For many moms and children, focus and summer are two words that probably don't belong together. Statistics show that almost 75 percent of children internationally take medication holidays. The lazy unstructured days of summer seem to lend themselves to a lowered emphasis on processing speed or "executive function." Summer, however, is an opportunity to re-focus on brain health and evaluate other markers that may play a role in ADHD, cognition and memory.
The Gut-Brain Connection
We can no longer ignore the gut brain connection! With new research emerging every day, gut health, specifically the right balance of bacteria in the belly, balances our brain chemicals and neurotransmitters. There is some thought that ADHD may ultimately be a sign of inflammation, but while that is debated, take time to evaluate your belly- and your brain. If you or your child have digestive symptoms, make sure you are on the best diet -- for you. The inattention that you may be noticing may be connected to those digestive symptoms. Summer is a great time to work on diet modification, as schedules are usually a little bit looser and children are home.
Your Gut-Brain Checklist
1. Adopt probiotic rich foods. Vary your diet, rotate foods every three days to create food diversity, hence bacterial diversity.
2. Strive for regular bowel habits -- for you and your children.
3. Look for foods that trigger stomach aches or bathroom trips.
With increasing suspicion that much cognitive impairment and processing is a function of inflammation, being aware of the impact of inflammation is a continuing trend. Control inflammation, and its impact on your brain by following an anti inflammatory diet.
1. Lower your intake of inflammatory proteins like gluten and dairy. Limit to one serving per day.
2. Lower total sugar (yes, this includes energy drinks, sodas, sweets and refined carbohydrates) to under 40 grams per day.
3. Increase healthy fats -- olive oil, coconut oils and the omega 3 fats in fatty fishes, nuts and seeds.
Your nutrient status affects your brain and your ability to focus. Iron is a common micronutrient deficiency involved with ADHD along with zinc and B vitamins. Bottom line: Don't ignore your nutrient status (or that of your children) when creating an ADHD plan. Again use this summer, to evaluate these levels and the daily dietary intake of your family. I know I did, since our schedule has given me time to do the detective work.
Your Micronutrient Checklist
1. Do a three-day food journal for yourself or your family members. Take some time to evaluate this -- maybe sit with a nutritionist or medical professional for help if you find this overwhelming or unclear.
2. Look for common deficiencies in the whole family- they are more than likely reflected in your children.
3. Get the levels of key micronutrients checked! There are many ways to do this, but we do use blood testing in our practice.
The ADHD ToolBox
You can retrain your brain. Inattention and impulsivity do respond to tools that force the mind to re-program itself. The problem -- it takes consistency and time, commodities for most of us that seem to increase in the summer. Create an ADHD toolbox, finding strategies that you or your children will look forward to doing -- to maintain consistency.
Your Impulse Control Toolbox
1, Find 15 minutes for daily brain training. Consider journaling, meditation, or guided imagery as helpful tools.
2. Create electronic boundaries. Limit electronic use for children to one hour per day if over the age of eight and 30 minutes per day for children between 4 to 8.
3. Try cognitive behavioral therapy or biofeedback training. These are usually appointments with a practitioner, but doing even a series of sessions with home assignments can help retrain your brain.
You can create an ADHD Summer Checklist while on that "medication holiday." Use this summer to learn more about the many pieces of the ADHD puzzle.