Back to school can be a challenging time for lots of folks – not just kids or students, but also for adults. Returning to scholastic activities tends to demand certain tasks of our brain, such as organization, focus, prioritization of tasks, as well as time management. And our old friend, stress, can also add to the mental load. This in itself can be challenging for anyone, but especially if you live with a condition such as ADHD which affects cognitive abilities.
Let’s outline some suggested nutrition and lifestyle recommendations (for both yourself, and the little ones) that can help manage the symptoms of ADHD, as well as maintain your brain and nervous system health in general.
What to avoid
It is important to avoid certain types of foods, not only when dealing with overall health, but especially with a condition such as ADHD. Symptoms are often exacerbated when the diet is poor, and even more so in teens and children.
Important foods to avoid include refined sugar or aspartame, chemical additives such as artificial coloring (especially red or yellow), preservatives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) or nitrates, any known food sensitivities, and often caffeine can even be a trigger for inflammation. These foods wreak havoc on our gut health (which we now know is linked to brain health) and can contribute to brain hyperactivity which can make it even more difficult to focus on tasks.
Specific items to watch out for include sodas (SO much sugar and sometimes caffeine), candy, fried foods, and any processed foods (lots of nasty ingredients are hidden in these, along with preservatives and flavor enhancers). Also, keep in mind that bread that is highly processed will lack nutrients and will subsequently act like sugar in the body. Plus, many people are sensitive to gluten and do not even realize it. If you’re looking for a healthy alternative to that squishy white bread, sourdough bread is a great alternative as the fermentation is beneficial to the gut! When it comes to incorporating grains into your diet, consider using whole or sprouted grains.
A good rule of thumb is to try to stick to a whole-food diet (meal prepping is your friend when managing a busy schedule!), but if you’re needing something more processed, try to reduce the frequency, and make it a habit to always read the ingredient labels. Some products are better than others!
If you need more help navigating nutrition labels and meal planning, schedule an appointment with one of our Holistic Nutritionists today.
Adjusting your routine to include certain lifestyle habits can be very helpful for managing the executive dysfunction that people with ADHD struggle with.
Taking some time to prioritize your daily tasks by making a list, or by keeping a general written or digital schedule can also be quite helpful.
Exercise is also an important part of managing ADHD due to it providing a natural source of dopamine in which ADHD brains can be deficient in. Even the timing is important! By exercising in the morning, you can really set the tone for the rest of your day, especially if it is a form of exercise that you enjoy. And remember, exercise doesn’t look the same for everyone! Some people with ADHD need to be cautious with high intensity exercise due to the subsequent increase in cortisol levels, which can create problems if your stress levels are already high. And at the end of the day, as long as you’re in motion, more than not and in a way that feels good, the health benefits are life changing.
Additionally, treatments such as Acupuncture, Reiki, Biodynamic Energetic Therapy, Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, and/or Craniosacral Therapy can also help to manage the symptoms of ADHD by helping to calm and balance your nervous system while improving your cognition. Whether you choose to moderate your neurotransmitters through balancing the body’s meridians, chakras, or by optimizing the flow of cerebrospinal fluid throughout the body, the clinic can help you navigate any questions you may have.
Supplements for ADHD
Fish oil (Omega 3’s)*
The EPA and DHA fatty acids in fish oil are crucial for brain health and brain cell function as well as reducing inflammation. Eating a diet high in Omega 3’s can be difficult to attain, but supplementation can help both adults and children to meet their daily needs for ADHD.
Foods that are high in these fatty acids include fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies and oysters (wild caught is best), flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts.
B-complex and L-Theanine*
B vitamins help keep the nervous system functioning properly by supporting neurotransmitter synthesis. L-Theanine helps to keep you focused, provides a sense of calm without the jittery feeling that caffeine can cause, and helps to regulate cortisol levels. It is helpful to get B-vitamins in a complex formula to ensure that you are getting enough of each type.
Foods that are rich in B-vitamins include chicken, salmon, eggs, avocados, bananas, broccoli, spinach, sunflower seeds, lentils, chickpeas, almonds, and oats. A fun way to incorporate B-vitamins for kids can be to put some nutritional yeast on top of popcorn (it makes it taste cheesy, and who doesn’t love cheese?).
Vitamin D, Magnesium & Zinc*
Studies have found that folks with ADHD are often deficient in these nutrients. Vitamin D supports healthy hormones and therefore healthy brain function, while magnesium and zinc help to relax the nervous system.
Taking a vitamin D supplement is important, as most people are deficient in this essential nutrient, especially over here in Canada. Even in the summer, because we protect our skin with clothing and sunscreen, most of us are not getting enough on a daily basis to meet the body’s minimum requirements.
Vitamin D can be found in foods such as salmon, tuna, sardines, egg yolks, yogurt, cheese, liver, mushrooms, and tofu.
Foods rich in magnesium and zinc are oysters, nuts & seeds (especially pumpkin and sesame seeds), whole grains, dark leafy greens, and legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans).
There is an important link between the gut and brain health. Dysbiosis in the microbiome (imbalance of good and bad bacteria) of the gut causes many issues, including inflammation, which can negatively impact nutrient absorption and brain function. Plus, the neurotransmitters (the body’s messengers) that we want to be in balance when dealing with ADHD symptoms, are actually made in your gut. So, if you have a dysfunctional microbiome, it will eventually impact your brain function. And as they say, “everything starts with the gut.”
Probiotics are an important supplement that most people should be taking, especially if you’ve taken any antibiotics (they wipe out the bad, along with the good!). Probiotics help repopulate the good guys and balances your microbiome, improving digestion, cognitive function, and overall wellbeing.
Fermented foods such as yogurt (even the dairy-free options), sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, sourdough bread, and even some types of cheese, also contain probiotics (on a much lower scale) and support gut health.
People with ADHD often have poor digestion and may really benefit from taking probiotics and incorporating fermented foods into their diet to help keep the digestive system healthy.
Rhodiola is an adaptogen that helps to improve attention and can be helpful for adults who are not taking medication to treat their ADHD symptoms. It is not recommended to take Rhodiola if you are on medications for ADHD, as it is contraindicated and will decrease the effectiveness of your medications. Rhodiola may also be too stimulating for children and is generally not recommended for this reason, especially when hyperactivity is a concern.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that helps the body cope with stress by balancing out the nervous system and regulating cortisol levels. It is effective at decreasing anxiety as well as enhancing brain function. Be careful when taking Ashwagandha if you have a thyroid condition though, as it can affect thyroid hormones. Ashwagandha can be helpful for children to improve ADHD symptoms and especially in times of stress.
Essential oils are a nice addition to the nutrition, lifestyle, and supplements recommended above to help with focus and calm the nervous system. Lavender, orange, vetiver, cedarwood, and peppermint are just a few that serve this purpose. They can be diffused or diluted with a carrier oil and applied topically.
Looking for more personalized help? Schedule an appointment with one of our skilled practitioners and they can set you up with a plan that is right for you!
*Always discuss supplementation with your physician to ensure that it is the right fit for you.