ADHD – How to effectively reduce symptoms with nutrition, herbs and exercise.

As you already know, ADHD isn’t a simple condition to deal with.


You could be a parent enduring the hardships that come with a child who has ADHD, or you might be an adult who has been living with ADHD all your life.


Either way, I want to empower you with the knowledge you need to make your own choices that will positively affect you. I’m going to go through some scientifically backed nutritional, herbal and lifestyle options that could help you in the long term.


If ADHD is impacting your life, this article is for you.



What’s causing ADHD?

#1 – Your genes can affect the nervous system making it difficult to use serotonin and dopamine. Genetic studies suggest that dopamine and serotonin may have trouble being made and used. The failure to make and use dopamine effectively might be part of the reason why you or your child takes part in risky behaviour. Risky behaviour increases the amount of circulating dopamine.


#2 – Childhood trauma is another reason for ADHD. A study on male and female ADHD patients looked at their childhood history and uncovered neglect and emotional abuse. Females mostly experienced physical neglect and sexual abuse.


#3 – Preterm births were followed up in Sweden after identifying children between the ages of 6 to 19 on ADHD medication. The data was gathered on whether or not the children went full term and they found children who were born at 36 weeks or under increased the rate of immaturity in ADHD.


#4 – There are in utero risk factors that increase the chance of ADHD in the offspring like smoking and alcohol.



How ADHD is diagnosed in most countries

Diagnosis for yourself or your child is according to the DSM – 5th edition.


To sum it up, DSM-5 describes ADHD as a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity which interferes with development or functioning.  The symptoms of ADHD have to show in more than one setting.


For example, your child might show symptoms at home and school or while with friends and while at school, etc. The impact of their behaviour in these settings must negatively affect functioning.


The table below from the Centre for Disease Control explains it well.


table showing the diagnostic criteria for ADHD


There are three different categories that you or your child can be ascribed to after the DSM-V criteria is filled out.


#1 The first is a combined presentation where you have inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms for the past six months.

#2 The second is predominately inattention with some symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity.

#3 And, the third is mainly traits of hyperactive-impulsivity with some traits of inattention.



Why a fraction of children in France are diagnosed with ADHD?

The French Federation of Psychiatry came up with an alternative diagnostic criterion which looks at addressing the behavioural symptoms of what you know as ADHD with psychiatric help.


The French recognise the behavioural issues through what is called the ‘Classification Française des Troubles Mentaux de L’Enfant et de L’Adolescent’ (CMFTEA).


The CFTMEA was offered as an alternative to the DSM because the French realised that the underlying psychological causes had to be addressed first and that prescriptions drugs could only go so far.


The clinicians in France approach treatment holistically taking into account dietary influences and psychosocial influences. For example, they recognise that children may react a certain way after consuming foods with preservatives or artificial colours so will eliminate those items from the child’s diet.


The behaviour of the children could also be majorly influenced by the French’s parenting style.  This point is pushed by Pamela Druckerman who says children are much better behaved in France compared to America because of the firm structure parents provide.


In essence, Druckerman’s says the firm structure comes from the parents setting limits in areas of the child’s life. Druckerman says the French children are more involved in more activities like team sports, piano lessons and other activities that help them bring out their talent.


You might be doing these things right now, and still, there is only little improvement in behaviour. However, you can get much more specific about what you do to help ADHD. Specific changes are where the bigger improvements are noticed.


Let’s move onto those specifics.



Nutrition and Diet for ADHD

Essential fatty acids

An interesting study was carried out on children aged 8 to 18 years old who were diagnosed with ADHD. They wanted to measure over a six month period how well Omega 3/6 supplementation treatment would be in reducing the severity of ADHD.


The children were divided into two groups.  One group was given a placebo and the second group were given capsules containing omega 3/6 and had to take six per day.


In total, all six capsule equated to 558mg of EPA, 174mg of DHA, 60mg of omega 6 and 10.8mg of vitamin E. All of the children made three clinical visits to record their progress at month 0, month 3 and month 6.


They compared the effectiveness of the placebo and the omega 3/6 capsules by using the investigator rated ADHA Rating Scale-IV and the Clinical Global Impression-Severity Scale.


