THE BLOG

Beating ADHD, Naturally -- Focus on Alternatives

09/20/2013 10:19 pm ET | Updated Nov 20, 2013
  • Tasneem Bhatia, M.D. Dr. Taz MD, Back to the Heart of Medicine. Best selling Author, Integrative Health Expert, Prevention/Wellness

I call it the September phenomenon. My practice fills with children getting ready for school, college students grabbing their last-minute prescriptions and everyone questioning whether they should refill their ADD/ADHD medicine of choice.

It is always interesting to see the diversity amongst my ADD population. Many young children and adolescents love the feeling of being "hyper-focused" and are able to accomplish massive amounts of work in a short period of time. Others stare at me, looking pale and fatigued, wanting off their medications.

Medications for ADD have come under increased scrutiny, with recent statistics showing that use of these medications has increased by 50 percent in the last six years. Abuse of Ritalin, one of the most commonly used ADHD medications is also rampant on college campuses. Research continues to debate the effectiveness of the medications for improving grades and helping students "study."

I am always trying to help my patients understand the cause and options for treating their ADD/ADHD. While some patients do need medication, we have seen attention and hyperactivity improve with alternative regimens. Spending time educating patients about prevention of inattention and hyperactivity has proven to be effective in our practice.

ADD and ADHD are the result of neurotransmitter and neuroendocrine imbalances. The four main imbalances include high norepineprine and cortisol, dopamine dysfunction, serotonin deficiency, and insulin irregularity. Each of these imbalances are rooted in nutritional deficiencies that with correction, improve symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention. Food allergies and intolerances also contribute to malabsorption of nutrients.

While my practice goal is to identify each patient's unique ADD/ADHD type, there are general patterns that seem to be consistent for the majority of patients.

Correct Irregular Sleep Cycles

Children with inattention, as well as adolescents, need more sleep than their non-ADD counterparts. Most children require at least 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep. I have noticed that many children become wired at night, fighting sleep and bedtimes. Creating a calming sleep routine that is consistent helps children with ADD/ADHD relax. Reading, journaling, guided imagery tapes and yoga are great pre-bed activities. Warm baths with Epsom salts may also help.

Keep Insulin Stable

Teaching children and parents tips to keep blood sugar and insulin levels stable improve inattention and hyperactivity symptoms. Many children leave their homes with a high-sugar breakfast, followed by sugary snacks and unhealthy lunches. Emphasizing the importance of protein and decreasing total sugar consumption daily to under 40 grams is critical for children with ADD/ADHD. Small servings of protein should be eaten at regular intervals. Convenient protein sources include nuts, yogurt, hummus, protein bars and protein smoothies.

Correct Nutritional Deficiencies

Nutrition is often underplayed in ADHD management, but there are nutritional deficiencies that appear in my patients repeatedly. These deficiencies are also important in neurotransmitter balance. The most common nutritional deficiencies we see in practice include low B vitamin levels, low magnesium, and low levels of amino acids. If you or your child may have ADD/ADHD, have your physician or nutritionist evaluate your potential nutritional deficiencies, prior to supplementation.

Morning Exercise

For many children, serotonin imbalance is the cause of ADD. Beginning a quick morning workout before heading to class gives the brain a serotonin boost. Try running up and down the stairs five times or 10 jumping jacks. A brisk morning walk may also help "wake up" your serotonin.

Create an Electronic Budget

Children and adults with ADD/ADHD often find their symptoms worsen with constant stimulation from iPhones, iPads and other electronics. Most children should have an "electronic budget" that limits use of TV, video games, phones and other gadgets to one hour per day. Adults need an electronic budget as well. While jobs may force us all on the computer for long periods of time, having "electronic-free" hours can help build focus and attention. Turn off your electronics by 10 p.m. and keep four hours at least one day per week gadget/electronic-free.

Although many patients will still need ADD/ADHD medications, trying natural alternatives can keep us all less medication dependent and living healthier. Focus on alternatives in beating your ADD/ADHD, naturally.

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