Is there a way to treat ADHD naturally? What one should do?More than 1 in 10 children, ages 4-17 have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) (1), defined as “limited attention and hyperactivity.”
Common characteristics of ADHD include:
- Difficulty sustaining attention or focusing
- Difficulty following through with tasks
- Difficulty organizing self and tasks
- Impulsive behavior
To officially be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms must persist for at least 6 months, and behaviors and symptoms must be abnormal for children of the same age and negatively affect his or her school, home life or relationships in more than one setting (i.e. at home and at school).
Unfortunately, for many of these kids who are diagnosed, ADHD will continue into their adulthood, and conventional medicine believes that the disease is “manageable, but not curable.” In order to help kids “manage” their ADHD, treatment typically consists of medications and behavioral interventions, such as occupational therapy, behavioral therapy and sensory or movement “breaks.”
After those options are exhausted however, there is little, if anything else doctors say they can do.
The missing link most docs and conventional medicine is not talking about?
A little superpower known as the “brain gut connection.”
According to the latest in research about the brain-gut connection, ADHD is not only manageable, but it is reversible and remissible.
In this article we’ll cover the basics about the brain-gut connection, plus learn 5 essential steps to treat ADHD naturally (that your doctor probably won’t tell you about).
THE BRAIN GUT CONNECTION
The “brain-gut” connection is essentially what it sounds like: Your gut and brain are directly linked.
Your vagus nerve (the nerve responsible for directing how you think and your brain function) is connected from your frontal brain lobe to the top stomach. In addition, about 95% of your serotonin (“feel good” brain chemical) is produced in your gastrointestinal tract.
Couple this with the fact that your gastrointestinal tract is lined with more than a 100 million nerve cells, and it makes sense: the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.
In short: When your gut is unhappy or stressed…your brain is unhappy or stressed.
Enter: The “brain-gut connection.”
Inflammation in your gut sends signals to your brain, causing a similar response (inflammation, stress and in many children’s cases, anxiety, sensory processing disorders, and ADHD).
The bottom line: If you have an unhealthy gut, your brain function gets thrown off. And, if you have an unhealthy brain (i.e. stressed), your gut function can also get thrown off.
THE MISSING LINKS IN ADHD TREATMENT: GUT HEALTH & STRESS
Unfortunately, for years, we’ve come to see the body and mind as two separate entities.
The mind is often treated separately from the body, other than using medications to suppress “neuro-chemical imbalances.” Patients with ADHD or other mood disorders and mental illnesses are then typically referred out to see a psychotherapist or occupational therapist to address “behavior” and emotional issues, in hopes of remediating the symptoms, with sub-par results or a lifetime spent in therapy, using coping strategies and taking medications.
From a functional medicine perspective, we want to address ADHD and other mental health conditions in the same way that we address any other health condition (i.e. autoimmune disease, diabetes, GERD, hypertension, etc.). We want to look at what the underlying causes are for these conditions. This is essential to treat ADHD naturally.
While mental illness, like ADHD, is a complex combination of various genetic and epigenetic factors, (including nutritional, physical, biochemical, environmental, social, emotional, and spiritual influences), many traditional methods of diagnosis and treatment fail to address two of the biggest drivers of disease: gut health and chronic inflammation (i.e. stress).
Our stress levels and gut health are the gateways to health.
In fact, the American Psychological Association estimates that 99% of ALL disease is attributed to stress alone (2). Stress is defined as any “outside force that exceeds the body’s ability to recover or maintain homeostasis.”
Just like the “stress” of a poor quality diet, lack of sleep and sedentary lifestyle leads to conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, and just like poor gut health, such as “intestinal permeability” (leaky gut) is connected to conditions like autoimmune disease, skin breakouts and anxiety, stress levels and gut health play a key role in ADHD.
Contrary to popular belief, “stress” goes far beyond mental stress. Physiological stress equally imbalances the optimal function of the body—brain balance included. Common sources of physical stress and inflammation for many ADHD sufferers include:
- Inadequate sleep or poor quality sleep. More than half of kids do NOT get 8-9 hours of quality sleep. (3)
- Sedentary lifestyles. Kids are moving less than ever before with 1 in 5 getting the recommended minimum of 60-minutes of physical activity 5 days per week. (4)
- Overexposure to screens and blue lights. The average kid spends 6-9 hours/day in front of a screen. (5)
- Lack of spontaneous play and time in nature. Only 10% of kids spend time outside every day (6) and a 2018 Gallup study found that children nationwide spend less time on creative play than ever before, spending 18.6 hours each week to screen-based play per week, versus 14.6 hours on indoor screen-free play (7).
- Antibiotic drug exposure. 1 in 4 kids get antibiotics every year that are unnecessary and 5 in 6 kids take an antibiotic every year (8).
- Poor quality nutrition and processed foods. Nearly 50% of kids’ diets, ages 2-18 consist of empty calories from added sugars and and processed foods including: soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza, and conventional milk (9).
