8 Ways to Treat ADHD Naturally

By Carrie Demers, MD, Yoga+

My eight-year-old son was just diagnosed with ADHD. My husband and I can’t decide if we should give him medication or pursue alternative treatments. What do you recommend?

This is a tough dilemma for many parents. On one hand, studies show that commonly prescribed medications like Ritalin and Adderall are helpful for 60 to 75 percent of children who are properly diagnosed with ADHD: their ability to focus increases, their grades improve, and they feel better about themselves. On the other hand, these medications are psychostimulants with many potential side effects: insomnia, headaches, abdominal pain, weight loss, and depression. Research on the long-term effects of these drugs is insufficient, but in 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued warnings about side effects such as stunted growth and psychiatric problems.

From a holistic point of view, chemical overstimulation of the nervous system isn’t healthy. Fortunately, there are many natural treatments that are effective both alone and in conjunction with drug therapy. Although my answers here are framed by the case of a child, they are applicable to teens and adults as well.

Ayurveda’s Answer

In ayurveda, ADHD is classified as a vata imbalance. Vata is “wind energy”: it’s light, changeable, dry, cool, and mobile. It governs the movement of our bodies and our thoughts. Everyone has some vata in their prakriti (constitution), but those who have a predominance of this light, expansive energy (i.e., a “vata constitution”) tend to have sensitive nervous systems, so they experience the world with a heightened intensity. As a result, they’re prone to anxiety, inattention, restlessness, and sleep problems. Ironically, these children will often seek out sensory-stimulating activities (such as action movies or sugar-laden foods), creating a vicious cycle that agitates their already overactive nervous systems.

Commonly prescribed ADHD drugs stimulate the brain cells to release more of the neurotransmitters called dopamine and norepinephrine, which generally enhance a child’s ability to control impulsive behaviors and concentrate–but they also cause increased activity in the central nervous system (CNS). I would venture to say that these drugs perpetuate the underlying cause of ADHD–overstimulation of a sensitive CNS–throwing your child’s vata energy further out of balance. According to ayurveda, adopting a vata-pacifying lifestyle is the best natural option for your son.

1. Create a Routine

Children with ADHD are drawn to new activities, adventure, and change. Yet they’re balanced by the opposite: activities that are calming, relaxing, and nurturing. Your son needs regularity and structure to counter his natural tendency toward chaos: a regular time to do his homework, exercise, relax, eat, go to bed, and wake up to begin a new day. Here’s some advice about how to create a vata-calming environment for him at home.

2. Relaxation

Do a 5- to 10-minute relaxation with your son at least once a day. Lie down on the floor or in bed in shavasana (corpse pose), supporting your heads with a pillow and covering up with a blanket to stay warm. Then ask your child to feel his body from head to toe. Turn the practice into a game; together, pretend you are a scoop of ice cream melting in the sun, or that you’re sinking into a huge feather pillow. Imagine your breath is like the waves of the ocean–or ask your child to instruct you. The idea is to get your child to relax and deepen his breath, which helps his CNS switch from a sympathetic mode, which is a “fight-or-flight” state, to a parasympathetic mode, which is a nourishing and restorative state. Try this when your child comes home from school, or before supper or bedtime; these are times when our kids can be most overstimulated.

Next: 6 More Ways to Treat ADHD Naturally

3. Bedtime Massage

Oil is the quintessential vata balancer, so a bedtime massage is particularly calming for children with ADHD. To begin, wet your hands and pour a teaspoon of organic unrefined oil in your palm. (Olive, almond, and sesame oils are especially grounding.) Then rub your hands together and massage the mixture into your child’s skin. Let the oil soak in for a few minutes, then towel off any remaining residue. Try to do this at least once a week. If you don’t have time to give your child a head-to-toe treatment, just massage his feet (covering them with socks to protect the sheets). If your child has trouble falling asleep, this bedtime activity will help.

4. Diet and Nutrition

Despite multiple studies in the last 20 years suggesting that diet and food additives can exacerbate hyperactivity, the current medical stance is that there is no causal link between food and ADHD. In my own practice, parents who have reduced their child’s intake of sugar, refined foods, and foods with chemical additives (food dyes, preservatives, MSG, etc.) report significant improvement in their child’s behavior over four to eight weeks. These children are also less disruptive and more focused when they eat plenty of cooked vegetables and whole grains, along with moderate amounts of protein and organic unrefined oils.

In addition, give your son 50 mg of B-complex vitamins and 100 to 200 mg of fish oils geared for children. These supplements nourish and stabilize the CNS while improving mood stability, mental focus, and brain function.

5. Natural Rx

Herbs that calm, soothe, and nourish the nervous system include lemon balm, chamomile, hops, passion flower, skullcap, brahmi, valerian, and St. John’s Wort. They can be taken safely as teas or tinctures–just follow the instructions on the bottle or box. (Dosing for children is one-fourth to one-half the adult dose based on their weight.)

