When you have ADHD, you learn the hard way that wanting to focus doesn’t automatically result in better attentiveness and concentration, especially when you have a lengthy to do list and plenty of distractions.
And for kids with ADHD, difficulty paying attention can make things like returning back to school (or homeschool) an even more daunting task, and complicate their ability to effectively learn. Could it be possible to manage ADHD with holistic health and without the use of medication?
Whether you’re a parent of a child with ADHD, a teacher, or struggle with ADHD yourself, it’s important to understand how this type of brain chemistry affects learning, and the 8 holistic tips you can use to create a healthy and focused brain.
When You Just Can’t Focus with ADHD
You crafted an articulate to-do list, had your morning latte, and assembled your workspace. And yet when you sit down at your desk to actually work, all the focus you thought you had seems to float away.
Why is concentration so difficult to pin down, and why is it even harder to hold onto it once you’ve got it? For women with ADHD, we can find the answer in our brain’s chemistry.
Better Focus & Attention Naturally
Dozens of factors influence our brain chemistry, including the foods we eat, which environmental toxins we’re exposed to, how much sleep we get, and how our immune system reacts to allergens–both dietary and environmental.
By balancing these 8 natural systems with holistic health, and following strategies that help you work with your brain, instead of against it, you can improve focus and attention with ADHD.
1. Calm Inflammation
We often think of inflammation when we get a cut or scrape and notice swelling and a rush of blood to the hurt area. This is completely normal and part of a healthy immune response.
Chronic inflammation, however, is a low-grade and systemic inflammation that often goes undetected as it causes symptoms like mood swings, neurotransmitter imbalance, and even weight gain. Inflammation has also been linked to ADHD in women.
In order to reduce inflammation all over the body, we have to target inflammation at its source–the gut. And you can find an entire step-by-step protocol I created to help you do exactly that. Plus, once you calm inflammation in the gut, you’ll likely notice better mental clarity, improved mood, and even easier weight loss.
2. Eat More Anti-Inflammatory Foods.
Neuroinflammation, or inflammation in the brain, is one major factor that impacts brain chemistry. There can be a genetic component to neuroinflammation, but we can also significantly alter our levels of inflammation naturally with diet and lifestyle (1).
Neuroinflammation is actually at the root of many diagnoses in integrative medicine. Inflammation produced in the body can interfere with the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which the brain needs to maintain focus and attention.
- Green leafy vegetables
- Fatty fish (omega-3 fats DHA & EPA)
3. Protect Your Gut Microbiome
Your digestive bacteria, commonly referred to as your microbiome, are responsible for not only helping to digest and absorb food but also for producing important neurotransmitters and controlling the ever-damaging inflammation which can worsen cognitive function.
Imbalances like small-intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and candida overgrowth in childhood or as an adult are linked to chronic conditions like obesity and IBS, in addition to ADHD (2).
Have you had a yeast infection in the last year, or do you experience belly bloat? Take a look at the 3 ways you can cure candida overgrowth naturally before you head out to pick up another messy OTC cream at the drugstore.
4. Heal Leaky Gut
Inflammatory foods like processed carbohydrates, refined sugars, and dairy can irritate the lining of the gut and initiate an inflammatory immune response.
If allowed to progress, digestive inflammation can result in the passage of harmful bacteria and undigested proteins into the body through an abnormally permeable intestinal lining, or a leaky gut.
Once this happens, a leaky gut can give way to immune imbalances which can exaggerate ADHD symptoms.
Find out if you’re suffering from a leaky gut, and how to heal the 5 pillars of gut health.
5. Omit Sugar
Women and children with ADHD may be sensitive to sugar, artificial food dyes, and additives. Processed foods with high amounts of added sugars spike blood sugar quickly and result in a crash shortly after, which stimulates adrenaline, causing jitteriness, and results in feelings of inattentiveness and drowsiness.
Yet many kids and adults with ADHD are consuming a diet high in refined sugar and processed carbohydrates which can exaggerate symptoms (3).
6. Reduce Toxins
Excessive toxins, like heavy metals and pesticides, can interfere with normal neurodevelopment and are neurotoxic at certain levels.
Poor detox function of environmental toxins and heavy metals is linked to reduced cognitive function and concentration. One meta-analysis also found that lead exposure is linked not only to an increase in inattention and hyperactivity symptoms but also to reduced intelligence in children and adolescents (4).