- Poor gut health. Including about 2 in 5 kids with constipation (10), 1 in 4 with GERD or “reflux” (11) and millions of kids with allergies and asthma—the #1 “chronic disease” of kids nationwide (12) (linked to poor gut health) (13, 14).
GUT HEALTH 101
Much of the chronic diseases we face today can also be traced back to our gut health, including ADHD. If we could address the problems in our gut, we can find the right ways to treat ADHD naturally.
The human gut contains more than 100 trillion gut bacteria—up to 10 times more bacteria than human cells in our blood stream and body.
The healthier and more diverse your gut bacteria, the healthier your body is overall. However, the less healthy or less diverse your gut bacteria, the less healthy or “out of balance” you are.
Our gut bacteria influence the health of our:
- Blood sugar and insulin levels
- Hormone health
- Immune system (allergies, skin health)
- Mental health
How do gut bacteria get unhealthy in the first place? Go back to the topic of stress! It’s a vicious cycle, but common sources of “unhealthy gut bacteria” include:
- Poor sleep
- Poor quality foods (packaged, processed, conventional meat, dairy, sweeteners, etc.)
- Environmental toxins (additives, plastics, medicines, toxic cleaning and hygiene products)
- C-section births and processed formula feedings as a baby
- Infection & Illness
- Sedentary lifestyles
- Underlying gut pathologies, often caused by stressors (parasites
The good news? If we address the gut health, then we could treat ADHD naturally—if not reversed.
Research backs this up.
SURVEY SAYS: ADHD & GUT RESEARCH
A 2017 peer-reviewed study found significant connections between increased gut inflammation and test subjects with ADHD, regardless of age and previous diagnosis (15). The volunteers with ADHD had more Bifidobacterium genus, often associated with SIBO or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (16).
In another review in the European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Journal, researchers state that while studies on ADHD and the gut microbiota in patients is budding, there is clear evidence about the link between obesity and ADHD and between obesity and alteration of the gut microbiota.
There is a way to treat ADHD naturally.
Obesity induces a low-grade inflammatory state which has been associated with behavioral and cognitive alterations, being gut micro-biota most likely an important mediator between inflammation and altered behaviors.
Overall, data from gluten-free mice studies, antibiotic treatment studies, and probiotic interventions suggest that alterations in gut microbiota that reduce the inflammatory state also reduce stress-related behaviors, supporting the role of the gut microbiota as a mediator between inflammation and behavioral alterations.
And, another clinical trial (18) is currently underway, as researchers have concluded from previous research that ADHD is in are linked to shifts in gut microbiota composition.
5 ESSENTIAL STEPS TO TREAT ADHD NATURALLY
The main strategy to heal and treat ADHD naturally involve balancing out stress levels, and NOT irritating the gut barrier and gut immune system. Here are 5 essential steps to start.
STEP 1: EAT REAL FOOD (ESPECIALLY FATS & PROTEINS)
When we eat, we not only feed ourselves, but we also feed our gut bugs. This is a crucial step to treat ADHD naturally. It’s not rocket science: Real, whole, nutrient-dense foods make an unhealthy gut a healthier gut. While most kids’ favorite foods include chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, French fries, Honey Nut Cheerios, possibly fruit and anything with ketchup, they are humans too.
And humans were wired to eat real foods. Real foods include: sustainable, organic meats and fish, colorful fruits and veggies and essential healthy fats (coconut oil, ghee, grass-fed butter, pastured egg yolks, avocado, raw nuts and seeds.
STEP 2: CUT OUT THE CULPRITS
This goes beyond just going a gluten-free (since many gluten free products contain just as many additives as the gluten version)s. Experiment with cutting out grains, conventional dairy, sugar and additives (dyes, sweeteners, chemicals) for 30 days and watch your kids’ brains come to life. Do it together with a non-diet mentality as a challenge for the family for stronger bodies and better brains. A great way to help treat ADHD naturally.
STEP 3: LOVE YOUR GUT BUGS
Give your kids a daily soil-based probiotic and prebiotic fiber to treat ADHD naturally. These include partially hydrolyzed guar gum, to help the healthy probiotics stick in their gut. Soil based probiotics are typically better tolerated by most people, and contain probiotic like cultures that were once found in the rich soils of our ancestors. Start with 1/2 capsule of a probiotic, 2 times per day, and 1 teaspoon of a prebiotic. Other “gut loving” additions include:
- Colostrum (similar to the gut-healing natural colostrum found in the “perfect food:” a mother’s milk)
- Digestive Enzymes (support natural enzymes that help break down food)
- Betaine HCL (hydrochloric acid) found in capsules (naturally boosts stomach acid to enhance digestion)
- Optional: Digestive “bitters” to support detoxification mixed into homemade dark chocolate syrup (5 drops of bitters + 1 tablespoon cacao powder + 1 tablespoon raw honey (use maple syrup for kids under 1 year of age) +fresh juice from half a small lemon)
STEP 4: DESTRESS
For kids, this includes encouraging them to get 60-minutes (at least) of active play and exercise each day, as well as outdoor time and sunshine, about 9 hours of sleep each night and creative, imaginative playaway from screens.
