Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) is a challenging condition to have. In America, the rate of physician diagnosis of ADD/ADHD has been climbing rapidly since the early 90’s, after the introduction of long-acting pharmaceutical formulations.
“In 2003, 7.8 percent of 4- to 17-year-olds had received a diagnosis of ADHD, according to data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
By 2007, that number had jumped to 9.5 percent, an increase of 22 percent. In 2011, 11 percent of school-age children overall — including nearly one in five high-school-age boys in the United States — had received an ADHD diagnosis (Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, January).
The CDC also found that over two-thirds of children and teens who have been diagnosed with ADHD take medication for it.” 
Every individual is unique, and there are absolutely situations where medication is both necessary and beneficial to the patient. However, many have found the use of prescription medication for treatment of ADD/ADHD to be quite unfavorable to physical and emotional well-being.
Common side effects of stimulant prescription drugs for treating ADD/ADHD are well-known, but to summarize, may include:
- Feeling restless and jittery
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Upset stomach
- Irritability, mood swings
- Racing heartbeat
While I acknowledge (and defend) the need for some individuals to use prescription medication to manage ADD/ADHD, the majority of my clients are more interested in exhausting any and all other holistic health options for treatment first. I also consider emotional health related to behavior, confidence, and self-esteem, as important components of a Holistic approach to managing ADD/ADHD. Although each person is unique, I generally recommend partnering with clients to develop a plan to balance the body through physical fitness, holistic nutrition, and supplementation, carefully-tailored to each individual’s needs.
Here, I will briefly cover the importance of each of these 3 areas in developing a Holistic Health Plan of Action to combat the symptoms of ADD/ADHD:
First and foremost, the most natural option for combatting the symptoms of ADD/ADHD is to get moving! Research has shown that getting your heart pumping actually tones the brain as well! John Ratey, M.D., author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, says, “Exercise turns on the attention system, the so-called executive functions — sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention.” This results in being less impulsive and more primed to focus & learn.
In addition to the brain-strengthening benefits of physical activity, the brain will also release some “Happy” chemicals—dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin—as well endorphins. “When you increase dopamine levels, you increase the attention system’s ability to be regular and consistent, which has many good effects,” explains Ratey, like reducing the craving for new stimuli and increasing alertness.
When attention and focus are waning, encourage taking a break to get the blood flowing. Going for a walk, run, dancing to some music, playing outside, or even simply stretching quietly, are all excellent ways to trigger the release of these mood-enhancing chemicals. 
Focus on a “higher protein, higher healthy fats, and low simple-carbohydrate diet”… Especially for breakfast before school or work, make protein a priority!!! Protein helps regulate the blood-sugar, preventing “spikes” that lead to hyperactivity, followed by that all too familiar “sugar crash.” Healthy fats fuel the brain and improve mental focus and cognitive function. Replace simple carbohydrates (like breads, crackers, cereals, etc,) for more complex carbohydrates, such as leafy green vegetables, sprouted wheat breads, oatmeal, brown rice, or quinoa, to name a few. Complex carbohydrates have more nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which naturally take longer to digest, and therefore, fuel the body longer.
Avoid sugar! (This includes things like ‘high fructose corn syrup’ which you will find, is in almost EVERYTHING, pre-packaged at the grocery store!) Avoid candy, soda, and produced/packaged foods with high amounts of sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Also, check your labels for ‘secret-sugar ingredients’ like: high-fructose corn sweetener; dehydrated cane juice; dextrin; dextrose; maltodextrin; sucrose; molasses; and malt syrup.
Stay hydrated! Always have a water bottle on hand when out and about, ideally filled with filtered water. Fruit juices, teas, sodas, and other liquids do not hydrate the body! The brain is 80% water, so dehydration can cause issues with the ability to think clearly and focus while learning and working.
*Use caution with ‘natural fruit juices’ as well, because the natural sugars can cause the same insulin spike that refined sugars do! Make sure to drink 100% fruit juice, “Not From Concentrate” if juice is necessary. I also recommend that my clients have some protein, such as a handful of nuts, if they want/need some fruit juice.
