ADHD is a common diagnosis, but it may not always be the correct one. This can be confusing and disheartening for parents who simply want to help their child succeed. Sometimes parents might feel pressured to find a quick solution and make a decision without being fully informed. In this context, we will discuss some natural treatments for ADHD that can help you and your child.
What are some possible causes of ADHD?
ADHD is now considered one of the most studied conditions in children, with a 5% affliction rate in children in the US, with some numbers even higher than that. In spite of so much research and effort being put into finding the cause, the medical community at large is still in disagreement. Doctors are still not always clear in every case, which can lead to speculation or misdiagnosis. Whatever the factor may be, the common solution is to start your child on a lifelong plan of popping pills, which can then lead to another array of symptoms from the many possible side effects of these drugs.
Recent medical research is starting to point to:
- Genetic Factors
- Brain anatomy and function
- Head injuries
- Prenatal exposures
- Toxins in the environment
On the opposite spectrum is the alternative medicine approach that is gaining in popularity, which I have been practicing for more than 10 years. While we can’t rule out any of the possible factors listed above, we do begin to look at factors typically not taken into account by an allopathic Doctor. While some may argue that our approach will not work, I can say from personal experience that I have helped many children safely and effectively treat their perceived behavioral issues without the use of prescription medication. So, where do we start?
Treat ADHD Naturally
“We are what we eat”. How many of us have heard this expression? I can’t emphasize how true I have found this to be in my life.
Back in the 1970’s, a Doctor by the name of Feingold, came up with an idea to eliminate food additives, such as dyes and preservatives from children’s diet who were suffering ADHD. His theory was that common food allergens and sensitivities contributed to the child’s behavior. As a result of his theory, many parents began to follow his protocol with mixed results. This did not help instill confidence in the medical community, and most quickly abandoned the whole idea.
With that said, I believe Dr. Feingold was onto something worth looking at. From my personal experience, I have found that diet is a huge factor with so many kids. Of all the kids I have treated, when their parents began to eliminate common food allergens, their symptoms began to improve.
SO..What to eat and not eat?
Make sure the patient’s diet has an adequate amount of calcium and magnesium, which have a calming effect. Essential fatty acid is vital for proper development of the brain. Also, increase consumption of complex carbohydrates such as fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, and whole grains.
Food containing magnesium and calcium:
- Dark leafy greens, chard, kale, spinach, broccoli, bok choy
- Nuts and seeds, trail mix
- Dark Chocolate
On the other hand, avoid exposure to toxic substances, food additives or coloring, sweeteners, or allergens, which increase the risk of developing ADD/ADHD. Decrease consumption of simple carbohydrates, such as glucose, fructose, and processed sugars and grains. Eliminate from the diet: sugar, candy, junk food, foods with artificial color and flavor, and fried foods.
Psychosocial support is extremely important for a complete and long-term plan to treat ADD/ADHD naturally. Such approaches include contingency management (e.g., reward and timeout systems), parent training, clinical behavior therapy (coordinated management by parents and teachers), and cognitive-behavioral treatment (e.g., self-monitoring, verbal self-instruction, problem-solving strategies, self-reinforcement). Finally, encourage reading and outdoor activities, and limit exposure to television, video games, and loud music.
Eat as a family without sound interference from the television or radio. Make sure to have a protein-rich breakfast and lunch. Practice awareness of breathing and body to help calm down and refocus. Stay well hydrated throughout the day.
“Breathing, eating and moving are the three keys.”
Acupuncture, at least one time per week, has been important in every single one of the children I have helped. Acupuncture helps calm down the sympathetic nervous system, that is all about fight or flight. It gives your child a moment to breathe and helps him or her realize what it feels like to calm down. This will further support the natural approach to treating ADHD for your child.
If your child is afraid of needles, another great healing modality that I have had great success with is CranioSacral. No needles! Just a gentle touch is applied to different bones on the skull, sacrum, and usually the feet. This also helps relax the nervous system and reset some of the patterns that are not conducive to health.
Of course, I can’t write about treating ADHD naturally without talking about Chinese herbal therapy and supplements. Chinese herbs have been around for thousands of years, and their efficacy has been proven repeatedly. One of the reasons they are so successful at treating many health concerns is that they heal the root cause of the presenting issue instead of just masking it. Most Chinese herbs are also safe for children, although the dosage must be adjusted based on your child’s age, especially if they are younger.
Several Chinese herbal formulas help support a calm mind and nervous system. Many herbal formulas can also treat digestive complaints, sleep issues, or a lack of focus. Before prescribing anything, your practitioner will determine what predominant pattern is showing up and what to treat first.
Food Sensitivities and Elimination Diets
Some recent studies suggest that sensitivities to certain foods may worsen symptoms of ADHD in children. While this can be daunting when you first look at it, if you choose to go the elimination diet route, it can provide you with valuable information to help your child.
On an elimination diet, you start by eating only foods unlikely to cause reactions:
- Vitamin supplements
Common Food Allergens
- Cow’s milk
- Hen’s eggs
- Soy foods
- Crustacean shellfish (such as shrimp, prawns, lobster, and crab)
- Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and chestnuts).
For optimal results, the elimination diet should be followed for 14-30 days. That means that during this time, all foods on the food allergen list are eliminated from your diet. If, after following this diet, you don’t see any difference in your child’s behavior, you can stop the experiment. If you notice an improvement, continue with the diet.
Some things to look for while on the diet:
- improved sleep
- improved mood
- less digestive complaints
- less headaches
- less fidgety tendencies
- better able to focus
- improved eating habits
The list can go depending on what is going on with your child. After the 14-30 days on the elimination diet, reintroduce one excluded food each day and watch what happens. If the child has a bad response to the food — if he becomes more fidgety or has trouble sleeping, for example — eliminate it again. If it’s a food your child likes, try reintroducing it again a year or so later. Oftentimes, if they’re not repeatedly exposed to the trigger food, children often outgrow these sensitivities.
While I am fully aware that some children might need to take pharmaceuticals, I also want people to be aware that there is an alternative approach to addressing ADHD. It does require more time and money, but your child just might thank you when they get older, and you just might see your child thrive more than you could have imagined when you first got the diagnosis of ADHD. If you do decide to go the alternative route, always find a competent practitioner in your area who is great at working with kids.