Not unlike most children, when I was younger, paying attention in class and sitting still was difficult for me. When I was 15, I diagnosed myself with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and had a much easier time getting my prescription for Adderall (a medication commonly used to treat ADHD) from my doctor then I think I probably should have. “You want Adderall? No problem, I’ll prescribe you Adderall,” I clearly remember my pediatrician saying. Although my mom ended up taking me to a different doctor who diagnosed me with ADHD before prescribing the medication, for the next four years after that, I took Adderall daily, believing that I wouldn’t be as productive or successful without it. While I did have insanely sharp focus, I hated the side effects. The medication made it so that I didn’t want to eat, I couldn’t comfortably socialize, and I couldn’t sleep. But my grades in school improved dramatically enough that I convinced myself Adderall made me smarter and better at school.
By the age of 20, I decided I was done with the drug and the uncomfortable, anxious way it made me feel. When I went off it, my goal wasn’t necessarily to go cold turkey, but I wanted to test myself and see how I did in school without the drug while implementing some natural methods for concentrating. It took a little time, and I know this wouldn’t be the case for all people with an attention disorder, but I’ve found that I can absolutely be productive without medication. I believe that the following natural remedies can truly help with concentration and that either on their own or in conjunction with medication, can greatly benefit those struggling with ADHD.
Understanding the Power of the Gut
Our intestines contain a population of microbes known as gut microbiota. Microbiota contains tens of trillions of microorganisms, with at least 1000 different species of bacteria with more than 3 million genes (source: Gut Microbiota). A baby born vaginally gets her first dose of these microorganisms as soon as she exits her mother’s vagina. Children born through C-sections miss some of the bacteria that children born vaginally get. Instead, a C-section baby gets her first bacteria from her mother’s skin and the skin of the doctors and nurses in the delivery room (source: heathline). In either situation, from that moment on, everything affects the babies microbiota; the food she eats, the water she drinks, her environment, and the air she breathes. Although the baby can adapt to change, a loss of balance in the gut microbiota may result in dysbiosis (the opposite of symbiosis). Dysbiosis may be linked to a number of health problems such as functional bowel disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, obesity, and diabetes, to name some. According to author and doctor, Natasha Campbell-McBride, 84 percent of your immunity is located in your gut wall. And if you don’t have healthy gut flora, your immune system simply can’t function optimally (Source: GAPS Diet).
Gut dysbiosis is also commonly found in children with ADD/ADHD and other mental health illnesses and disorders like depression, or bipolar disorder. (source: Epidemic Answers). In my own experience, I have found that by treating the gut, I could get by without medication. Another thing I found while researching is that children with ADHD typically have low levels of dopamine, which is an important neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of calm and well-being. This is why kids with ADHD, while not typically being able to sit still for too long, have been found to sit very calmly for hours on end while playing video games, since playing video games releases dopamine. With all of this knowledge, I now have recommendations for ways to balance dopamine levels and improve gut health to naturally achieve laser sharp focus.
Eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean protein, healthy fats, and purified water will play a huge role in curbing ADHD symptoms. Eat organic whenever possible, take probiotics regularly, and check in with yourself to see how your body feels after you eat certain foods. There are a number of foods that can typically cause food allergies or sensitivities in people, such as: gluten, sugar, processed and fried foods, food colorings, dairy, alcohol, red meat, caffeine, soy, corn, and nightshade vegetables. An allergy or sensitivity to a particular food may cause symptoms of ADHD. Experiment by eliminating foods from these food groups then add them back into your diet one by one. During this process, I recommend taking notes of your concentration, energy, digestion, and sleep before and after eating and you may just find some foods work better for your body and concentration levels than others.
Quality sleep and healthy lifestyle choices will also impact your ability to focus during the day. Most people need at least eight solid hours of sleep, which means you should begin winding down and turning off the computer, television, or any devices with a blue light at least an hour before bed. Try to steer clear of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol, as these will impact sleep quality too.
For both children and adults with ADHD, exercise is like medicine. It helps to get rid of excess energy, and in my own experience, I’ve found that exercise is the only time where I can pretty much turn off my mind. Exercise stimulates cognitive thinking and increases levels of dopamine, thus improving levels of concentration for hours after completion. Switching up forms of exercise, and learning new ones, have actually been found to improve organization skills, and when you combine mind-body exercises with a deep mental focus, you may even get more positive results (source: health.com). I have to switch up my exercises just to stay interested, so I like to rotate between pilates, yoga, barre, running, dance, and weight training.
Like exercise, massage also increases levels of dopamine, which is the hormone lacking in people with ADHD. The benefits of regular massage for people with ADHD have been found to result in more restful sleep, improved mood, improved social function, improved focus, and anger control. If you can’t go out and get a massage regularly, then try giving yourself a massage. You can even incorporate essential oils like lavender, frankincense, or mandarin into your massages for greater results since aromatherapy can also be a powerful tool for aiding in focus and calmness.
When focusing for long periods of time is a challenge, try breaking up your workload. I’ll set a timer for myself for 20-minute periods where I power through work, followed by a brief break. During this break, I’ll do anything from stretching to browsing Pinterest, but after about five minutes I have to get back into work mode. I find these frequent and shorter work periods actually make me more productive in the long run.
Are you or is someone you know struggling with symptoms of ADHD? Then let’s talk! I am a Certified Integrative Nutritionist with a background in holistic health who would love to help you.