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Natural Approaches for ADD or ADHD

avatar-doctor If your child is diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, your first instinct may be to go for the medication your doctor suggests as treatment.  Yet there are many natural treatment options that can be very effective at helping your child cope with symptoms typically associated with these conditions.  Once they realize they have a choice, many parents opt to try one or more natural approaches instead of putting their child on drugs.

What is ADD?

ADD stands for Attention-Deficit Disorder, while ADHD includes Hyperactivity among its symptom list.  ADD is ten times more common in boys than girls and denotes a cluster of symptoms kids exhibit, at times diagnosed as early as 2 years of age.

Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Difficulty listening to and following instructions
  • Frequent fidgeting and squirming
  • A tendency to interrupt
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Hyperactivity in ADHD

Children with ADD face both behavioral and learning challenges.  An entire industry has built up around the concept of ADD, including the invention of the condition, guidelines for diagnosis, and the development of pharmaceuticals to treat it.  Yet many question whether diagnosis, labeling, and specialized drugs really help kids at all.

An Alternative Outlook on ADD

Diagnoses of ADD usually happen shortly after a child starts school.  This is when boisterous behavior and difficulty following rigid schedules becomes “disruptive” to the class and inconvenient for teachers.  In many cases, parents of ADD kids realize their child is facing challenges with behavior and learning.  They know their kids don’t fit quite so nicely into the boxes society typically assigns for them, but don’t know what to do about the upset this creates.

Although teachers and doctors who label kids with ADD may have good intentions, it isn’t necessarily to anyone’s advantage to pin a label such as ADD on a child.  Once there’s a diagnosis of a “condition,” the next logical step on a very slippery slope may seem to be treatment with medication – a medication that could have many undesirable side effects, and for many children, not resolve the issues.

Consider what schools demand of children – sitting still, staying quiet, following strict rules for everything from using the toilet to speaking out loud – and you may start to wonder if your child’s behavior is really abnormal at all.

Instead of running to the doctor for a magic solution, parents should first take time to recognize their child’s unique way of relating to the world and find constructive ways to adapt to their child’s needs.  Every child needs individualized care and attention in order to bloom and prosper.  You wouldn’t treat all plants in a garden equally and expect them to flourish.  It’s the same with children.

Natural Approaches to ADD

If you choose to bypass Ritalin and other medication and take a natural approach to helping your child with ADHD symptoms, you have plenty of options for treatment and support.

Diet

Changing your child’s diet is not an easy task, but a study in the journal Pediatrics reported that more than 50% of children with ADD/ADHD showed fewer behavioral problems and had less trouble sleeping when put on a restrictive diet free of all artificial and chemical food additives, chocolate, MSG, preservatives, and caffeine.

It’s also been scientifically determined that food allergies and intolerances may manifest as symptoms associated with ADD and ADHD. For this reason, parents should consider eliminating gluten (present in wheat and wheat products) and casein (present in dairy foods).  These are two of the most common food allergies.

You may wish to research and have your child follow the Feingold Hypoallergenic Diet. This diet involves a reduction in sweets and simple sugar intake.  It eliminates all “white” substances from the diet, cuts out potential food allergens, and emphasizes fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains

Nutritional Supplements

There are many nutritional supplements that may help alleviate symptoms associated with ADD.  Speak to your practitioner to determine which may be best for your child:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids – Research demonstrates that many ADD/ADHD children suffer from a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids.  Fish oils are the primary omega-3 fatty acid supplement, and there are plenty of good options for kids that taste good and don’t involve a “fishy” after taste.
  • Grape seed extract- -  1 -2 capsules daily may help with ADD symptoms.
  • Liquid Vitamin B complex- relaxes the nervous system and helps improve mental  function.  ADD is associated with Vitamin B deficiencies.
  • Calcium, Magnesium and Zinc –  A Cal/Mag supplement- can calm the nervous system, plus ADD is associated with low Magnesium and Zinc levels.
  • Choline improves memory and attention span in some children.
  • DMAE is a compound naturally produced in the brain that increases the  brain’s production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.  Acetylcholine helps with attention, focus, concentration and memory.  Research indicates DMAE is particularly helpful for adolescent boys who are prone to  aggressive behavior, but is not suitable for kids under age 6.
  • Pycnogenol (pine bark extract) can reduce agitation.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

From a Chinese medical perspective, not all ADD is the same.  Your practitioner will determine the specific nature of your child, including what he does and doesn’t focus on, his interests, and his areas of frustration.  Based on his unique presentation, treatment will be geared to bring balance to your child’s experiences.