Incorporate home-cooking with coconut oil as often as possible. Coconut oil is a ‘Brain Superfood!” It is a very healthy fat that reduces inflammation, and actually fuels the body, rather than storing it IN the body. It is great for energy, both physical and mental, and studies are even showing that a derived portion of coconut oil (called MCT oil) may actually HEAL brain inflammation, AND prevent Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia! So incorporating a daily dose of MCT oil first thing in the morning is also an option that some find helpful.
*Avoid coconut oil that is processed with chemical extraction methods—look for “hexane-free” on the label! I recommend using organic, unrefined, cold-pressed coconut oil, however, if that coconut-flavor is off-putting, opt for an organic, chemical-free ‘refined’ coconut oil—it tends to lack that coconut taste.
As with any other medication, you should always consult your doctor before incorporating any new supplements. Many ‘natural’ supplements can have harmful interactions with some prescription drugs, and may need to be taken separately, or not at all, depending on pre-existing conditions. Most people, however, whether diagnosed with ADD/ADHD or not, can usually benefit from these 3 daily supplements:
- Multivitamin (for one’s age level/life stage)
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids (conditions & exceptions: pregnant/nursing women; those with blood disorders, Type 2 Diabetes, or Fish/Nut Allergies.)
Probiotics are a type of supplement that improves gut flora balance. An unhealthy diet, particularly one that is high in processed ingredients, chemicals, and sugars, can cause the harmful bacteria to take over the healthy gut flora. Additionally, anytime antibiotics are taken, the balance of gut bacteria is thrown off by essentially eradicating ALL the gut flora, which allows imbalance to occur as the body tries to recuperate. Imbalanced gut flora can lead to a variety of surprising issues, including anxiety, depression, “brain fog,” weight-gain, and bowel issues, to name just a few. Taking a probiotic supplement will restore the balance of ‘good bacteria’ to the gut, therefore improving the overall function of the body. 
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Omega 3’s, (in the form of Fish oil, Krill oil, or Plant-Derived oil,) are another ‘Brain Superfood.’ Omega 3 Fatty Acids are HIGHLY beneficial for optimum brain and body function, and work by improving circulation, heart health, eyesight, as well as combatting inflammation, anxiety, and even depression! For those with ADD/ADHD, Omega 3’s have also been found to help improve inattention, and decrease hyperactivity, impulsiveness, restlessness and aggression. 
There are a few other potentially beneficial supplements that may be helpful for treating some symptoms, depending on the type of ADD/ADHD as well. However, I typically encourage my clients to begin gradually by first incorporating the lifestyle suggestions related to exercise and diet, as well as the basic supplement suggestions above. The body needs time to acclimate, for 3 very important reasons:
1. We want to avoid overwhelming the body with too many changes all at once—which could very well cause an adverse reaction that the body would have otherwise tolerated quite well, if given the appropriate time to adjust.
2. If symptoms of ADD/ADHD don’t improve, (or even, if they get worse,) it will be difficult to determine which specific diet/lifestyle change (if any) was NOT working, because too many changes were incorporated simultaneously.
3. Most importantly, the symptoms of ADD/ADHD could be completely alleviated by a simple, gradual process of improving diet and exercise, vitamin/mineral balance, and hydration!
If the symptoms of ADD/ADHD can be relieved holistically, by being mindful of emotional health, and making some simple adjustments to activity, diet, and supplementation, there is no need to bother with the other supplemental herbs. However, sometimes a little more support is needed after the body has had time to adjust to those changes, and different herbal supplements can be helpful in treating symptoms of ADD/ADHD, based on individual, unique needs.
I am a passionate advocate for holistically supporting and educating my clients with all varieties of emotional, mental, and behavioral challenges. While physician care and medication may be needed to treat ADD/ADHD, I recommend first trying to balance the body through physical fitness, holistic nutrition, and supplementation according to specific needs. If you or a loved one is challenged by Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and you would like more information about holistic health and lifestyle support options, please feel free to connect with me! I would love to hear more about your needs and how I may be able to help!