Updated 14 June 2017

A natural approach to ADHD

Despite limited research, there are many alternative therapies that parents use to help manage ADHD symptoms including dietary changes, exercise and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Many parents of children with ADHD have concerns about medications prescribed for the condition, especially when it comes to side effects. Whether your child is on medication or not, there are a number of natural therapies that many consider beneficial in reducing symptoms and improving the quality of life for children with ADHD.

What you can do to help your child?

Dietary changes

Healthy eating habits with regular, small, wholesome meals and food supplements, where necessary, can go a long way to improve concentration levels.

Try an elimination diet, preferably with the help of a registered dietician, to determine whether you (or your child) responds negatively to certain foods, colourants or preservatives.

The condition can improve considerably through healthy eating habits with regular, small, low-glycaemic index meals to keep blood-glucose levels constant (low blood sugar increases hyperactivity and leads to poor concentration).

Eating a high-fibre, low-fat breakfast is extremely important.


In addition to healthy eating habits, the following supplements may help (note, however, that this should first be discussed with a healthcare practitioner):

Essential fatty acids

- A supplement containing vitamins B1, 2, 3, 5, 6, B12, folic acid, inositol, choline

- Foodstate chromium, vanadium, and molybdenum to keep blood sugar levels constant

- Calcium, magnesium

- The amino acid taurine

Read: Can omega-3 reduce antisocial behaviour in children?

Herbal remedies

Consult your doctor or a professional herbal practitioner before using any of the herbs mentioned in the following section, especially if you suffer from a chronic disease or are on other medications.

For children, it could help to take a natural alternative to antibiotics (such as Echinacea) for a few weeks, Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium bifidus, a supplement for the respiratory system and wholesome food, including live yoghurt cultures.

In addition, essential fatty acids and a calcium and magnesium supplement could help children with recurring infections.

Children with hyperactivity often have allergies as well. The culprits are usually milk, wheat, chocolate, eggs and cereals. Sugar can also aggravate the condition. Children who have sugar-sensitive symptoms of hyperactivity may have an underlying candida infection.

Exercise and relaxation techniques

Regular exercise is also important to channel built-up energy.

Meditation and other relaxation techniques bring about a marked improvement in the ability to concentrate as well as in quality of life.

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behaviour changes to increase relaxation and focused attention

Read more:

ADHD: diet and supplements

An alternative to Ritalin

Healthy eating can help children with ADHD


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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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