There’s more to treatment than stimulants like Adderall. Learn about natural treatments for ADHD here!
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. ADHD has become increasingly common in the United States, with over 3 million cases. An estimated 8% of children and 2-3% of adults struggle with ADHD. While the condition is usually diagnosed in children, ADHD often lasts into adulthood and tends to run in families.
While many symptoms of ADHD, including high activity levels, trouble remaining still for long periods, and poor attention spans, are not uncommon in children, there are a few key differences worth noting. The primary difference in children with ADHD is that their hyperactivity and inattention are noticeably more significant than expected for their age, causing severe distress and problems with functioning at home, school, and with friends.
Unfortunately, neuroscientists have not yet identified the exact causes of ADHD. However, there are several contributing factors to look for.
Recent research shows that genetics is a cause and risk factor for developing the disorder. In fact, three out of four children with ADHD also have a relative who shares the condition. Other factors that likely contribute to the development of ADHD include premature birth, brain injury, and the mother smoking, consuming alcohol, or experiencing severe stress during the pregnancy.
While research does not support the idea that ADHD is caused by excessive sugar consumption or spending too much time on screens, these behaviors may worsen symptoms for children and adults who struggle with the condition.
Stimulant medications such as Adderall and Ritalin have been considered first-line treatments for ADHD for decades.
However, many parents of children with ADHD, or adults with ADHD themselves, do not feel comfortable with the idea of stimulant medications based on their nerve-racking side effects, which range from insomnia to anxiety to heart problems.
Thankfully, there are a number of other treatment options that can be used instead of, or in conjunction with, these medications.
Iron and zinc deficiencies can cause intellectual impairment in all children, regardless of whether or not they have ADHD. However, a great deal of recent research shows that patients with ADHD often have reduced vitamin D, zinc, iron, and magnesium levels. These nutrients play essential roles in neurologic function, especially in neurotransmitter synthesis. While we cannot say if these lower levels of essential nutrients can cause ADHD, research does justify supplementing these areas of deficiency as a safe intervention to improve symptoms of the disorder.
Several studies have looked into the effects of zinc supplements in children with ADHD, and all of them reported improvements in symptoms when more zinc was added to the diet. Studies that examined iron supplementation as an ADHD treatment have shown equally promising results.
Nutrition studies have looked into the effects of many other supplements on ADHD symptoms as well, including amino acids. Every cell in the body requires amino acids to function. Amino acids are used to make neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
All three of these neurotransmitters play an essential role in ADHD, as research shows that children and adults with ADHD have problems with these neurotransmitters. Many also experience low blood and urine levels of these amino acids. While amino acid supplements for ADHD show some promise, more studies need to be done to prove causation beyond correlation.
Omega-3 fatty acids also play essential roles in cognitive function. Unfortunately, children with ADHD frequently have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids than children without the condition. Studies have shown that lower omega-3 levels result in more significant learning and behavioral problems in children with ADHD.
As such, it comes as no surprise that several recent studies have found that omega-3 supplements often cause improvements in ADHD symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acids appear to improve task completion and attention in teens and children with ADHD while also decreasing symptoms of aggression, restlessness, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity.
Behavioral therapy is a highly effective discipline strategy that aims to teach children with ADHD new ways of behaving by rewarding desired behavior (like following directions) and eliminating negative behaviors (like as losing homework assignments). The American Psychological Association states that behavioral therapy should be the first line of treatment for children with ADHD under the age of five. However, it can be equally effective for older children.
New research also shows that behavioral parent training, which teaches parents skills for effective and productive interactions with their ADHD children, significantly reduces both parental stress and instances of non-compliance. Effective BPT programs focus on teaching parents new, specific techniques for addressing their child's behaviors to strengthen the parent-child relationship while learning strategies for long-term behavioral improvements.
CBT aims to change irrational and negative thought patterns that can interfere with staying on task or getting things done. This type of therapy can be beneficial for people with ADHD, as these are two significant obstacles for individuals with the disorder.
A person with ADHD struggling in school or at work might think, "This has to be perfect, or it's not good enough" or "I can never do anything right." CBT challenges the truth of those thoughts by getting the person to examine the evidence. A recent neuroimaging study of adults with ADHD who completed a 12-session course of CBT showed improvements in ADHD symptom ratings and beneficial changes in the same brain regions that are monitored in studies of medication effectiveness.
Exercise can also help those with ADHD function more effectively and efficiently. One well-known benefit of exercise is an increase in endorphins, which are known to improve mood. However, exercise also elevates the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels, which increase focus and attention.
Studies show that aerobic exercise can positively affect attention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and other symptoms of ADHD. Even walking for 30 minutes four days a week will do the trick!
At Las Vegas Integrative Medicine, our team of naturopathic providers is here to help you say goodbye to your or your child’s ADHD symptoms so you can live a happier, healthier, and more balanced life.
Ready to get started? Schedule your appointment here.