Kids-Attention-ADHD

Can you address the early signs of ADHD naturally?

9 November 2018

How to Improve Attention Issues - Summary

What to do now

  • Eat real food. Nutrient dense food, with no to little processing.
  • Eat for nutrients, not to fill up. Satisfy the cravings, hunger and drive to eat by satisfying the nutritional need.
  • Eat to promote wanted gut bacteria, while weakening unwanted bacteria.
  • Greatly reduce poor quality carbohydrates, which include sugar, high fructose fruit juices and processed carbohydrates.
  • Reduce stress. Don’t punish when the child acts out. Find the reason for the behaviour, and teach them the skills they need.
  • Improve sleep. Have a calming bedtime routine that involves no screen time and little artificial light.

Introduction

I’m deeply concerned about the worsening situation of our kid’s health. It’s a serious issue, and for me, a person who’s seen first-hand what an improved diet and lifestyle can do for a child further down on the Autism spectrum than just ADHD, I want to raise awareness and help parents improve the lives of their children. I’m not only deeply concerned about today’s younger generation, as learning delays are becoming an increased issue, but I’m worried about the following generation. What will our society become, if this trend continues? The time to do something about it is now! This post is my attempt to do something about it. I hope that it may start the healing journey for a few families.

Many children today have issues that affect their learning. We may hire personal tutors, enrol them in catch up classes or pay to send them to a better school. We think we need to teach them harder. If they aren’t learning fast enough, spend more time teaching. Be more disciplined. We use rewards and consequences. If that’s not working, we increase the consequences.

In a school setting, if they aren’t concentrating, they’re being distracted, and are distracting others, they’re just a naughty kid. Their parents haven’t taught them well enough. The parents haven’t been firm enough to make them fit the mould required for school.

It’s interesting that members of society, without a child with challenges, firmly push to get kids to conform to the mould. When the child isn't shaped firmly enough to fit the mould, they’re branded as being inflexible and/or naughty. The reality is that there is always a reason for everything. If they can’t concentrate, there’s a reason. If they act naughty, there’s a reason. If they are defiant, there’s a reason….I can go on……

Children naturally want to be good people. They mostly want to do the right thing, if they can. The reason for a particular behaviour is often either a skill deficit (they can’t meet your expectations, so they get triggered and act out), or they feel a certain way that blocks their ability to meet expectations. The feeling a certain way can be emotional or health-related.

In this post, I’m focussing the lack of ability to hold attention. This skill deficit has a reason and can be helped. There are multiple possible reasons, but solutions can be found. Rather than just relying on spending more money on tutors, schooling, extra classes and other professional interventions, there are things in the home that you can do. You will still benefit from spending money on those interventions, but having your child healthy, with a balanced body and brain will allow you to get more value for money. They will learn to concentrate better, learn faster and get better results.

In this post, I use the term ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) throughout. Not because this just applies to children diagnosed with ADHD, but because research is often carried out on this group of people, as well as people on the Autism Spectrum. This post will still be valuable for non-diagnosed kids, with parents that want to improve their children’s health and ability to learn.



What Causes ADHD?

Conventional Wisdom

No one knows exactly what causes ADHD, but certain things are known to play a role.

•It runs in families. Genes are being researched, but nothing significant uncovered yet.

•Increased incidence for babies born of low birth weight.

•Increased incidence of babies born with birthing difficulties.

•Increased incidence for children with head injuries to the frontal lobe.

•Increased incidence for children of pregnant women that smoke or drink alcohol.

•Increased incidence of children exposed to lead, PCBs, or pesticides.

My View

We don’t have a proven direct cause of ADHD. To prove an exact mechanism is very difficult. Having just one direct cause is unlikely. Investigations need to go deeper and deeper to find out what common factors people with ADHD have, that may be causing ADHD. What do those factors do to the body and individual cells? For example, if many of the known factors that induce ADHD also affect the function of the mitochondria, we may be able to devise treatments that restore proper functioning of the mitochondria. If there is an imbalance in neurotransmitters, we may need to design therapies to restore healthy production of neurotransmitters and maintain their balance naturally.

