Tips for Managing ADHD Symptoms Beyond Medication

Dr. Angela Seabright
Alyssa Witzleben

| 3 min read

Little girl doing cartwheels in the leaves
October is National Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects 6.4 million children and adults around the world and has been gaining an increasing amount of public interest in recent years.
One of the biggest myths surrounding ADHD is that the medication used to treat it will lead to negative outcomes. While this has been proven false by medical professionals, who recently upheld the role medication plays in treating ADHD in new guidelines, there are other strategies that can be put in place to curb the effects of ADHD beyond medication.
Diet can be effective in helping someone with ADHD. Consuming certain foods while avoiding others can help reduce symptoms in both children and adults. Maintaining a diet that is rich in protein, vitamins and whole foods can curb symptoms and prevent a nutritional deficiency, which can lead to an increase in ADHD symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acid rich foods are shown to reduce ADHD symptoms by 50%. Fatty acids assist in the transmission of dopamine and serotonin (neurotransmitters in the brain) that help brain cells communicate. Dopamine regulates emotional responses and facilitates feelings of reward and pleasure. Individuals with ADHD have a decreased level of dopamine due to a higher concentration of protein transporters, which prevents dopamine from moving from to cell to cell. Look to salmon, tuna and seeds as sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Incorporating more high-protein foods into your diet can provide improved concentration and assist ADHD medications with working more efficiently, as well as increase production of neurotransmitters.
As far as foods to avoid that enhance ADHD symptoms, the main piece of advice would be to avoid any excess sugar. Simple carbohydrates and excess sugar promote blood sugar spikes and the release of stress hormones, can heighten ADHD symptoms and increase hyperactivity. Artificial additives and colors found in junk food, brightly-colored cereals and fruit drinks have also been found to increase or heighten hyperactivity.
Certain types of exercise can help regulate symptoms. Another tip for managing ADHD symptoms that doesn’t involve medication is to enroll in a yoga or tai chi class. These two activities have been indicated to significantly improve symptoms of hyperactivity and anxiety in a 2013 study. Teenagers who took part in tai chi classes twice a week for five weeks showed less inappropriate emotions and daydreamed less. Both yoga and tai chi are healthy and natural ways to get exercise while preventing ADHD symptoms.
Therapy is a good first step. Behavioral therapy is another popular solution for ADHD treatment in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that the first step in treatment of ADHD in young children should be behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy works on resolving ADHD symptoms by targeting the most severe ones first and offering solutions to further prevent them. The CDC website states that behavioral therapy teaches children to better manage their behavior, improve social relationships and lead to better performance in schooling. Therapists can train parents of children with ADHD to be able to conduct behavioral therapy in the home environment as well, increasing the effectiveness.
What have you found to be effective in treating your ADHD? Share your best tips in the comments.
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Photo credit: grady reese

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