Child and adult attention issues are neurological and behavior-related conditions that cause difficulty in concentrating, impulsiveness, and excessive energy. Individuals with attention issues not only have a challenge in concentrating but have a challenge sitting still. Those with attention issues are typically more disruptive.
Attention issues can start as early as age seven, but this health challenge can continue through teen years and well into adulthood. It’s estimated that attention issues affect nearly ten percent of children and nearly five percent of adults.
According to the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health, “the number of children being diagnosed with attention issues is increasing, but it is unclear why.” Most physicians and research indicate the increase in attention issues is directly linked to the food that children eat, how they sleep, and even how they breathe. In fact, recent research suggests that low-quality sleep may contribute to attention issues.
Researchers suggest that the long-term consequences of attention issues include dire psychological, educational, and psychiatric consequences. Early diagnosis and intervention are important factors in preventing the debilitating effects of this condition.
Root Causes of Attention Issues
According to several international studies, attention issues may have a genetic link. In addition, there are environmental factors and dietary concerns that many researchers believe increase the risk and in many cases, worsen the symptoms. Refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, and chemical food additives, nutritional deficiencies, preservatives, and food allergies cause attention issues.
Symptoms of Attention Issues
The severity of symptoms can vary greatly from individual to individual, depending on the environment, diet, and other factors. Children may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty in concentrating and diminished focus
- Easily distracted
- Easily bored
- Difficulty organizing or completing tasks
- Prone to losing things
- Doesn’t listen
- Difficulty in following instructions
- Fidgety behavior, squirming
- Extreme difficulty being still and/or quiet
Adults may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating on a task, project, or conversation
- Overwhelming emotional and physical restlessness
- Frequent mood swings
- Prone to anger and a hot temper
- Low tolerance of people, situations, and surroundings
- Unstable relationships
- Increased risk for addiction
The most common treatment for attention issues are prescription medications; however, like many medications, there are unwanted side effects such as negative thoughts, nervousness, upset stomach, and heart issues. Some of these medications are also highly addictive with prolonged use.
With these side effects, it is easy to see why many people are seeking natural solutions for attention issues. Below are recommendations supported by research that help resolve these challenges:
Top Foods To Help Mitigate Attention Issues
- Additive-Free, Unprocessed Foods — It is best to eat unprocessed, whole foods. Additives including artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and colorings that exist within processed foods may be especially problematic for those with attention issues.
- Foods High in B-Vitamins— B vitamins help maintain a healthy nervous system. Make sure to include organic wild animal products and lots of green leafy vegetables in your diet. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, vitamin B6 is needed for the body to make and use essential brain chemicals including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
- East More Chicken — Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps the body to synthesize proteins and aid in the production of serotonin. Serotonin plays significant roles in sleep, inflammation, emotional moods, and much more. In many individuals suffering from attention issues, imbalances in serotonin levels have been indicated according to the University of Michigan Health System.
- Eat Breakfast – The first meal of the day (ideally breakfast) helps the body properly regulate blood sugar and stabilize hormone fluctuations. Eat a breakfast that contains at least 20 grams of protein.
- Avoid Sugar – Sugar is the primary trigger for most children and some adults with attention issues. Avoid any forms of concentrated sugar including candy, desserts, soda, or fruit juices.
- Gluten— Some researchers and parents report worsening behavior when their child eats gluten, which may indicate sensitivity to the protein found in wheat. Avoid all foods made with wheat such as bread, pasta, and wheat cereal. Look for gluten-free or even grain-free alternatives.
- Minimize Caffeine— While some studies have shown that caffeine may help with some attention issues, it is wise to minimize or avoid caffeine. In addition, the side effects of caffeine, including loss of memory, stress, and nervousness, can contribute to attention issues.
- Fish Oil – Omega 3 supplements are critical for brain function and are anti-inflammatory. Supplementation has been shown to reduce symptoms and improve learning.
- B-Complex — children with attention issues may need more B vitamins to help with the formation of serotonin, especially vitamin B6.
- Minerals — Anyone with attention issues, should take calcium, magnesium, and zinc 1-2 times per day. These minerals can help relax the nervous system.
- Probiotic – Emerging research indicates that there may be a connection between attention issues and digestive issues. Taking a high-quality probiotic can help maintain good gut health.
- Rhodiola Rosea — This herb has been proven effective at improving the focus of both adults and children. It works by increasing the sensitivity in the neurological and nervous systems that produce serotonin and dopamine, which are both essential for attention.
- Essential Oils — According to a study conducted by Dr. Terry Friedmann, vetiver and cedarwood essential oils support focus and provide calm for children with attention issues. For memory and concentration, rosemary and peppermint oils have been shown to boost alertness while enhancing memory.
Other Lifestyle Solutions
- Unconditional Love — Children living with attention issues need reassurance they are loved. If you only respond to negative behaviors, it can trigger more negative behaviors. Find ways to compliment your child while holding them accountable for their actions.
- Identify Opportunities Where They Can Succeed — A child knows when you are truly excited and happy for them. Provide them with opportunities where they can succeed. Engage them in creative activities such as painting and sketching. Celebrate your child’s focus and creative spirit in these types of challenges.
- Regular Physical Exercise and Outdoor Playtime — For children with attention issues, burning some of the excess energy of the day can help to balance hormone levels and provide your child with the building blocks for healthy bones and muscles.
- Create a Child-Friendly Organizational System — find the methods of organization that work best for your child. This may include a notebook with a checklist of daily “to-dos,” a chart on the wall, or reminders on their smartphone or tablet. Teach them how to prioritize tasks including schoolwork, home chores, exercise, and fun activities.
- Establish Healthy Sleep Patterns — According to research published in Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, sleep deprivation and disturbances to your circadian rhythm can contribute to the onset or intensity of attention issues. Plus, researchers point out that the long-term consequences of sleep problems in individuals with attention issues include obesity, poor academic performance, and disrupted parent-child interactions. If your child is struggling with a sleep disorder or constantly waking in the middle of the night, consider natural interventions such as low-dose melatonin (3 mg or less), light therapy, and relaxation techniques. It’s also important to establish a nighttime routine that involves sticking to the same bedtime and wake-up time every day.
The dietary changes, supplements, and recommended lifestyle changes above will help you overcome attention issues in your family. The solutions above are equally effective for children and adults alike.