Natural Treatments for ADHD
There are many safe and natural ways to improve symptoms of ADHD, however, many natural treatments can have bad side effects or can interact with medications you may be taking. If you or your child plan to take supplements, change your diet, or try new therapies it is important to keep your doctor informed.
Natural treatments are often called complementary and alternative medical (CAM) therapies. Most medical doctors are not familiar with all the treatments out there, but they are familiar with the most common and best studied treatments. Regardless of whether the treatments you want to use are tried and true, New Age, or even far out, your doctor needs to know about them so he or she can help you take good care of yourself.
Diet and Nutrition
There are many diets that claim to cure ADHD. The truth is that special diets help some people a lot, and don’t help others at all. Some can even cause malnutrition or worsening of symptoms. Ask your doctor if a change in diet might be helpful for you. It would be a good idea to keep a diet journal for a few weeks before consulting your doctor. (Record any worsening or improvement of symptoms you associate with the foods you eat.)
A diet high in natural fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains is important for good physical as well as mental health. It is also important to eat as few processed foods as possible and eat a source of protein (like milk, yogurt, eggs, peanut butter, meat, or beans) at each meal to help keep blood sugar stable.
Most of us do not eat a perfect diet. A multivitamin with the RDI of the B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and possibly iron is safe and a good idea. Be sure to ask your doctor. Not everyone should take iron.
If you take a medication for ADHD don’t take your vitamin at the same time. (It can make your medicine less effective.)
Mega-doses (More than the RDI-recommended daily intake) of vitamins can be dangerous. Some can even cause liver damage or cancer.
Avoiding Allergens and Food Additives
Many people react badly to foods they are allergic to, as well as to artificial food additives. It is a good idea for all of us to eat more natural, less processed food. Avoiding Sodium Benzoate (a preservative in sodas and other foods), artificial dyes found in processed foods, and artificial sweeteners is harmless and may be beneficial.
If you suspect you have an allergy or sensitivity to a food, talk with your doctor. You may need testing. Don’t try to eliminate foods on your own. Food allergens and additives can be hidden in common foods eaten every day. You often need to eliminate the offending food for 2 weeks before a benefit is seen. Elimination diets are hard, especially for kids. Get the help of a doctor or dietitian to make finding food allergies or sensitivities easier. Allergies and sensitivities are rarely a significant contributor to ADHD issues.
A Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep is one of the single most important treatments for helping ADHD. Poor sleep can make people without ADHD have trouble with behavior and concentration, and makes those with ADHD much worse. Elementary school aged children need 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night, and teens need 8 ½ to 10 hours.
To get good sleep follow these steps every night:
Develop a bedtime routine and go to bed at the same hour each night, even weekends.
Make sure you room is quiet and dark.
Don’t do activities in bed except sleeping (Don’t do homework or watch TV.)
No TV or computer in your bedroom! (Very important)
Have a bath or shower before bed to help relax.
No vigorous exercise within 60 minutes of bedtime
If these measures don’t help, ask your doctor if a natural sleep supplement might be helpful for you. If you have a medical condition (like asthma, allergies, eczema, or snoring,) or problems with fear, anxiety, or bad dreams that interrupt your sleep often be sure to tell your doctor.
Brain Stimulating Herbs and supplements
It is tempting to try brain enhancing herbs to help with symptoms of ADHD. Caffeine (found in coffee, tea, sodas, and cocoa) does not significantly improve attention span and tends to produce more side effects than prescription drugs do (especially in children).
While some herbs like Ginko and Genseng can help some people increase attention span temporarily they are not safe to use frequently or all the time. These herbs can actually make ADHD symptoms worse if taken improperly. They also interact with many medications. Be sure to work with your doctor if you want to try these drugs.
If you plan to take an herb or supplement be sure to check Consumerlab.com for any safety problems with the brand you have chosen. They do independent testing of herbs and supplements to look for contamination and to make sure that the supplement really contains what it claims to contain. Remember: the FDA does not regulate supplements.
Exercise is important for all of us. Those with ADHD especially benefit from regular exercise. You will sleep better, and be more alert if you get daily vigorous exercise. Children and teens should get 1 to 2 hours a day. Outdoor exercise is especially important. Studies show that spending time outside decreases symptoms of ADHD.
Exercise like yoga, tai chi, and martial arts can help train your brain to focus and help with moodiness, coordination, and relaxation.
Some therapies are not yet studied well enough to decide if they might be safe or effective for you, but many studies are under way. Thus far, chiropractic therapy and biofeedback have not proven to be helpful and are often expensive. There are not enough studies on Homeopathy yet. Twice weekly massage therapy might be helpful. Discuss any treatment you plan to try with your doctor so you can work together to improve your health and stay safe!