Dr. Bianca Garilli, ND
A majority of the children I work with who are being treated for ADHD are not thrilled with the idea of taking supplements on a daily basis. In many cases we are able to support these concerns through changing the approach and thinking outside of the box. For example, probiotics in many cases can be given in powder form mixed into food such as applesauce or yogurt (which will also contain small amounts of probiotics), a multi-vitamin can be given in liquid form and also through use of a high quality, hypoallergenic supplemental powder drink. Then there is fish oil which, if you can convince the child to increase their intake of foods high in omega-3’s, may replace an omega-3 supplement in some cases. Using a bit of flexibility and creativity, there are many options which will provide a child with the proper foundational nutrients without recommending they chug a handful of capsules and tablets morning and evening.
What has proved to be more challenging in this age group, however, is the use of specific supplements and ingredients that are often recommended in addition to the foundational core supplements in ADHD and anxiety. Some of the most commonly used and well known include GABA, St. John’s Wort, melatonin and methylation factors to name a few. These are frequently used to support neurological health, improve sleep, optimize focus and reduce anxiety. Consider, however, the difficulty which may arise when asking a child of 12 to take multiple supplements daily in addition to changing their diet, often dramatically. Because we can only do what the child is willing to do, it’s imperative that education is a key part of the program along with creating a plan for the successful implementation and sustainability of the program. After all, the perfect program, if not implemented and maintained is a failure.
When supplements don’t make the list of options for a child consider the use of essential oils or aromatherapy for this child’s program.
Essential oils are typically used topically and, in many cases, can be toxic if ingested in even small amounts. Be sure that if you are using essential oils that these are kept out of reach of children and only handled by an adult.
Below you will find information on three essential oils that have been shown to support focus, induce a sense of calmness and reduce anxiety. All worthy goals for a child with struggling with ADHD.
Ylang-ylang oil is derived from a tropical tree native to the Philippines. Studies conducted with this oil have revealed positive findings from inhalation as well as through cutaneous or topical application. Benefits include a reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, lowering of heart rate and a self-rated improvement in feeling more calm and relaxed after use of the oil. This may be useful in children with ADHD who experience elevated levels of anxiety, stress and hyperactivity. One study noted the mechanism of topical application may be in ylang-ylang’s oil to reduce the level of arousal in the autonomic nervous system and leading to deactivation at the behavioral level. A third study looked at the inhalation of ylang-ylang oil and found a significant decrease in blood pressure and pulse rate as well as significant increases of subjective attentiveness and alertness when compared to the inhalation of an odorless placebo.1,2,3
This is one of the most well-known and studied aromatherapy oils. It is often used to support mental health, usually to reduce anxiety, as well as support relaxation and healthy sleep. A 2004 study showed its usefulness in promoting sleep in those with mild insomnia while another more recent study found that using lavender essential oil led to an improvement in sustained attention during long term tasks.4,5 Lavender applied to the skin or used through a diffuser prior to heading out for the school day and as an ingredient in a massage oil or lotion may be a healthy adjunct for improving symptoms of ADHD and problems sleeping.
Various studies from the current literature as well as knowledge handed down multi-generationally have shown the benefits of bergamot essential oils on reducing anxiety, enhancing a state of calmness and balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system. One study involving elementary school teachers found a greater benefit on those suffering from high and moderate levels of anxiety with a lower effect on those with low levels of anxiety. In addition, bergamot has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate.6,7
Essential oils can be irritating to the skin at full strength. Always dilute in a carrier oil or lotion before applying. These oils can also be added (just a few drops) to a bath, vaporizer or diffuser to be inhaled while breathing normally. As was previously mentioned, unless working with a trained practitioner in essential oils, these should never be used internally and must be kept out of reach of children to avoid accidental ingestion.
Methods of Action
It’s also worth noting that there are multiple reasons why these oils are beneficial. The first is the chemical constituents and their biochemical mode of action as noted above under each individual oil. The second is the method in which the oils are used – inhalation of vapors and topical application. When topical application is used there is some form of touch that is associated with the application, often a massage like action to the soles of the feet, palms of hands, wrists, and/or along the spine and in the neck region. There are a plethora of studies and clinical evidence supporting the use of touch as a therapeutic modality. Many children with ADHD have tight muscles and a light massage during application of the oil can support the loosening and relaxation of these muscles. Additionally, the regions where they are applied tend to be full of nerve endings or to stimulate acupressure points that correspond to neurological and emotional health. Once again, the topical application inadvertently leads to pressure and soothing massage actions on these regions which may trigger therapeutic downstream events and reactions supporting improvements in ADHD symptoms. To augment the touch benefits when applying these oils, be sure that the person applying the oils is mentally and emotionally present for the child, speak in a calm voice if a conversation takes place, breathe deeply to encourage a clam presence and apply in a gentle, slow, yet firm circular motion in the regions of application.
Dr. Garilli is a former US Marine turned Naturopathic Doctor. She runs a private practice in Folsom, California where she specializes in treating and preventing chronic disease states through a personalized lifestyle approach including nutrition, exercise, botanical medicine and homeopathy.
In addition to private practice, she consults with nutritional supplement companies and integrative medical clinics on case studies, professional consultations and educational program development. Dr. Garilli is a member of the faculty at Hawthorn University and a founding board member for the CA Chapter of the Children’s Heart Foundation. Dr. Garilli lives in Northern California with her husband, children and four backyard chickens.
- Jung DJ, Cha JY, Kim SE, Ko IG, Jee YS. Effects of Ylgan-Ylgan aroma on blood pressure and heart rate in health mean. J Exerc Rehabil. 2013 Apr; 9(2): 250–255.
- Hongratanaworakit T, Buchbauer, G. Relaxing effect of ylang ylagn oil on humans after transdermal absorption. Phytother Res. 2006 Sep;20(9):758-63.
- Hongratanaworakit T, Buchbauer, G. Evaluation of the harmonizing effect of ylang-ylang oil on humans after inhalation. Planta Med. 2004 Jul;70(7):632-6.
- Lewith GT, Godfrey AD, Prescoot P. A single-blinded, randomized pilot study evaluating the aroma of Lavandula angustifolia as a treatment for mild insomnia. J Altern Complemen Med. 2005 Aug;11(4):631-7.
- Shimizu K, et al. Essenital oil of lavender inhibited the decreased attention during a long-term task in humans. Biosci Biotechnol Biochm. 2008 Jul;72(7):1944-7.
- Ni CH. The Anxiolytic Effect of Aromatherapy on Patients Awaiting Ambulatory Surgery: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 927419, 5 pages.
- Chang KM, Aromatherapy Benefits Autonomic Nervous System Regulation for Elementary School Faculty in Taiwan. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID 946537, 7 pages.