If a child in a family has attention issues and/or is diagnosed with ADHD, then another child in that family is more likely than average to have the disorder. From that information, it’s important to look at all reasons that may account for that trend. We often look too soon for genetics to explain family links in disorders. There are many things that members of a family have in common other than genes. Also, remember that genes are templates for protein chains. They are templates for the body to produce various proteins that the body needs to function.

Yes, various genes and polymorphisms in genes can contribute to health issues. They can predispose a person to certain health conditions, but there are often ways to work around those pre-dispositions. Since it takes generations for genes to evolve and change significantly, it’s unlikely to be a significant factor in the large rise in attention issues in our young children. I argue that family links are more likely to be related to environmental factors. Environmental factors include diet and lifestyle.

For all of the factors relating to childbirth, it’s an opportunity to investigate factors that contribute to both attention issues and birth issues. For example, if there’s a link between underweight babies and ADHD, is there a factor that causes both. A baby being underweight is not the cause, but there may be a cause for both being born underweight, and developing AHDH. Is the baby's weight another symptom of the same root cause of ADHD? If there were specific issues in the development of the foetus for some reason, we could investigate why?

As an extension to this idea, if the development of the foetus can influence the ADHD, is it possible that the development of the child after birth could also contribute? If the health and development of children after birth could impact ADHD, what can we do to avoid ADHD developing as a result?

If there’s an increased incidence for children exposed to lead, PCBs, or pesticides, could mother’s exposed to these toxins have an increased risk of ADHD? Could family’s exposed to these toxins have an increased risk, which may partially explain the increased risk in some families? What are the toxins doing to the body to increase the risk, how do we get them out, and how do we repair the damage?

I believe that some of the most critical factors are environmental and health-related. Children that have less than average health, due to a poor diet lacking nutrients, may be more likely to have concentration and focus issues. Children can improve their attention and focus if their health is enhanced through an improved diet and lifestyle. The brain produces and uses about 20% of the body’s energy while occupying only about 2% of the body’s mass. The brain is highly reliant on well-functioning mitochondria (which produce energy for the cells). A brain with cells that are efficient at energy generation, is more likely to have higher functioning and better attention.

Exposure to toxins and poor diets can impact the function of mitochondria. It’s crucial to optimise mitochondria function as much as possible to maintain brain function. I believe adopting a diet and lifestyle to help mitochondria, and detox pathways are key.

We know from our own experience that we have our good days and our bad days. If we’ve been looking after ourselves, and have had a good night’s sleep, we feel sharper. We think more clearly, and perform better at work. We also may have noticed, that when we were in our early twenties, we sharper. We could more easily solve problems, and cope better with mentally challenging tasks. Over time, we gain more knowledge and experience, but our ability to learn new things quickly declines. This may be due to the accumulation of toxins, oxidative damage, or various things that affect the proper functioning of our cells, particularly our brain cells, which require a great deal of energy.

This is also true for our kids. If they are unhealthy, haven’t been looking after themselves and aren’t sleeping well, maybe they too suffer brain fog too. Perhaps their brain isn’t functioning as well as it could, and they are having trouble concentrating and learning.

Sugar and ADHD

Conventional Wisdom

There is no link between sugar and ADHD. One of the most influential studies indicating that sugar plays no role in ADHD was published in 1985 by Dr Mark Wolraich. This paper involved 2 separate studies of 16 boys over 3 days. Day one involved no sucrose, and cognitive tests were carried out to obtain a baseline. On days 2 and 3, a drink was given to the children. Some got a sucrose drink, and some got a drink with artificial sweetener (aspartame in equivalent sweetness). Further cognitive tests were carried out over days 2 and 3. The results indicate that there was no difference between the group of boys with the sucrose drink and the group with the artificial sweetener.

