Are you looking for a holistic approach to ADHD? Do you want to know how to help your child concentrate with ADHD? Perhaps you want to help your child with ADHD succeed at school, or help them to sit still? You’ve come to the right place!
If you are on the cusp of an ADHD diagnosis, or maybe your child already has the label or diagnosis, there is still a lot you can do to help them maneuver in the world before resorting to pharmaceuticals.
As a mother of a child that struggled to concentrate and now a nutritional therapy practitioner, I have both personal and professional experience. Here’s what we did and how I approached ADHD holistically.
A Holistic Approach to ADHD
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is often applied to kids that can’t sit still, behave impulsively, or have trouble concentrating to the point that it significantly affects their life.
Caveat: I am no doctor, but when I observed one of my children in the classroom moving from desk to desk, not completing work, and miserable at the thought of sitting still, I knew it was time to investigate.
After consulting with his teacher, it was time to head into mama-research mode. From our personal standpoint we were not going to pursue medication unless we had tried everything else first. I was also not interested in giving my child any sort of label or diagnosis, but was interested in addressing his struggles holistically.
If you’re in the same situation I have great news! After a long journey, I realized that nothing was wrong with my child (or any child). What was wrong were the expectations of my child, and elements of our modern lifestyle (including nutrient deficiencies). These are things that can be modified!
Read on for all the details on natural and easy things to do to help your child with ADHD!
Things to Do to Help Your Child with ADHD Holistically
If I were facing a perspective diagnosis of ADD or ADHD for my child, I would take these steps before resorting to any medical intervention.
1. Incorporate Daily Exercise
The first thing to address is exercise and a child’s need to move. We tried to incorporate lots of it before, and mostly after, school.
According to Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and author of Balanced and Barefoot, children in the early elementary years need at least 4-5 hours of movement daily!
However, what was even more helpful, was speaking with his teacher to make sure he was able to run around at some point during the school day. Experienced teachers will echo the importance of movement for learning.
What was happening in the winter, was that they were staying indoors for recess and playing board games or other “quiet, at the desk activities”, which was not working out. So we really made sure he could run or do something physically active every day.
In one setting his wonderful teacher would actually send him on a run around the perimeter of the classroom, which was great.
2. Ensure Adequate Sleep
The next thing is ensuring your child is getting adequate sleep. Sleep is incredibly important to the brain, especially in children. Sleep supports our detoxification, memory formation, and overall cognitive function.
When we are well rested it is easier to regulate our emotions and behaviors. We know this as adults, so of course it applies to children as well.
How much sleep does your child need? According to the Sleep Foundation, an elementary school child may need anywhere from 9-12 hours!
For us, not only did this mean we had to have a strict bed time, but also make sure we went back to remind our child to turn the reading light off!
Sleep support could mean addressing a variety of factors other than bedtime: the temperature of the room, bedding material (natural fibers that are breathable, not synthetic), and making sure WiFi is off at night.
Additionally, if your child is a mouth-breather, this could be affecting their quality of sleep and is something to look into with an airway focused dentist.
3. Supplement Magnesium
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals that play a role in relaxation. Many of us are low in magnesium because it’s hard to get enough of it on our modern diet.
As a matter of fact, multiple studies have found that kids with ADD or ADHD are deficient in this important mineral.
One thing we did that was very, very helpful was a bath with epsom salt before bed. Epsom salt is a type of magnesium, so the body will soak it in, and it leaves you very calm. I tried it on myself and it was amazing! Obviously we couldn’t do it every day, but even a couple of times a week is great.
How to take an epsom salt bath to relax children with ADHD
Put a cup or two of epsom salt into a warm bath and soak (or play) for 15 minutes! That’s it! The body will absorb the magnesium through the skin.
If you are not able to take a bath, you could also make a foot soak. Use a small tub of warm water and let them soak their feet in it!
Another reason that epsom salt baths are so supportive for children that are struggling with ADHD is because the type of magnesium in it is magnesium sulfate. This helps to supply sulfur as well, which is incredibly important to support the sulfation pathway in the liver (one of the ways that we “detox” toxins).
Magnesium Spray or Lotion
An alternative, is buying a magnesium oil spray or lotion, and using that on the feet before bed. The magnesium chloride spray may cause a tingling sensation as your body gets used to the magnesium. Start with just one spray and increase slowly over time.
I have personally found that as you correct the deficiency, the tingling sensation will go away. That said, for a milder application you can use a magnesium chloride cream.
There are of course, also oral forms of magnesium supplements that you could take. However, you should discuss dosing with your NTP or doctor.