Magnesium Citrate at night is also a natural calming mineral, mixed into bedtime tea or water.
STEP 5: TEST, DON’T GUESS
Work with a functional medicine practitioner or healthcare practitioner knowledgeable in gut health analysis and treatment of any underlying conditions that may play a role in your child’s brain-gut-connection. Lab tests may include: Stool testing, Organic Acids Urine Testing, Comprehensive Bloodwork Analysis, Food Sensitivity Testing, and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth Breath Testing. This can help to treat ADHD naturally.
Not all tests are essential, but can give you and your child a clearer picture into their unique presentation if an underlying gut pathology is behind their condition. (Note: Many traditional GI doctors do not perform these tests on kids, beyond food allergy, not sensitivity, testing and potential scope and CT scan imaging).
The bottom line:
In the end, address the roots of cognitive imbalance first (gut and stress), not the symptoms. This is very important step to treat ADHD naturally.
- 2018. ADHD. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html.
- 2018. How Stress Affects Your Health. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-facts.pdf; American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/americas-1-health-problem/ (Cited: Perkins (1994) showed that 60% to 90% of doctor visits were stress-related)
- Sleep Foundation. 2010. Sleep in America. http://sleepfoundation.org/sites/default/files/2014-NSF-Sleep-in-America-poll-summary-of-findings—FINAL-Updated-3-26-14-.pdf
- 2018. Physical Activity Facts. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/facts.htm
- Kaiser Family Foundation. Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-18-year-olds. 2010 https://kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/8010.pdf
- The Nature Conservancy. Connecting America’s Youth to Nature. 2011. https://www.nature.org/newsfeatures/kids-in-nature/youth-and-nature-poll-results.pdf
- Doug & Melissa. 2018. Time to Play Study. http://ww2.melissaanddoug.com/MelissaAndDoug_Gallup_TimetoPlay_Study.pdf
- 2017. Antibiotic Use in the United States, 2017: Progress and Opportunities. https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/stewardship-report/outpatient.html
- Facts & Statistics: Physical Activity. 2018. https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/index.html (Cited Source: Reedy J, Krebs-Smith SM. Dietary sources of energy, solid fats, and added sugars among children and adolescents in the United States. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 110, Issue 10, Pages 1477-1484, October 2010. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20869486.)
Blackmer AB, Farrington EA. Constipation in the pediatric patient: an overview and pharmacologic considerations. Journal of Pediatric Health Care. 2010;24(6):385–399.
- Nelson SP, Chen EH, Syniar GM, Christoffel KK. Pediatric Practice Research Group. Prevalence of symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux during childhood. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescents Medicine. 2000;154:150–154
- Asthma & Allergy Foundation. 2018. Allergy Facts and Figures. http://www.aafa.org/page/allergy-facts.aspx
- Volz, F. Wölbing, F. Regler, S. Kaesler, T. Biedermann. 232 NOD2 signaling critically influences sensitization to orally ingested allergens and severity of anaphylaxis. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2016; 136 (9): S201 DOI: 10.1016/j.jid.2016.06.252
- Neonatal gut microbiota associates with childhood multisensitized atopy and T cell differentiation. Fujimura KE, Sitarik AR, Havstad S, Lin DL, Levan S, Fadrosh D, Panzer AR, LaMere B, Rackaityte E, Lukacs NW, Wegienka G, Boushey HA, Ownby DR, Zoratti EM, Levin AM, Johnson CC, Lynch SV. Nat Med. 2016 Sep 12. doi: 10.1038/nm.4176. [Epub ahead of print]. PMID: 27618652.
- Aarts, E., Ederveen, T. H. A., Naaijen, J., Zwiers, M. P., Boekhorst, J., Timmerman, H. M., … Arias Vasquez, A. (2017). Gut microbiome in ADHD and its relation to neural reward anticipation. PLoS ONE, 12(9), e0183509. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183509
- Quigley & Quera. 2006. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth: Roles of Antibiotics, Prebiotics, and Probiotics. http://www.deerlandenzymes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Small-Intestinal-Bacterial-Overgrowth-Roles-of-Antibiotics-Prebiotics-and-Probiotics.pdf
- Carmen Cenit, María & Campillo Nuevo, Isabel & codoñer-franch, Pilar & G. Dinan, Timothy & Sanz, Yolanda. (2017). Gut microbiota and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: new perspectives for a challenging condition. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 26. 10.1007/s00787-017-0969-z. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Pilar_Codoner-franch/publication/314967081_Gut_microbiota_and_attention_deficit_hyperactivity_disorder_new_perspectives_for_a_challenging_condition/links/5a2f81e50f7e9bfe81705387/Gut-microbiota-and-attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-new-perspectives-for-a-challenging-condition.pdf?origin=publication_detail
- Xijing Hospital. 2018. Gut Microbiome and Serum Metabolome Alterations in ADHD Patients (ADHD). https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03447223