My View

Diet plays a significant role in brain health, and particularly in how well children concentrate and hold attention. Sugar has a significant influence on gut health, which I’ll mostly leave for now, and discuss in the gut section below. Sugar’s influence on the gut and the resulting influence on the brain is significant on its own, but there’s more to the sugar story. It’s the effect on cellular metabolism and it’s metabolism bi-products that play a role too.

It’s ingrained in the majority of us, that carbohydrates (which sugar falls into) are the best source of energy. We are told to eat regularly to keep our blood sugar level in the right zone. We even eat extra carbs to load up before strenuous activity, but what about for everyday life? What is the best way to eat to turn the brain on?

To address the official view, firstly we have to remember that in general, your local doctor has not studied, or been trained on ADHD in much depth. They know that there are treatments they can prescribe (medications) to help the child focus and behave in class, but there’s not much more to their training. They are often aware that there is no conclusive evidence that sugar links to ADHD. Remember that doctors are often very smart people, that have studied at length and in great detail, but they don’t cover everything. Many also don’t keep up with much of the current research, particularly with regard to helping the patient using diet and lifestyle. This is not because they are negligent in any way, it’s just because it’s not their job to keep up with ways to promote health through diet and lifestyle. It’s not their job to heal patients through diet and lifestyle. Their job is to heal patients through skilled diagnoses and treatment using medicines or other specialists when appropriate.

We as parents have a responsibility to keep our family healthy, and to help our children be the best version of themselves that they can be. We have access to many tools to help us do that in the modern world, one of which is a general doctor. There are other tools, however. As a parent, passionate about helping our children, we aren’t just going to casually wait until doctors have a tool to help our child with ADHD, we are going to find the tools now, while they’re still a child.

From my research, the most quoted study showing no link between sugar and ADHD was mentioned above. I’ll address that study now. There are 3 major reasons why that study should not mean sugar does not contribute to the symptoms of ADHD.

  1. The sample size is small, just 2 sets of 16 boys. Not enough to be confident in the results.
  2. Only 3 days. The effects of a high sugar diet in relation to brain health cannot be tested over 3 days (as I’ll explain later).
  3. The placebo was aspartame. Aspartame has its own negative effects, questionable link to ADHD with similar mechanisms to sugar, and gut effects(another article here).

To discourage parents from implementing a quality nutrient dense, low sugar diet, based on our current scientific knowledge is unwise. Likewise, we should not discourage low sugar nutrient-dense diets for children with attention issues based on the study mentioned above.

Many studies of higher quality, in other areas of medicine, showing positive effects of natural nutrients, are not regarded as belonging to evidence-based medicine. Thinking along the same lines, using poor quality studies to conclude that sugar plays no role in attention issues, is not part of evidence-based medicine. Advising a low sugar diet is not part of evidence-based medicine, but that shouldn’t stop us trying a reduced sugar, nutrient dense diet.

In general, doctors won’t advise a change in diet. They will encourage us to follow the current dietary recommendations supplied by the government body overseeing this advice. For doctors to prescribe anything, or advise any change, the medication and changes must have gone through a rigorous clinical trial process. This means that they are not advising a high sugar diet, they are simply not advising to change your diet, because there has not been a clinical trial showing that it should be done. There are a few exceptions to this method of advice from doctors, but in general, that is true. As a result, when looking for a diet to promote health, a doctor is not the tool of choice.

There is science showing the positive effects of training our body to use fats as fuel. This idea also involves improving the number and health of our mitochondria and reducing oxidative damage. Since our brain relies on having a high concentration of well-functioning mitochondria to produce it’s high energy needs, it follows that we should improve our mitochondria to improve brain function. One way to improve mitochondria function is to provide our cells with quality short-chain fatty acids for fuel. We want to reduce the anaerobic energy production and increase clean energy production from the mitochondria using oxygen. Predominantly this is done through diet and skillfully designed exercise programs.

