ADHD is a complicated diagnosis for many parents to handle. It is easy to feel stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to treatment. On one hand, your child’s ADHD will most likely make school difficult. On the other hand, giving your child stimulants can be equally as scary.
I treat children with ADHD every week and I often see their symptoms almost disappear when we find the right treatment plan. I approach ADHD treatment from the cause instead of the symptoms. ADHD is believed to be caused by a deficiency of dopamine (a neurotransmitter) in the brain, a serotonin deficiency or imbalance of norepinephrine. Stimulants increase dopamine in the brain but at the cost of side-effects like loss of appetite, nervousness, headaches, nausea and trouble sleeping. My goal is to find what is blocking the production and maintenance of neurotransmitter levels and treat the root instead of the symptoms.
Many vitamin deficiencies cause symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and forgetfulness. One of the first tests I do on children with ADHD is an extensive, functional medicine nutritional evaluation. This test tells me whether or not a patient is low in a certain amino acid, vitamin, fatty acid or heavy metal. It also evaluates issues like methylation and oxidative stress. Also important is the test’s ability to tell me if a patient has heavy metal toxicity from mercury or lead.
Vitamin B12: B12 is involved in the production and maintenance of the myelin sheath (the protective coating on nerve cells), essential fatty acid metabolism and energy production. Sufficient B12 can also help boost the production of certain neurotransmitters and catecholamines.
Magnesium: Known for having a calming effect through its role in neurotransmitter synthesis, such as serotonin. Magnesium is involved in over three hundred bodily processes. Signs of a deficiency include sensitivity to loud noises, insomnia, anxiety, hyperactivity, restlessness, panic attacks, salt craving, and both carbohydrate craving and carbohydrate intolerance.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Healthy fats are vitally important for your wellbeing and they are even more important for children. In fact, studies have shown that many children with ADHD have very low blood levels of omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are important structurally and functionally for the brain. EPA affects hormone metabolism, dopamine (neurotransmitter that regulates mood) metabolism and immune systems. DHA is the major structural component of nerve cells.
Food allergies and intolerances have been connected to ADHD. In addition to vitamin deficiencies, I also consider possible food allergies or intolerances. Recent studies have found food additives or a gluten intolerance may be linked to ADHD. An elimination diet and keeping a food diary is a good way determine whether an allergy or intolerance is triggering certain symptoms.
Sleep is often undervalued for those with ADHD. Children with ADHD, on average, need more sleep than non-ADHD children. Lack of sleep can also exacerbate or mimic symptoms of ADHD.
Recent research into meditation for ADHD shows that transcendental meditation reduces anxiety and stress by 50% while also improving attentiveness and concentration. Meditation is ideal for those with ADHD because it does not require focus, but rather practicing an awareness of one’s surroundings. You can start teaching children about meditation by setting aside time every day for them to sit quietly and draw or read. You can also model the behavior for them and have them join you during meditation.
Research also shows that children who play outdoors in “green space” or a place with grass and trees have significantly milder ADHD symptoms than those who play in a “built space” or indoors. Children with hyperactive symptoms benefitted the most from open spaces, like a soccer field or a lawn. Green space also showed improvement in concentration and impulse control.
Treatment of ADHD is about finding what works best for your child. Unlocking the right treatment plan is a process, but will make school a better experience for your child.