitamin B5, are considered food for the adrenal glands. When the body is stressed, B vitamins are used up more readily. For optimal adrenal health and brain health, consider supplementing with a quality B complex. When you are looking for B complex, look for one that contains highly absorbable forms of the vitamins, such as methylcobalamin.
- Lower concentrations of B vitamins have been associated with an ADHD diagnosis and symptom severity. Discuss with a naturopathic doctor the best forms of B vitamins, such as methylcobalamin (B12).
- Magnesium is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the US. Low levels leads to anxiety, poor sleep, constipation and restlessness.
- Excellent sources of magnesium include swiss chard and spinach. Very good sources of magnesium include summer squash, broccoli, blackstrap molasses, and pumpkin seeds. Chocolate in its truest sense (cacao) is also an excellent source of magnesium. Consider adding cacao powder to a morning smoothie.
- Iron deficiencies may contribute to ADHD symptoms. A study published in 2008 revealed that children with a low ferritin (storage form of iron) showed improvements after taking iron supplements for 12 weeks. It is recommend that your child get tested for iron deficiency (CBC, serum iron, ferritin) before supplementing.
- Foods rich in iron include red meat, turkey, molasses, meat, raisins, black beans, spinach, kale and broccoli.
- Some studies have shown that people with ADHD may naturally have lower levels of zinc. Supplementing with zinc may reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity.
- Foods rich in zinc include meat and pumpkin seeds.
Preventative medicine works best when it is started in childhood long before chronic disease can develop. By establishing care at Lakeside Natural Medicine, you will receive all the tools you need to ensure that you can build a strong foundation for your child’s current and future health.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.