Although experts aren’t quite certain why it occurs, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects 3 percent to 5 percent of school-age children, causing symptoms such as inattentiveness, frenetic activity, anxiety, and forgetfulness. Kids with ADHD typically respond to stimulant prescriptions designed to calm and focus, but some of these drugs carry unpleasant side effects, such as appetite changes and muscle spasms. You don’t need to rely solely on meds to alleviate this condition. Consider these natural options to complement your child’s treatment plan.
Sara Vance, CN, Rebalance Life, San Diego
- Up omega-3s. Recent studies show that kids with behavior problems have low blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient vital for brain health. Children’s daily diets should contain omega-3-rich foods, such as chia, hemp, nuts, and fatty fish. For children 12 and older, supplement with fish oil containing 1,200 mg EPA and DHA combined.
- Try magnesium. Low levels of magnesium, also known as the calming mineral, are associated with restless legs, anxiety, and irritability—all of which exacerbate ADHD. For kids ages 4–8, start with 130 mg magnesium in the morning. If your child has trouble sleeping, another dose before bed may help. Reduce dose if loose stools occur.
- Boost B vitamins. Vitamins B6 and B12 are important building blocks for brain neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Deficiency can impair nerve cell communication, hindering memory, focus, and attention. Encourage your child to eat B-packed foods like eggs, poultry, bell peppers, yams, and spinach, and sprinkle B vitamin–rich nutritional yeast on dishes like noodles and soup.
Laurie Brodsky, ND, drlauriend.com, New York
- Give up gluten. Gluten is a complex, gooey conglomeration of many proteins that sticks to the digestive tract, often stimulating behavioral issues. What’s the link between the gut and behavior? When gluten inflames your child’s digestive system, brain inflammation likely occurs as well. Look for gluten-free pasta, bread, crackers, and cookies made from rice, quinoa, flaxseed, and non-GMO corn.
- Pair fats with food. Healthy brain function requires a proper ratio of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats (found in fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds) to the more common inflammatory omega-6 fats (found in canola, soybean, and corn oil). Encourage balance by eating omega-3s, preferably with a meal. When you eat, the gallbladder releases bile into the digestive system, allowing better omega-3 absorption.
- Avoid processed foods. High-fructose corn syrup and artificial colors such as Yellow 5, Blue 1, and Red 40 are linked to increased hyperactivity in children. Choose whole, real foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and organic meat. Use maple syrup rather than white sugar to sweeten foods—it’s full flavored so a little goes a long way.
Margit Crane, MA, giftedwithadd.com, Seattle
- Lead by example. Parents have more power to handle their child’s ADHD than they think. Model the behavior that you want to see in your kid. For example, if your child is not allowed to eat in the living room, that rule should apply to the whole family, including yourself. Maintaining consistent rules is vital.
- Set boundaries. Many parents and teachers believe that boundaries for kids with ADHD, who are often sensitive in nature, may be harsh or limiting. But these children actually thrive with boundaries. Rather than offer kids unlimited choices, give kids two or three options. This will help your child feel safe. Regard your child as scared rather than angry—this will enable you to speak to him with compassion.
- Work with teachers. Some children with ADHD may have trouble fitting into traditional schools. When speaking with your child’s teacher, use collaborative words such as “partnership” to obtain healthy cooperation. Teachers have a whole class to attend to, not just your child; if you address them with respect and understanding, your child will ultimately benefit.