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This has been an exceptionally stressful year for everyone, especially our kids. The transition from being in a classroom to virtual learning has been nothing short of challenging for many children. A major struggle from a concentration and focus perspective for many even those without Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD). The hybrid caused a disruption in daily routines and  structure and it is my opinion that alone can have an impact on one’s capacity to focus. In my thirty years of practicing as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner I definitely see a rise in the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD. The age group has definitely broaden with many more younger kids (ages 4-7 year olds) being diagnosed. Though medication may be beneficial for those with ADD/ADHD many parents are seeking options other than medication especially for the younger ages. This article will discuss alternatives options that can be utilized as stand alone or in conjunction with medication when pharmaceuticals are necessary.

The Downside of Pharmaceuticals for ADD/ADHD

Stimulant medications are the drug of choice in the treatment of ADD/ADHD. Though they can be quite effective in reducing symptoms, they are not without a risk of side effects. The most common side effects amongst stimulant users include:

Short term side effects:

  • Sleep problems
  • Decreased appetite
  • Delayed growth
  • Headaches and stomachaches
  • Rebound effect (ie aggressive) when the medication wears off
  • Tics (involuntary movements of the body or repetitive sound)
  • Moodiness or irritability
  • Glazed over appearance

Long term side effects:

  • Heart Disease
  • High Blood pressure
  • Seizure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Abuse/Addiction
  • Skin discoloration

Always check with your child’s primary health care provider before altering the dose or stopping any medication.

Alternatives Options for ADD/ADHD

Diet can have an effect on a child’s focus and behavior issues. A well balanced diet full healthy fats, a diversity of fruits and vegetables and appropriate amount of protein is important for optimal health and brain function. Eating a diet of whole foods is most beneficial. Foods need to be nutrient dense. This will provide all the vitamins and minerals necessary for brain function. Avoid additives, preservatives and food colorings as these can trigger hyperactive behavior. Processed foods and the Standard American Diet tends to be devoid of nutrients. A healthy breakfast starts the day right and fuels the brain with what it needs to stay focused on tasks. Breakfast should include lean protein, healthy fats, fruits and/or vegetables and whole grains.

Many herbs, spices and essential oils can be beneficial for brain function. Ancient medicine was based on these practices long before pharmaceuticals were developed. Essential oils such as Frankincense, Vetiver, Sandalwood and Peppermint are just a few of the oils that can be used to help with focus. Other oils can be used for their calming effects such as Cedarwood, Lavender, Bergamot and Chamomile. Spices such as saffron, a spice from the Crocus sativus flower, which is a cousin to the lily. has been shown to benefit brain function. Other spices and plants to consider include Ginkgo biloba, Ginseng, Gotu Kola and lemon balm.

Supplements to consider include Zinc, L-carnitine, vitamin B6, magnesium, Omega 3 fatty acids and iron. These are important minerals and often kids can be deficient. It is recommended to check your child’s levels through lab work for a deficiency.

EEG or electroencephalographic biofeedback is a type of neurotherapy that measures brain waves and has been shown in studies to be beneficial.

Yoga, Tai Chi or even meditation can be a complimentary therapy to help improve ADD/ADHD symptoms.

Nature and spending time outdoors for minimum of 20 minutes can be a therapeutic part of a treatment regimen for improving concentration.

Chiropractic care is another avenue to consider along with massage therapy.

It is always important to be guided by a knowledgable healthcare provider before starting any supplements, herbs or oils. Though they are natural and found in the foods we eat, too much of anything can be a hazard. As an  Integrative Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, I determine the best natural protocol based on your child’s history and symptoms.

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