Natural Fixes for ADHD

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Healthy lifestyle swaps to help focus your attention and ease your mind

K. Aleisha Fetters, Women’s Health

If you’ve been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), your doctor has probably suggested stimulant medications and for good reason. They’re the most researched and proven treatment for symptoms of ADHD.

Still, even the most mild stimulant meds aren’t for everyone. And for others, it seems that stimulants aren’t enough.

That’s where complementary and alternative treatments come in. Luckily, many of these treatments come down to simple and healthy lifestyle choices. “Anything that’s good for your body and your brain is good for the treatment of ADHD,” says Ruth Hughes, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and CEO of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Here, eight suggestions for healthy ways to get your brain in tip-top shape.

Behave Yourself

The most popular (and effective) non-medication treatment, behavioral intervention, involves practicing skills that help keep you and your mind on track. Popular behavioral interventions include things like dividing projects into smaller tasks, rewarding yourself for meeting deadlines, placing reminder notes in ones environment, and having friends and family give recognition for a job well done. These types of interventions are helpful in creating an external structure around which individuals with ADHD can function. For those with mild ADHD symptoms behavioral interventions can often be enough treatment on their own. You can learn many of these skills from an ADHD coach or clinician, through books and online resources, or by trying your own brand of behavioral interventions.

Get Moving

Go for a jog and clear your head. Exercise increases the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels, heightening focus and attention. Plus, a spike in feel-good endorphins boosts your mood. After behavioral interventions, exercise is the most highly used complementary treatment among ADHD patients, according to a recent study by the ADHD Awareness Coalition.

Say “Ommmm”

Studies show that practicing yoga, particularly in the evening when medication has worn off, can help reduce symptoms of ADHD. While the precise cause of reduced symptoms has yet to be identified, many believe the focus required by yoga is what benefits the ADHD patient. Meditation can bring similar benefits, including a quieting of the mind.

Get Outside

Ever feel like you just need to bust out and take a walk in a park? Go for it. A recent study published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being shows that children who regularly play in open, outdoor settings with lots of green have milder ADHD symptoms than those who play indoors or in built outdoor environments. While the study focused on children with ADHD, some time spent in greenspaces can’t hurt big kids either.

Go to Bed

Quality sleep is difficult when your brain is running in a million different directions. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation can both intensify ADHD symptoms and make them harder to treat, Hughes says. Setting a bedtime ritual can help. Go to bed at the same time every night, eliminate noise and light, and avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods four to six hours before bed.

Eat Smart

While many people instinctively turn to sugar as a culprit of ADHD, there is currently little evidence that the sweet stuff actually affects ADHD symptoms. (Still, it contributes to a whole other host of health problems.) Instead of practicing hard-to-follow elimination diets, focus on eating a variety of nutritious foods, especially those that are rich in essential fatty acids, like salmon, avocado, and walnuts. Omega-3 fatty acids compose about 8 percent of the brain, so eating plenty is key to a functioning noggin. If you notice your medication reducing your appetite, talk to your doctor about taking a multivitamin to ensure you are receiving adequate nutrition.

Rub Down

An excuse to get a massage? Yes, please! Massage increases serotonin levels, which are associated with calmness, according to Eugene Arnold, M.D., M.Ed., professor emeritus of psychiatry at Ohio State University. In one study, adolescents who received 10 15-minute massages showed less hyperactivity and spent more time staying on task compared to a group that received an equal amount of relaxation training.

Be Positive

If you’re like most people with ADHD, you get a lot of negative feedback in the course of the day, which can be a serious downer. Give yourself some positive feedback. Each night, ask yourself: What went right today? What did I do well? In addition to boosting mood and building self-esteem, counting your blessings can actually help you sleep. A study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found that those who focused on feeling grateful were less worried and anxious before bed, and their overall sleep quality was better compared to previous nights.