6. Technology Time-Out

Most of our kids are perpetually plugged in–texting on their cell phones, playing computer games, watching TV for hours on end. This constant electronic stimulation not only fragments their attention but also exposes them to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) at potentially harmful levels. When a child is sensitive, this exposure agitates his nervous system. Sleep disturbances, chronic fatigue, headaches, dizziness, memory and attention problems, and distorted vision are all possible side effects of EMR. Try to limit how much electromagnetic exposure your child is getting by reducing his screen time to an hour or less a day.

7. Minimal Medication

If you decide to give your child medication, find a doctor who is willing to work with you to find the minimal dose that is effective. Ask your doctor to allow your child to take “holidays” from the medication when intense concentration and focus aren’t necessary (on the weekends, during summer break, etc.). By carefully monitoring your child’s behavior, you can help your doctor find the dosage and schedule that allow him to succeed in school, while decreasing his chances of experiencing side effects.

8. Last, But Not Least…

Remember, the purpose of these alternative treatments is to make your child feel loved, grounded, and nourished. Tell him that his new routine is an experiment to improve his mental focus–and let him play a role in how the changes are implemented. That means that you might compromise on a few things, but it also means more cooperation. Find alternatives that he will enjoy (for example, substituting a wholesome natural treat for a sugary one, or playing with a remote-control car rather than a video game), so that you don’t make his life miserable in your attempt to quell his ADHD symptoms. Together, you’ll find creative ways to gradually move in a positive direction. Your child will be happier–and so will you.

Board-certified in internal medicine, Carrie Demers, MD, is the director of the Himalayan Institute Total Health Center

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Shari G.
Shari G.3 days ago

I am 32, I was diagnosed in 3rd grade and began taking Ritalin. I became dependant on the medication for focus, emotion control, energy, etc. Once I grew up and could not longer get a prescription for Ritalin, I turned to illegal drugs. I don't feel right without a stimulant. I beg parents, teach your children to cope with out drugs. While I don't act like most meth users by stealing and other crimes, since having add causes stimulants to effect me differently, buying meth and even just having it are both crimes themselves and felonies at that. Don't risk this dependency. When I was diagnosed the research was relatively new. But I no my mom wishes she had chosen not to medicate me even tho at the time we both thought it was the mirical we had hoped for.

Sofia D.
Sofia D.about a year ago

if only someone could give me a bedtime message hahaha

Mark Abbot
Mark Abbot1 years ago

While some would view the holistic approach to treating illness and disease contrary to the wisdom of conventional medicine, quite the opposite is true in most cases. In fact, most conventional physicians view a patient with a desire to work to improve their overall health as refreshing.

Holistic care treats the whole person, rather than just specific areas of the body. The primary difference between holistic care and conventional medicine is that holistic practitioners try to use naturally occurring substances to treat illnesses and disease instead of manufactured chemicals. Additionally, there is a focus on alternative therapies including chiropractic care, acupuncture, massage and even psychotherapy when appropriate.

My outlook towards alternative medicine changed totally, try this, http://naturalremedies.freshways.info/, my quality of life improved dramatically.

Angela Harlan Swenson

The part about limiting the food dyes, and MSG is the ones that stick out for me the most. Also, lots of fish-oil is very helpful, but to find the "gummy" version for my 6 year old child that also can't have food dies has been nearly impossible.

Kendell Zinn
Kendell Zinn1 years ago

Our son was diagnosed with AdHD. The Dcotor offered a prescription. I was shocked at how easily they are convinced to give a pre-teen psychotropic medicines with known side effects. We told the Doctor we will consider it and get back to him in a week. I did my research online and found many ayurvedic and homeopathic alternatives. Ultimately we put him on a mix of supplements ayurveda and homeopathy including :
factor brain formula, Neuro Homeopathic Formula, Serotonin Dopamine Liquescence
TNMC - Neuro Medulla Complex and intellec tablets

The results have been great and both his behavior and grades have improved drastically. I'm glad we did not opt for the drugs as I really don't know what would have happened to him if we did. I have since read somewhere that Doctors in America are 4 times more likely to put your child on Ritalin than anywhere else....

Rachel Elson-Ockwell
Rachel Ockwell2 years ago

Thank you. Will try some of these.

Brenda Byrd
Brenda Byrd2 years ago

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Shalene Day
Shalene Day2 years ago

I am curious.. My son was just diagnosed as ADHD and a balanced diet and being active and having calm time are all things that are a normal in our home. I'm not sure what else I can do for him. My brother was given coffee as a mood adjuster. Does anybody think it works?

Kathy M.
Kathy M.2 years ago


RichandLeanne H.
RichandLeanne H.2 years ago

Loading up your diet on fruits and vegetables is a great way to boost your mood, and also helps with ADD/ADHD. Juice Plus is a helpful way to bridge the gap between the 7-13 recommended daily servings, and what we actually eat every day. Explore my website for more information.