Medication Vacation: Natural Alternatives to ADHD Meds


Taking a break from ADHD medication during the summer holidays is something many parents do because they know that any problems that may arise from not being on medication will not affect their child’s learning.

The main reasons parents choose to do this are concerns about the side-effects of the medication or they are wondering if the medication is still necessary, particularly during the summer months. Whether it’s summertime or maybe your child has just received a diagnosis and you want to exhaust every other avenue before trying medication-the natural approaches below can only save your sanity in the summer but can possibly keep your child off medication even during the school year.

Last week, a mom contacted me because she had taken her child off medication, as she does every summer. Her reasoning was that when on medication for ADHD, her son had no appetite; he didn’t eat breakfast or lunch and would only eat a small amount of dinner when on the medication during the school year. Her son was underweight and even had delayed growth.

Sound familiar? That’s because this is the most common side-effect that moms express about medication for ADHD. An article by ADDitude Magazine reported that 64% of children experienced appetite suppression from medication. Other common side effects are insomnia, stomach aches, tics and irritability and defiance known as rebound as the medication wears off.

The good news is that 59% of parents said going off the medication during the summer was a success. If your child is on medication for focus in order to better learn than your child is less likely to have a worsening in behaviour during the summer months.

If you’ve discussed a medication vacation with your child’s physician and have decided it’s a worth try–try these tips to make the transition and the period without medication go more smoothly.

1.Food for Focus – In all the years I have been working with children with behaviour challenges, good nutrition almost always reaps huge changes way beyond what parents expected.

Start by ditching sugar as much as possible and replacing it with small amounts of honey, maple syrup or even stevia. Nothing triggers more temper tantrums, moodiness and hyperactivity like sugar–because it causes blood sugar fluctuations which causes big problems for brain bio-chemistry.

Yes your child might be a sugar addict and this is only further indication that they may have bad gut bacteria and candida/yeast that is hijacking their taste buds (and possibly yours!). In my Sugar Intervention Program, I walk moms through the process of how to reduce and eventually eliminate their child’s sugar intake without ruining their social life.

2.Increase Protein and Fat – Most of the time when I ask parents what their child eats at breakfast, they tell me something like cereal, toast, pop tarts. Everyone–and especially kids with ADHD need protein and healthy fats to stabilize blood sugar levels. Protein coupled with fat at every snack and meal can make a world of difference. Think nuts, seeds, meats, eggs, lentils, beans, hummus along with fats like butter, coconut oil. Olive oil avocado.

3.Heal the Gut – An unhealthy gut has been found to be at the heart of many childhood disorder which is why food can have such an impact on behaviour and learning. 85% of your neurotransmitters are manufactured by the bacteria in your gut and this includes neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. This is why when I do my 6 Month Programs with moms to help their children learn and focus better–the first place I start is with gut healing.

The gut lining has 100 billion neurons. Take care of your child’s second brain by ensuring they are getting a probiotic everyday. More importantly, consider addressing the overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut with antimicrobials like grapefruit seed extract, oil of oregano or Biocidin. Consult with a natural health practitioner who specializes in gut healing for this.

4.Address Nutritional Deficiencies & Genetic Predispositions –  A few months ago, I did a zinc test for a nine-year-old client. After learning he was deficient, mom started him on therapeutic doses of zinc. Within weeks his insomnia was gone and his focus better. Now, I’m not one to jump on the this supplement fixes everything bandwagon (because to be honest proclaimed magic bullet solutions drive me crazy even if they are natural because normally it’s not just one thing!)

However, mom ran out of zinc and wasn’t to worried until a few weeks later her so insomnia and poor focus started up again. Needless to say, mom now always has a surplus of zinc in her house.

Rarely do I see one vitamin or mineral make that dramatic of a change but I think that story shows just how much we underestimate how much a deficiency can impact brain function.

Countless times studies have found that children with ADHD often test low for nutrients like zinc, omega 3’s, B6 and magnesium. In fact in several studies, addressing these nutrient deficiencies in children resulted in them no longer needing their medication.

It’s not always a case of children having a poor diet. Certain children actually have genetic predispositions where they require higher levels of certain nutrients because they metabolize them so quickly. This is why three children in the same family can all be eating the same diet and only one might have deficiencies that are impacting their brain function.

5.Address Food Sensitivities/Allergies – Almost every week I have a mom telling me how surprised she is that her child’s behaviour improved astronomically from eliminating dairy, gluten and other common triggers.

This does not mean that every child with ADHD needs to remove these foods, but they are common sensitivities, especially when the gut is unhealthy and inflamed. These foods are often inflammatory to the gut and therefore for the brain. Going on an elimination diet and then adding these foods back in one at a time can be very telling.

It never ceases to amuse me how the ‘real proof in the pudding’ is when these kids do an elimination diet, and their behaviour improves but Mom and (especially Dad) are only truly convinced of how much these foods can negatively impact their children when their child goes to a birthday party or some other outing and overdoses on all the foods that were triggering them. Suddenly parents are reminded of just how difficult their child’s behaviour was before making diet changes.

6. Exercise and Movement Therapy –  Recently a plethora of studies have found how much regular exercise among children not only reduces or improves symptoms of ADHD bit actually resulted in less children being diagnosed with ADHD.

Children need to be sitting less and moving more. Make sure your child has plenty of structured activity to burn their energy, and that naturally increases their neurotransmitters.

Sometimes exercise is not enough. If you’ve read my blog posts on why children with ADHD can have poor neural circuitry which is found to be one of the underlying factors in ADHD, you’ll know that the reason for this is often related to poor gut health as well as underdeveloped in lower brain levels or retained primitive reflexes.

In a nutshell movement develops your child’s brain when they are an infant and when they skip or move too quickly through milestones like creeping or crawling then they are more likely to have faulty neural circuits.

The good news is that new connections can be made, and strengthened so the lower brain levels are fully developed. Movement Therapy is immensely helpful for this–and will result not only in improvements throughout the summer but lasting changes that can help improve their learning and focus.

7.Reduce their Chemical Load – Children with both ASD and ADHD have been found to have significantly higher levels of toxins and chemicals. Making the effort to use as many natural cleaning and bathroom products is the first place to start. Keep in mind that you can’t determine if your family is using too many chemicals based on the fact that some of your children are not being affected.

Children with ADHD and ASD are known to have the ‘autism gene’ known as the MTHFR. This gene if not really an ‘autism’ gene but a gene that when mutated affects countless biochemical pathways and reactions, particularly for detoxification. Your other children may not be affected because they may not carry this gene.

8.Natural ‘Ritalin’ – Many parents have had great success with supplements like L-Theanine, GABA, Brainstorm and other supplements that support focus, attention and emotional regulation by having the same effect on the brain as pharmaceutical medication. I would recommend that you consult a natural health practitioner who specializes in naturally addressing ADHD to make sure these supplements are right for your child.

Often when Moms try these methods both in the summer or during the school year they are astounded by the results. More than once Moms have called me to tell me the school or babysitter will comment that whatever medication their child has switched to is working great.

There are many factors that contribute to ADHD and addressing the root causes can sometimes extend far beyond a ‘Medication Vacation’. Sometimes it can be better and even get your child off medication permanently.

Please keep in mind-always consult your child’s health care provider about the suggestions listed above before making any changes to their medication.

If you’re interested in getting more support with addressing the root cause for poor focus, learning and behaviour, then contact me to learn more about my six month program ‘The Full Potential Clinic’.

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