ADHD medications come with a long list of side effects, including growth suppression, abdominal pain, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, depression, nightmares, and zombie-like behavior, to name just a few. Whether you’re looking for natural alternatives for ADHD as a supplementary solution or in lieu of medication, you’ll be happy to know there are several solutions that actually work.
Aside from supplements, which I will cover in another article, there are plenty of effective holistic approaches that work because it can often be our lifestyles that are contributing to hyperactivity symptoms in our children.
5 Natural Alternatives for ADHD
Here are the top five lifestyle changes I suggest to the parents of my patients…
First things first, let’s discuss nutrition, because some tweaks here can make all the difference in the world.
Avoid Artificial Colors, Flavors & Preservatives
In the United States, many thousands of food additives are used by manufacturers to make our food taste better, look better, and stay fresh longer.
This is not the case in many other countries, who have banned these additives. Food Babe does a great job of comparing European and American foods to see just how different they are. You can check out her comparison of children’s foods here.
When it comes to nutritional, natural alternatives to improve ADHD, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives have proven to be the worst culprits. Study after study after study have revealed that these toxins lead to hyperactivity and ADHD symptoms in children.
It can be hard to avoid these additives because they are in almost every processed, packaged food you can purchase. That’s why I always suggest cooking as many home-cooked meals as possible and offering fruit, veggies, and other non-processed foods as snacks.
Eat Organic Foods
Non-organic foods can contain pesticides, GMOs (genetically modified organisms), toxic food additives, hormones, antibiotics, and even sewer sludge. Basically, you never know what your kids are eating when you feed them these foods.
Not only are these substances unhealthy, they also contribute to ADHD and behavioral issues in children, which is why switching to organic foods is one of the best natural alternatives for ADHD.
A study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Commonweal found 200 pollutants and industrial chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of babies, on average, many of which cause cancer, birth defects, and brain toxicity. Infants were found to have slower cognition and motor development as a result.
Another study published on PubMed discovered that ADHD in children was two to three times higher when they had persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in their blood.
Purchasing organic foods can seem like an expensive choice, but your child is worth it—It’s an investment in their health and happiness. Start by switching the foods on the EWG’s dirty dozen list. Then, each week, switch one or two more foods to organic. Before you know it, you and your children will feel more vibrant, and making those purchases will become second nature.
Eat Low Glycemic Index/Load Foods & Don’t Skip Meals
High glycemic foods lead to blood sugar spikes and drops, which can mimic symptoms of ADHD. A comparative study published on PubMed reveals that children who ate a low glycemic index (GI) / low glycemic load (GL) breakfast were more attentive and successful in school. Studies also show that children are more susceptible to cognitive issues as a result of hypoglycemia, compared to adults.
High glyciemic index foods cause blood sugar to rise quickly after eating them. The GL index can give us an even more accurate picture of how we will react from foods because it takes into account how much glucose per serving will enter the bloodstream.
As a natural alternative for ADHD, you can keep your child’s blood sugar levels balanced by ensuring they don’t skip meals and by feeding them low GI/GL foods.
Foods that contain more fiber or fat are lower on the GI scale, while processed foods are usually higher. Some low GI/GL foods include:
- Steel-cut or rolled oats
- Green beans
- Nuts and seeds
A glycemic index chart can help you determine which foods are low and which ones are high. The index goes from 0 to 100, with low GI foods scoring under 55.
25-50% of children with ADHD also struggle with sleep issues like bedtime resistance, shorter sleep time, difficulty waking in the morning, night awakenings, daytime sleepiness, and sleep-disordered breathing. In fact, before diagnosing ADHD, it is important to rule out these issues on their own.
Though there is no definite explanation for this, there are several theories:
- Lack of sleep causes ADHD-like behaviors.
- ADHD can cause sleep issues.
- Both ADHD and sleep disorders seem to have a common neurological cause.
Sleep is a key aspect of using natural alternatives for ADHD. If sleep is an issue for your child, there are several things you can do to encourage healthier sleep:
- Have your child stop eating 2-3 hours before bedtime.
- Turn off electronics 1-2 hours before bedtime. Instead, dim the lights, read a book together and chat about what you are grateful for.
- Diffuse lavender essential oil to calm the nervous system.
- Get your child out in the sun during the day to help them produce melatonin at night.
- Stick to the same bedtime and wake time schedule every day.
New studies are proving that proper exercise is critical to our children’s health, and not just their physical health. For example, an NIH study showed that when children engage in regular physical activity, they enjoy more focused attention, improved memory, flexible thinking, and better self-control.
A review of randomized control trials found that ADHD symptoms showed a 50% improvement in comparison to medication as the result of aerobic exercise.
A simple ,natural alternative for ADHD is to keep kids active throughout the day. This is challenging in this day and age, as video games, on-demand TV, and other smart devices have become such a way of life. Here are some tips to help:
- Encourage your children to play sports.
- Limit time on electronics.
- Get outside and kick a ball around with your kids.
- Plan family hikes or do a daily walk after dinner.
- Set physical activity goals with your kids.
Let’s face it, most kids are spending less and less time outside in this modern world, and this seems to be having an impact on children with ADHD. For example, a national study revealed that a green, outdoor setting in nature effectively reduced hyperactivity and inattention symptoms in ADHD patients.
We have to remember that we aren’t separate from nature, even though we have managed to separate ourselves from it. We are part of nature; therefore, our health depends on our engagement with it, and it’s one of the easiest natural solutions for ADHD.
Be a good example for your children. Spend more time outside, plan outdoor adventures you can do as a family, and watch them flourish.
You can tell how drastically our world has changed when you watch a movie from the eighties. It usually takes about 20 minutes of slow character building before it gets into anything remotely close to exciting. Contrast that with movies of today, which jump right into the action within the first 30 seconds.
As a result, our attention span has gotten shorter and shorter as a society. And this is not boding well for kids with ADHD. For instance, a national comparative study showed that children who were exposed to rapidly-paced, non-educational shows within the first three years of their lives were at a greater risk of having attention problems in school.
And there are plenty of studies showing the relationship between media exposure, internet addiction, and ADHD symptoms. In fact, some of them are alluding to this exposure being the cause.
As one of the best natural ways to reduce ADHD, here are some ways you can improve this for your child:
- Put limits on screen time.
- Reduce or avoid violent content.
- Expose your child to slower-paced content.
As you can see, as we get back to a more natural way of living, we ease the over-stimulation we are allowing into our lives. That can greatly reduce, or even reverse, ADHD, depending on your child’s root causes. You don’t have to try them all at once, but I think you’ll see that as you add more and more of these natural alternatives for ADHD into your family’s life, your child’s behavior will begin to shift.