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The Rising Interest in Natural Remedies for ADHD

ADHD is a multi-faceted condition that requires support in many areas of life. With multiple drugs on the market to treat this disorder, you may ask yourself, why choose a natural treatment for ADHD? Dr. Zylowska, the author of The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD, said it best, “(ADHD) makes many aspects of daily living more challenging, so you need a toolbox of strategies to address the physical, spiritual and social parts of one’s life.” 

Holistic and natural treatments are the tools that are supportive of these aspects of ADHD treatment. Vitamin and mineral therapy, herbal medicine, and nutrition have a growing body of evidence as treatment options for ADHD. It’s estimated that about 50% of parents used these treatment interventions as a stand-alone treatment or in conjunction with a prescription drug with their children diagnosed with this condition. 

Many children and adults take medication for ADHD, which varies in side effects. The most prescribed medication is the stimulant drug Methylphenidate, commonly known as Ritalin. The downside of these drugs is the long-term dependency and the side effects of decreased appetite, sleep disturbances, upset stomach, and mood imbalances. 

The Top 5 Natural Remedies for ADHD

Taking a natural approach to ADHD can be daunting. Here is a guide to the top 5 natural routes to consider when approaching ADHD holistically. 

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s are unsaturated fatty acids that provide health benefits. Three primary essential fatty acids fall into this category: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Pertaining to ADHD, these nutrients provide building blocks for brain function and health. The brain contains neurons, or nerve cells, which fire signals through networks in the brain. The nerve-firing action releases neurotransmitters like serotonin. 

In those with ADHD, research has shown that some significant networks fire differently. One aspect that omega-3 assists with is serotonin formation, release, and function in the brain, thus helping with one aspect of neuronal transmission. Current information shows that supplementation with omega-3s can improve both impulsivity and attention.

Functional medicine is an excellent avenue for the treatment of ADHD for many reasons, one of them being extensive testing options. Essential fatty acids, including omega-3, can be measured in the blood through a test like the Omega-3 and -6 Fatty Acids Test by Access Medical Laboratories. Results can help guide treatment recommendations, both food recommendations and supplementation. Food as medicine is always a great first route. Consuming foods high in omega-3s, such as fish, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseed, are high-sourced options. 

2. Herbal Supplements

Herbal medicine can support neurocognitive function. Each botanical has its own specific mechanism of action. Plant medicine for brain health typically provides support in the form of enhancing blood flow in the brain, acting as a nootropic, or providing nutrients for cognitive functions. Four herbal supplements for ADHD brain health are Ashwagandha, Gingko Biloba, Bacopa monnieri, and Saffron. 

Ashwagandha is a choice herb for addressing serotonin levels, improving attention and executive functioning, and helping stabilize stress response. Frequently, people with ADHD have anxious or nervous tendencies, making Ashwagandha an excellent choice.

Ginkgo Biloba is an East Asia native tree, historically used for cognitive enhancement. Its benefits for ADHD are that it has antioxidant properties that protect cellular membranes, DNA, and protein structures in the brain. Additionally, other components of this plant assist with norepinephrine and dopamine neurotransmitter function. One study concluded that there were improvements in ADHD symptoms in children who took Gingko as a complementary treatment to methylphenidate compared to those who did not. 

Much like Ginkgo, Bacopa monnieri is commonly used for cognitive support. Studies reveal that it has some positive results as a therapeutic intervention for children with ADHD. One study found success in kids 6 to 12 years old, using 225mg of Bacopa monnieri per day for six months. This resulted in a decrease in ADHD symptoms, significantly reducing restlessness, attention deficit, and improving self-control. 

The last herbal remedy mentioned, Saffron, is used for more than culinary purposes. This therapeutic spice has shown to be beneficial as both an adjunctive therapy with stimulant medication and as an independent treatment option for ADHD. 