Adapting your cells to have a higher number, and better performing mitochondria take time. Usually, you would allow 3 months to have your cells well adapted to have high functioning mitochondria that produce a high amount of your energy needs from short chain fatty acids. This means that any study showing the effects of sugar in a diet that is less than 3 months long, is not going to show this effect.

High sugar diets produce energy that results in more oxidative stress than the production using short-chain fatty acids and oxygen. This oxidative stress has many negative effects and the body, and even damage the cell membrane and mitochondria, which then further diminish our ability to produce energy. If our cells produce less energy, many flow-on effects can occur, including impeded concentration.

It has also been shown that gene expression can be managed with a by-product of ketone metabolism. More work needs to be done, gene effects may be managed when cells have a higher short-chain fatty acid metabolism. If there are genetic predispositions that contribute to ADHD, then energy production using ketones may improve the situation.

Gut and Poor Attention

Conventional Wisdom

It’s most likely, even today, that your local doctor and even your Paediatrician, won’t consider the gut has anything to do with ADHD. Even if your child with ADHD also presents with gastrointestinal symptoms, you’ll be told not to worry about them, and be given no advice to help the symptoms.

Although this may be true, WebMD published this on their site, quoting a study.

Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are significantly more likely to suffer from chronic constipation and faecal incontinence than kids without the neurobehavioral condition, a new study says.

The study of more than 700,000 children found that constipation nearly tripled and faecal incontinence increased six-fold among kids with ADHD. Taking medication to treat ADHD did not seem to affect the number of office visits for these bowel problems, according to the study.

My View

There are many possible mechanisms that link the gut to brain health. Unfortunately, we are only in the early stages of knowing scientifically all the mechanisms and how they influence brain health.

Many people consider ADHD, and many other disorders of the brain, as a chemical condition. Meaning, it’s a condition with an imbalance of brain chemicals, particularly neurotransmitters. The treatment is therefore to correct the chemical imbalance using medications.

The gut has a significant impact on the brain. Neurotransmitters and precursors to neurotransmitters are produced in the gut. It follows that to correct the chemical imbalance in the brain, the gut may have a significant role. If a child with ADHD improved his gut health and improves his gut’s ability to produce neurotransmitters and precursors to neurotransmitters, it may improve his symptoms of ADHD.

In a study titled “Gut microbiome in ADHD and its relation to neural reward anticipation”, the authors investigated the role of the gut in dopamine production and ADHD. They propose that the microbiome might contribute to ADHD via the gut-brain axis. They investigated potential differences in the microbiome between ADHD cases and undiagnosed controls. They also investigated differences in neural reward processing. The study found that patients with ADHD tended to have a higher percentage of Bifidobacterium, which resulted in an increase in the dopamine precursor Phenylalanine. This resulting in an altered reward anticipation responses in the brain, as measured with fMRI.

Interestingly, producing too many precursors to dopamine is thought to produce a tolerance effect, and reduce the firing of reward centres in the brain over time. Also, unfortunately having too many dopamine precursors in the bloodstream, can reduce transport of serotonin into the brain, which may result in chemical imbalances.

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, which can’t be synthesised by humans and has to be absorbed from the gut. Phenylalanine uses the same transporter to cross the blood-brain barrier as tryptophan (the precursor to serotonin), resulting in competition for entry into the brain. Excess Phenylalanine can, therefore, impact the levels of serotonin in the brain, which is thought to affect feelings of depression.

The inquisitive side of me is unsatisfied with the one-directional link presented in the study above, and am looking forward to more research. Since we know that there is a strong gut-brain connection, and we have research suggesting that mood can affect the gut microbiome, it is possible that the brain influences the gut to produce more bifidobacterium, in response to a need for dopamine precursors in the brain. In other words, if a child’s brain isn’t keeping up with the dopamine requirement, maybe the brain signals the gut to produce more dopamine precursors? Is the need for more dopamine precursors because the brain hasn’t been producing much dopamine, or is it because dopamine is being constantly stimulated because of the modern way of life? If dopamine is being constantly stimulated through our modern way of life, is there an imbalance in this reward system? Does this result in low reward signals for behaviours that really should have a high reward signal?

