Natural Remedies for ADHD

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Natural remedies are treatments that do not involve a prescription from your doctor. People have been using natural remedies to address their health issues for millennia. They are now generally referred to as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and commonly involve nutritional strategies, supplements, and lifestyle changes.

Medication may be necessary to treat ADHD, but natural complementary and alternative treatments may also be helpful for alleviating ADHD symptoms. For ADHD, it may be helpful to include a combination of both, in order to find the most effective way to treat and manage symptoms.

These natural ADHD remedies may be used either in place of or in combination with medicine prescribed by a doctor, but you should always consult with a healthcare provider before trying an alternative treatment.

This article discusses some of the natural remedies for ADHD that may be helpful including nutritional strategies, supplements, and lifestyle changes.

Vitamins and Supplements for ADHD

Vitamins and minerals play an important role in natural remedies for ADHD. You can eat vitamin-rich foods and may also consider taking vitamin supplements.

You should always talk to your doctor first before you begin taking a supplement and mention any medication you are currently taking to help avoid potential interactions. Always purchase supplements from a trusted source and never take expired vitamins or supplements.

Vitamin B6 and Magnesium

The B vitamins are essential for a healthy nervous system. Vitamin B6 is especially important for ADHD, as it is involved in the production of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine.

Vitamin B6 and magnesium metabolism are connected. If magnesium levels are low, this can cause problems similar to ADHD, such as reduced attention span and irritability. A deficiency in B6 might result in poor memory, trouble concentrating, and increased activity. Taking magnesium and B6 together may be helpful in managing ADHD symptoms.

Vitamin D

Studies have suggested that people who have ADHD often have low blood serum levels of vitamin D. Supplementing with vitamin D may be helpful for improving symptoms and well-being in children with ADHD. 

One review of studies concluded that vitamin D supplementation appeared to be useful as an adjunctive therapy. However, further research is needed to better understand both the efficacy and safety of supplementing vitamin D in both children and adults with ADHD.

Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that regulates dopamine. If you have low levels, it may contribute to attentional issues. Zinc deficiencies tend to be common, which may have an impact on functions such as memory, impulse control, attention, and mood.

Some studies suggest that zinc may have a beneficial impact on ADHD symptoms, particularly that of inattention when used as a complementary therapy. However, further research is needed to understand its potential efficacy as well as what dosages and formulations might be most helpful.

Iron

Iron is needed to make dopamine. Low iron levels have been associated with ADHD symptoms. Some studies suggest that iron supplementation (along with zinc) was helpful for improving ADHD symptoms and treatment outcomes.

Your doctor can check your iron levels and prescribe a supplement if you need one. It is not advisable to take an iron supplement without medical advice.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Research shows people with ADHD have lower levels of omega-3 compared to their peers who do not have ADHD. The benefits of taking an omega-3 supplement may include improving ADHD symptoms, resulting in, for example, increased attention, focus, and memory, and may help with your overall approach to treatment.

While the effects appear to be small compared to the efficacy of traditional ADHD medications, omega-3's have been shown to be helpful for improving ADHD symptoms.

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Nutrition

Diet may also have an effect on ADHD symptoms. Taking steps such as limiting processed foods, eating a healthy diet, and identifying food intolerances may be helpful.

Aim to Keep Blood Sugar Levels Stable

While the research is not entirely conclusive, some evidence suggests that dietary patterns such as consuming too much sugar can worsen some ADHD symptoms. Excessive sugar intake can lead to energy crashes and fluctuating blood glucose levels. This can magnify some symptoms of ADHD including your activity levels, memory, and focus. 

Eating regularly (yet not constantly snacking) helps to control blood sugar. This helps to avoid focus and attention issues, irritability, and low physical energy that come with unstable blood sugar levels.

Instead of reaching for snacks with added sugar, look for those that are high in protein and fiber. Focusing on snacks that include protein and fiber can help you feel fuller longer and minimize swings in blood sugar levels.

Avoid Certain Ingredients and Additives

Some research suggests that certain ingredients or food additives might be linked to increased ADHD symptoms. For example, sodium benzoate is in many foods and drinks and has been associated with high scores on ADHD rating scales.

Monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer that is added to many foods, including salad dressing, bouillon cubes, and baby food. There have been adverse cognitive reactions to MSG reported in some studies.

Caffeine is a stimulant that can also exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Caffeine enhances dopamine and increases focus and alertness. It can result in side effects like anxiety, nervousness, and insomnia. Caffeine can also interact negatively with stimulant medication.

Some studies have found a connection between food coloring and additives and hyperactivity in children.

Recap

Avoiding certain ingredients and additives may be helpful. Some substances that have been linked to ADHD symptoms include sodium benzoate, monosodium glutamate, caffeine, and some food dyes.

Consume Plenty of Protein

Including protein with meals can help in managing ADHD symptoms. Not only does protein help to stabilize blood sugar levels, but protein also influences neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, are biochemical messengers that allow communication between brain cells.

