Approximately 1 in 10 American children has been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), the main symptoms of which include difficulty paying attention, being easily distracted, disorganized study habits, forgetfulness, and hyperactivity (fidgeting, talking excessively, etc.).
One can understand why ADHD is such a controversial topic as the list of symptoms associated with the condition describe pretty much every child at one point or another. There are those who believe as many as 20% (or 1 million children) have been “over-diagnosed” with ADHD (1), and still, others who think it’s not a real illness at all (2).
Disagreeing opinions aside, millions of parents would argue that the disorder is very real and maintain a daily struggle to understand the behavioral and learning problems accompanying ADHD and how best to help their suffering children.
What Science Says About the Cause of ADHD
I first met one of my patients, a 9-year-old boy newly diagnosed with ADHD, when his mother came to see me for advice about a possible drug-free solution to his hyperactive and defiant conduct. She was well aware of the potential dangers of ADHD medications like brain damage, liver damage, heart attacks, and sudden death and refused to treat her son with pharmaceuticals.
There is no known medical cause for ADHD, but I explained the biology and science behind these behavioral changes and suggested she make a few lifestyle adjustments.
Within a year, my patient was a completely different kid.
Stress is always the first place I start with ADHD. It’s a huge factor in a child’s inability to focus for reasons you may not yet understand.
Part of the stress response, which is hardwired into every human being, is an increase in stress hormones (catecholamines).
Stress hormones act to increase blood pressure and heart rate in times of fight-or-flight, but they also inhibit factual learning, memory, and the ability to focus.
Stress hormones are released into the bloodstream during any physical, emotional, or social stress. With the amount of pressure placed on kids these days to perform both academically and in sports, combined with escalated anxiety over peer pressure, divorced parents, and the mental strain of adolescence alone, it’s common for stress to be chronically present in our children.
As important as it is to consider the stress load in anyone diagnosed with ADHD, sugar consumption is equally as vital.
Between breakfast cereals, refined carbohydrates, energy drinks, soda, sweets, fast food, and processed food, you’d be shocked at how much sugar kids consume on a daily basis.
Blood sugar imbalances, high cortisol levels (from stress), and insulin resistance cause agitation and hyperactivity, but sugar also cause inflammation, affecting brain chemistry and mood.
In one study, soft drinks were shown to markedly increase aggression/violence in test subjects (3).
I’ve written a lot about gluten and grains, and the more I research the topic, the more I’m convinced that gluten is evil.
Gluten-containing foods are processed to trigger an insulin response and stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain. This biological reaction can have a volatile and addictive effect. Gluten also contains “gliadorphins,” which act as opiates (4).
Research Conclusion: “Celiac Disease is a serious digestive disorder that should be checked if someone has ADHD. Gluten Free Diet was found to improve ADHD Symptoms in Patients with Celiac Disease. The study further suggests that celiac disease should also be included in the ADHD Checklist.” (5)
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup®, is the most popular herbicide used worldwide, residues of which are commonly found on sugar, corn, soy, and wheat crops.
Researchers state that “Glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.”
They specifically cite ADHD as one possible outcome of Glyphosate’s damaging effects (6).
Two other studies support this hypothesis and link pesticide use with ADHD (7)(8).
5. Food Dyes
Food colorings found in children’s foods like cereal, candy, mac-n-cheese, and sports drinks, have long been categorized as neurotoxins (9) and have been associated with worsening hyperactivity in kids with ADHD (10)(11).
A meta-analysis of 15 double-blind clinical trials which evaluated artificial food coloring in children already considered to be hyperactive showed an increase in their hyperactive behavior (12).
Because of its health-damaging properties and reliance on chemical additives and preservatives, the American diet specifically (processed food) has been linked with ADHD (13).
6. Gut Dysfunction
The gut-brain connection is well documented scientifically, and it is now understood that gut bacteria can affect mood and behavior (14)(15).
There is also a definite connection between digestive disturbances (like Celiac disease and IBS) and mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. It is quickly becoming more common for diet and lifestyle to be considered as a culprit in mental disease as a result of this emerging science.
Natural Remedies for ADHD According to Science
Now that the triggers for ADHD have been identified, the first order of business is to eliminate them.
This is accomplished by:
- Teaching children proper stress management techniques.
- Removing all forms of unnatural sugar and refined carbohydrates from their diet.
- Removing gluten from the diet. Two studies reported that “a gluten-free diet may improve symptoms of ADHD significantly within a short period of time.” (16)(17)
- Avoid pesticides and food dyes by reading nutrient labels and buying organic whenever possible.
- Restoring the proper balance of probiotic bacteria in the gut (18)(19)(20).
In addition to removing ADHD triggers, the following natural substances have been proven to benefit ADHD sufferers.
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s are involved in nearly every human function, especially brain function, and most of us are severely lacking in this highly essential nutrient.
Children with ADHD who were given EPA and DHA omega-3 supplements showed marked improvement with regard to attention span, behavior, and emotional problems, and researchers also commented on the safety and tolerability of such an intervention (21)(22).
It’s important to note that these benefits occurred as a result of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, NOT from ALA omega-3s (23)(24). This means that omega-3s from fatty fish and game meats caused the changes in test subjects, not the omega-3s, which are found in plants and seeds.
Another study revealed a positive outcome on ADHD with a combination of omega-3s, magnesium, and zinc (25).
Chiropractic is beneficial for more than just pain relief. When the nervous system is free from stress, the entire body works more efficiently.
Two studies showed that chiropractic care reduced symptoms and enhanced cognitive performance in children with ADHD (26)(27).
Zinc contains compounds that have been shown to improve the way humans process information. For this reason, researchers set out to test whether it could help with ADHD.
Research Conclusion: “Zinc monotherapy was significantly superior to placebo in reducing symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and impaired socialization in patients with ADHD (28)(29).
Kids were made for movement, and research proves that exercise improves brain activity.
The medical journal Pediatrics published a study in September of 2014 showing that kids who were physically active on a regular basis demonstrated important enhancements in brain function and cognitive performance (30).
Other studies were performed specifically to test the relationship between exercise and ADHD and reported a reduction in inattention, moodiness, and mental impairment (31)(32).
Recall one of my young patients whom I mentioned previously. His mother implemented these changes gradually over the course of nearly a year before his ADHD symptoms were completely absent, but doing so (and staying committed to a drug-free solution) changed both their lives forever.
Gary has many years experience as a healthcare writer covering different types of medicine. His work is published by many different companies including the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACA).