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.
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It’s back to school time: Supplements for brain function

The end of the summer signals back to school season.  We are accustomed to the familiar commercials for school supplies, fall clothing and autumn activities.

Another back to school essential we don’t often think about includes nutritional and herbal supplements to support healthy brain function during the school year.  Nutritional and herbal supplements can help to optimize brain function leading to improved memory, concentration and learning in the classroom.

 

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Top 5 Supplements for Back to School:

1. Multivitamin: A multivitamin includes a combination of vitamins and minerals to ensure the body has an adequate daily supply to prevent deficiency.  With our busy lifestyles it can be difficult to have great nutrition everyday and a multivitamin can be helpful for ensuring our brains are nourished with the nutrients we need.

Choose a multivitamin appropriate for your age and take the recommended dose with meals to increase absorption.  Liquid and powder multivitamins are great for children because they can be mixed into juice, smoothies, applesauce or yogurt.

2. B-complex vitamin:  In addition to a multivitamin supplement, 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.

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. Omega-3 fatty acids: 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 hempseed.  However, much higher doses are needed to absorb the same amount that is found naturally in fish oil.

4. Gingko biloba:  Once you ingest the essential vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids, gingko biloba is a great herb for increasing circulation to the brain and ensuring those nutrients are delivered to where they need to go.  Gingko biloba itself increases neurotransmitter function in the brain helping to improve cognition and short term memory.

Gingko biloba is available in capsule and liquid tincture form.  Putting drops of the liquid tincture into a cup of boiling water will evaporate the alcohol leading to a more pleasant taste.  Adding a bag of your favourite herbal tea will also mask the flavour of the gingko.  Cooling this tea and making popsicles are a wonderful way to help children ingest herbal remedies.

If you are taking blood thinning medications it is best to be cautious and speak to your primary healthcare provider before starting gingko biloba.

5. Water: We don’t often think of water as a supplement but I frequently prescribe water as part of one’s  daily lifestyle routine.  Increasing water intake prevents dehydration and improves brain function, restlessness and focus in the classroom.

Schedule breaks to the water fountain or carry a water bottle to remind you to drink water frequently.  Adding slices of lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, apple or berries to your water will give it a fresh taste so you don’t get bored with plain old water.  Peppermint or spearmint leaves are also a refreshing twist!

We all know the recommended 8-10 glasses of water per day and it is important to make this a priority.  Such a simple lifestyle change can make a significant impact on how you feel.  Go ahead and give it a try!