Neurotransmitters, in particular dopamine and norepinephrine, are an important feature in treating ADHD. For example, stimulant ADHD medications work by increasing the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the synapses of the brain.

Eating enough protein may help neurotransmitters function more efficiently and may help ensure that you are able to perform better throughout the day. An ADHD-friendly meal includes a balance of protein and fiber (such as from vegetables, unprocessed fruit, or oatmeal).

Identify Food Intolerances

Some research has suggested that people who have ADHD may be more likely to have food allergies and food intolerances. Symptoms might include itchiness or hives, or a more severe reaction, such as swelling of the tongue or problems breathing. Food allergies can be diagnosed with a skin test or blood test.

Food intolerance or sensitivities are harder to detect than allergies. For example, they might not show up in blood results, and the effects of eating a certain food might not be as immediate.

Yet they can still negatively affect one’s quality of life. For example, your energy levels can be affected. There might be changes in your behavior like more impulsiveness and a decrease in brain clarity or ability to concentrate.

Because blood tests are not a reliable way to test for intolerances, a good way to discover if you have any is to try an elimination diet.

There are two ways to do this. You could eliminate all the top allergens (soy, wheat, dairy, corn, yeast, peanuts, eggs, shellfish, and chocolate) at the same time. Alternatively, eliminate one at a time and see if you notice a reduction in symptoms.

Eliminating all the foods at the same time can result in a restrictive diet, which is hard to maintain. There is also the potential that you would not meet your nutritional requirements. Working with a registered dietitian is helpful if you decide on this option. For some people, eliminating one food at a time is the easiest way to confirm food intolerances.

Feingold Diet

The Feingold diet is an elimination diet designed for people with ADHD. It allows only a few food dyes or additives. It has been criticized for being very restrictive, and it is not advised that it be the only way you treat ADHD. However, it is a diet that might help to identify food sensitivities.

Exercise

Exercise improves ADHD symptoms, including executive functions. There have been many research studies done to look at different types of exercise and how they help ADHD. The verdict is that there is not one exercise type that is better than another.

Instead, the important factor is to pick one that you enjoy and will feel motivated to do regularly. It could be running, spinning classes, yoga, or martial art. If you have a tendency to get bored, you could include a variety of your favorite exercise types.

Some research also suggests that spending time outside may be helpful for improving ADHD symptoms. Look for opportunities to combine physical exercise with time outdoors.

Energetic Play

Exercise is excellent for children with ADHD. It helps all their ADHD symptoms, including hyperactivity and impulsivity. Children might enjoy an organized sport or martial art class.

They can also benefit from lots of opportunities to participate in exercise throughout the day with energetic play. This could be jumping on a trampoline, running in the yard or park with friends, or hopping on a bike.

Sleep

Getting enough hours of sleep every night helps ADHD. However, ADHD behavior can sabotage good sleep hygiene. For example, hyper-focus or procrastinating on projects until the last minute can mean you end up going to bed late. Having a busy mind can make falling asleep feel impossible.

This, in turn, makes waking up in the morning hard because you are sleep-deprived. Getting less sleep than you need affects your ability to focus and concentrate. It also affects your mood and general health.

Although making sleep a priority and changing habits around sleep might feel like a daunting task, it is a great natural way to help ADHD.

A Word From Verywell

It is important to remember that everyone responds to ADHD treatments differently. While medication is often necessary to manage symptoms, natural remedies and lifestyle changes may also be helpful for alleviating some symptoms. These natural treatments may be particularly effective when utilized in conjunction with medication.

Work with your child's doctor to determine what works best for you and your child.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take for supplements to work with ADHD?

    How quickly supplements begin working depends on the child and the supplement that is being used. For some supplements, you might start to notice some changes within a week or two. In other cases, it might take several weeks to start to notice any effects. You may want to wait at least a month or two before deciding if a supplement is helpful.

  • Which vitamins and supplements improve ADHD symptoms?

    Some vitamins and supplements that may help improve ADHD symptoms include omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, vitamin D, iron, and magnesium.

  • How do nutrition and supplements help ADHD?

    Certain vitamins and supplements may improve cognitive function, inattention, memory, and mood. This can be helpful for improving some of the symptoms associated with ADHD.

  • When should I take ADHD supplements?

    When to take these supplements often depends on the type that you are taking. Some may affect energy levels and should only be taken in the morning. Others may cause stomach upset and should be taken with food. Talk to your doctor before you begin taking any supplements.

  • What are the best supplements for adult ADHD?

    Supplements with the most evidence supporting their use for ADHD include omega-3s, zinc, iron, and magnesium. However, it is important to note that studies suggest that the efficacy of these supplements tends to be smaller than that of traditional ADHD medication. They are often best used to complement other ADHD treatments.

  • What supplements should I take if I am on ADHD medication?

    You should always talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplements if you are on ADHD medication. Your doctor may recommend a daily multivitamin containing iron, magnesium, and zinc. They may also give you the go-ahead to take other supplements, but talking to your doctor first can prevent any potential drug interactions.

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