For example, some children with ADD can focus on certain tasks, say video games or sports, with the precision of a champion hunter, yet have no ability to focus on school work- This is “Wood-type” ADD, and treatment will balance the disharmony within this element.  Others may have general lack of focus, often seeming confused- “Earth-type.”  Yet others become hyper-focused and my exhibit symptoms of obsessive compulsive behavior- “Metal-type.”  The “Fire-type” child will often be distracted, nervous, and have a tendency to panic attacks.  Your Chinese medical practitioner will determine which element needs to be balanced and gear treatment to create harmony for your child’s whole being.

TCM Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations:

Chinese martial arts training may be ideal for your child, as it involves  both vigorous physical activity with mental concentration.  Other sports  and activities that provide an outlet for your child’s physical energy are a  good idea, especially as this will encourage better sleep.

TCM recommends assessing diet foremost as a trigger for ADD  symptoms.  Other dietary recommendations may also be made to take  advantage of the healing properties of certain foods.

Therapy

There are many flavors of therapy to choose from based on the needs of you and your child.

  • Behavioral Therapy aims to change your child’s behavior.  Read here for some some behavioral therapy tips parents can try.
  • Biofeedback is a technique that reads a patient’s brain waves with standard electroencephalogram (EEG) equipment, and displays them on a computer.  Being able to see their own brain waves, combined with video games that they perform based on brainwave states, allows patients and their doctors to exert a new level of control over brain waves.  And that, some researchers say, improves and sometimes cures problems that have a physical component in the brain.
  • Occupational therapy for children with sensory integration dysfunction enhances their ability to process lower level senses related to alertness, body movement and position, and touch. This allows them to pay more attention to the higher level senses of hearing and vision.
  • Vision Therapy improves visual skills that allow a person to pay attention. These skill areas include visual tracking, fixation, focus change, binocular fusion and visualization. When all of these are well developed, children can sustain attention, read and write without careless errors, give meaning to what they hear and see, and rely less on movement to stay alert.

Cranial Sacral Therapy

Cranial sacral therapy has proven to have positive affects on ADD symptoms.  This is a gentle type of massage therapy that seeks to facilitate normal, healthy brain breath cycles by relieving restrictive pressures.

Homeopathy

Homeopathic medicine has many remedies to offer children with attention deficit and behavioral problems.  For ADD/ADHD, the right remedy is very specific to your child’s unique situation and presentation, so consult with a classically trained homeopath to determine which remedy is the best match for your child.

Lifestyle Considerations

  • A Regular schedule. Although kids may have a hard time conforming to a very rigid schedule like they may encounter in the classroom, having a regular routine in general can help kids focus, sleep better, and learn to adapt to the rhythms of life in a positive way.
  • Alternatives to vaccines. Research continues to suggest that the increasing number of vaccines  typically given to children today is resulting in increased rates of ADD and ADHD, as well as autism, asthma and other conditions.  You may wish  to research alternatives to some of the vaccines many consider unnecessary or potentially harmful.
  • Support for parents. It is essential that, as parents, you learn how best to help your  child and manage your own stress level.  You can find organized groups of parents of children with ADD online or in your area, or organize your own support group comprised of family members and friends.

The most important thing for parents and children with ADD symptoms to realize is that they have choices.  You don’t have to blindly accept what others say about your child’s behavior, even if they are professionals.

Come to your own conclusions about how your child is learning and developing and decide whether or not certain behaviors are putting him or her at a genuine disadvantage.  Then choose the safest, most natural and compassionate means to help your child integrate gracefully into his world.

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Comments

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  5. Marci says:

    I learned that a potential cause for ADD/ADHD is actually that primitive reflexes (the ones we are borne with) did not become inactive and thus make way for mature reflexes. Every primitive reflex triggers, or is triggered by a physical reaction, for example if you blow in a baby’s face it will blink, a sudden movement or loud noise will startle a baby making it cry. This reaction is called the Moro Reflex, which triggers with very low levels of stimulus and produces adrenalin. The adrenalin has no outlet and in some children builds and builds until there is an outburst that the child can’t control.
    There are a number of reflexes that can be retained causing a wide array of symptoms.There is a therapy that essentially forces the primitive reflexes to leave. I know of 2 practitioners, one in London and one in San Francisco Bay area. The therapy worked wonders for my daughter (not ADD but dyslexia) and I myself still have the Moro which has caused some trouble in my life. I wish there were more people doing this therapy. It can change lives.

  6. [...] B vitamins, amino acids, and zinc are all important brain foods that will reduce the propensity for ADD/ADHD down the road. Whenever possible provide these nutrients from Real [...]

  7. Andrea says:

    GAPS diet and a great naturopath!

