Children's Health

ADHD: The Answer Is Not Always in a Pill

Here are some common-sense issues to be addressed before starting your child on a course of medication for symptoms of ADHD.

Is your child overtired? Overscheduled? Overstimulated? Is the home chaotic?

Is your child getting enough sleep? Do they have a routine before going to sleep at night?

After answering these questions, the next logical question is: Should we stimulate the child more through prescribed medication, or do we perhaps change something in the environment, diet or daily routine?

In approaching these matters, it is always good to keep in mind the wisdom of Albert Einstein: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

It is most important to evaluate sleep problems. The ADHD symptoms could be the result of sleep apnea or too much stimulation from electronics in general – but especially before bed. (Electronic light exposure prior to bedtime can decrease melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep).

There are also a host of natural alternatives to stimulants for ADHD.

Parents, consulting with school health and physical education personnel, can seek to boost a child’s activity level during the day – not just through participation in a sporting activity after school hours. During the day, kids showing symptoms of ADHD need extra, structured movement to help normalize energy levels. Such activity can include a regimen of walking daily for prolonged periods of time.

Parents should also avoid foods that rob the body of magnesium, like soda and caffeine.

It’s a good idea to plan a diet high in natural magnesium, with at least one serving of a true dark green vegetable, like spinach, and also a handful of nuts. (For young children, parents can consider juicing spinach and/or slowly increasing the amount of dark greens in a soup or introducing fruits juiced with ever increasing amounts of greens).

Other good supplements to the diet include a minimum of two grams of omega-3s in the form of readily available fish oils, in addition to 1,000 IUs per day of Vitamin D.

Never underestimate the calming and focusing powers of meditation.

One may also try the Elimination Diet as published in the British medical journal The Lancet in February 2011. This diet defines a method of identifying foods that a child cannot consume without adverse effects. Those effects may be due to food allergy, food intolerance or other physiological mechanisms. Early data shows that placing limits on the food types a child consumes may be helpful in more than 60 percent of the children with symptoms of ADHD.

Click here to read more about the Elimination Diet. 

A healthy diet combined with smart lifestyle changes will not only reduce symptoms of ADHD, but will also protect your child’s heart from many diseases.

As an added bonus, if your child is then in fact prescribed a stimulant for ADHD, this non-medication approach that I describe can reduce some of the potential side effects of those stimulants.


Dr. Robert J. Tozzi is Chief of Pediatric Cardiology and the Founding Medical Director of The Gregory M. Hirsch Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center at the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. He is the co-author of several papers published in refereed research journals, and he has lectured extensively in his field at numerous professional conferences. To learn more, visit his website at