In the group taking the omega 3/6 capsules, they had a 25% reduction in the investigator-rated ADHD Rating Scale-IV.


Overall, the study is pointing out that it’s a good idea to incorporate more Omega 3 into your diet.


It’s easy to over consume omega 6 fatty acids because they’re found in a lot of foods, so in my opinion, it isn’t necessary to seek out a supplement or foods that contain omega 6.


picture of food that contain omega 3



A study gathered 50 hyperactive children diagnosed with ADHD. These ADHD children also had a magnesium deficiency in blood serum, and only small traces were found in their hair.


Children split into two groups by the researchers.  The group consuming 200mg of magnesium per day resulted in a reduction of hyperactivity after a six-month period while the placebo didn’t see any noteworthy results.


The deficiency of magnesium in children with ADHD has further been backed up with 95% of ADHD children not enough magnesium in their blood serum. The concluding results showed that magnesium deficiency is more common in ADHD patients compared to ‘healthy’ individuals. Here are some magnesium foods.



A study recruited 44 children between the ages of 5 and 11 diagnosed with ADHD. They split into two groups. The first group took 55mg of zinc per day with 1mg of methylphenidate per kilogram of bodyweight. The second group received a placebo with the same dosage of methylphenidate.


The two groups trialled these treatments for six weeks.  The children had their progress recorded throughout the six period using the Teacher and Parent ADHD rating scale.


Results after the trial showed that there was improvements in the Teacher and Parent ADHD rating scale with using zinc sulphate.


It’s not known exactly how zinc exerts its effects on the nervous system, but there are a few hypothesised mechanisms behind it.


  1. Zinc modulates the inhibition and excitation of neurones through working in the synaptic cleft
  2. Possibly altering the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine. Both of these hormones appear to be involved in ADHD
  3. Zn help convert B6 into active form which is required for serotonin production


Here’s some zinc containing foods.

foods containing zinc



Children with low amounts of iron are susceptible to learning difficulties. 167 children who had their iron status measured during their infancy were followed up years later.  The children at this stage were aged 11 to 14 years old.


48 of those children had chronically severe low iron status and tested low in writing, arithmetic and motor function compared to the other 114 children who were considered to have good iron status.


Low iron was not only associated with academics, but it also took a toll on the child’s social and emotional wellbeing. The teachers and parents gave a rating on the 48 iron deficient children’s behaviour and agreed that they were problematic in several ways, and they had a growing concern about social, anxiety, depressive problems and attention problems. Here’s some plant-based iron-containing foods.

iron foods


Exposure to toxins and excess sugar

There are some major factors in your diet or your child’s that have massive impacts on their ADHD. Artificial colourings, flavours, salicylates, and refined sugar are some of them.


It’s been reported that over there was an improvement in ADHD symptoms in over 50% of subjects in one study when they eliminated artificial food dyes and other products with naturally occurring salicylates.


Another study involving the exclusion of products containing preservatives and food dyes lowered hyperactivity in children.  The researchers observed the association when they took away dietary products that contained preservatives and food dyes.


Lastly, two separate groups of children were both on an elimination diet.  They didn’t eat food that contained natural salicylates, amines, glutamate, or food additives.


After three weeks on the elimination diet, four slices of bread were consumed by all subjects in each group. The first group consumed bread with preservatives for the purpose of inhibiting mould growth and the second group consumed four slices of bread without preservatives.


The children who ate the bread with the preservatives had a deterioration in their behaviour. Preservatives are one reason for fueling hyperactivity, and another fuel source is sugar.


Sugar can have a significant impact on your child.  It matters what you feed them with in the morning and throughout the day as it can have an effect on their learning.


Three different groups of children aged 6-7 either consuming low, medium or high glycemic index breakfasts.


The results showed that children who consumed low glycemic index foods performed better in memory tests 2-3 hours after breakfast.  They also experienced less frustration and were able to figure out tasks at a much faster rate.



There is a diet called the ‘oligoantigenic diet’ or ‘few foods diet’.  The name describes what the diet is.


There are two phases to this diet. Phase one involves the elimination of all foods except for two types of meat, two carbohydrate sources, two fruit, vegetables and water (supplementation is allowed during this phase).


Phase one is purely for the short term and only lasts a couple of weeks to settle the symptoms of ADHD.  The diet isn’t sustainable long term as this type of diet can cause nutritional deficiencies.


