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Q. What role does nutrition play in ADD/ADHD? Are there any natural things that can help my kids? What can we do besides medicating?
A. I understand that as a parent you want to do whatever is possible to help your kids have happy, healthy lives.
The conventional approach is to give kids with ADD/ADHD medications like Adderall and Ritalin to help increase certain neurotransmitters (brain messengers) that they seem to be lacking. I think most people realize that these medications come with their own side effects and may not produce a desirable outcome long-term anyway. It is good to know that there are many diet and lifestyle changes that can make a profound difference in how the child feels and improve their own body’s ability to make appropriate and balanced neurotransmitters naturally. And you’ve probably heard me say this a lot, but it all starts in the gut. Most of these imbalances are rooted in nutritional deficiencies and food allergies or intolerances, that when corrected, can improve symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention.
Yes, the same neurotransmitters that are given a boost by ADHD drugs are actually naturally created in our guts by trillions of microorganisms that live there (a.k.a. our microbiome) and then delivered to the brain. Your child’s brain health and gut health are more connected than most people realize. In fact, making sure the gut microbiome is healthy and filled with a diversity of friendly flora may have a big impact on the chemical balance in their brains, as well as their overall health and development. In fact, approximately 80% of our serotonin (feel good neurotransmitter) is made in the gut. Those bacteria in our gut can also communicate with the brain directly, sending messages via the vagus nerve, which runs from our brainstem all the way to our abdomen. This communication works both ways too, so when we are anxious or stressed that is signaling and changing our microbiome and vice versa. Our gut flora is extremely sensitive to diet, antibiotics, steroids, and stress.
This is why a healthy balance of bacteria in our gut is so important: to promote a healthy balance of chemicals in the brain.
There are also environmental factors and dietary concerns that many researchers believe increase the risk of, and in many cases, worsen the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Things like refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, chemical food additives, preservatives, nutritional deficiencies, and food allergies or sensitivities can all be causes of ADD/ADHD
In general, a good foundation for health starts with a balanced diet of real foods with consistent meal timing to help with stabilizing blood sugar. Keep away from known instigating foods and include more nutrient-dense foods to fill in the missing nutrients. Heal the gut and balance the microbiome, which can include increasing good probiotics, but also investigating for potential pathogenic bacteria and yeast that can contribute to an out-of-balance microbiome as well as having neurotoxic effects that increase symptoms of inattention, brain fog, headaches, inability to focus, joint pain, and mood disturbances, among others. There are also many natural herbal nerve tonics and adaptogens that can be used to support the body’s ability to have balanced brain chemistry.
Foods To Avoid:
- Conventional dairy
- Artificial sweeteners
- Food additives/colorings/dyes
- Personal food sensitivities
Foods To Include:
- Probiotics - to increase the good guy bacteria for more ability to produced balanced brain chemicals and better assimilation of nutrients from food
- Omega-3s - for decreased inflammation and improved brain function
- B vitamins, especially B6 - especially helpful for making serotonin
There are many natural approaches for ADHD and its symptoms, which is a good start, but better yet, get to the root of things. Look at the relationship between gut health and ADHD; there are many options for investigative lab work and testing that can give you insight into the workings of your child’s microbiome, nutritional status, and toxic burden so that you can hone in on your child’s unique situation and needs.
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