An estimated eight percent of adults in the United States will have an ADHD diagnosis in their lifetime (1
). Identifying and treating the root causes of this disorder is crucial for long term success and preventing further symptoms. In this article, we’ll review our protocol using functional medicine for ADHD.
What is ADHD?
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder that is often diagnosed in childhood and can persist into adulthood.
Symptoms of ADHD in adults may include:
- Difficulty focusing
- Poor time management
- Frequent mood swings
ADHD is often debilitating and can negatively influence academic and professional performance, relationships, self-esteem, and daily functioning. People with ADHD often report other mental health disorders, like anxiety, as well. Read more about using functional medicine for anxiety
Remove Food Sensitivities
Certain food sensitivities, like gluten, corn, soy, artificial dyes/sweeteners, and dairy may trigger ADHD symptoms in some people. For instance, one study found that 85 percent of individuals who followed an elimination diet showed an improvement of 50 percent or more in their ADHD symptoms
). A temporary elimination diet allows you to identify potential food triggers and promote healing in the gut.
Improve Gut Health
In addition to removing food sensitivities, research also suggests a link between your gut bacteria and ADHD (3
). Gut health is a crucial component when using functional medicine for ADHD. Diet, lifestyle, and your environment can all influence your gut bacteria (for better or worse). To optimize gut health, we recommend limiting gut disruptors, like added sugar and alcohol, and slowly increasing fiber in your diet. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are the best sources of fiber to fuel healthy gut bacteria. We may also suggest our Gut Health Bundle
, which offers three supplements to optimize digestion, rebalance gut bacteria, and calm inflammation. Read more about our gut healing protocol
The foods you eat have a tremendous impact on your ADHD symptoms. Diets rich in colorful whole foods, like the Mediterranean diet, support optimal brain functioning and reduce the risk of ADHD (5
). Likewise, supplementing with certain nutrients may reduce symptoms, especially if you are deficient in that vitamin or mineral. For example, individuals with ADHD may be more likely to have lower zinc levels (6
). Zinc supplementation was found to reduce symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and impaired socialization in patients with ADHD (7
). Additionally, when vitamin D levels are deficient/insufficient, vitamin D supplementation and vitamin D plus magnesium appears to improve ADHD symptoms (8
). Healthy fats, like omega-3
, are also widely known to promote brain health and may be lower in people with ADHD (9
). Our functional medicine program includes testing for these common nutrient deficiencies.
Improving sleep quality may improve ADHD symptoms; yet, individuals with ADHD are more likely to suffer from sleep disturbances, like insomnia. ADHD-related sleep problems may be caused by a dysregulated circadian rhythm or imbalances in important hormones.
Here are a few tips to improve sleep quality if you suffer from ADHD:
- Avoid sugar, alcohol, and caffeine within a few hours before bedtime
- Avoid screens for at least an hour before bedtime
- Aim for natural sun exposure the before noon to support your circadian rhythm
- Engage in a relaxing bedtime routine every night
- Keep the bedroom dark and cool
- Go to bed around the same time every night to ensure at least seven hours of sleep
In addition to these tips, we may recommend supplements like Sleep Support
. This is a blend of calming herbs, like valerian root, and minerals, like magnesium, which promote quality sleep, especially for individuals feeling wired
at bedtime. Many of the ingredients in Sleep Support also aid in the production of a brain chemical called GABA, which helps you relax and get into a deeper sleep each night.
Medication is the most common conventional treatment for adults with ADHD. While it can reduce symptoms for some individuals, medication fails to address the root causes of this disorder and leaves many people feeling depleted. In our program, we often see these symptoms go hand-in-hand with numerous other symptoms and missed diagnoses, like autoimmune disease. Using functional medicine for ADHD aims to treat the root cause of your symptoms and may involve interventions to balance your blood sugar, remove food sensitivities, improve gut health, correct nutrient deficiencies, and optimize sleep.