By Layla Gordon, Registered Nutritional Therapist
ADHD is common. In fact, many adults are now often being diagnosed with ADHD after spending decades wondering why they sometimes react the way they do in certain situations. In my clinic, I see clients very often who are on the ADHD spectrum, because there is a very significant link between the brain (neurotransmitters, emotions and anxiety), for example, and symptoms which relate to gut health and IBS.
While ADHD can often be a positive skill for many people who are often able to ‘hyper-focus’ and are often much more likely to have a certain amount of ‘drive’ and determination due to their specific personality type, ADHD can also come with what is termed as ‘emotional dysregulation’ which can make it hard for a person with ADHD to regulate their emotions. This can lead to a person overreacting, taking risks, feeling depressed or anxious and this ‘may’ also be what then contributes to the physiological occurrence of IBS in many people with ADHD. For this reason it is always good to inform yourself as much as possible as to whether you or anyone that you know may have ADHD, so that you can help to manage the symptoms using a blend of lifestyle and natural interventions.
Here are just some of the natural remedies that may help in the management of ADHD, in particular for children:
Essential Fatty Acids
The positive effects of essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) in treating ADHD in children have been recently investigated. Supplementation may improve attention and reduce hyperactive and defiant behaviours. Supplementation with highly unsaturated fatty acids (EPA 186 mg/day and DHA 480 mg/day, γ-linolenic acid 96 mg, vitamin E 60 IU, cis-linoleic acid864 mg, AA 42 mg, and thyme oil 8 mg) may play a role in EFA-induced improvement of ADHD symptoms, (1).
One other study revealed improvements in inattention and oppositional behaviours in children who received combined EFA supplementation (polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) supplement comprised of 480 mg DHA, 80 mg EPA, 40 mg arachidonic acid (AA), 96 mg gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and 24 mg alpha-tocopheryl acetate), (1).
Magnesium has over 600 cellular functions within the body and many of these are related to brain health. Studies have shown that by combining magnesium (6 mg/kg/day) with vitamin B6 (0.6 mg/kg/day) during an 8-week study, this improved ADHD symptoms in children, (5).
Vitamin C has many benefits to the body, not just for immune health, but for many other functions within our bodies. In one study, the effects of blending vitamin C with alpha linolenic acid- (ALA-) in the form of flax oil had a positive impact on the behaviour in children with ADHD, (1). This may be due to the antioxidant properties of vitamin C and the bioavailability of it to the cells when mixed with ALA.
Mineral deficiencies have been implicated in the presence of ADHD, making supplementation a potential for improving symptoms. Minerals help with the uptake, and breakdown of crucial neurotransmitters associated with ADHD, (1) and so it may be beneficial to supplement with a high-quality mineral complex.
Zinc is a nutrient that plays many vital roles in your body. Because our bodies don’t naturally produce zinc, we must obtain it through food or supplements. Zinc is required for numerous processes in our bodies, such as gene expression, immune function, wound healing and growth and development, (5). One study in particular, found that children who supplemented with zinc sulphate (150 mg) showed reduced impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and difficulties in social situations, (1).
Iron is a mineral that has several important functions within the body, its main one being to carry oxygen throughout your body as a part of red blood cells. It’s an essential nutrient, meaning you must get it from food, (6). Iron has been well-studied in the treatment of ADHD because it is also a cofactor in the synthesis of both adrenaline and dopamine, (1), and these two factors may be dysregulated in the case of ADHD.
A recent systematic review and meta-analysis assessed the benefits and harms of vitamin D supplementation in patients with ADHD.
The study found that vitamin D supplementation may alleviate ADHD symptoms. However, they added, statistically significant improvements in oppositional measures were not observed.
With regard to safety, findings from the analysis showed no significant differences in adverse events between vitamin D and placebo; supplementation with vitamin D also resulted in increased vitamin D levels in these patients, (7).
Amino Acids (Protein) and Neurotransmitters
The brain makes a variety of chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, to regulate wakefulness and sleep, and individuals with ADHD may do better after eating a protein-rich breakfast for example, and lunch, (8).
Proteins affect brain performance by providing the amino acids the building blocks of neurotransmitters, which are biochemical messengers that carry signals from one brain cell to another. The better you support these neurotransmitters and messengers, the better and ADHD child may be able to function at school, for example, (8).
Two amino acids in particular, tryptophan and tyrosine, are particularly important for building the blocks of neurotransmitters, as they influence serotonin, which is made from the amino acid tryptophan, as well as dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, which are made from the amino acid tyrosine. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, (8).
Research has shown that the herb ginseng may improve ADHD symptoms by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine (1). Ginseng has beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (2), and this may in part be why it helps to reduce the symptoms of ADHD. It also may help to improve brain functions like memory, behaviour and mood as well as boosting the immune system and helping to manage blood sugar balance, (2)
Passion flower is a traditional remedy for anxiety and ADHD, (1). Studies suggest it might help relieve insomnia and anxiety as it may boost levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in your brain, and GABA lowers brain activity, which may help you to relax and sleep better, (3). As mentioned, it is always best to work alongside a Registered Nutritional Therapist when including supplements and remedies such as these. These are just a few of the components that may help with the symptoms of ADHD. There are many thousands of herbs in nature which may act as calming agents for the brain, and there are also many lifestyle and dietary interventions that may also help with the symptoms of ADHD.
Dosing in this way should always be assessed with the assistance of a Registered Nutritional Therapist.