Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Shares 3 Ways To Help Treat ADHD That Aren't Medication

With 6.4 million American children receiving a diagnosis between the ages of 4 and 17, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most prevalent neurodevelopmental disorders affecting modern youths (per Healthline). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes while most people are diagnosed as children, the symptoms of ADHD — including difficulty paying attention, the inability to control impulses, and hyperactivity — often continue into adulthood.

While ADHD is most often treated with pharmaceutical stimulants, the side effects of these medications – which can include trouble sleeping and eating, stomachaches, headaches, anxiety, and the development of tics — have acted as an encouragement for some people to seek out alternative treatments (per ADDitude).

Sussan Nwogwugwu, a board-certified psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner with over 12 years of experience in providing treatment to individuals with ADHD, says that our behaviors and how we interact with our environment can have a profound effect on the presentation of ADHD symptoms. "Lifestyle modifications play a fundamental role in influencing brain development, functioning, and physiology," she says. "Consequently, families can influence ADHD positively by modifying their environments to address some of the challenging symptoms."

In an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Nwogwugwu explains how making modifications to your sleep schedule, diet, and activity levels can play a key role in managing ADHD symptoms without medication.

Sleep and ADHD

Most of us are well aware by now of how important sleep is to our overall health. But it may be even more important when trying to manage a health condition like ADHD.

"Individuals with ADHD often experience sleep disturbances, daytime sleepiness, and circadian rhythm abnormalities, Nwogwugwu reveals. "Studies show that individuals with ADHD have a high likelihood of increased sleepiness and poor sleep compared to the general population, even during adolescence." A 2018 study published in the Nature and Science of Sleep found that between 25% and 50% of people with ADHD have sleep issues, and those who don't get adequate sleep often report an increase in symptoms related to the disorder.

"Restful and restorative sleep can aid in mood regulation and maintenance of attention throughout the day," says Nwogwugwu. She points out that by making small changes like limiting screen time before bed, establishing a sleep routine, and taking melatonin supplements, people with ADHD can achieve better sleep and potentially alleviate some of their symptoms.

Exercise and ADHD

With so much emphasis on movement these days, it may be no surprise that it can also help those with ADHD. And in fact, upping your physical activity levels is another great way to quell some of the symptoms related to the condition, says Nwogwugwu. "Empirical evidence associated sustained exercise with a reversal of negative epigenetic factors associated with ADHD," she reports. "In addition, exercise could promote brain growth, strengthen learning abilities, and improve brain efficiency."

Exercise facilitates the neurotransmission of hormones like dopamine and adrenaline, improves cognitive function, promotes brain health, and increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels — which Nwogwugwu says can improve the maturation and survival of dopamine neurons. "Therefore, promoting physical activity among individuals with ADHD can alleviate symptoms by affecting the catecholamine symptoms directly or indirectly, considering their role in ADHD pathophysiology. It could improve individuals' response activation, arousal, sustained attention, and response selection, which are critical in ADHD symptomatology."

Nutrition and ADHD

After all that exercise, you've probably worked up an appetite. But before you go digging through the pantry, Nwogwugwu urges you to consider how your diet affects your ADHD symptoms. "Albeit with controversy, micronutrients such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), minerals, and vitamins have been recommended as dietary compounds that could help with ADHD," she says, pointing out that diets that include high consumption of fruits and vegetables have been shown to reduce hyperactivity in people with ADHD.

The Few-foods diet — a restrictive diet that allows the consumption of only a few, rather uncommon, foods — has also proven to be an effective way to manage ADHD symptoms, says Nwogwugwu. "Other dietary modifications include decreasing or eliminating caffeine or caffeinated drinks, eliminating trigger foods such as dairy and sugar, and monitoring blood levels for common micronutrients," she claims, noting that dietary changes have the potential of significantly affecting brain development and function.

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