The ADHD Conundrum, Part III: Lifestyle Changes

After discussing “The ADHD Conundrum, Part II: The Medication” in our last post, this final installment of our series will explore simple dietary and exercise changes that may be helpful to reduce the symptoms of ADHD for some individuals. Psychiatrists and physicians have gone back and forth over the years about whether or not nonmedical interventions can be effective for mental disorders such as ADHD. For example, psychiatrists see parents all the time who claim that certain foods strongly alter their child’s behavior and ADHD symptoms. For a time, the medical community supported this line of thinking; however, over the last 20 years little research has been put into analyzing these assertions and, therefore, doctors are left with no evidence by which to guide their patients.

New Research Supports That Diet Impacts ADHD Symptoms

Recently, there has been a renewed interest in how what we eat affects mental health symptoms. Two studies, each published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry over the last year, found evidence of the positive effect dietary changes may have on difficult ADHD symptoms.

The first research findings showed omega-3 fatty acids, especially larger doses of eicosapentaenoic acid, helped to alleviate some of the hyperactivity symptomatic of ADHD. The second study analyzed a topic many parents have reported on for years: artificial food coloring. The research team discovered that individuals who restricted food colors from their diet experienced a reduction in ADHD symptoms. In fact, they found that approximately 8 percent of ADHD sufferers may have sensitivities to artificial food dyes.

Guidelines for physicians are once again turning toward taking parental reports about dietary effects seriously. Some even believe that since adding omega-3 fatty acids into the diet and taking food dyes out have no known negative effects that doctors might consider these as possible recommendations for all patients with ADHD.

Exercise Is an ADHD ‘Medication’ With No Negative Side Effects

Research has shown that regular exercise has a plethora of positive impacts on ADHD symptoms. John Ratey, M.D, at Harvard Medical School says: “Think of exercise as medication. For a very small handful of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD ADD), it may actually be a replacement for stimulants, but for most, it’s complementary.”

New studies into the mental health impacts of exercise have shown that for kids who get consistent exercise in their daily routines, impulsivity is reduced significantly. It has also been shown to strengthen the brain in ways that would have a positive impact on the typical issues related to ADHD. Exercise activates the systems involving attention including:

  • Working memory
  • Sustained attention
  • Inhibition
  • Organization
  • Sequencing
  • Prioritization

Scientists believe that these results are due to the fact that a number of brain chemicals including dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin are released in response to exercise.

Do you think such simple lifestyle changes are capable of fully relieving symptoms of ADHD even in a small percentage of people? Have you seen a positive impact on your teen? What about when substance issues are present as well? Leave a comment and share your experience below.

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