12 Strategies to Beat ADHD Naturally
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently surveyed 73,000 children and found one in 10 has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This is a 22% increase since 2003. Approximately 11% of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011 (1).
Boys (13.2%) were more likely than girls (5.6%) to have ever been diagnosed with ADHD. The average age of ADHD diagnosis was 7 years of age, but children reported by their parents as having more severe ADHD were diagnosed earlier. Prevalence of ADHD diagnosis varied substantially by state, from a low of 5.6% in Nevada to a high of 18.7% in Kentucky.
ADHD and Delayed Development:
Studies using brain imaging have shown that children with ADHD have a delayed brain maturation by about 3 years (2). The delay is most pronounced in brain regions involved in thinking, attention, focus and planning.
Some of the most significant maturation delays are in the outermost layer of the brain, the cortex and in particular the frontal lobe of the cortex (3, 4). The corpus colosum, which is key for proper communications between the 2 hemispheres of the brain is also shown to have an abnormal growth pattern in children with ADHD, sensory processing disorders and dyslexia (5, 6, 7).
Neurotransmitter Regulation and ADHD
Molecular genetic studies have identified several genes that may mediate susceptibility to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A consensus of the literature suggests that when there is a dysfunction in the “brain reward cascade,” especially in the dopamine system, causing a low or hypo-dopaminergic trait, the brain may require dopamine for individuals to avoid unpleasant feelings (8, 9).
This high-risk genetic trait leads to multiple drug-seeking behaviors, because the drugs activate release of dopamine, which can diminish abnormal cravings. Moreover, this genetic trait is due in part to a form of a gene (DRD2 A1 allele) that prevents the expression of the normal laying down of dopamine receptors in brain reward sites (10, 11, 12).
Other studies have shown issues with the ability of the enzyme dopamine beta hydroxylase which catalyzes dopamine into norepinephrine and the norepinephrine transporter enzyme which is involved in the reuptake of norepinphrine into the synaptic terminals (13, 14).
Additional research has looked at dysfunctions in the serotonin and GABA pathways and the relationship to ADHD (15, 16). Serotonin and GABA are both necessary for calming the brain and inhibiting distracting stimuli. It is obvious from this research that genetic polymorphysisms and developmental challenges with neurotransmitter function are critical factors in ADHD.
ADHD and Birthing Medications:
Children who were exposed to anesthesic medications in their first 2 years of life are at a significantly greater risk of developing ADHD (17, 18). One study showed that children exposed to anesthesia in the first 3 years of life had twice the risk of developing ADHD than children who had not been exposed (19).
This is one of the complications of mothers choosing anesthetic medications and epidurals during their birth process. Additionally, the medications such as pitocin (oxytocin) used for birth inductions are also linked with higher rates of ADHD (20)
ADHD and Stimulant Medication:
Individuals with ADHD are most often prescribed stimulant medications such as ritalin, dexedrine and adderall. These medications increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain. These neurotransmitters are critical for goal setting, concentration and focus (21, 22).
Common side effects include restlessness, dizziness, insomnia, headache, dryness of the mouth, gastrointestinal complaints and weight loss (23). Ritalin and Adderall are classified as “Schedule II” drugs (along with cocaine) by the Drug Enforcement Agency to indicate drugs with a high potential for abuse (24).
ADHD and the Microbiome:
There has been a tremendous amount of research linking the gut microbiome and neurological health. Research has indicated that low levels of healthy lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are linked with increased brain exciteability and neurological inflammation (25).
A 2013 study evaluated 742,939 children and demonstrated that those children with ADHD had a dramatic increased prevalence of constipation almost threefold higher than those without ADHD. Fecal incontinence was sixfold higher in the ADHD group, and visits to the doctor because of bowel issues was also dramatically increased in kids with ADHD.
Gut motility is a critical factor in the development and maintenance of a healthy microbiome. Children with ADHD most often have slow motility and a proliferation of microbes that secrete neurotoxic compounds such as lipopolysaccharides (LPS) (26).
Additives and Chemical Perservatives:
ADHD is commonly seen associated with an inflammatory based diet and toxic food additives, dyes and preservatives. These food industry based chemicals are mild-moderately neurotoxic. They also have a strong synergistic affect when combined with sugars such as fructose . (27, 28)
A recent Lancet study concluded that food dyes along with the preservative sodium benzoate (found in many soft drinks, fruit juices, & salad dressings) cause many children to become significantly more hyperactive and distractible. This study also found that food additives and dyes can do as much damage to children’s brains as lead in gasoline (29).