Phase 2 is a slow process, but it allows you to integrate more food back into your or your child’s life. If the food tolerated, then it should be kept in the diet, if typical ADHD symptoms start to show again then remove that food.


There are foods that you should eliminate as these can be common triggers for behavioural reactions. These include:

  • milk
  • chocolate
  • egg
  • soy
  • wheat
  • corn
  • legumes


Herbs used in ADHD

Panax ginseng

Children aged between 6 and 14 years of age diagnosed with ADHD were given 1000mg of ginseng two times per day. The children were assessed at four intervals using questionnaires.


The final results compared to when they began eight weeks prior showed an improvement in anxiety, an improvement in social dysfunction and an improvement in Conners ADHD Rating Scale which assesses sleep, behaviour, emotion and academics, and so on.


With good herbal studies, they are based off a standard extract.  A standard extract contains a particular constituent that can be replicated over and over in a lab. This is ideal because it allows researchers to compare a uniform product in clinical trials which means that when you or your child takes it, you are more likely to have the effects that were shown in the studies.


A constituent in ginseng called ginsenoside helps ADHD by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine concentrations in the cerebral cortex.


The cerebral cortex has a high number or dopamine receptors. Children with ADHD assessed in the past show that the surface area of the cerebral cortex is 7% smaller compared to children without ADHD which suggests that it could be related to neurodevelopmental mechanisms. Essentially, it the delayed development of the cerebral cortex.


More often than not, the combination of herbs can work well together for the improvement of a condition. 36 children ranging from 3 to 17 years of age diagnosed with ADHD took a combination of Panax ginseng (200mg) and Ginkgo biloba extract (50mg).


The final results after a four-week period were compared to the results from the start of the trial. The study recorded a 74% difference in traits according to Conner’s ADHD index and DSM-IV hyperactive-impulse attributes and a 44% improvement in social problems.


Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo was used in a study involving children who were given 80mg to 120mg of ginkgo (depending on their weight) or a placebo with the prescription drug called methylphenidate.


This study went on for six weeks and measured their progress from beginning to end using the ADHD Rating Scale-IV. The final results showed an overall improvement of 27% in scores according to the ADHD-RS-IV.


Another interesting study gave ginkgo to six psychiatric patients who had ADD. Over the course of the study, they all had a gradual improvement in hyperactivity, inattention, and immaturity.


240mg of a standard extract of ginkgo was given to 20 children who were just diagnosed with ADHD.  The standard extract is called EGb 761. They measured the children’s results from start to finish and concluded that ginkgo could be clinically useful.


The way that ginkgo works on ADHD still isn’t known.  The herb is known for its antioxidant effects, its effects on cerebral circulation and protective effects it has on the brain.


In other studies not relating to ADHD, ginkgo has had an effect on dopamine, serotonin, adrenalin and GABA systems.



31 children aged 6 to 12 received standardised Bacopa monnieri extract (SBME) at a dose of 225mg per day for six months. The purpose was to see if SBME could ameliorate the severity of ADHD symptoms.


To measure the effectiveness of SBME on ADHD, parents were asked to complete a Parent Rating Scale. The scale was filled out by the parents at the beginning of the trial and at the 6-month mark.


The results showed that SBME is effective in alleviating symptoms of ADHD and it was tolerated well by the children. SBME improved learning problems, impulsivity, and psychiatric issues.



This last one is probably a no-brainer for you.  If you have children, they most likely don’t settle down for a long time once they get home.  If you’re an adult with ADHD then this might be a timely reminder for you to start up physical exercise again.


Exercise is beneficial because it affects the same noradrenergic and dopaminergic systems that are targeted by pharmaceutical therapy.


The prefrontal cortex is associated with cognitive and behavioural control and memory, and low levels of dopamine and norepinephrine encourage inattention and impulsivity.


A comprehensive review on a large amount of ADHD evidence concluded that regular physical exercise could reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behaviour. Bad behaviour in different situations was also decreased as well as inattentiveness, and poor impulse control. Additionally, there is some evidence that suggests beginning exercise from when the child is young can redirect their trajectory towards a more favourable outcome in their future.




What’s your experience with ADHD?

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