Our Journey Toward Diet and Lifestyle Alternatives to ADHD Medication

CK is in the middle on the rt, looking down. Exhausted 🙂

We are working with our son, the one we affectionately call Clark Kent, to modify his diet and lifestyle, in the hope that it will reduce his need for Concerta. I’ve been so excited to try this. I’m a huge believer in minimizing prescription medications.

My determination to make these changes started when I talked to a doctor the month before that had taken ADHD meds as a child. He theorized that ADHD meds can cause early onset of Parkinsian symptoms. I honestly don’t know if he is right, but we do want to wean CK off the meds if we can, or at least reduce his dosage over time. But he has a drivers license. And a job as a lifeguard. So we can’t go cold turkey on the meds.

We decided that what we should do first was establish a lifestyle change, because without a rock-solid commitment on the changes, we’d never know whether it helped, and we were pretty sure this would be a monumental challenge. Did I mention Clark has a drivers license, and a job? He does a lot of his eating outside our presence. Ugh.

So, here are the recommendations that my natural health and wellness clinic gave us to try. I am very interested in your feedback if you’ve had experience with any of these diet changes or supplements.

1. Eliminate gluten, dairy, and soy from his diet.

2. Shop the outside aisles of the grocery store, and strive to keep him away from processed foods.

3. Add coffee or an energy drink to his morning routine.

4. Add supplements in the following amounts (keep in mind, my “baby” is 6’2″ tall and 180 pounds at 16 years of age, so if your kids are much younger, obviously the dosages would look quite different):

a. Fish oil – 3 teaspoon once a day (actually, we are using a Pro-Omega oil that tastes a little less fishy):  helps with memory, concentration, focus, mood, attention, and overall neural health

b. Magnesium – CK is doing a powder called Natural Calm. It helps with metabolic reactions. Here’s the link: http://www.vitacost.com/natural-vitality-natural-calm-plus-calcium-organic-raspberry-lemon. He takes 3 teaspoons 1-2 times a day, in liquid.

c. Gingko Biloba – He’s taking 60 mg twice a day. It works as a vasodilator or artery opener to help get nutrients and oxygen to the active cells in the brain

d. Acetyl Carnitine – He takes 500 mg per day.  It is for the brain as an nootropic substance or brain nutrient to help with neurotransmitter production specifically acetylcholine which leads to better memory, focus, concentration, and creativity in our thought processes

e. B complex — He takes one of these per day: http://www.physicianspreference.com/B-Complex-100-capsules_p_476.html. It’s for the heart and brain and provides them with energy.

f. Thyroid — CK takes thyroid support: http://www.physicianspreference.com/Dr-Hotzes-Thyroid-Support_p_457.html.

g. Multivitamin “Power Pack” — CK takes one of these per day: http://www.physicianspreference.com/Dr-Hotzes-PowerPak-tm-60-Packets-_p_498.html.

I’d also received recommendations to try neural stimulation therapy (utilizing light and sound), but I haven’t been successful in finding a provider with whom I am comfortable. I’ll gladly take your referrals, if you have them!

Finally, but not least importantly, we needed to ensure that he gets 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-4 times a week, 8 or more hours of sleep a night, and that he minimizes his gaming to an hour a day.

Then came time to make changes with CK. First, we sat down with him to discuss our plan and why we wanted to try it. He was on board. Next, we cleaned out the pantry and coached him on food choices. He said, “Sounds great.” Finally, we lined up the supplements he would take and explained the dosage. He raised his eyebrows.

CK does not like to swallow pills. In fact, he spent two years pretending to swallow Concerta that we’d find hidden in odd places all over the house and in our cars. Because of that, and because this supplement routine is daunting, we chose the actual ProOmega Fish Oil (not the gel pill) and the Natural Calm powder for magnesium.

Week one was a flop. All the grown-ups in Clark’s life work, and it is summertime. If Clark did not get up before our work days started, we couldn’t monitor his supplements. He took them one day out of seven. This was exactly what we had always gone through with his Concerta, as well. It was hard to get someone that had focus issues to remember to take anything, as I’m sure anyone reading this can relate to. But it wasn’t just the supplements. He kept coming home with Subway and Whataburger sandwich wrappers. These were not on the diet. We had another conversation about gluten and dairy, and what had it and what didn’t.

Week two was better. I placed all his supplements in a pill organizer. I talked to his girlfriend about the timing and the dosage. She was on board. With her on board, we achieved three days out of four. I heard them discussing food choices. They even asked if they could grocery shop together and find things they both liked that were gluten and dairy free. I handed CK the credit card and beamed.

