Approaching ADHD the Functional Medicine way
Approaching ADHD the Functional Medicine way
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common neuropsychiatric disorder in children and is increasing in prevalence in Australia.
Six percent of children are now being treated with ADHD medication and ADHD diagnoses have increased by 42 percent in the past eight years.(1)
While medication can certainly help, Functional Medicine focusses on what triggers ADHD. It incorporates evidence-based medicine, both conventional and complementary and alternative therapies, to deliver personalized care, balancing the body’s biochemistry, emphasizing diet, nutrients, gut health, and environmental influences as a means to decrease symptoms associated with chronic disorders.(2)
Most children have multiple triggers including genetics, environment, food intolerances, toxicity, and a poor diet which a Functional Medicine health practitioner can address and help treat.
What is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a mental health disorder that can cause above-normal levels of hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. People with ADHD may also have trouble focusing their attention on a single task or sitting still for long periods of time.
Signs and symptoms of ADHD
A wide range of behaviours are associated with this disorder. Some of the more common ones include:
- having trouble focusing or concentrating on tasks
- being forgetful about completing tasks
- being easily distracted
- having difficulty sitting still
- interrupting people while they’re talking
People with this disorder may have some or all of these symptoms, depending on the type of ADHD they have.
Types of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
To make ADHD diagnoses are grouped the condition into three categories or types. These types are predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactivity-impulsive and a combination of both.
As the name suggests, people with this type of ADHD have extreme difficulty focusing, finishing tasks and following instructions.
Experts also think that many children with the inattentive type of ADHD may not receive a proper diagnosis because they don’t tend to disrupt the classroom. This type is most common among girls with ADHD.
Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type
People with this type of disorder show primarily hyperactive and impulsive behaviour. This can include fidgeting, interrupting people while they’re talking and not being able to wait their turn.
Although inattention is less of a concern with this type of disorder, people with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD may still find it difficult to focus on tasks.
Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive type
This is the most common type of ADHD. People with this combined type of disorder display both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms. These include an inability to pay attention, a tendency toward impulsiveness and above-normal levels of activity and energy.
The type of ADHD you or your child has will determine how it’s treated. The type you have can change over time, so treatment may change as well.(3)
What are the underlying causes of ADHD
Despite how common ADHD is, doctors and researchers still aren’t sure what causes the condition. It’s believed to have neurological origins. Genetics may also play a role.
Research suggests that a reduction in dopamine is a factor in ADHD. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that helps move signals from one nerve to another. It plays a role in triggering emotional responses and movements.
Other research suggests a structural difference in the brain. Findings indicate that people with this disorder have less grey matter volume.
There is also evidence to suggest that nutritional imbalances, food intolerances, a disrupted gut microbiome and sleep issues can contribute to ADHD and treating ADHD through diet and lifestyle modifications can go a long way to easing symptoms.
Risk factors for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder include:
- Family history of ADHD
- Gender – its two to four times more common in boys
- Food sensitivities, especially sugar, gluten, casein and food additives (artificial colourings (esp. yellow and red), preservatives (esp. benzoates and propionates), MSG)
- Poor diet: high sugar and refined carbohydrates, low protein, low essential fatty acid, low fruit and vegetables
- Dietary stimulants
- Maternal stress, drug, alcohol and cigarette use
- Premature birth or oxygen deprivation at birth
- Heavy metal toxicity (especially exposure to lead in early life)
- Chemical exposure (especially organophosphate pesticides)
- Family dysfunction, neglect and abuse
- Overstimulation from electronic screens
Treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
The conventional medical treatment for ADHD is often pharmaceutical drugs such as methylphenidate (Ritalin), the amphetamine Adderall or the antidepressants — bupropion and venlafaxine. By prescribing these medications, symptoms may be suppressed but there can be side effects and their effectiveness may fade after long-term use. Instead of merely managing symptoms, there are natural alternatives which address the triggers of ADHD.
How can we treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder naturally?
People with ADHD often have impaired digestion, environmental and food sensitivities, nutritional insufficiencies, heavy metal toxicities, fatty acid and amino acid imbalances, sensitivity to food additives and sugar. By looking at each element, we can begin to understand how to manage symptoms through diet and lifestyle. Looking at the body’s biochemistry rather than focusing on symptoms allows the body to heal and rebalance naturally.