3. Diet and Nutrition

Nutrition can have a profound impact on neurocognitive function and behavior. Consuming a whole-food diet, void of additives, artificial dyes, and sugars, can profoundly affect symptom severity. Food sensitivities, widespread culprits like gluten and dairy, can also play a role in ADHD. If you suspect food sensitivities, running a comprehensive IgG panel like the 184 IgG Food Sensitivity Panel by Alletess Medical Laboratory can identify your reactive foods. 

Some patients may opt to do an elimination diet, which is a trial of taking foods out of their diet for an extended period and then slowly re-introducing each food one at a time to see if their symptoms return or exacerbate. Knowing if foods negatively impact health and brain function can assist your practitioner in long-term diet and nutrition recommendations. In general, eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, complex carbohydrates, quality fats, and protein can be supportive of cognitive function. 

4. Mindfulness and Meditation 

For some people, it takes intentionality to calm the mind down. In ADHD, many people describe their brain as a “hampster wheel.” They have racing thoughts and feel as if they are bouncing from one thought to another. Mindfulness and meditation are two practices that require you to be intentional about your thoughts and engage in calming down your brain. This promotes present-moment thought processing, focusing on bringing your mind and body back into awareness when your thoughts begin floating off into other areas. 

Mindfulness practices for ADHD show that it has the capacity to improve attention, which ultimately can improve task completion, impulse control, and self-regulation. A simple technique you can try at home is to take 5 minutes per day to just sit in silence. With your eyes closed and your intention set on one topic, see how many items or concepts your mind wanders to. Each time you catch your mind wandering, bring yourself back into awareness of the original topic. Over time, this should become easier, and the amount of time you can withstand should become longer. 

5. Neurofeedback and Biofeedback

The key feature of biofeedback is that it is both diagnostic and therapeutic. In ADHD, neurofeedback is the primary type of biofeedback that is utilized. With the use of electro pads on the scalp, it provides real-time information about about brain activity. Information in regards to brain waves: those with ADHD show lower levels of arousal in the frontal lobe, with an increase in theta brain waves and a decrease in beta waves. 

Neurofeedback therapy is an intervention intended to regulate these brain waves, with the end goal being a decrease in theta waves and an increase in beta waves. When the biofeedback input collects data on the patient's brain activity, a feedback loop is created to entice a change in brain activity through cues. The ultimate goal is to increase arousal in the frontal lobe, enhancing attention and decreasing impulsive and hyperactive behavior. While there are insufficient clinical trials displaying the efficacy of neurofeedback for ADHD, there is emerging clinical evidence and positive results of it being used as part of a combination intervention. 

The Importance of Individualized Treatment

Personalized natural ADHD treatments are a path that is opening up. While medications are the number one route by conventional medicine, many people are seeking complementary or alternative options to these drugs. With the top natural remedies to choose from above, it's important to look at each individual case and decide what is or is not necessary. A custom treatment plan can allow your provider to create a multi-faceted approach that encompasses the areas of nutrition, mind-body medicine, exercise, sleep, stress, and herbal medicine. 

Precautions and Considerations

Like all therapeutic approaches, precautions and considerations must be taken into account. While the above-mentioned natural remedies and treatment options are generally regarded as safe, we can not forget individual limitations and circumstances. Safety precautions for ADHD natural remedies should be discussed with your doctor. Depending on your current list of medications and health habits, there may be better routes for you than natural remedies. Working with a practitioner who is trained in these natural modalities is key to proper dosage administration and duration of treatment. 

Summary

Natural medicine has a plentiful repertoire of practical tools. Knowing which tools to seek out in conditions such as ADHD is the area that is missing in our current medical model. Nutrient support, herbal medicines, dietary implementation, meditation, mindfulness, and neurofeedback are all-natural ways to support your neurocognitive function and treat the signs and symptoms of ADHD. We encourage you to seek a naturopathic doctor or holistic, integrative medicine practitioner to work 1-on-1 with a provider who can guide you through this therapeutic process and help you achieve optimal

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