Dopamine just re-enforces the behaviour, but the joy a separate. The positive feelings that come from reward signalling isn’t the dopamine itself, but can be the result of dopamine, or tied into the same event that stimulated the dopamine. If the child doesn’t slow down enough to feel the joy of the event, the positive feedback loop is triggered via dopamine, and the event or behaviour will be looked for again, but the true beauty of the event won’t be enjoyed. The child may just keep looking to stimulate dopamine, but not actually get the full enjoyment benefit. Part of the picture may be to help the child be more mindful of their feelings, and teach them to look for the feeling of joy.

The gut also produces short-chain fatty acids, that the mitochondria use to produce clean fuel. Short chain fatty acids are loved by the mitochondria, and when they are supplied to cells, our cells produce more energy with less production of free radicals.

Another benefit of these short-chain fatty acids is that a by-product of their metabolism can regulate gene expression. This may or may not have a positive effect on ADHD, but indications are good. Short chain fatty acids resulted in an increased gene transcriptional, particularly of these three pathways –regulation of the fatty acid oxidation, electron transport chain and oxidative stress pathways. Since these pathways are related to energy production, they may improve brain function further.

There are other possible mechanisms that may improve the symptoms of ADHD as a result of improving gut health. The immune system is heavily influenced by the gut, and the resulting levels of inflammation can influence brain function.

High levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines can influence cognitive processes, including reaction time and working memory (which can be impaired in ADHD). An increase of pro-inflammatory cytokines modulate tryptophan metabolism. Studies have shown that tryptophan metabolites modulate several neurotransmitter systems, including dopamine and serotonin. Lower levels of tryptophan and tryptophan metabolites are associated with the severity of ADHD symptoms. Pro-inflammatory cytokines can also activate microglia. When activated, microglia produce more pro-inflammatory cytokines, resulting in an inflammatory cascade that influences further neuro-inflammation and may influence ADHD.

In addition to this, a poorly functioning gut may have increased permeability (leaky gut), which allow substances to pass into the bloodstream that would not normally be allowed. These substances may have effects on inflammation, the blood-brain barrier and the brain. For more information about leaky gut, and leaky brain, follow this link.

More research is needed in this area, but it is extremely common for people who actively work to heal their gut, report cognitive benefits. Likewise, parents who work on healing their child’s gut report behavioural and cognitive improvements in their child.

There is a range of strategies that people adopt in an attempt to improve gut health. Everything from the effective, but restrictive GAPS diet to the ineffective and money wasting low-quality probiotics (with no other changes).I have strong opinions on what is the best approach for gut health, as a result of a lot of investigation and experimentation. I also believe that it’s not a one size fits all approach for everyone. Stay tuned for more information to come in the future from me. To make sure you get this information, keep checking this blog, or our Facebook pages – Natural Autism Support.

Oxidative Stress and Attention Issues

Conventional Wisdom

Conventional wisdom doesn’t seem to have much to say about oxidative stress and attention issues.

My View

Oxidative stress affects the functioning of cells. Well-functioning cells have oxidative stress under control, which leads to a well-functioning body and brain.

There are two main ways to manage oxidative stress:

  1. Reduce free radical production
  2. Have effective antioxidant pathways

From a cellular metabolism point of view, the production of oxidative stress can be reduced when the mitochondria can produce energy cleanly, using oxygen. The production of clean energy is further enhanced when the energy is produced using short chain fatty acids, or ketones. This study also shows that calorie restriction, ketogenic or low carb/high-fat diets can reduce oxidative stress. They also show how this style of eating can help protect brain cell death and other disorders such as epilepsy.