Week three was mixed. CK took his supplements four days out of seven, but he was staying at his dad’s. Dad didn’t follow the diet plan. Meanwhile, though, CK was asking me better questions all the time about food. And he’d noticed a difference in how he felt, physically, the week before, when he ate “right.” He felt more alert when he ate “right,” and when he ate bad it hurt his stomach.

Week four+ was a flop. CK left for a two-week backpacking camp, a time period in which he didn’t take a single pill or supplement the whole time, and he had to eat whatever they had or starve. He did get a ton of exercise though, and his trip leader said it really seemed to keep him centered.

But CK came back with a startling announcement that I’ll share with you next month, something of a game changer.

So, that’s our journey. We haven’t gotten very far. We’ll start over in August. *sigh* I’ll keep you posted.

 

Pamela Fagan Hutchins writes the Clark Kent Chronicles on parenting ADHD wonder kids, thanks to the crash course given to her by her ADHD son and his ADHD father. Pamela is the author of the book The Clark Kent Chronicles: A Mother’s Tale of Life With Her ADHD & Asperger’s Son, and many others, like How To Screw Up Your Kids and her bestselling, award-winning Katie & Annalise mystery series, led off by Saving Grace. Visit her blog, Road to Joy, where you can buy her books in any form, anywhere. Pamela is passionate about great writing and smart authorpreneurship, as well as her husband and kids. Like Clark Kent, she also leaps medium-tall buildings in a single bound, if she gets a good running start.

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Related posts:

adhd and alternative treatments, ADHD medication, autism spectrum disorder, Clark Kent Chronicles, Pamela Hutchins, parenting ADHD, self-regulation, teenagers ·

About the author

Pamela Fagan Hutchins writes the Clark Kent Chronicles on parenting ADHD wonder kids, thanks to the crash course given to her by her ADHD son and his ADHD father. Pamela is the author of the book The Clark Kent Chronicles: A Mother's Tale of Life With Her ADHD & Asperger's Son, and many others, like How To Screw Up Your Kids and her bestselling, award-winning Katie & Annalise mystery series, led off by Saving Grace. Visit her blog, Road to Joy, where you can buy her books in any form, anywhere. Pamela is passionate about great writing and smart authorpreneurship, as well as her husband and kids. Like Clark Kent, she also leaps medium-tall buildings in a single bound, if she gets a good running start.

21 Comments

  1. Cheryl M says:

    We have been questioning on the diet change for our son; who is on Adderall XR.  He’s been on it for 5 yrs and we have had success.  My son is 11 yrs. old and I have always included him in the decisions made in regards to his ADHD.  So far,  he wants to stay on the medicine because he sees the results.  Someday we’ll have him off though:)  I really love to hear how your son is trying to make these changes, where he is 16 or older:)  I hope your changes for him are successful.  I really enjoyed this write up.  And how you itemized everything you are doing to change the daily life style for your son.  Look forward to reading more.

    Reply
    • Pamela says:

      Today marked the completion of 3 “perfect” days in a row under our plan. He was noticeably better this morning, and he is on a vacation from his medication. So I am hopeful that the changes are having an impact.

      Reply
  2. Anita says:

    My interest is piqued!

    Reply
  3. Nicolegagnon13 says:

    wow I have an 8 year old with adhd and on concerta…starting the slow process of a diet change and was wondering of any supplements that might benifit him thanks alot for this…and keep us posted

    Reply
  4. I think that just in the last few days we have started to see some change in his behavior and some real effect of the supplements and exercise. As you said so well, it is a very circular problem. How do you get someone to do something consistently, when that something you are trying to get them to do is supposed to help them be consistent? I think what is helping is the idea of making it HIS initiative, his plan, his goal, his choice, not something that is being forced upon him. He has a choice of either taking the meds or doing this program. By him choosing the program he has more stake in it. At least that is what we hope. :).

    Clarks stepdad, Eric

    Reply
    • Pamela says:

      I think that the fact that he is a teen with some of the benefits of maturity is in our favor, as opposed to the elementary and middle school years. He wants control so badly. When he was younger, he only wanted to rebel. We shall see!!!

