September is here. For many this signals the beginning of the end of summer and the up and coming school year. A timely topic therefore is one that touches on focus, concentration and impulse control. One could argue these behaviours define adulthood, which is why struggling to perfect them is a key aspect of developing the child into the adolescent and into the adult. This article touches specifically on ADHD however like most naturopathic interventions, some components will be applicable to improving many aspects of focus and concentration to everyone.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is defined as a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties with focus, concentration, controlling behavior and hyperactivity (1). Although this may sound like most children, such behaviors are persistent and substantially impair interpersonal relationships and learning ability. Together, left untreated such tendencies put these individuals at risk for comorbid conditions like anxiety, OCD, depression, aggressive behavior, substance abuse and criminal acts (3,2)
Why would someone develop ADHD? Theories of ADHD etiology generally encompass interplay between polymorphic genetic disorders (relating to central nervous system biochemical pathways and processes) and environment (emotional, nutritional & psychosocial) (4), essentially a mix of genes and environment. Nature & nurture.
Genes linked to ADHD often include those related to neurotransmitter function of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin that are responsible, in part, for attention and reward pathways in the brain. Many studies have revealed overt differences in structure and function of the brain when compared to healthy children (5)
How the environment shapes gene expression and physiologic process is also very important for the developing brain and for ADHD. Toxin exposure, detoxification capability, inflammation, diet, allergies, mineral status, sleep and love all help shape the developing brain.
Impacting attention and focus
The relationship between food and mood is obvious and as such should be taken into consideration in a treatment plan for best health in particular and ADHD specifically (4). Management of many ADHD symptoms have been purportedly enhances when avoiding foods containing artificial colors and flavors, salicylates and eliminating inflammation-causing foods such as refined sugars, dairy and wheat (4). Individualized food sensitivity screening can also be useful to determine specific foods that a child might react to.
Children with ADHD often have lower levels of Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, which are all essential cofactors in many biologic pathways and neurotransmission / neurotransmitter development. Relative lower levels of omega 3 fatty acids and possible B vitamins are also more prevalent in the ADHD population (4). Talk to you health care professional before supplementing, as dosing is key.
An inability to properly detoxify certain heavy metals can create imbalances to minerals in the body such as iron, zinc and magnesium. Exposure of various chemicals can also impact brain development. Based on this, detoxification support may be of benefit the ADHD population.
Gut health –
Optimal gut health is key to absorbing nutrients and providing the body with the essential building blocks they need. Any food or food related chemical (ie colours) that your child may be introducing to their gastro intestinal track daily may be creating a inflammation that could affect their gut function and thereby impair absorption.
Understanding how to influence genetic expression can have great impacts on our health. Many genes have been linked to ADHD and changes to diet and nutrition as it relates to these genes may have profound impact to behavior and ADHD development. This is referred to as nutrigenomics, to find out more click here.
I believe that “going back to the basics” is also key in creating an environment that is both nurturing and supportive. I believe these tenets help any child develop focus, patience and trust.
1) Predictability –
Having structure to the way you navigate your day helps to build foundations and secure attachments. Routine with meals and sleep cycles is of utmost importance.
2) Love –
Feeling like you are loved and are important helps to foster good self esteem and enables optimum development, at any age really. This is easiest when quality time with genuine interest in the child is routinely invoked.
3) Quiet –
Decreasing noise, be it auditory or visual is a powerful strategy to help bring reflection and peace into the mind. This is of extreme importance for children who lack the capacity to efficiently filter out peripheral stimulus. Allocating media time for computer / tv use with quiet times throughout the day is a great way to weave some peace into the day and develop internal self soothing capabilities.
4) Modeling –
For your child to effectively condition themselves to new habits its is vital that caregivers also model this behavior.
There are many supportive strategies that you can implore to support your child with ADHD. Using diet and lifestyle, nutrigenomics, cognitive behavioral therapies and supplementation to name a few. To develop a treatment plan that is right for your child and family, talk to your health care provider.
Sarah Kent, ND
Dr. Sarah Kent is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor specializing in your health. She blends traditional knowledge with current scientiﬁc understanding to generate wellness within her patients. She has received specialized training in naturopathic sports medicine, applying the principles and tools of naturopathic care in treating athletes.
- http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder/index.shtml. Revised2012
- http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pediatrics/learning_and_developmental_disorders/attention-deficithyperactivity_disorder_adhd_add.html#v1104598 revised 2013
3. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and comorbid disorders: issues of overlapping symptoms Am J Psychiatry 1995;152:1793-1799.
4 . Prousky, J. Textbook of Integrative Clinical Nutrition. CCNM Press: Toronto. 2012
- . 2014 Jun 19;9(6):e99119. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099119. eCollection 2014.
A multi-methodological MR resting state network analysis to assess the changes in brain physiology of children with ADHD.