Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common neurobehavioral disorder found in childhood today. It develops as an unusually high and at times chronic level of inappropriate inattention and impulsivity with or without hyperactivity. It is commonly accompanied with comorbid conditions such as mood disorders and learning difficulties and it affects many school-aged children. If a child does not get the help and support needed to manage this condition then the child is susceptible to socialization difficulties, increased risk of injury and academic impairment. In adolescence and adulthood, other issues such as substance abuse and addiction, financial problems, underachievement, anxiety, depression and low self esteem issues can be present. The Incidence is greater in boys than girls and it starts to be noticed by the age of 3, although diagnosis may not be made until later in school years. However many with ADHD can rise above and achieve great success.
The common conventional medical treatment, from your doctor for ADHD is medication such as a stimulant (e.g. Adderall, Ritalin) or non-stimulant (e.g. Intuniv, Strattera) for those ages six and above. These prescription drugs can be effective at addressing the symptoms in the short-term, but for many, the effects fade after sustained use. Research has shown that around 20–30% of affected children are unresponsive or are unable to tolerate the serious unwanted side effects of these drugs. In addition, these medications may not address underlying causes or comorbid conditions. These challenges lead many to discontinue medication and seek out complementary or alternative approaches.
The Alternative Approach:
Many children respond well to alternative treatment because the treatment is focused on treating the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. Understanding how each child is experiencing their ADHD symptoms and finding out what is most restricting for them is important in the alternative treatment plan.
Treating the whole person and not just the symptoms is the pinnacle of any natural health treatment plan. Addressing the child’s multiple body systems including digestive/gastrointestinal (for inflammation), nutritional (for deficiencies or sensitivities), immune, and neurological (neurotransmitter regulation) will help the practitioner get the full picture of the child’s needs.
The Alternative Treatment Plan:
Many studies, both positive and negative have concluded that hyperactive children can react to certain foods. Some react to artificial additives or flavourings and preservatives.
There also seems to be a correlation between high sugar intake and artificial colours. In many research studies it has been seen that the higher the sugar intake the more destructive behaviour can become. In fact many children, when tested, are positive for abnormal glucose tolerance.
Many Children with ADHD will have a disruption to their microflora, causing dysbiosis. Therefore, Diet plays an enormous role in brain function, GUT function and ADHD.
An ADHD evaluation and alternative treatment plan may include:
- Food sensitivity testing to pinpoint and help avoid those foods that are contributing to hyperactivity and distraction.
- An elimination diet, where common allergens and foods containing artificial dyes and high levels of salicylates are removed from the diet.
- Introduction of a Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, nuts and legumes, and olive oil.
- Exercise – Research shows that physical exercise, yoga, and time spent in nature can benefit children with ADHD.
- Magnesium, iron, and vitamin-D- These deficiencies are associated with ADHD.
- B Vitamins: Research has also shown a connection between B-vitamin deficiencies and ADHD symptom severity.
- Fish Oils: A number of Research studies have demonstrated improvement in symptoms of ADHD through the use of supplemental fish oil.
- Probiotics: A good balance of healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal system can positively impact brain health, supplementation with probiotics can also help reduce symptoms of ADHD.
- Bacopa – This herb has been used for centuries to help modulate memory, concentration, and learning. In many studies it has been shown that Bacopa improves memory and learning in children with ADHD
- Valerian – Valerian has shown to help improve ADHD symptoms, in particular, sustained inattention and impulsivity and/or hyperactivity.
- Ginkgo biloba – Ginkgo has shown to support the improvement in overall quality of life, ADHD core symptoms, and performance in children.
- Ginseng – has shown a significant decreased inattention/hyperactivity
- St. John’s Wort- best known for its antidepressant qualities
- French maritime pine – Has shown to alleviate ADHD symptoms, particularly intermittent hyperactivity and inattentiveness, and improved visual-motor coordination.
- Passion Flower – A well known herb to help with anxiety.
It has to be noted that ADHD is a complex disorder having multiple causes. There are a number of available treatment options for ADHD; however, they are not suited to everyone with the condition. Changes in diet, additional supplementation and herbal medicine are all promising ADHD treatments considering their therapeutic effects and negligible negative side effects.