ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is a commonly, and overly diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder, that typically is noted when an affected individual is elementary school age.
It is identified by behavior that makes it difficult for affected individuals to function effectively, or mature and develop as other children normally do. In general, people with ADHD behave in ways that show a pattern of:
- Hyperactivity: Extremely high and changeable levels of agitated actions
- Inattentiveness: Distracted, unfocused, unable to complete activities
- Impulsivity: Acts hastily, without thinking of what could happen as a result
While most children and adults may occasionally behave in ways that seem hyperactive, inattentive, and impulsive, it is the intensity and consistency of this sort of behavior that could result in an ADHD diagnosis. A school environment can make growing out of these behaviors more difficult as any disruption can effect other students and overwhelmed teachers don't have time to direct focus on one child. Often, the answer to this challenge is to treat the child with medication.
Natural remedies for ADHD
General interest in complementary and alternative medicine continues to grow. Particularly in light of concerns about the safety and effectiveness of standard medical treatments, half of all parents of children with ADHD use alternative treatments in some way, according to studies cited in Neural Plasticity.
From taking supplements and avoiding food coloring to breathing exercises, a wide variety of natural remedies have been used to address ADHD and the symptoms that accompany it.
According to studies reviewed in Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics, the natural supplements with the most evidence to support their use are:
- Polyunsaturated fat supplements: For heart health and a possible reduction in inappropriate behavior and speech
- Melatonin: May help with problems going to sleep
- Iron and zinc: Could help to reduce ADHD symptoms when children are not getting sufficient amounts in their diets
Other clinical trials have found that a number of herbal treatments and nutritional supplements may be helpful in treating ADHD, according to a 2016 study. These include:
- French Maritime pine bark extract, or pycnogenol: May increase visual-motor coordination and reduce hyperactivity and inattentiveness
- Ginseng: Could reduce hyperactivity and inattentiveness
- Ningdong: A Chinese medicinal that may be as effective at reducing ADHD symptoms as Western prescription medication
- Bacopa: An Ayurvedic treatment, which preliminary studies suggested could reduce restlessness and improve self-control in children with ADHD
Combination therapy, in which one or more natural remedies are used in combination with each other or prescription medication, shows promise in addressing the many ways in which ADHD can affect individuals.
However, more research is needed to determine its efficacy and safety, as well as the strength at which it can be used safely in humans, if found to be effective.
Lifestyle changes that can help
Some practices – such as biofeedback, exercise, and connecting with nature – are widely considered to be calming. Researchers are studying these activities to see if they really do reduce symptoms of ADHD.
Neurofeedback, in which individuals with ADHD learn how to perform tasks while trying to maintain typical, and not hyper-aroused, brainwave patterns, has shown promising results. However, it is an expensive process and is only in the early stages of development.
Some studies have suggested that studying yoga, particularly its breathing, focusing, and relaxation components, can help to relieve certain symptoms of ADHD. Yoga, and regular exercise of any kind, is also regarded as a helpful and stress-reducing activity for parents and children with ADHD to pursue together.
Other studies have suggested that children with ADHD saw an improvement in their ability to concentrate after spending time in a green space. More research is needed to know how much time individuals need to spend in green spaces to see improvements, and how long these improvements can last.
Conventional wisdom may link eating lots of sugar with hyperactivity in children, but research does not show this to be the case. Yeast is also not considered a likely culprit in ADHD.
However, eating a healthful, well-balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits, whole grains, and vegetables is beneficial for everyone. Individuals dealing with a complex brain disorder like ADHD will benefit from a sound diet.
Some researchers suggest avoiding the following foods:
- Soft drinks
- Fast food
- Processed meat
- Potato chips
- High-fat dairy products
- Red meat
In addition, since some children may be extremely sensitive to artificial food coloring and preservatives, avoiding exposure to these substances could help to address symptoms of ADHD.
How do recommendations differ depending on age group?
Most individuals with ADHD are diagnosed when they are children, but the condition can continue to affect individuals throughout their lives.
Creating systems for getting ready for school and other regular activities can help children with ADHD to learn how to recognize and feel comfortable following routines. Even something as simple as organizing storage for toys and clothes can help young people to learn how to manage their ADHD.
Adults with ADHD may find that organizational guidance from professionals can help them to manage their lives more effectively. Learning how to use calendars, lists, and reminders to keep on top of events can help to keep people focused and on schedule.
Just as with ADHD in children, treatment for adults with this condition seems to be most effective when it combines medication with therapy focused on changing behavior.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of therapy in which therapists work with patients to alter thought patterns in order to change behavior, has shown encouraging results in trials with adults.
Why people may wish to avoid medical treatments
People with ADHD, as well as their families, may be reluctant to use traditional medical treatment and use prescription drugs due to:
- Difficulty dealing with side effects
- The prospect of long-term use of a drug that affects a child's thinking
- Worries about becoming dependent on a drug
- Concerns about potential illegal use of their medication
Stimulants are often prescribed to address behavioral problems associated with ADHD, and this approach is effective in 70-80 percent of children, according to a study published in Neural Plasticity. However, some individuals cannot handle the side effects of these drugs, which can include:
- Twitching muscles
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
Since most people are diagnosed with ADHD when they are children, starting medication at this time could mean that children are taking mind-changing drugs for several years, if not their entire childhood. Many parents are not comfortable with this.
Some medications for ADHD can lead to addiction in certain individuals. People with ADHD and their families may be reluctant to use these drugs because they don't want to risk becoming dependent, or “hooked,” on the medication. Some people may also fear that their medication will be stolen because of its abuse potential.
Individuals with ADHD, and parents of children with ADHD, are encouraged to discuss their concerns about medication with their healthcare providers, and inform their physicians about “alternative” treatments they may be considering.
Overview of ADHD
In 2011, 11 percent of children aged 4-17 were diagnosed with ADHD, making it one of the more common brain disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Diagnosis of ADHD is made after a medical professional gives an individual a thorough evaluation. Medical evaluation and diagnosis usually happen during the elementary school years, although symptoms can appear in 3 year olds and continue into adulthood.
The disorder is most often treated with a combination of medication and behavioral therapy, which is counseling designed to help people change the way they act. ADHD is not the sort of condition that can be cured, although it can be managed.
It is not a contagious disease, although it may run in families due to a possible genetic link.
The key problems associated with ADHD reveal themselves in a variety of ways. For children, these can include:
- Inability to pay attention in class
- Difficulty completing assignments
- Easily distracted
- Inability to easily play quietly
- Frustrated by waiting to take a turn
- Fidgeting and moving around inappropriately
- Interrupts games and play activities
- Squirms in seat
- Frequently loses things needed for assignments
As children mature, their ADHD symptoms usually begin to moderate and change. In adults and older teenagers, ADHD symptoms are often different from the more common behaviors seen in children. They may appear as:
- Difficulty organizing activities
- Feelings of restlessness
- Interrupting people's conversations
- Frequently talking too much
- Finding it difficult to keep still
- May avoid projects that call for sustained mental focus