To support healthy detox, add plenty of greens to your diet, and consider a liver cleanse. You can also boost methylation processes with a fully methylated, or metabolically active B vitamin supplement. This helps the body properly process and eliminate toxins.
In our increasingly connected, always-on culture, sleep is often one of the first things to get put on the back burner in favor of productivity or other demands on our time. But quality sleep is one of our strongest natural mediators of inflammation, immune function, and brain health.
Stress can interfere with quality sleep, as well as the production of neurotransmitters needed for attention and focus. Holistic health depends on these two lifestyle factors remaining in balance.
For school-aged children, a healthy brain needs anywhere from 8-10 hours of sleep per night to properly perform cellular clean-up and restoration, while adults on average require about 7-9, depending on lifestyle factors.
8. Increase Green Space
Exciting research has shown that spending more time in nature, or in “green space”, reduces inattention and hyperactivity symptoms in children (5).
Whether you’re managing ADHD in yourself or in your children, prioritizing regular time outdoors is beneficial to daily focus and learning.
Learning Strategies for ADHD
Making sure we have the right foods, nutrients, and lifestyle factors is paramount to managing focus and concentration with ADHD, but to optimize learning in the classroom (or at work), here are strategies you can use when you want to boost optimal focus.
Kids (and adults) in the classroom often have trouble controlling the movement of their bodies and struggle to sit still. You can help provide outlets for movement by taking regular breaks to get up and move around, or by employing the use of fidget spinners or other objects, standing desks, or sensory chairs like wiggle seats.
Those with ADHD are regularly thrown off of their concentration by passing thoughts that hijack attention. Set out a notebook or pad of paper where you can jot down these interrupting thoughts to address them at a more appropriate time.
Work with your brain, not against it. Distraction doesn’t have to be a dirty word! When focus begins to wane, for yourself or your little one, set a timer and take a quick break by relying on a healthy distraction–a one-song dance break, a short walk with the dog, or a relaxing coloring page.
What Supplements Help ADHD?
Like most kids, children with ADHD love and crave junk food–it’s tasty, satisfying, and gives their brain the quick rush of energy they crave. Unfortunately, this is often the case for both adults and children, and a diet high in refined carbohydrates and junk food creates an overload of sugar and a deficiency in crucial nutrients the brain needs.
Research shows that kids and adults with ADHD are low in zinc, vitamin d, magnesium, and B vitamins. While it’s best to prioritize nutrients from whole foods, supplements can help manage ADHD symptoms by supporting brain function.
For optimal cognition, focus, and attention, the brain needs specific nutrients. Here are a few:
Omega-3. About 60% of the brain is made of up DHA, making omega-3 fats absolutely critical for proper brain communication. A lack of these healthy fats strongly correlates with ADHD, in addition to poor immune function and increased inflammation.
Magnesium. Low magnesium levels lead to headaches, PMS, irritability, worsening ADHD, anxiety, and insomnia. Much of modern life, including stress and a poor diet contributes to low magnesium concentration in the body. Easily digestive forms of magnesium include magnesium glycinate or magnesium amino acid chelate.
B vitamins. Vitamin B6 in particular is crucial for producing serotonin, which plays a role in healthy sleep and in proper concentration. Various medications and birth control can quickly deplete vitamin B6. Look for a methylated B supplement containing folate and the active form of B12, methylcobalamin. You can find all of these in Boost, plus magnesium glycinate.
Vitamin D. Almost 40% of the U.S. has less than optimal levels of vitamin D, leading to lowered immune function, increased inflammation, and poor cognition (6). Spend time outdoors responsibly to get more of the “sunshine vitamin” and include fatty fish, cheese, or fortified milk in your diet.
Zinc. Low levels of zinc are linked to poor immune function, poor detox of heavy metals, and ADHD.
Treating ADHD without Medication
Every individual with ADHD, autism, or other mental health issue is unique. There is no one path to healing that will be the same for everyone. And while some may require medication for ADHD, there is immense benefit in healing the brain with holistic medicine.
Managing ADHD without medication can be difficult, and I don’t recommend anyone stop taking their medication suddenly, or without their doctor’s supervision.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that addressing the underlying causes of brain dysfunction and ADHD can help many people experience better cognition, improved focus & attention, and optimized learning without the need for medication.