Working with ADHD Naturally By Dr Allison Nabours

Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is an increasingly prevalent condition being diagnosed in our children. The National Institute of Mental Health reports an incidence of 3 to 5 percent, however pediatricians estimate that 10 percent of children are now being diagnosed. As a result, ADHD is now considered the most common childhood behavior disorder with the prevalence in boys being six times that of girls.

ADHD is considered a disorder which inhibits a child’s ability to balance activity, perform tasks, and regulate behavior. Children with ADHD can have difficulties in the school environment, at home, and with peer relationships. Typical symptoms include a child’s inability to sit still for a reasonable period of time, act without thinking, and not finishing tasks.

Conventional treatment of ADHD often employs the use of stimulants such as Ritalin, Adderall and Dexedrine to increase dopamine, a brain chemical known to balance motivation, attention, movement and pleasure. Non-stimulant medications such as atomoxetine (Strattera) increase the level of norepinephrine, but is not found as effective as the stimulants. Stimulant medications may be appropriate if other natural treatments are not effective. However, they are not without side effects, in fact we know that nearly one-third of children on these medications experience side effects that are worrisome.  There is an association with sudden unexplained deaths in pediatric patients, suicide risk, liver toxicity, adolescent medications abuse, as well as increases in blood pressure and heart rates.

I would like to discuss a few naturopathic approaches to ADHD that I have found to be extremely useful in the treatment of ADHD.

Modifying diet through: sugar balance, reducing additives and increasing protein

Stabilization of blood sugar by avoiding high glycemic foods (foods that can quickly raise blood sugar) and replacing these with more complex carbohydrates and focusing on adequate intake of protein and fats to slow sugar absorption is often the first recommendation if not currently in place. Additionally, meal timing is crucial. Large gaps of time between meals, can result in irritability and mood change which can also trigger impulsivity, poor concentration and/or behavior difficulty. A remedy for this is assuring regular small meals, snacking, and increases in protein intake. These will prevent extreme highs and lows in blood glucose. It is also important to recognize that food sensitivities in addition to food additives such as food coloring and food preservatives may also play a role in some children with ADHD. A naturopathic physician is specifically trained to help identify the various factors of diet that might be affecting your child.

Insuring adequate sleep

It is estimated that up to one-third of children in the United States suffer from inadequate sleep. Inadequate sleep appears to be an independent risk factor for ADHD. Research has found that kids with less than 7.7 hours of sleep each night were significantly more prone to hyperactivity or inattentiveness, compared with children who were moderate or longer sleepers. Consistency of bedtimes has also been found to be important. Melatonin is a natural hormone made in the brain to help induce sleep. Used as a natural supplement melatonin has been shown to be helpful for treating delayed sleep onset in children with ADHD.

Encouraging Exercise

The neurotransmitter dopamine and norepinephrine help the brain stay attentive. It is well known that exercise increases the concentration of both dopamine and norepinephrine, as well as other brain chemicals. Therefore it makes sense to add significant exercise and movement that a child enjoys to their everyday life. Getting outdoors in nature as often as possible helps raise vitamin D levels and is known to be calming. Parents should also look at the amount of “screen time” there child engages in daily. Screen time includes watching TV, playing video games, and use of a computer device. Excessive screen time has also been linked to increased ADHD behavior.

Supplementation to Address Nutritional Deficiencies and Improve Focus and Cognition

Naturopathic medicine also provides a great wealth of resources and knowledge on various nutritional supports that have been shown to be effective in reducing and eliminating symptoms related to ADHD. I would like to discuss a few below. Know that this discussion only scratches the surface of the various natural therapeutics that can specifically address your child’s ADHD health concerns.

Essential Fatty Acids — About 10% of the brain is composed of fat (and the rest is water). As such, children need healthy fat ingestion in order to build healthy and functioning brains. These fats are called ‘essential fatty acids’ because these cannot be made by the body, and must be derived from the diet. Commonly, children’s diets are low in the foods that possess these. Foods with significant amounts include coldwater fishes, raw nuts and seeds, and flax meal.

Zinc and other trace minerals — Similar to fish oil intake, ADHD children are typically at risk for low trace mineral status, including deficiencies in zinc. Minerals like zinc aid in producing dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter raised by stimulant medications.

Iron — Iron is also an important nutrient for healthy mood. Pediatric investigators found that serum ferritin levels (which is the storage form of iron in the body) were significantly lower in children with ADHD and likely contribute to kids who are inattentive and distractable and suffer from learning disabilities.

In addition, other vitamin and nutrient levels such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, and carnitine may be useful to look at with the pediatric ADHD patient given their association with mood disorders

Herbal remedies — Botanical medicine, also known as herbs, have also been shown to be quite effective at improving focus, reducing anxiety, and assisting with digestive issues that can be common with ADHD. A few that are often employed include ginkgo biloba which is known for it’s ability to improve focus and chamomile for both it’s calming properties and it’s ability to aide in digestion.

Although a challenging condition, we have found that children respond well to naturopathic approaches treatments for attention deficit and can prevent the need for medication. The key is to work with a practitioner like a naturopathic doctor who will to take the time to sort out which factors are most needed for each child to create an effective plan utilizing some of the above recommendations as appropriate for the best results.

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