Natural Remedies for ADHD: Treatment Without Medication
Omega-3 fatty acids. Behavior therapy. Zinc. Brain training. High-protein, low-sugar foods. Medical professionals recommend a range of natural remedies for ADHD meant to augment medication. What you need to know about treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder naturally.
Natural Remedies for ADHD: Alternatives to ADD Medication
Medication is a valuable tool for managing the core symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), but it is not the only treatment option available. Some natural ADHD remedies involve nutrition and lifestyle changes, while others tap into technology to train the brain for more focus and less impulsivity. For many, the best ADHD treatment plan includes several approaches.
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Natural Treatment for ADHD: Overview
"There's no way to predict in advance if a child or an adult will be helped by any individual ADHD treatment, even medication," says Duke University's David Rabiner, Ph.D. His advice? It is critical to monitor your ADHD symptoms (and those of your child) to know what's working — and to be open to a variety of changes in nutrition, exercise, sleep habits, and more.
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Behavioral Therapy for ADHD
Behavioral therapy for ADHD is a structured discipline strategy that aims to teach children new ways of behaving by rewarding desired behavior, such as following directions, and eliminating undesired actions, such as losing homework. The American Psychological Association says that behavior therapy should be the first line of treatment for children with ADHD under five. It can be effective for older children as well.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are important in brain and nerve cell function. The body cannot make omega-3 fatty acids by itself, so people have to get them through food, ADHD supplements, and vitamins. This is especially important for people with ADHD, who may have low levels of the nutrient. There are two types of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, EPA and DHA. The best supplements have two or three times more EPA than DHA.
CBT aims to change irrational or negative thought patterns that get in the way of staying on task or getting things done — two obstacles for individuals with ADHD. For a person with ADHD who thinks, "This has to be perfect or it's no good" or "I never do anything right," CBT challenges the truth of those thoughts by getting the patient to examine the evidence.
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Protein for ADHD
An ADHD diet rich in proper nutrition is a powerful component of managing ADHD symptoms. Protein prevents surges in blood sugar that may increase hyperactivity, and aids in producing attention-boosting neurotransmitters. High-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can help stabilize energy levels. If you or your child is taking a stimulant medication, a low-fat breakfast will maximize the effectiveness of the meds. Fats can cause the body to absorb the medication more slowly, delaying the drug’s effectiveness.
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Iron, Zinc, and Vitamins C and B6 for ADHD
Several key ADHD vitamins and minerals are key to producing and regulating neurotransmitter levels in the brain, especially when a child or adult is deficient in one of them. Vitamin C is a building block of neurotransmitters, while iron and vitamin B6 increase dopamine levels. Zinc regulates dopamine, and may help the stimulant medication methylphenidate work more effectively.
Exercise helps the ADHD brain function more effectively and efficiently. One well-known benefit of exercise is an increase in endorphins, which can improve mood. Exercise also elevates the levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain, which increases focus and attention. Walking for 30 minutes four times a week will do the trick, but skill-based exercises like martial arts or ballet are especially effective for those with ADHD.
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Brain-Training Programs for ADHD
Brain training for ADHD is growing in popularity and availability. Software programs, such as Cogmed, may improve working memory — the ability to hold information in your mind long enough to accomplish a goal (like remembering a phone number long enough to dial it). Other brain training programs may reduce impulsivity and increase attention. The “games” in the programs look and feel like video games, but are designed to exercise parts of the brain that aren’t working at their optimum level.
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Green Time for ADHD
Studies have shown that 20 minutes a day spent in nature may improve ADHD symptoms. Green time is especially effective in helping kids recover from attention fatigue, which occurs after a long school day. Gardening, biking to school, and walking the dog in the park are all good ways to incorporate green time into the day.
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Neurofeedback for ADHD
Neurofeedback is a high-tech way to manage ADHD symptoms. During a session, the patient dons an electrode-lined cap, and is asked to perform a complex cognitive task. The aim is to teach patients to produce brain-wave patterns associated with focus. Sessions are brief (30 minutes) and painless, but expensive. A course of treatment can range from $2,000 to $5,000.
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Mindfulness Meditation for ADHD
Mindful meditation for ADHD is attention/awareness training that helps manage stress, develop positive emotions, and strengthens self-regulation skills. It involves silent meditation and becoming more aware during daily activities — in other words, staying in the moment. In one study, mindfulness training improved attention and lowered anxiety and mood disorder symptoms in adults and adolescents with ADHD.