It’s also important to consume fats that are stable and have not already been damaged by free radicals. Fats that are unstable, and are more likely to be damaged inside or outside of the body should be avoided. These fats tend to be the unsaturated fats that undergo heavy processing to extract the oils. In other words, avoid the heavily processed vegetable oils such as margarine, canola oil and cottonseed oil. Many vegetable oils fail into this basket, except minimally processed virgin olive oil, coconut oils and avocado oil.

We have our own build in antioxidant system, that can neutralise free radicals. Unfortunately, there are some common reasons why these systems underperform. Having a body overloaded with toxins can hamper these systems, as well as nutrient lack. It’s important to eat a diet high in vegetables and berries of various colours, which a packed with various polyphenols, with antioxidant effects. Luckily raw cacao has a high polyphenol content (as does espresso coffee and matcha tea, but maybe not for kids). This means the well-made chocolate with a high proportion of raw cacao can be of benefit.

In general, anything that stimulates Nerve Growth Factor is good for our brain. When you investigate what stimulates nerve growth factor, and therefore stimulate brain development, you’ll find that antioxidants and polyphenols do this quite well. There are many cellular functions that when improved, help other pathways, and a positive spiral of benefit begins. Reducing toxins and oxidative stress are examples of things that affect the function of every cell, and many cellular functions.

Fat and ADHD

Conventional Wisdom

There’s research linking low levels of Omega 3 fats to ADHD, but omega-3 supplements aren’t widely recommended as a treatment. The FDA approved an omega compound called Vayarin as part of an ADHD management strategy. Vayarin is a patented formulation of Phosphatidylserine-omega-3 compound and is EPA enriched.

My View

A healthy body and brain improve ADHD. To have a healthy body and brain you need healthy cells. To have healthy cells you need healthy mitochondria, healthy cell membranes and nutrients supplied to the cell via the bloodstream. Nutrients come from food directly, by-products from gut bacteria and other nutrients produced by the body.

In this section about fats, the key point of interest is the cell membranes. The reason that cell membranes are so important is that cell membranes determine what enters the cell. A major component of cell membranes is fat. The amount varies on cell type, and even change over time. The composition of cell membranes even changes in response to environmental factors. There are a variety of fats in the cell membrane, particularly phospholipids. Cholesterol is also a significant component of cell membranes. Having quality, stable and non-oxidised fat in the cell membrane is important to cell function.

One reason that omega 3 oils and phospholipids, as found in fish oils, have shown benefit for many children with attention issues, may be that consuming these oils improve cell membranes. Improving the health of the cell membrane with these oils improves the functioning of many cells throughout the body, including the brain. Consuming food that positively affects every cell in the body is a good idea, since cells make up all tissue in the body, and carry out many functions.

I stress the importance of quality, stable oils that aren’t oxidised. This means, in general, oils that are naturally more stable and not heated above their oxidation temperature. Many vegetable oils are unstable. These unstable oils should be consumed at a minimum. Common vegetable oils that are more stable are olive oil and coconut oil. You can cook with these oils, but particularly for olive oil, keep the temperature below 180deg Celsius. A group of researchers studied the effects of heating extra virgin olive oil to 350°F for 36 hours and found that while there was some degradation in the phenolic compounds, the oil kept most of its nutritional value.

Polyunsaturated fats are unstable when they come in contact with a number of elements, such as light, heat, and oxygen. When polyunsaturated fatty acids oxidise they form unhealthy molecules called advanced lipid oxidation end products (ALEs). These ALEs cause an inflammatory reaction in the circulatory system, as well as the liver, kidney, lungs, and gut, and are thought to have negative impacts on human health.

Coconut oil, which is predominantly saturated fat, is more stable than olive oil, and a good option for cooking. The taste can be a turn off for some dishes, but it’s great for many meals. Animal fats are also predominantly saturated fats and are stable enough to be cooked with. Despite common thought, saturated fat is a healthy option for meals. Saturated fat got a bad name from around 1955, and has remained to this day, despite the continued lack of evidence that it contributes to disease. It is still believed by the majority of the general population (and many general doctors), that consumption of cholesterol contributes to heart disease, despite there being no convincing science to back that up. There are studies however indicating the benefits of cholesterol for health, particularly brain health.

