ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and ADD (attention deficit disorder) are becoming increasingly prevalent diagnosis in both children and adults. These disorders are characterized by an inability to concentrate, being easily distracted, the inability to complete tasks, as well as poor working memory. ADHD has the added symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity as well. These symptoms can be hard for anyone to manage, including parents of children with ADD or ADHD.
I was diagnosed in elementary school with ADHD and definitely had all the symptoms listed above. I couldn’t read a paragraph without forgetting what I had just read.. I couldn’t complete tasks in class and had some behavioral issues because I couldn’t sit still. In the past there hasn’t been a whole bunch of research on how to treat this disorder, besides with various medications. The majority of those medications turned me into a zombie, with a poor appetite. But, after a while they found a medication that was well suited to me and I was finally able to get back to being a normal kid. Without treatment I wasn’t able to learn effectively and my grades suffered. After treatment, I was a whole different person, in that I found it easier to focus, learn, complete tasks, and excel in projects that I found to be interesting. I not only completed all my grade level education, I also went on to receive my bachelors and masters degree with somewhat ease. This shows you that being ADHD/ADD is manageable. Now, there is much more research into the natural treatment of ADD/ADHD with the use of diet and exercise. Some cases could even be fully treated without the use of medication. WOW! I have researched the biggest game changers in the treatment of ADD/ADHD and found some interesting insight that I want to share with you.
The amount of high fructose corn syrup and sugar in our every day diet is unfathomable and one of the biggest factors that could affect the symptoms associated with ADD and ADHD. We need to decrease the amount of sugar we intake every day. High sugar intake can cause an instant “sugar rush” or spike in blood sugar. This high blood sugar is combated with a high production of insulin and other hormones, which quickly lower your levels of sugar in the blood. The fast drop in blood sugar can cause hypoglycemia, which is typically accompanied by irritability, the release of stress hormones, and even light-headedness or a headache. All of these things exacerbate the symptoms of ADD and ADHD. Today so many things advertised towards kids specifically are full of sugar. The breakfast items we start our kids day with are especially high in sugar, and yet we wonder why we have a larger number of cases of ADD and ADHD being diagnosed in our children every day. Rather than starting a kids day, or your own, with toaster strudels or coco puffs, that can cause these increased levels of blood sugar and stress hormones, we should be eating a high protein, fiber rich breakfast with some complex carbs. Why, you ask? This is because complex carbs, like oatmeal, are important to help provide energy and are digested slower by the body, in comparison to other types of carbohydrates, like white bread. Combined with protein and fiber, a more prolonged and sustained blood sugar release is reported as well. Protein is used by the brain to create neurotransmitters that allow brain cells to communicate amongst each other. Without the proper balance of neurotransmitters, your brain cells have a hard time firing messages to one another, this in turn can cause an inability to focus and fatigue. Breakfast and lunch that is high in protein, complex carbs, and fiber will allow you to feel more awake, focused, and calm throughout the day. Complex carbohydrates can help you sleep better at night, as well, if you eat them in the evening.
Good sources of protein include fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, lean beef, low fat dairy, and nuts. Good sources of fiber include avocados, apples, raspberries, oats, popcorn, chia seeds, and lentils. Good complex carbohydrates will be found in whole foods such as oatmeal, beans, whole wheat bread, quinoa, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
Another important supplement that could be added to you or your child's diet that suffer from ADD/ADHD is Omega 3 fatty acids, commonly called fish oil in supplement form. This is a type of fat that can’t be produced in the body, but is necessary for proper brain function. The only way to ensure the adequate amount of Omega 3’s in our bodies is by ingesting foods high in Omega 3’s or supplementation with fish oil.
Good sources of Omega 3 fatty acids include salmon, other fatty fish, olive oil, flax seed, chia seeds, walnuts, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and pastured eggs, meats, and dairy from grass fed animals.
Getting adequate amounts of iron, zinc, and magnesium in your diet has also been shown to be important in controlling symptoms presented by ADD and ADHD. Lower iron levels have been associated with the increase in ADD and ADHD diagnosis and symptoms in children, such as being inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive. Iron and zinc regulate the neurotransmitters in your brain called dopamine. By having better regulation on the bodies production of dopamine, Iron and zinc can increase the brain’s response to methylphenidate (ADHD/ADD medication) and in turn decrease symptoms of ADHD. Magnesium assists in the making of neurotransmitters that are involved in attention and the ability to concentrate. Proper levels of magnesium can cause a calming effect on the brain, alleviating some of the symptoms of ADHD. Finding foods that are rich in these vitamins is always a better option, to using supplements, due to their better absorption and utilization in the body.
As an adult who has suffered from ADHD all my life, I recommend adding exercise into your daily regime to combat the symptoms of ADHD, as well as modifying your diet. I found that exercise has focused my mind and released a lot of my extra energy. It is proven that exercise increases the production of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, which increase attention span and focus. Exercise also increases blood flow, that in turn has helped me get to sleep faster and allowed me to sleep longer. My anxiety and stress levels have decreased dramatically from when I first started adding in exercise into my weekly routine as well.
Overall the symptoms of ADD and ADHD can seem overwhelming for just about anybody. These symptoms can however be fought and minimized with a proper diet, adequate in protein, fiber, complex carbs, iron, magnesium and zinc. Having a routine exercise program can be just as beneficial.
Kaley Hallowich NCSF CPT NCCPT BS MS