Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common behavior disorder diagnosed in children and is also a comorbid condition associated with a variety of disorders, including Autism Spectrum Disorder, addiction, anxiety, depression, learning disability, etc. According to the CDC, ADHD diagnoses in the US are on the rise. “The percent of children 4-17 years of age ever diagnosed with ADHD had previously increased, from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007 and to 11.0% in 2011-12.” These nine supplements for ADHD have research to support their efficacy and should be considered to reduce symptoms.
If you are like most parents, you are looking for ways to help your child with ADHD but maybe aren't familiar with natural approaches to ADHD such as supplements and neurofeedback, which can be done at-home or do sessions at our center.
You may not even be sure if your child has ADHD or if they executive functioning issues related to another primary issue such as dyslexia, concussion, anxiety, autism or PANS/PANDAS. You can learn more about the signs and symptoms of ADHD here and learn more about how to help them by listening to the best ADHD podcasts.
A Holistic Approach to ADHD Serotonin Deficiencies
Studies provide evidence that those with ADHD have altered dopamine and serotonin function. Researchers have found that people with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine. Dopamine allows us to regulate our responses and take action to achieve specific rewards, as well as focus and direct our attention. Moreover, studies provide evidence that those with ADHD have altered dopamine (DA) and serotonin (5-HT) function.
When compared to their neurotypical peers, children with ADHD are often deficient in specific essential nutrients, including zinc. Zinc, an essential cofactor of more than 100 enzymes used in the body, plays an important role in brain structure and function. As a necessary cofactor for the production of neurotransmitters prostaglandins, and melatonin, it indirectly affects metabolism of dopamine and fatty acids, all of which support attention.
Scientists have found that some children diagnosed with ADHD may have low blood levels of zinc, which may interfere with brain function and result in difficulties with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and socialization. Melatonin, which zinc helps the body metabolize, plays an important role in the regulation of dopamine which makes it an effective supplement.
Research demonstrates that ADHD symptoms improve with the use of the dietary supplement zinc sulfate. You can also increase zinc through eating foods high in zinc, including oysters, chicken, beef, pork, tofu, hemp seeds, nuts, lentils, yogurt, oatmeal, and mushrooms.
Research has found that children with ADHD are more likely to have a magnesium deficiency than neurotypical children. One of the most prominent supplements for focus, magnesium, is a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical and enzymatic reactions within the body. Magnesium assists many chemical functions that support the central nervous system in self-regulation and attention. A mineral necessary for sufficient brain energy, it aids in the transmission of communications through the central nervous system, calms the central nervous system, and enables the body to make the neurotransmitter serotonin.
A Magnesium deficiency can lead to neurological disruption that promotes the development of ADHD and a worsening of symptoms. This deficiency also can cause reduced attention span, hyperactivity, irritability, and difficulty thinking clearly. Research finds a link between a healthy immune system and ADHD. Elevated oxidative stress can therefore lead to progressive neuronal damage and deterioration of normal cerebral functions such as attention.
Aside from eating magnesium dense foods like avocados, legumes, or nuts, it can be directly taken in capsule or powder form. Magnesium is considered one of the safest supplements for attention and should be taken to bowel tolerance.
Treating ADHD Vitamin Deficiency
Vitamins to help focus and concentration can also be used for treating ADHD naturally. In terms of neurotransmitter function for those with ADHD, vitamin D supports dopamine levels, norepinephrine levels, and serotonin release. Vitamin D increases the production of Acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter in maintaining focus and concentration. It also facilitates the growth of nerve cells for executive function and memory storage, which can be impaired in those with ADHD.
Upwards of 70% of Americans are vitamin D deficient leading to significant medical and psychological consequences. Scientists have noted that low blood serum levels of vitamin D are associated with ADHD. Vitamin D also plays a role in magnesium homeostasis. Since vitamin D is involved in so many functions in the brain and body, it has an important role in supporting attention and impulse control.
Vitamin D₃ is made in your skin through a chemical process called “photolysis” that occurs when you expose your skin to ultraviolet B rays, which is carried to your liver and then your kidneys to transform it to active form of vitamin D. Every tissue in the body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles, endocrine system, and immune system, which means vitamin D is needed at every level for the body to function.
Research has found that with vitamin D supplementation for those with ADHD results in improvement in cognitive function at the conceptual level, inattention, opposition, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Besides regular, short amounts of sun exposure without sun protection, foods such as fish, beef liver, egg yolks, and mushrooms provide small amounts of vitamin D.
The B vitamins are necessary for maintaining healthy nervous and digestive systems and various metabolic functions, as well as play a vital role in attention and executive functioning. The B vitamins are often used to reduce fatigue and boost mood and improve symptoms of attention.
There are several types of B vitamins, and each one supports the brain and body in different ways. They all support proper nervous system function and that has a direct implication for those with ADHD. For example, B-6 – Pyridoxine helps the body manufacture neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which has a critical role in attention.
Several studies have demonstrated that the combination of magnesium and vitamin B6 improved behavior, decreased anxiety and aggression, and improved mobility among children with ADHD. The B vitamins include (B1) Thiamine,(B2) Riboflavin, (B3) Niacin, (B5) Pantothenate, (B6) Pyridoxine, (B9) Folate, and (B12) Cobalamin. Many individuals take a B complex that contains all of the B vitamins.