Gluten Sensitivity and ADHD:
Gluten is the common protein molecule found in wheat, barley, rye, kamut and spelt. Gluten is a sticky storage protein that binds to the small intestinal wall where it often causes digestive and immune system disorders.
There is extensive research about gluten sensitivity and disorders in every part of the neurological system. Gluten is a significant trigger in neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD (30, 31). If you have one of these issues it is critical to go 100% gluten-free.
An anti-inflammatory nutrition plan that is low in carbohydrate and rich in healthy fats and anti-oxidants is critical to preventing and treating ADHD. The brain is primarily water, fat and cholesterol. These are all key building blocks for promoting healthy brain function and rebuilding a damaged brain.
The proper nutrition plan to beat ADHD is rich in phytonutrient dense vegetables, healthy fat and clean protein sources. Healthy fat sources such as coconut, avocados, olive oil & sprouted nuts and seeds must take a central role in the diet to promote healthy brain function.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids for ADHD:
There are many key nutrients that enhance the functioning of individuals with ADHD. Omega 3 fatty acids are perhaps the most effective nutrient in enhancing concentration and focus in ADHD individuals (32). Omega 3 fatty acids and in particular the long chain variety EPA and DHA are critical for stabilizing blood sugar, improving neurogenesis and neurotransmitter production (33, 34).
One study found that children with ADHD had significantly lower omega 3 fatty acid content than did normal controls and the most behaviorally challenged children had the lowest levels of omega 3 in their blood and tissue (35).
Key Nutrients for ADHD:
All of these trace minerals and B vitamins are necessary for proper neurotransmitter function. As explained above, ADHD and other learning disorders are related to neurotransmitter dysfunctions. Therefore, utilizing researched based nutrients to support neurotransmitter function seems appropriate and delivers proven results.
Magnesium: Studies have shown that magnesium supplementation benefits children with ADHD. One study showed that 50 children with ADHD and other behavioral issues had significant improvement with 6 months of 200 mg magnesium supplementation (36)
Vitamin B6: Has been studied along with magnesium to reduce hyperexciteability, aggressiveness and behavioral problems in school aged children (37, 38). Magnesium and B6 play a role in the development of all major neurotransmitters so it is no wonder they have such profound influence.
Folate: Individuals with an MTHFR gene polymorphism are more likely to be deficient in folate and are at greater risk for the development of ADHD (39). These individuals in particular need extra methyl-folate. Individuals supplementing with L-methyl-folate have shown significant improvement in ADHD symptoms (40).
Choline: This is a key precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and it helps to regulate memory, focus and muscle control. Individuals with ADHD may have choline transporter defects (41) and can benefit greatly from extra choline intake (42).
Zinc: This is a key cofactor for dopamine synthesis which is key for healthy mood and concentration in ADHD. Low zinc status depresses serotonin and melatonin production which can affect behavior and sleep. Many people suffering with ADHD have low zinc status and supplementing with 30mg daily has shown to be significant for individuals with ADHD (43).
L-Carnitine: Plays a critical role in fatty acid metabolism and mitochondrial health. Has been shown to reduce hyperactivity and improve social behavior in people with ADHD (44).
Serine: Phosphatidylserine (PS) has been shown to increase dopamine levels. Research has shown that taking PS with omega 3 fatty acids improved ADHD scores significantly more than when taking just one of these alone. The researchers found it especially useful in the population of hyperactive-impulsive, emotionally and behaviorally-dysregulated individuals.
L-Glutamine: This is the precurser for the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA. Glutamate is excitatory while GABA is inhibitory and calming. Disruption in the glutamate, GABA balance may be present in individuals with ADHD (45). Additionally, L-glutamine helps improve gut integrity and reduces microbial related inflammation in the body that can effect brain function and induce ADHD.
Vitamin D3: Vitamin D3 plays an enormous role in the development and function of the brain. There is a strong association between low prenatal vitamin D levels in the mother and ADHD development in children (46). Individuals with ADHD are often found to have low vitamin D levels as well (47).