4. Limit Screen Time
Parents are divided on screen time: some think it is inevitable, while others have strict rules. We definitely fall into the latter category. We essentially had to eliminate screen time almost completely.
The research clearly shows that screens negatively affect our children’s brain health.
This intervention was really helpful! It seems that staring at a screen leaves children completely overstimulated. For a time, we had to resort to zero daily screen time, including tv, phone games, or even reading on a tablet!
We let our child watch an hour or two once a week and that’s it. After keeping screens off for the good part of a year, we were then able to add some back in. However, if I see behavior changes we pull back again.
I can’t overemphasize what an easy fix this is! After the initial screen time withdrawl that is…
5. Regulating Blood Sugar
Last thing- and this is probably what made the biggest difference– was regulating blood sugar.
During the peak of our “problems” our child was eating a lot of carbohydrates, which were then causing a sugar crash and “problematic” behavior.
To regulate blood sugar we took two steps. First, we eliminated sugar and all processed food (also food coloring, flavoring etc). There is so much research about artificial colors and behavioral issues- this should be a no-brainer!
Second, we slowly reduced our intake of grains so we were eating much closer to a paleo diet. Just eliminating bread made a huge difference in preventing that post meal sugar crash and impulsive behavior.
Instead of sugar, we have lots of healthy fruit and make baked goods with honey! Thankfully, with the Paleo and Keto trends it has become much easier to find healthy treats even in the stores.
The second important concept to regulate blood sugar is to have plenty of healthy fats with every meal so that you don’t get those spikes and crashes. Eating balanced meals with enough fat will slow down digestion of the sugars in the food.
If nothing else, just add a ton of butter to everything. It makes everything taste good! Good fat is essential for brain health!
How to Remove the Worst Offenders from Your Pantry
I wrote an ebook guiding you through a pantry clean out. It goes step by step with helpful tips to minimize waste, and support your whole family’s nutrition.
Other Nutritional Deficiencies Associated with ADHD
There is a lot of research on ADHD and nutritional deficiencies. Some micronutrients deficiencies that are found often in those with ADHD include reduced levels of vitamin D, zinc, ferritin, and magnesium (Villagomez & Ramtekkar 2014).
However, we must remember that nutrient deficiencies have two root causes: 1) not getting enough nutrients in the diet, and/or 2) not having sufficient digestive capabilities to absorb the nutrients from foods you eat.
In the nutrition field we usually see both of these factors at play. Therefore, following a gut healing protocol to restore digestion, and focusing on eating a nutrient dense diet can be an important intervention.
Addressing ADHD on GAPS
If you want to address the root cause of ADHD look no further than the GAPS diet! ADHD definitely falls under the GAPS umbrella. It’s actually on the cover of the Gut and Physchology Syndrome book!
Like all GAPS conditions, ADHD is a result of dysbiosis in the gut. The microbes in the gut are out of balance, causing leaky gut, and therefore nutritional deficiencies.
To get to the root cause, you can absolutely follow the GAPS diet. The younger the child, the easier and quicker restoration of balance will be.
Many parents feel that GAPS is too hard or too restrictive for their lifestyle, and that ADD is “not that serious” to undergo the massive lifestyle change involved. This is why I like to provide the simple interventions above that you can take.
Just addressing the nutrition piece (eliminating processed food and balancing blood sugar) will move the needle for you!
Final Thoughts on A Holistic Approach to ADHD with Lifestyle and Diet Changes
In summary, if your child is suffering from symptoms of ADHD you need to:
- increase movement
- limit screens
- ensure adequate sleep
- support magnesium levels
- address blood sugar (download the Pantry RESET ebook to remove the worst offenders)
I have to note that changing the child’s environment can be very helpful if you are able to do it. For example, switching to a homeschool model or an alternative education model that treats children more holistically can help. Spending more time in nature is another big one!
At the time we were trying to treat ADHD naturally, we still wanted our child to be able to learn at school. These are the things we did to help our child regulate and be their best self, and looking back, this feels like a lifetime ago. You would never, ever know meeting this child now that we had any of these struggles!
Taken all together, these measures have made a huge difference in our lives. They made our whole family healthier in the process. I highly suggest trying out some of these lifestyle changes before resorting to medication for ADHD.
If you are interested in pursing nutritional therapy for yourself or your child, you can book a consult call at the button below!
Greenblatt JM, Delane DD (2017) Micronutrient Deficiencies in ADHD: A Global Research Consensus. J Orthomol Med. 32(6)
Villagomez, A., & Ramtekkar, U. (2014). Iron, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Zinc Deficiencies in Children Presenting with Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 1(3), 261–279. https://doi.org/10.3390/children1030261