With regard to cholesterol and ADHD, there are studies indicating that cholesterol may reduce the risk of ADHD. This study indicates that higher maternal HDL levels can lessen the risk of ADHD in their child. The study is not linking to consumed cholesterol during this period, but blood HDL (high-density lipoprotein, a carrier of cholesterol), which may indicate a higher level of consumed cholesterol.

There is more cholesterol in the brain than any other organ. About 25% of the body’s cholesterol is found in the brain, which accounts for less than 2% of the body’s weight. The brain, however, does not normally receive its cholesterol from the bloodstream, but produces it, and recycles it inside the brain itself. Cholesterol is a precursor of vitamin D in the skin. Cholesterol is the main component of bile acids, which aid in the digestion of foods, particularly fatty foods. Without cholesterol, we could not absorb the essential fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K from the food we eat. Cholesterol is also a building block for some hormones, which may influence the health and resulting symptoms of your child.

In short, don’t be scared of saturated fat, olive oils and fish oils. They can actually improve health, and influence your child’s attention and learning. Don’t cook with most vegetable oils (including canola and cottonseed oils) as they are unstable and can reduce health.

Toxins and ADHD

Conventional Wisdom

Studies show that pregnant women who smoke or drink alcohol may have a higher risk of having a child with ADHD. Exposure to lead, PCBs, or pesticides may also have a role.

Researchers believe that some toxins may interfere with brain development, which could lead to hyperactivity, rash behaviour, and inattentiveness.

My View

There are many toxins that we are exposed to. They may be environmental, they may be consumed and they may be produced in our body. It has been shown that our cells energy production can be disrupted by a variety of toxins. When we have poor functioning mitochondria for any reason, and resultant reduced energy production, we have the potential for symptoms of ADHD. We can all remember times, that we ate poorly, or didn’t look after ourselves. How easy it to induce a state of brain fog. When our body is hampered by toxins, or for any reason has a drop in the ability to produce energy, we suffer a foggy brain, and a lessened ability to concentrate. Unfortunately, very few of us have spent an extended period of time eating a nutrient dense diet, focusing on things that enhance our cells ability to produce energy cleanly. If we did, we would be more willing to provide that gift to our growing children.

The cell danger response (CDR) is the mechanism, that explains the reduced cellular metabolism in response to a chemical, physical, or microbial threat that could injure or kill the cell.CDR is a normal response, that should be temporary, but when the CDR persists abnormally, possibly by toxins or infections that the body can’t resolve, the whole-body metabolism and the gut microbiome are disturbed. The performance of multiple systems are impaired, the behaviour is changed, and chronic disease may result.

Stress and Attention Issues

Conventional Wisdom

Doctors take the issue of stress in kids with ADHD seriously.

ADHD symptoms can lead to frustration and feelings of loss of control and hopelessness — a sure set-up for daily stress. ADHD may also be accompanied by other mental health conditions. Conditions that are also linked to stress including:

  • Depression
  • Negative thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping

Are these conditions secondary to ADHD or themselves causes of stress? No one knows for sure, but it’s important to address stress, in addition to your ADHD.

My View

I agree that the symptoms of ADHD can influence stress. I also feel that stress can influence the symptoms of ADHD. Like many factors relating to our health and wellbeing, factor ‘A’ affects factor ‘B’, which affects factor ‘A’ further, and so on.

It’s easier to think more clearly, and have organised thoughts, when-when we feel great. Reducing stress helps us to feel great and sleep well. If we can help our children reduce stress, and sleep well, it will help start a positive spiral improved mood and concentration.

Stress also has an impact on many systems of the body. I would love to be able to list a pile of studies how stress affects the symptoms of ADHD, but it is agreed that stress can trigger headaches, increase depression, negatively affect sleep and weaken the immune system. These effects may contribute to attention issues.

