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Natural Treatments for ADHD for Kids and Adults

…That Aren’t Solely Based on Supplements

Key Takeaways:
  • Natural treatments for ADHD include behavioral therapy, eating a healthy whole-foods diet, a consistent exercise routine, and sleep hygiene. 
  • ADHD medication side effects like suppressed appetite, poor sleep, irritability, and more are good reasons to try natural ADHD treatments first, especially for young children with developing brains. 
  • Though it has mixed reviews, neurofeedback may be helpful for ADHD symptoms, especially in adults. 
  • Gut health can also impact ADHD symptoms and should be investigated as a root cause.

As with many psychiatric and behavioral conditions, the first line of conventional medical treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (and the most supported by high-quality research) in both kids and adults is often taking stimulant medication [1]. However, ADHD medications — both stimulants and non-stimulants — often come with unwanted side effects and may not be sustainable or effective for everyone in the long term [2]. 

What natural remedies for ADHD can we offer both kids and adults? Fortunately, there are many options for non-pharmacological treatments, whether they are used in combination with medications or as a standalone alternative treatment.

In this article, we’ll investigate effective natural methods for treating ADHD, including behavior therapy, exercise, neurofeedback, and sleep improvement, and other lifestyle changes. 

Common ADHD Symptoms

What symptoms are we targeting with natural treatments for ADHD? Most treatments are looking to alleviate some combination of: 

  • Poor attention and concentration
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Disorganization
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Trouble finishing tasks
  • Forgetfulness
  • Frequently losing things 

You don’t have to exhibit all of these symptoms to have ADHD, and there are typically differences between males and females as well as kids and adults. There are three ADHD subtypes: predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, predominantly inattentive, and combined hyperactive/impulsive and inattentive [3]. Although ADHD affects twice as many males as females, females are more likely to take the inattentive form instead of hyperactive/compulsive [3]. 

Adults with ADHD may have fewer issues with emotional regulation or hyperactivity (though not always), but still manifest symptoms like disorganization, difficulty with decisions, and frequently losing things that disrupt their everyday functioning. 

Why Try Natural Treatments for ADHD?

When it comes to ADHD and addressing behavioral issues, medications are often quickly prescribed to reduce symptoms as soon as possible without investigating potential underlying causes that could be treated naturally. While ADHD medications are considered relatively safe, they do come with side effects, especially for young children with developing brains [2]. 

These medications often suppress appetite and may cause trouble sleeping, both of which can slow growth in kids and further impede brain health. Irritability, moodiness, stomachaches, and headaches are also common side effects. Over time, medications will likely need to be increased to keep up with symptoms, potentially adding or worsening side effects [2, 4]. 

Before jumping straight to medications, natural alternatives can be the first-line treatment without the risk of side effects. And even if medications are needed later, natural treatments may help put a better health foundation in place so that less medication is needed and side effects are minimized.

Behavior Therapy for ADHD

The effectiveness of behavioral interventions for ADHD seems to vary based on age group, from children to adolescents to adults.

A high-quality meta-analysis found that psychosocial treatments can be helpful for children with ADHD, but there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment [5]. Behavior therapy delivered by parents may be ideal, as it can effectively reduce symptoms of ADHD and improve children’s conduct while boosting parental self-esteem [6]. Treatments that focused on kids’ relationships with others, like sports and parent and social skills training, were effective in helping them deal with emotional problems [7].

For adult ADHD, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective behavioral treatment for improving symptoms like depression, anxiety, and emotional dysregulation [7, 8]. CBT also helps enhance adults’ quality of life and treats mental health in the long term [8].

Diet for ADHD

There is no specific diet recommended for ADHD, however research shows that a generally healthy diet (lots of veggies, fruits, legumes, and fish) is associated with a significantly lower risk of ADHD [9], while unhealthy diets (lots of refined sugar and saturated fat) were associated with a greater risk of ADHD [10]. 

