3 herbs to help with ADHD

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to a group of parents at an awesome activity facility here in Ottawa called NUTS about 3 herbs to help with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The kids got to participate in the fun obstacle racing and trivia activities at NUTS while I sat down with the parents to discuss the topics of herbal medicine. This was my second talk on ADHD at NUTS. If you’d like more info on nutrition for ADHD see my blog post: Back to School with ADHD: Natural tips to help with the transition.

Here is a summary of the 3 herbs we discussed to help with ADHD:

  1. Chamomile: This herb is easily found as a tea and is very calming to the nervous system. The calming effects can help with anxiety and insomnia. Chamomile also supports digestion and calms a nervous stomach. The digestive tract is commonly known as the ‘Second Brain’ since it contains a large amount of nerves and is connected directly to the brain by the vagus nerve. This communication between the brain and the gut goes both ways. So the way you think can affect your digestion and what is going on in your digestive tract can influence your mood and mental state. Chamomile is also a great herb to brew and add to your child’s bathwater because it is anti-inflammatory and soothing for nervous skin irritations like eczema.
  2. Lavender: This herb is also calming for the nervous system and can help with anxiety and insomnia. The essential oil is often used to promote the relaxation response and shift the nervous system from a state of ‘fight or flight’ to a state of calmness. You can add the essential oil, lavender flowers or brewed lavender tea to your child’s bathwater for a calming effect. The essential oil can be added to a diffuser or humidifier in your child’s bedroom to promote sleep. Putting lavender essential oil onto a tissue and helping your child practice alternate nostril breathing is a great method for self-relaxation. Finally, new research is showing lavender can be just as effective at calming anxiety as low dose pharmaceutical medication. Check out this research summary for more info.
  3. Licorice:  This herb in tea form is quite sweet so kids tend to like it! Licorice has adaptogenic properties which means it helps your body regulate cortisol (the stress hormone) and adapt to stressful situations. Adrenaline is the common name for the hormone cortisol, and I’m sure we have all experienced the feeling of running on adrenaline! The body pumps out adrenaline to keep us alert during stressful periods, however if it is constantly in a state of high adrenaline this can lead to burnout. Ideally we want to balance periods of high adrenaline with periods of relaxation, and licorice root helps support your body’s ability to adapt to stressful situations. Finally, as an added benefit, licorice helps heal the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract and can help heal food sensitivity reaction associated with ADHD.

For more information on herbal medicine and how to administer herbal remedies to your child, check out my post from yesterday: Herbal Medicine for your child: Tips and tricks for administering herbs.

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Back to school with ADHD: Natural tips to help with the transition

It’s back to school time and for those parents whose children have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) this can be a challenging time of transition.  It is a time for establishing new routines and adjusting to the structure of the school system.

Pharmaceutical medications are helpful for many children, however often parents come to my office looking for some natural options. Choosing medication is a personal decision based on the needs of your child, family and teachers. The following is a list of natural tips to help support your child with the back to school transition, regardless if they are on medication or not.

Nutrition:

  1. Stay hydrated! Equip your child with a water bottle and encourage them to finish it throughout the day. Dehydration contributes to lack of concentration and information processing.
  2. Avoid artificial chemicals: Pack lunches full of whole foods versus packaged foods which often contain artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. These chemicals stimulate the nervous system and contribute to restlessness and mood changes.
  3. Add more protein: Protein keeps blood sugar levels from fluctuating. High and low blood sugar levels lead to hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating and mood changes such as irritability and anxiety.

Check out these Healthy nut-free snacks for back to school which are high in protein!

Vitamin and mineral supplements:

  1. Consider zinc supplementation for hyperactivity and impulsivity. Always speak to your doctor or naturopath before taking supplements to figure out if they are needed and what the appropriate dose should be. Try adding more zinc containing foods to the diet such as chicken, turkey, fish, pumpkin seeds or pumpkin seed butter (great replacement for peanut butter!).
  2. Additional B vitamins can be helpful for improving cognitive function.  B vitamins are essential for producing neurotransmitters that influence mood and can be helpful for anxiety and depression. A B-complex is generally safe because the body breaks down these vitamins and you urinate them out daily.  Make sure you take a b-complex vitamin with meals to prevent nausea.  It is best to take it in the morning with breakfast because it also helps improve energy throughout the day.
  3. A fish oil supplement is the best way to get an appropriate dose of omega-3 fatty acids.  The two major types are ecosapentanoic acid  (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA).  A combination of EPA and DHA is important for supporting nervous system function leading to improved learning, attention and concentration in the classroom.  Nourishing the brain with omega-3 fatty acids is essential for improving mood.

    Fish oil is available in liquid or capsules.  You can freeze the capsules to prevent it from repeating or purchase an enteric coated brand.  Liquid fish oil is great for children because it can be mixed into a smoothie or juice.  There are even delicious gummies and chewable capsules for the picky eater!

    If you follow a vegan diet or are allergic to fish, omega-3 fatty acids can be found in flaxseed oil, chia seeds and hemp seed.  However, much higher doses are needed to absorb the same amount that is found naturally in fish oil.

Botanical medicine:

  1. Calming lemon balm or lavender tea: Brew a batch of lemon balm (aka Melissa officinalis) or lavender tea and store in a glass jug in your fridge. It can be added as a smoothie base, as a popsicle base, frozen into ice cubes and added to your child’s water bottle, or mixed in with a little juice. These are all creative ways to have your child experience the calming effects of lemon balm and lavender without having to drink the hot tea directly.
  2. Chamomile tea has digestive healing properties in addition to a calming effect. Paired with ginger root, licorice root and peppermint tea, these make a great addition if your child suffers from ‘nervous stomach’ or is experiencing digestive side effects from their medication.
  3. Concentrated herbal tinctures: Teas are generally safe because they are very dilute. However, if you are looking for something with a stronger effect a herbal tincture where the herbs have been soaked in alcohol and the medicinal properties of the herbs have been extracted is another option. There are many options at the health food store such as St. Francis brand Tilia Calm. Be sure to read the instructions based on your child’s weight and avoid herbal tinctures if your child suffers from allergies to any of the ingredients.