Part of the subject of stress comes down to this idea, that I’ll discuss here. Almost all of us make this mistake, mainly because it’s hard in today’s rushed and stressed world, and many of us really don’t consider this idea at all.

Children behave the way they do for a reason. We need to see it that way. We need to seek to understand the reason. Like us, kids often behave a certain way because of a stressor, and we can often react stressfully back towards them. We often respond to our kids with the first thing that comes to mind. We expect them to listen to us, then shut-up, and do what we say. If they are behaving in a way we don’t like, we react. We want to stop them as quickly as possible, and we expect them to listen.

If our car is making a noise and isn’t running well, we seek to find the reason for it, or we hire someone else to find the reason and fix it. We don’t just yell at the car and expect it to just get better by itself. Luckily, the car won’t get stressed by our response. If a child is lacking a skill, and can’t do what we ask, the result will be stress and unwanted behaviour. Just like yelling at a car to start when it’s out of fuel, yelling at a child to do something that he’s lacking skills in, won’t work.

An example for children, that many parents can relate to, is a baby that won’t settle. You can seek advice, and get many different answers. Often people give a quick answer. They’ll choose their preferred answer, without investigation. They may choose colic, or say that the child just wants to be held. They may say that the child just wants to wrap you around your little finger, they just want attention. Someone may tell you that they bone alignment issues as a result of a difficult birth or other pain. In this example, you get many different answers, but none have been the result of an investigation. Even Doctors may give different answers before asking many questions and before investigation.

Our kids do get stressed by our response though. So, if our children act a certain way because they are stressed, can’t make sense of something, or need us for some reason to help them through something, we need to be there for them. We need to listen to them and try to understand what they need. We can’t add to their stress be being short with them, and just expecting them to deal with it. They haven’t got the skills yet to deal with many things that life throws at them. We need to help them.

We shouldn’t fix things with consequences. We should seek to understand the root of our children’s stressors that drive the behaviour. Look for the solution. There is always a reason and a solution. We just need to look. I would love to talk about this idea a lot more, as it applies to so many things……but small steps, enough for now. We shouldn’t fight against things, but rather look for the reasons, the root causes and solutions.

That being said, we can help right now by just understanding this concept with regards to our kids and their behaviour. Listen to them. Find the pattern that triggers behaviours. Help them develop their lacking skills. Find the skills they need to help them respond in a calmer way when the trigger occurs next time.

When we add to their stress, their stress builds, which affects how their body functions. It affects how well they sleep. Rather than searching for the reasons for behaviour, we often attempt to modify their behaviour through consequences, which adds to their stress. We are intentionally causing stress in an attempt to modify their behaviour. This won’t work! It adds to their stress and results in more attention issues, and more behaviour issues.

This line of thinking may seem on the surface to be outside of the scope of attention issues, but it does contribute. Anything that affects sleep, affects attention. Anything that affects gut health affects attention (and stress does). Anything that affects how our body functions can affect attention.

Be there for your kids. Take time to listen to them. Understand what troubles them. Help them through it. As an added bonus, modelling great listening to them, helps them to be good listeners too.

Steps to Improve Attention Naturally

What to do now

  • Eat real food. Nutrient dense food, with no to little processing.
  • Eat for nutrients, not to fill up. Satisfy the cravings, hunger and drive to eat by satisfying the nutritional need.
  • Eat to promote wanted gut bacteria, while weakening unwanted bacteria.
  • Greatly reduce poor quality carbohydrates, which include sugar, high fructose fruit juices and processed carbohydrates.
  • Reduce stress. Don’t punish when the child acts out. Find the reason for the behaviour, and teach them the skills they need.
  • Improve sleep. Have a calming bedtime routine that involves no screen time and little artificial light.

Autism kids are here to change the world for the better. They're starting their life with challenges, which helps them see the world in a new way.