  8. elaine says:

    I have a classic ADHD boy. We have tried virtually all of the recommended approaches above, and turned to medication as a last resort. We still use many of the natural interventions in addition to medication. Diet is soooo important. Our son reacts noticibly (and quickly) to food additives, such as preservatives, colorings, and flavorings. We restrict screen time severely, and gave him almost none at all until he was 9 years old. This was one of the best things we’ve done for him! We own no game systems, and the only “video game” he is allowed is minecraft. Even 15 minutes of that is too much at times. He never gets any screens at all on a school night. I highly recommed Dr. Amen’s book, “Healing ADD: The Breakthrough Program That Allows You to See and Heal the 6 Types of ADD “. While he uses modern Western medicine, he has studied ADD intently, and has some non-medical suggestions for each type of ADD. (Yes, ADD is spectrum disorder, it manifests in different ways in each individual. He acknowledges this, and provides truly helpful — and not all medical — advice for mitigating symptoms.) It also helps to find a school environment where they recognize the true nature of children and don’t try to suppress it. Boys are naturally more physical (read: rambunctious, distractable, eager to hit or kick, etc…) than most girls are (not all) and it’s good to have a teacher that recognizes that this really is a natural part of childhood and not necessarily something that has to be tamed or quashed. I didn’t realize we needed this until this year (6th grade!) when our son finally has a teacher who says that 6th graders need to be outside every day, even if it’s raining, and to be able to punch each other, play rough, get hurt, etc. as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. Much of what our son got in BIG TROUBLE for at his other schools is considered to be normal by this teacher. Hunt for this kind of teacher and school. It is so very important. And remember supply & demand. If we demand the environment that allows kids to be kids, it will be supplied. Perhaps our kids are not that “abnormal”. Perhaps it is those kids whose brains are numbed by TV and video games until they are bored with everything else so that they are sedate in a classroom for sheer lack of brain activity that they can do nothing more than sit at their desks that are setting the standards for todays schools. If this is true, it is no wonder our tests scores are declining! Sorry. Now I will step off the soapbox.

    • Mara says:

      Elaine, you have a well-balanced outlook on ADD and I commend you for that.
      To the writer: I respect your alternative medicine knowledge base, it’s extensive and well-informed. I wish you could have presented it without running a bulldozer over decades of work. With all due respect, I find your word choice to be condescending and insulting to so many different populations that I can’t even take in your alternate ideas. Your language is far more biased than any doctor or teacher I have encountered in 12 years. I have never had a teacher label my child, a doc who said medication is the one and only solution, and I have never, ever felt that my child was labeled ADD. The only labels that caused damage were: trouble maker, self centered, lazy, irresponsible, unreliable, blabber mouth, annoying, stupid, etc.

      There are brain scans indicating a vast difference in brain function between ADD and non-ADD individuals. It is a brain disorder; whether or not you believe it to be true, it is a medical condition, like diabetes or heart disease.

      I understand your passion for non-medicinal treatment but I do not understand nor respect, frankly, your use of uninformed and slanderous language regarding medical treatment for a medical condition. Your words can sabotage the great progress made in educating the public about a condition that, if treated, saves people’s lives – literally.

      • Emily says:

        Hi Mara – I’m sorry to hear that you took offense to this article. Since it was written several years ago, I had to re-read twice it to see how I may have been “condescending and insulting to so many different populations” – yet I still don’t feel it expresses such mal-intent as you describe.

        I understand that western medicine is often the best or only solution that works for many conditions, but this post is about informing parents that there are a whole host of other things to try before turning to drugs.

        While ADD may appear to be a brain disorder on a brain scan, that doesn’t mean that the brain is always the root of this problem. Often digestive issues are the root cause, and in other cases, it’s not the child at all, but his/her environment that is triggering the condition. In many (though not all cases) these kids are misdiagnosed.

        Finally, I’m a bit confused as to how ADD medication is saving lives. In the few cases where it IS medically necessary, I can see how it would radically improve quality of life for the patient and their family. But the medication doesn’t not come without it’s own side-effects and consequences to health, and in my opinion should not be a first line of treatment.

  9. [...] ADD/ADHD Alternative [...]

  10. Amy says:

    Hi Emily! I was wondering if you help treat children w/ adhd or can direct us to a holistic practitioner who does? I really would love to find someone who can help my son but I don’t want to take him to a traditional doc as I really would rather not medicate him. So I’m not sure where to turn….

  11. [...] reduce symptoms of ADHD, autism and other developmental/behavioral [...]

  12. […] There also appears to be a relationship between soy formula consumption and the development of ADHD and behavioral problems in […]

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