Healthy KidsStress and Relaxation

Less Circus, More Zen at School and Beyond

Support for ADHD, focus, and mood

Whether it’s full-blown attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or a milder form of neurocognitive irritation, more and more of us are struggling with anxiety, inattention, hyperactivity, behavior issues, learning disabilities, and sleep disturbances. Through targeted nutritional support, however, there is hope for both adults and children hoping to turn their brains into less of a circus show and more of a Zen dojo.

Here are some strategies for creating calm amidst the chaos:

Fighting oxidative stress and protecting DNA

French maritime pine bark extract has been the topic of over 400 peer-reviewed studies and has been shown to support brain function in those with behavioral and learning challenges by improving cognitive function, attention, mental performance, and working memory.[1],[2],[3]

Given its safety profile[4] and positive outcomes in supporting the neurological health of adults,[5] French maritime pine bark extract has drawn the interest of researchers searching for safe strategies to support children with attention issues, in particular ADHD. The results of one such study show that a month of supplementation with the extract led to a significant reduction of hyperactivity, improved attention, improved visual-motor coordination, and improved concentration in children with ADHD.[6]

These benefits may be due to pine bark extract’s rich content of polyphenols, potent antioxidants that fight inflammation and protect against DNA damage.[7] Polyphenolic compounds have proven their value in the field of mental health, and have been shown to support brain plasticity, behavior, mood, depression, and cognition.[8]

Although several properties of polyphenols have been described, they are best known for their antioxidant properties. As the words “anti” and “oxidant” imply, these compounds have been shown to protect our cells against oxidative damage, therefore reducing the risk of various conditions associated with oxidative stress – conditions like ADHD.[9],[10] In fact, abnormal oxidative metabolism and the subsequent depletion of the important antioxidant glutathione is one of the understood aspects of ADHD and its progression.[11] Unfortunately, this type of oxidative damage in the brain can be a factor not only in attention, but in mood[12] and cognitive decline.[13]

Thankfully, in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled (RDBPC) trial, one month of supplementation with pine bark extract was shown to significantly increase glutathione levels and enhance total antioxidant status (TAS) in children with ADHD.[14] Another RDBPC trial also showed reduced oxidative damage to DNA, normalized TAS, and improvement in attention span in children with ADHD after one month of supplementation.[15] In both of these studies, a dose of 1 mg of extract per kilogram of body weight (1mg/kg) was administered to the children, with no observed adverse effects.

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled (RDBPC) trial also showed reduced oxidative damage to DNA, normalized total antioxidant status (TAS), and improvement in attention span in children with ADHD after one month of supplementation of French maritime pine bark extract.

Other proposed mechanisms of ADHD include immune system dysfunction and an abnormal inflammatory response – both of which are potentially addressed by the immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects vested in the polyphenols of pine bark extract.[16] It is no wonder, then, that French maritime pine bark extract is being investigated as an alternative to medications used for this condition as well.[17]

Calming the mind

Considering that many of the neurological ailments that affect both adults and children – hyperactivity, inattention, stress, behavioral instability, and sleep disturbance – are associated with excess excitatory neurotransmitter production, the use of calming agents can be of great value.

The balance of glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter) and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) (a calming amino acid) plays an important role in brain health.[18] Namely, children with ADHD tend to have higher than normal levels of glutamate and lower than normal levels of GABA, tipping the balance to that of an activated, excitatory state.[19] Those with ADHD have in particular been shown to have lower GABA levels in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain associated with decision-making, emotion, and impulse control.[20] Lower GABA concentrations have also been associated with poor sleep quality,[21] depression, and anxiety.[22],[23],[24]

Those with ADHD have in particular been shown to have lower GABA levels in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain associated with decision-making, emotion, and impulse control.

Fortunately, GABA supplementation has been shown to induce relaxation, mitigate anxiety,[25] and increase the alpha brain wave patterns associated with wakeful relaxation states, as in meditation.[26],[27]

Derived from green tea, the amino acid L-theanine has also been shown to be of service in reversing excitatory states by supporting relaxation, increasing alpha-wave activity, and blocking the activation of glutamate receptors in the brain.[28],[29] L-theanine has also been shown to significantly increase the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA in the brain,[30],[31] as well as to increase the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) protein, thus enhancing our ability to learn new things and form memories.[32] At a dose of 200 mg twice daily, L-theanine also has been shown to safely improve aspects of sleep quality in children with ADHD.[33]

Magnesium deficiency was observed in 95% of children with ADHD.

Children with ADHD are more likely to be deficient in the mineral magnesium than unaffected children. In fact, magnesium deficiency was observed in 95% of children with ADHD in one study,[34] and several trials have demonstrated the validity of magnesium supplementation to help both children and adults with ADHD, anxiety, stress, and other neurocognitive struggles.[35],[36],[37] In the case of ADHD, magnesium has been found to be particularly helpful in alleviating hyperactivity.[38],[39],[40] Although taking too high of a dose of magnesium at once may cause loose stools, the safety profile of magnesium supplements is excellent.[41]

Mend the gut, heal the mind

A balanced microbiome and gastrointestinal integrity also likely influence neurological health in both children and adults,[42] making probiotics potentially powerful allies in the management of ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and their associated symptoms.

Phosopholipids such as phosphatidylcholine may also be of benefit to those in need of nervous system support, as they have been shown not only to support the mucosal barrier in the gut, but also to enhance cellular repair in the brain.[43],[44]

Detoxification for nervous system health

From pesticides and additives in our food supply, to the chemicals found in plastics and other household items, to the over-prescription of pharmaceutical medications, we are exposed to a surprising number of toxicants. This, coupled with the increasing incidence of genetic mutations that can compromise detoxification pathways, may place undue strain on the nervous systems of children – males, in particular.[45]

As mentioned above, the powerful antioxidant glutathione, as well as other nutrients that support it like French maritime pine park extract, selenium, and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), are of particular value in supporting the liver and its detoxification pathways in both children and adults.[46],[47]

Methylated B vitamins – namely methylcobalamin (methyl B12) and folate – and magnesium may further support mood, enhance detoxification pathways, and augment nutritional status in those with ADHD and other neurocognitive challenges.[48],[49]

In short, nature has much to offer those struggling with ADHD and other neurocognitive challenges. From antioxidant support to neurotransmitter balance to gut health to detoxification, there are many paths to find the cognitive health and balance that we all (even children!) seek.


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