Glutathione and ADHD:
Individuals suffering with ADHD are under high levels of oxidative stress in their brain. Our main protective shield is the master anti-oxidant glutathione. Poor blood sugar control and high environmental toxin exposure are known to deplete glutathione levels and impair mitochondrial function (48).
A key pathway that maintains cellular glutathione levels and the ability of the cell to adapt to stress is called Keap1-Nrf2. When this pathway breaks down it causes increased levels of oxidative stress within the cell that leads to the glutathione depletion and mitochondrial dysfunction (49). Improving glutathione status in ADHD individuals improves hyperactivity and focus.
Chiropractic and ADHD:
Healthy movement patterns produce proprioception (movement information) which is a critical essential for healthy brain enhancing and neurodevelopmental patterns. Boosting proprioceptive input through good posture and spinal function is critical for healthy brain development.
Regular chiropractic care along with spinal hygiene exercises are essential lifestyle factors for healthy neurological function. This article explains the benefits and reviews specific case studies involving chiropractic care for children with ADHD and sensory learning disorders (50).
Healthy Movement Patterns:
Children, teenagers, & adults with ADHD symptoms do very well with a regular exercise program that incorporates core stability and functional balance training. Many hyperactive kids are naturally drawn to activities such as rebounding and jumping on a trampoline as well as balance sports such as skating, surfing and snowboarding.
12 Tips to Beat ADHD Naturally:
Here are the best action steps to get started with on your journey to beat ADHD and other learning problems naturally. You should always consult with your physician before stopping or changing medications or taking on new health strategies.
Additionally, you should be working with a functional health practitioner to help guide you through these strategies. This is not an exhaustive list and there are other natural therapeutic strategies that I and functional health practitioners will utilize to help individuals with ADHD and other learning disorders.
1. Prioritize Sleep: You must focus on getting good sleep on a regular basis. If you are sleeping in late in the morning, try getting up early and allowing yourself to get real tired early the following evening and going to sleep around 9-10pm and waking around 6-7am.
Use this as your regular schedule getting 8-9 hours of high quality sleep each night. If you are having trouble sleeping follow the strategies I discuss in these articles here
3. Get Outside on a Regular Basis: It is so important to get outside in nature. Go to a park everyday and take a long walk and do lots of deep breathing. Nature is its own healer and if you find ways to get out in nature, you will see huge improvements in focus, concentration, learning and mood.
4. Exercise Daily: Bike, walk, run, lift weights, dance, yoga, etc. Find something or multiple things you love that challenge your body and are enjoyable.
5. Supplement With Omega 3’s: Omega 3 fatty acids may be the most important supplement for individuals with ADHD and learning disorders. Try to eat foods like grass-fed meat, grass-fed butter, wild-caught fish and spirulina which are all rich in high quality omega 3’s.
It is also advisable to supplement with 2-5 grams daily of EPA/DHA along with 200 mg of GLA. Clinically, I use ProEFA to boost up omega 3’s.
6. Breath Deeply: Take time to practice deep diaphragmatic breathing on a regular basis.
7. Chiropractic Care: Find a great chiropractor in your area for a complete spine and nervous system evaluation and follow the recommended treatment protocols.
9. Include Magnesium & B Vitamin Rich Foods: Magnesium helps to improve blood sugar signaling patterns and protects the blood-brain barrier. The best magnesium and B vitamin rich foods include dark green leafy veggies, grass-fed dairy, raw cacao and pumpkin seeds.
10. Optimize Vitamin D: Boost your vitamin D3 levels by getting more whole body sun exposure and/or using a high quality supplement. I recommend a D3 with vitamin K2. Aim to get 5,000-10,000 IU daily.
If very deficient (less than 30 ng/ml) try taking 20,000 IU for 30 days along with daily sun exposure and then drop your supplementation to 10,000 IU daily.
11. Improve Your Gut Motility: Improving bowel movement frequency and consistency is a key detoxification concept. Consuming an anti-inflammatory diet with good fiber sources such as chia seed and flax seed, using bone broths, fermented foods and probiotics will improve bowel motility. Restore harmony to your gut through diet and proper supplementation.
12. Use an Advanced Brain Support Pack: This is designed to get you the key nutrients that are we have already discussed that are necessary for optimal brain function and cognitive processing. These nutrients help the brain to produce the right amount of neurotransmitters and other neurochemicals to enhance focus, memory and concentration naturally.
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