Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most controversial health conditions of modern life. Drugs are generally prescribed, sometimes too rapidly. Can you treat ADHD naturally?
What is ADHD
According to the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Support Group of Southern Africa (ADHASA), ADHD affects eight to 10 percent of South Africans, mainly children, who fall into one of three categories:
- Those who seem unable to pay attention
- Those who are able to pay attention but are also impulsive and hyperactive
- Those who fall into both the above categories
Although you may suspect that your child has ADHD, the condition can only be diagnosed when he or she is five to seven years old. Don’t assume that your child has ADHD, though – the symptoms are similar to those of other conditions such as allergies, asthma, diabetes, hypoglycaemia, hearing or sight problems, iron deficiency, learning problems or emotional difficulties due to problems at home. Rule them out first…
What causes ADHD?
It’s a bit of a mystery, but it is known that ADHD is caused by an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters and biochemicals in the brain. The four main imbalances include high norepineprine and cortisol, dopamine dysfunction, serotonin deficiency and insulin irregularity. What is interesting is that each of these imbalances is connected with nutritional deficiencies that can be corrected.
There is an 80 percent chance that ADHD is genetic. However, as with all mental conditions, there is no blood or other physical test to diagnose it, and medical professionals have to rely on research when examining a patient.
Stimulant drugs are prescribed to treat ADHD and 70 percent of ADHD children respond well to them. But are we making the right choice? The chemical composition of well-known ADHD drugs such as Ritalin is similar to cocaine, with side-effects that include reduced appetite, headaches, an upset stomach, irritability, nausea, sleep disturbances and even heart problems and tics. And, as the drugs seem to be prescribed quite readily, most parents would surely agree that looking at diet and supplements is the safer place to start.
Cut down on sugar.
Sugar and refined carbohydrates lead to excessive insulin release, which can cause falling blood sugar levels and subsequent agitation, depression, anger, anxiety and panic attacks. Start your child’s day with a good breakfast – a bowl of oat porridge or homemade muesli sweetened with a little honey and fruit provides slow-release energy that supports mental function for a longer period. Wean children off sugary cereals by combining them with healthier, high-fibre brands.
Eat more good-quality animal-sourced omega-3 fatty acids.
Children lacking in omega-3 fats are more likely to be hyperactive, have behavioural issues and struggle with learning disorders. A deficiency of omega-3s has also been linked to depression, poor social skills, violent behaviour and dyslexia. Try fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines), sunflower, linseeds and pumpkin seeds and nut butters such as tahini and cashew nut butter. Take care with peanuts as ADHD-sufferers may have food-intolerance issues.
Get more iron.
Iron regulates dopamine levels in the brain. If you lack iron, you struggle to concentrate, are tired and become listless. The answer lies in lean red meat (the iron in vegetables is less well absorbed by the body). Combine iron with a vitamin C-rich food to aid absorption – lemon juice on a salad or a glass of orange juice.
Research shows that a sensitivity to gluten may be linked with various neurological and psychiatric conditions, including ADHD. A 2011 study indicated that coeliac disease is ‘markedly overrepresented among patients presenting with ADHD’, and a gluten-free diet has been shown to significantly improve behaviour in children.1
Avoid food additives
Food additives and genetically modified ingredients are thought to worsen ADHD. These include MSG, and some artificial food colourings and some artificial food preservatives.
Take nutritional supplements
Probiotics improve gut flora. Toxicity in the gut can flow throughout your body and into the brain, as has been explained by medical doctor and neurologist Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride.2 Toxicity in the brain can cause symptoms of autism, ADHD, dyslexia and other mental disorders.
Essential fatty acids may help ADHD children to focus and concentrate better.
Zinc appears to be lacking in children with ADHD. Lean beef is a good source.
Flora Force Focus Formula™ is a supplement that combines herbal extracts designed specifically to assist in focus and concentration, safely.
Get enough sleep.
According to a report by integrative health expert Dr Tasneem Bhatia in the Huffington Post, ‘children with inattention, as well as adolescents, need more sleep than their non-ADHD counterparts. Creating a calming sleep routine that is consistent helps children with ADHD relax. Reading, yoga or warm baths with Epsom salts may help.’3
Exercise in the morning.
Help your ADHD child boost his or her serotonin levels with a short morning workout, such as 10 jumping jacks or running up and down stairs 10 times.