Incorporate anti-inflammatory foods and nutrients. Our modern diet is highly inflammatory, and medications can have severe side effects and intolerance. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids can benefit children with ADHD as they can stimulate the brain’s dopamine receptors.(4)
Try an elimination diet. Gluten, dairy, and other potential food sensitivities can put your immune system in overdrive, increase inflammation, and create problems like intestinal permeability (or leaky gut). (5)
Eat whole, nutrient-rich foods. Researchers find sugar – particularly the simple sugars in processed foods – can increase a child’s risk for ADHD. There is a close connection between the obesity epidemic we are seeing and the epidemic of ADHD and behaviour problems in children. One study correlated higher sugar intake with a higher level of hyperactivity and ADHD-like attention deficiencies.(6)
Optimize nutrient intake. Many children with ADHD are deficient in crucial vitamins and minerals.
A host of nutrient deficiencies, including magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, tyrosine, and fatty acids, play significant roles in the development of ADHD, with many of these nutrients working synergistically.
Zinc – which is necessary for the metabolism of neurotransmitters, specifically dopamine (the “happy hormone”). Zinc deficiency has been linked to ADHD, and many studies suggest that zinc supplementation may help reduce symptoms, especially of hyperactivity in children. Not all people with ADHD are zinc deficient, and in these cases, zinc hasn’t been shown to help, but that’s just further proof that zinc is important for healthy brain function. Supplements may not be necessary, as you can get zinc from eating more dark leafy greens, wild-caught salmon, and meats.(7)
Activated B Vitamins – Research supports a connection between B-vitamin deficiencies and ADHD symptom severity. Activated B vitamins support healthy neurological function, people with MTHFR polymorphisms should avoid folic acid and use either folinic acid or methyl folate. Methylation can play a major part in ADHD and other mental health conditions.
Magnesium – symptoms of magnesium deficiency include irritability, difficulty with concentration, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Because up to 95% of those with ADHD are deficient in magnesium, almost all ADHD children can benefit from magnesium supplementation.
At Advanced Functional Medicine we assess the biochemistry of the bottom through specilaised and advanced testing, identifying nutrient imbalances, uncovering healing blocks and tailoring a specific supplement plan to return the body and brain to a state of balance.
Look after your gut microbiome. Probiotics, prebiotics, and other fibre-rich options feed good gut flora and eliminate the bad. Gut-healing foods such as fermented choices like sauerkraut and fibre-rich options like nuts, seeds, and legumes are all recommended. Often intestinal permeability and gut dysbiosis can play a major part in ADHD.
Consume plenty of antioxidants. Oxidative stress and glutathione deficiency have been connected to dementia, depression, Parkinson’s, autism, and ADHD. An antioxidant-rich diet includes plenty of colourful plant foods.
Detoxify. An overload of heavy metals in children who are genetically susceptible to their effects is one of the root causes of ADHD and broken brains. Each person responds differently to toxins. Some are great detoxifiers; others, like those with ADHD, are often not.(8) Problems with methylation, B6 metabolism and associated pathways can cause detox pathways to be impaired an increase the accumulation of heavy metals.
Address sleep hygiene. Improving sleep hygiene can play a role in managing ADHD symptoms. Insomnia is a common symptom in those diagnosed with ADHD, as the hyperactive component can make it hard to settle down and rest. Behavioural sleep intervention has been shown in clinical trials to improve sleep patterns, which in turn also helped improve hyperactivity, focus, and other symptoms of ADHD.(9)
Incorporate physical exercise. Emerging evidence shows that physical exercise, yoga, sports and time spent in nature can benefit children with ADHD.
Herbal medicine. Herbal medicines can help calm the nervous system and address restlessness, anxiety, and irritability associated with ADHD. Bacopa monnieri and Ginseng are just a couple examples of beneficial botanical medicines that a Functional Medicine health practitioner can prescribe for you. (10)
How we can help you
ADHD is a complex disorder impacted by numerous genetic, neurological, nutritional, and environmental factors. Whole-person functional medicine strategies can offer patients, adults and children alike, many benefits.
At our Perth clinic of Advanced Functional Medicine, we regularly treat people who have been diagnosed with ADHD or exhibit ADHD symptoms, from children to adults. Many of our patients have had great improvements and did not need to start any pharmaceutical medication. Others that have been on medications for years have been able to wean off medications or greatly reduce medications, (in conjunction with their psychiatrist or GP), after receiving treatment at our clinic.
We employ advanced testing to assess gut health, organic acids, nutrients, blood chemistry and other markers to have a thorough understanding of our patients’ biochemistry. From there we identify and remove any health blocks such as parasites, gut dysbiosis, impaired methylation, nutrient deficiencies and the like to allow the body to heal and create a personalised treatment plan including diet and lifestyle recommendations continue our patients on the road to recovery.
If you would like to find out more about how we can help you or your child, get in touch with us by phone, through the website or the contact form below.