Sandra Justice, P.D., FACA
Attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a complicated behavioral disorder that affects 3 to 5 percent of school-age children- 90 percent of whom are boys. ADHD is a biological disorder caused by irregularities in brain chemistry, and it usually continues throughout life. Diagnosis is difficult, particularly in adults, because symptoms are similar to those seen in other illnesses. In order to be classified as ADHD, symptoms must have appeared before the age of 7 years, and must be causing significant disruption across several settings such as at home, school, or socially for at least six months. Accurate diagnosis is essential and challenging; early intervention is key.
A number of mechanisms have been proposed as causes or influences of ADHD. These include possible brain dysfunction (ranging from information transfer problems to brain chemistry-neurotransmitter deficits); genetic influences; environmental toxins such as lead, mercury, cocaine, alcohol and cigarette smoking; food additives and coloring; food allergies; and nutritional depletions.
Traditional Western medicine utilizes stimulant and depressive medications as well as behavioral modifications as primary treatment. However, given the many potential causes of ADHD, specifically addressing the relevant probable factors can be critical to establishing an appropriate treatment regimen for an individual child. Approaches that lie outside of the traditional medical protocol include aromatherapy, biofeedback, Chinese medicine, cranial-sacral therapy, flower remedies, homeopathy, massage therapy, and sound and vision therapy. Nutrition, supplementation, and herbal solutions for ADHD will be the modalities explored here.
Signs and Symptoms
The following are indications of a person with ADHD:
- Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes
- Easily distracted when playing or doing tasks
- Does not seem to listen when spoken to
- Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish work
- Difficulty organizing tasks and activities
- Avoids or dislikes tasks that require a lot of concentration
- Loses things: forgetful
- Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat; leaves seat
- Runs or climbs excessively in inappropriate situations, restless
- Difficulty playing quietly
- Acts as if “driven by a motor”, acts without thinking first
- Talks excessively
- Blurts out answers before questions are completed
- Has a hard time waiting for a turn; interrupts others
Treatment is most effective with a combination of medicine and behavioral therapies. Behavioral modification techniques include the following:
- Rewarding good behavior instead of punishing bad
- Specific and positive incentives or rewards
- Exercises and activities to improve learning deficits
- Designing an individual educational program
- Activities such as sports, music, games, or other special interests
Many parents seek alternative treatment for ADHD, because of concerns with the effects of chronic drug therapy in young children. Some, but not all, children respond dramatically to dietary changes and nutritional supplementation. The doses listed are for children. For adults, increase the dose by 1 ½ to 2 times.
- Essential fatty acids help regulate inflammation and nervous irritability. Reduce animal fats and increase fish and vegetable oil intake, especially olive oil and grapeseed oil and extract. A mix of omega-6 (evening primrose) and omega-3 (flaxseed) may be best (2 tsp. oil per day or 1,000 to 2,000 mg/day). For children under 10, cod liver oil may be the most effective (1 tsp. per day).
- Foods containing salicylates (almonds, apples, berries, tomatoes, oranges) may be another negative dietary factor affecting ADHD. A possible mechanism is related to prostaglandin metabolism. The ongoing diet needs to be high in vegetable proteins and whole grains, with plenty of fresh fruits, no junk or fast foods, and limited carbonated drinks. Include typtophan-rich foods; turkey, fish, wheat germ, and yogurt. Read food labels carefully. Avoid foods with preservatives, (BHT, MSG, BHA, etc.) additives, or colors.
- Vitamins: C (1,000 mg twice per day), E (400 IU per day), B1 and B6 (100-300 mg per day), B-complex (50 to 100 mg per day)
- Minerals: Calcium (500mg per day), Magnesium (100-200 mg per day), Iron (10-30 mg per day), Zinc (10-30 mg per day)
- Other nutrients: Dimethiyglycine (DMG) as directed on bottle, 5-HTP (50 mg per day)
Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body’s systems. As with any therapy, it is important to ascertain a diagnosis before pursuing treatment. The focus for herbal treatment is calming the nervous and digestive systems. Valerian Root is one of the best herbs of a relaxant nature. Ginkgo enhances cerebral circulation. Lavender aids with restlessness and chamomile with inflammation.
The Integrated Approach
ADHD is a difficult disorder for all concerned- the child, family, parents and teachers. Current treatment focuses on standard medication that changes the way our neurochemicals respond to each other. But there are other, perhaps better, ways to modify these neurochemical effects. The key is in the foods we allow our children to eat and critical supplements that need to be utilized. Modifying learning styles can also help change neurochemical habits that develop from the repetition of inappropriate actions. Nutritional therapy, and a variety of other alternative care approaches, can be the key to taming ADHD.