A common mutation called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) impacts how folate is used in the body and brain. It effects upwards of 40 percent of the US population, as well as is implicated in a variety of physical and mental health conditions, including, ADHD. This gene mutation can lead to high levels of homocysteine in the blood and low levels of folate and other vitamins. There are two MTHFR mutations – C677T and A1298C and a person can have one or both and they impact the bioavailability of folate. Folate (B-9) is important in the detoxification process and necessary maintaining DNA integrity as well as neurotransmission and supporting CNS regulation. When CNS dysregulation occurs, conditions such as ADHD can result.
B vitamins come from food sources, such as, whole grains, rice, meat, eggs, dark leafy vegetables, fruit, and legumes and can also be taken via a supplement. The body does not store B vitamins well, and the need for them is increased by stress and illness.
Natural ADHD Supplements for a Healthy Nervous System
Essential Fatty Acid (EPA)
Omega 3 is the name given to a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids, of which, Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are essential for brain health,specifically attention and impulse control. Following consumption, omega-3 fatty acids are incorporated into body tissue cell membranes and have powerful anti-inflammatory functions within the body. Research supports that at the cellular level, omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils can directly or indirectly modulate a number of cellular activities associated with inflammation. Inflammation is associated with ADHD, specifically, problems with focus, attention, and impulse control.
Omega 3 is “essential” because it is not made in the body and must be supplied through consumption of foods such as salmon, tuna, sardines, wild game, and walnuts or as a dietary supplement. The other essential fatty acid is omega-6, which can be found in corn, eggs, poultry, and soybean oil. Omega-6 contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are critical for normal brain function and development. Omega-3 can affect the functionality of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a critical role in attention. Omega-3 helps with prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens function, which are the brain regions involved in selective attention, attentional switching and emotional regulation. DHA is a critical structural component of the cerebral cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for attention.
Research supports that individuals with ADHD have lower levels of essential fatty acids than controls and that when given direct supplementation, their ADHD symptoms improve. ADHD symptoms including improvements in hyperactivity, impulsivity, attention, visual learning, word reading, and working/short-term memory were specifically found.
Many children and adults who have ADHD also have sleep problems and disorders, so the use of supplements to support sleep, such as melatonin, can be very helpful. Proper sleep of an adequate length of time and regulation through the sleep cycles, aids in focus and detoxification. Research supports that a good night's sleep allows the brain to flush out toxins that build up during waking hours. Without proper sleep, toxic molecules involved in neurodegenerative disorders accumulate in the space between brain cells. Several studies have shown that melatonin supports the central nervous system through its ability to reduce chronic and acute inflammation.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted at night by the pineal gland and is needed for the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. It is estimated that 15 to 25 percent of children and adolescents have problems getting to or staying asleep. A trend toward overall poor sleep hygiene and more specifically, increased exposure to electronics prior to sleep may be a factor in the significant frequency of sleep disorders.
Despite a high incidence of sleep disorders in children and adolescents, research has found that dietary supplement melatonin can improve the sleep of those with ADHD. Long-term research demonstrates that melatonin continues to work over time. Simply put, without adequate sleep, one can’t focus, so good quality sleep is needed for focus.
Herbs for Treating ADHD Naturally
Treating ADHD with diet to supplement vitamin and mineral deficiencies is the first step to overcoming ADHD without medication, herbal remedies can increase the efficacy of dietary choices. The combination of the herbs, Ginko and Ginseng, have been studied for its ability to improve symptoms among patients with ADHD.
The antioxidant activity of ginkgo flavonol glycosides reduces oxidative stress, which contributes to neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD by causing membrane damage, changes in protein structure and function, lipid denaturation, and DNA damage. In addition, components isolated from ginkgo biloba contain terpene trilactones, which neuroprotective properties and supports the brain activity of those with ADHD.
Ginkgo biloba may be taken as tea, herbal tincture, capsules or tablets. Although considered generally safe, Ginkgo biloba is contraindicated in seizure disorders. It may interact with, or heighten the effects of, other drugs you may be taking.
Ginseng is and herb that is also regarded for its ability to increase energy, stimulate brain function, and memory boosting capabilities. Ginseng extracts have been found to improve a number of cognitive functions, including attention, sensory-motor function and auditory reaction time. As noted previously, the combination of the herbs, Ginko and Ginseng, have been studied for its synergistic effect to improve symptoms among patients with ADHD.
Ginseng supports the Central Nervous System in a variety of cognitive processing factors. It has been found that ginsenosides, a ginseng constituent, increased dopamine and norepinephrine concentrations in the cerebral cortex. These effects suggest that long-term administration of ginseng extract may result in positive growth in the neurodevelopment of an immature brain. Ginseng components are also researched and noted to have neuroprotective properties. These factors contribute to Ginseng’s ability to support inattention, hyperactive, and impulsive behaviors.
Ginseng may be taken as tea, herbal tincture, capsules or tablets.
Rhodiola Rosea is an adaptogenic herb with neuroprotective properties that supports brain functioning and focus. Adaptogens are known for their capacity to protect organisms from numerous kinds of stressors.
It is known that those with ADHD are deficient in dopamine and norepinephrine. Rhodiola Rosea supports brain function by stimulating the reticular activating system and elevating levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. For most it enhances alertness, which is often lacking in those with ADHD.
Many parents seek alternative ways to treat their children’s ADHD without drugs. For many children, a natural supplement for focus and concentration can lessen the impact of ADHD in daily life. Whether you’re a parent with a newly diagnosed child or one who has been working to aid your child for years or looking for natural treatments for ADHD for yourself, you need to understand the benefits and limitations of all treatment options to make the best decision for your family.
Considering all the available treatment options, including science-backed natural approaches is something more and more parents are discovering as they are seeking safe and effective approaches that not only get to root causes but create lasting change.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new supplement regime and on specific dosages or possible drug interactions.
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