ADD & ADHD, A Natural Approach

KidsAttention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are two classifications used for describing behavioral problems associated with children and some adults. Focus on this issue has been on the increase in our country.  The most popular method of treatment is the use of drugs such as Ritalin and Dexedrine; two powerful drugs with numerous side effects. Many parents are concerned about using these drugs and have voiced their concerns.

Are there any natural alternatives to using drug therapy in the treatment of this condition?

Let’s first discuss the disorder and the theories that support its causes. According to Taber’s medical dictionary, ADD and ADHD are described as “increased or excessive activity.” It further states “this condition is not easily defined because the claim that a child is hyperactive may be based on a low tolerance level of the person caring for the child.”

Let’s look at some of the statistics surrounding this condition and some of the symptoms. It is estimated that approximately 3% of the US childhood population and 10% of the total US population have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. Many experts believe that, in reality, it is more like 20%.  ADHD is nearly ten times more common in boys than girls and about 50% of cases appear before age four.  Symptoms include:

  • Excessively fidgets or squirms
  • Easily distracted
  • Difficulty awaiting turn in games
  • Blurts out answers to questions
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Difficulty sustaining attention
  • Shifts from one activity to another
  • Difficulty playing quietly
  • Often loses things
  • Often engages in dangerous activities

This list is taken directly from the American Psychiatric Association’s  “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder.” To qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD, a child must exhibit eight of the symptoms for a period longer than six months, and the symptoms must have appeared before age seven.

You don’t have to be hyperactive to have Attention Deficit Disorder. In fact, up to 30% of children with ADD are not hyperactive at all: but they still have trouble focusing. Mary Ann Block, DO, author of No More Ritalin, has spent many years researching and treating ADD/ADHD with natural therapies at her clinic in the Dallas area. She said three areas need to be addressed. Based on her observations, the most common underlying cause of behavioral disorders is hypoglycemia, which means low-blood sugar. The second most common cause is food allergies, and third is nutrient deficiency. A possible fourth cause is heavy metal toxicity.

Low blood sugar causes the adrenal glands to respond by releasing adrenaline as an attempt to normalize the blood sugar. This, in turn, can cause many of the symptoms described along with headaches, insomnia, rapid heartbeat, and sugar cravings.  This can happen when children simply do not eat enough food. Three meals a day are recommended with the addition of wholesome snacks between meals. Refined sugar foods as well as foods containing aspartame (Nutrasweet) need to be avoided. Also, eliminate soft drinks and overly concentrated fruit juices. Foods high in protein compared to carbohydrates will help to normalize blood sugar. Complex carbohydrates are preferred in the form of whole grain cereals and breads, fresh fruits and vegetables.

The main allergens that seem to affect children are artificial colorings, especially red food dye, flavorings and chemical additives. Dr. Lendon Smith and Dr. Feingold both mention that by eliminating these substances, benefits can be seen within a short period of time. This means that you will have to start reading labels. You will be shocked to see how many products contain these chemicals. Look out for over-the-counter multi-vitamins, toothpaste and soft drinks. At the top of Dr. Smith’s list of sensitive foods are dairy products. He estimates that 50-70% of the childhood population is allergic to milk products. Try eliminating milk from the diet and see what happens. There are many milk alternatives such as soymilk or rice milk.  Also wheat and corn can a big role in correcting some of the potential metabolic imbalances that can cause ADD/ADHD. 

Nutritional deficiency plays a big role in correcting some of the potential metabolic imballances that can cause ADD/ADHD. Such as:

  • B Complex Vitamins – Needed for proper metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins and to assist with nerve function
  • Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Beta Carotene – Work as anti-oxidants
  • Calcium/Magnesium – Works to calm the nervous system
  • Acidophilus – Aids digestion and absorption of nutrients

There are some specialty supplements that recently have been showing promise when dealing with ADD/ADHD:

  • Evening Primrose Oil or Flax Oil – Research is showing that an essential fatty acid deficiency is present in a large percentage of those diagnosed.
  • Pycnogenol – An antioxidant derived from the maritime pine.

Dr. Richard A. Passwater, one of our nation’s most respected biochemists, has documented the research done on Proanthocyanidin’s effectiveness in Europe. Proanthocyanidins gives relief from as many as 60 different degenerative health challenges, including ADD/ADHD.

  • Phosphatidylcholine/Phosphatidylserine – Two nutrients from soy that affect brain cells and nerve function and help to improve cognitive abilities.
  • DMAE – Known to increase intelligence, memory, and learning abilities.  It works in conjunction with other neurotransmitters.
  • GABA-Gaba Amino Butyric Acid — A neurotransmitter that calms nerve transmission.  Available in the supplement form.

There are many formulas in chewable form that will combine these nutrients.  Many also will contain some of the herbal calmatives such as valerian root, skullcap, lemon balm, gota kola, chamomile, and passionflower.

The fourth concern is heavy metal toxicity. Lead, copper, cadmium and mercury have been shown to interfere with neurological functions of the nervous system and inhibit proper mineral balance. One way to find out if this is a problem is with the use of hair analysis, which tests for thirty-six minerals and six toxic minerals and their relationship to each other.

Any discussion about ADD/ADHD needs to deal with the conventional treatment methods and the results of this therapy. Ritalin is one of the main drugs used to control ADD/ADHD. Far too many psychiatrists believe that this drug is the answer to many behavioral problems. It is understandable that in a school setting children with this problem need some control. I find it disheartening the pressure that parents are subjected to when their child is given the diagnosis that, by the way, follows them throughout their school years. Granted there are some children where nothing else works, but one estimate stated that more than 50% of the children on Ritalin were not truly ADD/ADHD.

You can check out the subject online at the ADHD Online Newsletter at www.nlci.com/nutrition.

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