There is also a possible link between sugar consumption and ADHD symptoms [11] as well as synthetic food colors found in processed foods [12], so reducing both is likely a good idea in addressing ADHD symptoms. 
If you suspect certain foods may be triggering your or your child’s ADHD symptoms, an elimination diet may be helpful to try for a short period of time. Otherwise, the Paleo diet, which focuses on whole foods (meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, and some starches) and excludes processed foods as well as dairy and grains, can serve as a helpful starting point.

Natural Treatments for ADHD

Exercise for ADHD

Two comprehensive research reviews found that regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercises, can greatly help reduce ADHD symptoms and improve thinking skills in kids and teens with ADHD [13, 14]. The types of exercise studied included aerobics, martial arts, table tennis, yoga, horseback riding, swimming, trampolining, agility games, and rugby. These forms of exercise helped improve executive function significantly.

Highly consistent, stationary, self-paced activities, especially aerobic exercises (running on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike), were the best for improving hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention [13]. 

Sleep Intervention for ADHD

A randomized controlled trial tested whether behavioral strategies for improving sleep problems could improve the symptoms, behavior, daily functioning, and working memory of kids with ADHD, and their parents’ mental well-being. The study randomized 244 children ages 5–12 with ADHD to incorporate sleep hygiene practices and standardized behavioral strategies, or follow usual care, for 6 months.

Better sleep appeared to [15]:

  • Decrease parent-rated total ADHD symptoms
  • Decrease parent-rated inattention 
  • Reduce sleep problems
  • Improve child quality of life
  • Improve parent-rated daily functioning 
  • Improve parent- and teacher-rated behavior
  • Improve working memory
  • Extend sleep duration  

This study shows that sleep quality is likely a big contributor to the intensity of ADHD symptoms, and improving sleep quality can have a noticeable positive impact on symptoms even 6 months on from the beginning of treatment. 

Since sleep is so essential for healthy brain function — consolidating memories, cleaning out toxins and cellular waste, and even emotional regulation — it might come as no surprise that it could be one of the most effective practices for managing ADHD. And not just for kids! Adults need plenty of sleep for their healthiest brain too. 

Neurofeedback for ADHD

Neurofeedback, a type of biofeedback designed to retrain specific brain waves into better patterns of thinking and behaviors, has mixed reviews on whether it’s effective for managing ADHD in both children and adults [16, 17]. However, there are enough positive outcomes (and few to no side effects) to warrant investigating this if other treatments aren’t effective [7, 14, 16]. Neurofeedback seems to be most effective at improving focus and attention, as well as depression, in some adults. 

Gut Treatments for ADHD

Much of our brain health has to do with our gut health. Research has linked a disrupted gut microbiome to ADHD symptoms, challenging the idea that ADHD is solely related to neurotransmitters in the brain (such as serotonin and dopamine) [18, 19]. Leaky gut, celiac disease, food sensitivities, and other gut conditions may also elevate the risk of developing ADHD [20, 21]. For those with an imbalanced gut microbiome, leaky gut, and gut inflammation, the gut-brain axis is likely communicating these issues to the brain, resulting in neuroinflammation that could manifest as ADHD symptoms. 

The foundation of a healthy gut is a healthy diet, and probiotics have shown promising effects on ADHD symptoms as well [22, 23]. Beyond that, you may need the guidance of a practitioner if you suspect certain gut infections (parasites, candida, etc.) may be impacting your brain health. 

You can learn more about the connection between ADHD and gut health in our full article here

Medication is Not Your Only Option for ADHD Treatment

Whether you’re looking for complementary methods to improve your ADHD symptoms alongside meds or you want to bypass them entirely, there are many options for natural ADHD treatments. From the strategies we’ve covered, I would recommend first trying to improve your sleep quality and diet. From there, you may wish to further investigate exercise and gut health as possible factors. 

If you would like to speak with our clinical team at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Health to see how we could guide you, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

➕ References
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