      Reply
  5. Lara Elliott says:

    How did you go about deciding how much and what to include for the vitamins etc… I know that diet and exercise help my 7yo, but no Dr is willing to help, and the Naturopath doesn’t seem knowledgeable enough about ADHD,
    Would love your feedback,
    Thanks, Lara 

    Reply
    • Pamela says:

      I wish I knew, with a 7-year old. You know, the nutritionist that I worked with might be helpful. You could sure email and ask him (send him this article). His name is Cody Mygrant, he works for Physician’s Preference. Cody.Mygrant@PhysiciansPreference.com. Let me know how it goes.

      Reply
      • Lara Elliott says:

        I am in Australia – need to do some research i think – thanks for the article, its really inspired me to take a non-conventional approach now xx

        Reply
  6. adhdmomma says:

    Good luck with these changes Pamela, I truly hope they work for Clark. 

    We have been on the integrative meds approach for a couple years now with Luke and have found more questions and no answers, surprisingly. Luke is highly, HIGHLY, sensitive to some of the common supplements for ADHD – magnesium and Bs make him very aggressive at “normal” dosages, despite test results that show he needs them. 

    He has taken high doses of Fish Oil for over two years with no noticeable difference. And he’s been gluten free for over a year with no changes in behavior and focus. 

    I do know what all of these changes work for some, and it’s certainly better health if nothing else, but I share our experience as well for folks to know that diet and supplement changes don’t work for everyone, at least not to improve ADHD symptoms. 

    I hope that Clark is one whom these changes make an astonishing difference for! 🙂

    Reply
    • Pamela says:

      Thanks for the detailed look at Luke’s journey, Penny. That’s interesting about the magnesium and B’s, and tough! I’ll let you know how it goes with CK. We know how different each person is, and I believe that the parent and the individual have to become their own experts (you guys sure have) in their own child/self.

      Reply
  7. Bill Dorman says:

    Ruh roh, game changer, huh? Military? 

    With any significant change, sometimes you have to celebrate the small successes and gradually work into where it will be second nature.

    I would question any diet that does not have Burger King or Papa John’s on it……

    I don’t know much about it. However, I am a volunteer Guardian ad Litem and my current case has 5 (very active) boys 5 and under; two are definite ADHD. The therapeutic foster mom took them in because she lived it with her now adult son and felt she had the wisdom and patience to deal with it. I’ll see if she has any insights on what worked for her.

    Good luck in finding the right balance. 

    Reply
  8. Vidya Sury says:

    That diet is so mind-boggling (I had to type boggling six times before I got the spelling right!) A tablet organizer is a great idea. My Mom was on a long list of medications and this worked best. When one remembered to take them. We were lucky she was with us and Ii am one of those OCD types about other people’s medications.

    I read Eric’s comment – about the effect. Guess it is important to watch out of every little good thing – they all add up.

    Can’t wait to hear about the “Game-Changer”. Love you Pamela. Hugs!

    Reply
  9. Burnsy103 says:

    Pamela! Thanks for this post. I’ve been on this road for quite awhile and am always anxious to hear what tid bits other people are picking up that work for them. I’ve written out my son’s dietary habits on my blog http://www.secretinthesauce.blogspot.com if you are interested in what is working for us – thus far. Our psychologist (knowing that I’m on the non-meds war path at the moment) told me that a recent study said that kids with ADHD need alot more Omega oils than previously thought. I’ll check on the dosage but I know it meant that my kiddo needed to be taking six a day (we use the Metagenics Tuna Omega’s). I’ve felt that his dietary regiment has been hugely successful in the last couple months. No colors is one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle for him. We don’t do video games any more and I’m working on ‘Plan B’ from the Explosive Child with him. Diet has made all the difference in the world. Best of luck!

    Reply
    • Pamela says:

       Fantastic! Thanks for sharing. I talked to an autism mom last night who made similar diet/supplement changes and her son had a real conversation with her at age 16 for the FIRST TIME a month after the changes. It’s astounding what it can do for some people. Thanks for the Omegas tip. I’m going to check it out on your blog!!

      Reply
  10. Jessica says:

    We have never medicated our daughter.  We use Fish Oil, Magnesium, Vitamin C, and a herbal supplement from Pure Herbs called DAN-C which I swear by.  She also drinks a green smoothie almost every day, is mostly gluten free and has no food coloring, not even in her toothpaste or soap.  Not every day is perfect but we can tell the difference when she has followed her routine and when she has not.  She is 12 so we are expecting to make tweaks as she goes through the next few years.  We also work with a Naturopath to help guide me with supplements and homeopathic remedies.  

    I wish you and your son well.

    Reply

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