ADD/ADHD– or Attention Deficit (Hyperactive) Disorder– is a spectrum. Though we can recognize common symptoms of ADHD– poor focus, hyperactivity, impulsivity, sensitivity– there really is no ‘single’ protocol to follow. That is because everyone’s experience of ADHD is fundamentally different! As clinicians, we want to lean away from a one-size fits all approach as much as possible.
In this blogpost, we explore various ways to support ADHD through diet, lifestyle, and herbal supplementation. Our goal as herbal clinicians is always to support the individual., so take what feels the most applicable and accessible to YOU!
‘Normal’ Does Not Exist
The term neurodivergence was first coined in 1997 by autistic sociologist Judy Singer and popularized by Dr. Nick Walker PhD (1, 2). Walker defines the term as “the diversity of human minds, the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species'' (2). Its goal is to re-frame natural cognitive variance as a good thing, not something to be pathologized!
Rather than ‘fixing’ anyone, our goal as herbalists is to bring your body back into harmony so you can be the best version of who you naturally are. Herbs and lifestyle changes and really help folks with ADHD feel more comfortable and successful in their day-to-day lives.
Diet plays a huge role in supporting ADHD. Gut health and neurocognitive health are intrinsically linked, and addressing both goes hand-in-hand. And, without improving things like absorption and gut-lining integrity, you most likely won’t reap the maximum benefit of any herbs or supplements you intend to take for ADHD.
A simple way to begin is by identifying any food intolerances or food allergies. Gluten, dairy, and sugar are common offenders for gut-inflammation, which can devolve into leaky gut. When leaky gut is present, undigested molecules can bypass the gut into the bloodstream and cause a huge cascade of inflammation and cortisol throughout the body, including the brain. We can first addresss brain fog and difficulty focusing foundationally by eliminating inflammatory foods from the diet as much as possible.
Incorporating quality probiotics and digestive enzymes will certainly help in the case of nutrient-absorption. Vitamin D has also been shown to improve the permeability of mucosal lining in the gut (10). Aim for eating whole, nutrient and mineral dense foods. Foods like turkey, tuna, and walnuts are high in tryptophan, which help your body create the reward hormone dopamine. Omega 3 fatty acids are wonderfully anti-inflammatory and do the job of supporting brain tissue and neurotransmitter production at a cellular level (5). Look for a balanced EPA/DHA fish-oil supplement from a quality source that tests for heavy metals, like this brand here.
Sleep, movement, and grounding
Sleep and exercise are other important parts of naturally supporting ADHD. Irritability, focus, and memory are certainly affected by the quality of sleep we get. Herbal sleep-aids like our Zzzzz formula can help calm down an overactive mind in the evenings and is non-habit forming!
Being active not only helps burn off excess physical and mental energy, but you will sleep better! And if you are able to be in nature or walk on bare earth for a few minutes a day, it does wonders for grounding an overactive mind.
Nootropics and Our Favorite Supplements for Focus
Nootropics bring circulation up to the brain and support brain health at a cellular level. Popular nootropics that promote mental focus, mental clarity, and focus without the jitters of other stimulants are Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), and Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri).
Vibrant Mind is quite possibly one of the most popular products among our customers! It works phenomenally for as-needed support. It promotes circulation to the brain, reduces inflammation, and provides precursors to key neurotransmitters like dopamine. It is an effective as-needed remedy for mental clarity, focus, and alertness without the jitters. For any situation where you might reach for coffee to focus, Vibrant Mind is an easy substitute!
For folks with ADHD who know they respond well to stimulants like Adderall, Qualia Mind Essentials can be particularly helpful, even more-so than Vibrant Mind. It has Rhodiola, L-Theanine, cacao extracts, and key nutrients for focus and dopamine production. Be aware that this formula does contain some caffeine, but for its mechanism of action, caffeine is an appropriate ingredient. The other ingredients help to balance out its effects.
Another excellent option is DopaPlus which features Rhodiola, Velvet bean, Green Tea extracts, and Zinc, all of which help to promote dopamine production (11, 8) which can be an important component of addressing ADHD.
You’ll find Rhodiola is present in many of these formulas because clinical research indicated those with ADHD have deficient levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which this herb has been shown to increase(11). Rhodiola by itself can be too stimulating for some folks, so taking it earlier in the day is best. We have a great Remedy-brand Rhodiola in capsule-form to work with that is sustainably and ethically harvested.
As far as daily tonics, our formula Stress Ease Formula balances out Rhodiola’s stimulating effects with calming nervines like Chamomile and Lemon Balm. It is perfect for taking daily over a longer period of time to ease the agitation and hyperactivity of ADHD.
Holy Basil is an herb that rides the intersection of many different categories, which make them fantastic supports for complex situations like ADHD. Holy basil is considered a nootropic, a nervine, a digestive aid, and an adaptogen all at once! Its anti-inflammatory effects on the brain are well-documented and it is perfect to take long-term. Our favorite brain-boosting mushroom Lion’s Mane by Host Defense offers can help ground an individual and focus the mind when taken over time, especially the powder/capsule form.
Nervines are herbs that help to support the nervous system. Many nervines are relaxing and have tonic effects when taken over time. Children respond very well to gentle nervines which are very well-tolerated.
Relaxing nervines include Scullcap and Passionflower, both of which promote GABA and calm overactive neural signaling. Quiet Time for Kids features Skullcap, Passionflower, and Milky Oats in a nice-tasting formula you can add to juice or water. Calm Restore is the ‘grown-up’ version of Quiet Time (though children can certainly take it– ask us for dosing!). It features the same ingredients along with Chamomile, Vervain and Lavender, both fantastic for promoting relaxation and groundedness.
Herbs that bring energy from the mind down into the ‘heartspace’ can also be very helpful– Hawthorn is a well-known heart and cardiovascular tonic that can act as a nervine in certain respects because of its vasodilative and relaxing properties. The berries are also delicious and can be made into a calming fruit preserve!
GABA helps calm overactive neural firing and Theanine, derived from green tea, helps promote an alert state of focus. Both have calming effects over time. Supplementing with GABA and/or theanine alone can be another option if herbs are not compatible with certain medications or lifestyles.
A Quick Note on Constitution
From a holistic perspective, ADHD symptoms can worsen when our innate constitutions are out of balance. Someone who leans towards dryness or is chronically dehydrated can experience frazzled nerves, scattered thinking, and oversensitivity to stimuli. If someone leans towards heat and is in fact “too hot”, this can manifest emotionally in the form of anger/irritation, making it difficult to settle down and focus. For this reason, we would recommend booking a consultation with one of our clinical herbalists, as supporting ADHD holistically can become nuanced.
As always, we are here to support you! Stop by the pharmacy or give us a call if you are interested in a complimentary 10-minute consultation and we can steer you in the right direction. If you are looking for a more in-depth approach for your specific needs, we highly recommend booking a full 1-hour consultation either via zoom or in person!
- Singer J. Neurodiversity: The Birth of an Idea. J. Singer; 2017.
- Schachter HM, Pham B, King J, Langford S, Moher D. How efficacious and safe is short-acting methylphenidate for the treatment of attention-deficit disorder in children and adolescents? A meta-analysis. CMAJ. 2001 Nov 27;165(11):1475–1488. Inflammation brain adhd