Natural Approaches to ADHD



Drugs for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are among the hottest-selling medications today, garnering 13 percent of children’s prescription dollars, with sales soaring so quickly that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently had to declare a national shortage.

That worries naturopathic doctors Matthew Baral and David Deichert. “People have gotten in the bad habit of going to medication first, without trying natural therapies,” states Baral, a pediatrics professor at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, in Tempe, Arizona.

In some cases, prescription medication is warranted, says Deichert, an ADHD specialist with Bastyr University, in Kenmore, Washington. But in most cases, he sees it as a stopgap measure as the longer-term benefits of diet and lifestyle changes slowly kick in. The two naturopaths offer these natural wellness approaches.

Minimize Food Additives After decades of parents’ suspicions that additives like food coloring and artificial flavors may fuel behavioral changes in kids, several recent studies have bolstered such claims. A 2007 study of nearly 300 kids ages 3 to 8, published in The Lancet, found that those given drinks containing artificial dye showed significantly higher hyperactivity within a few hours. The British government now requires labels warning that children’s products containing dye may impair attention.

Consider an Elimination Diet A first-of-its-kind 2011 study, also in The Lancet, showed that when 50 kids with ADHD were put on restrictive hypoallergenic diets free of allergens like gluten and dairy for five weeks, their symptoms improved far more than those in the control group. When the eliminated foods were reintroduced, symptoms returned in 63 percent of the children. Deichert says that ADHD patients with digestive problems, recurring ear infections or skin problems— all symptoms of possible food sensitivities—are particularly good candidates for elimination diets.

Curb Screen Time and Get Moving

“Very large studies have associated TV and video game use with a worsening of ADHD symptoms,” notes Deichert. He recommends that for each half-hour of screen time a child gets outside of schoolwork, they get a half-hour of exercise.

Buy Organic

A 2010 study of 1,100 children, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that the more pesticide residue children had in their urine, the more likely they were to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Check the Iron

Studies in the Archive of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine and elsewhere have shown that children diagnosed with ADHD are more likely to have lower iron levels, and when those that are deficient take iron supplements, their symptoms either subside with- out medication or they react better to lower doses of medications. As a precautionary measure, Deichert suggests that kids be checked for their ferritin levels before beginning iron supplementation.

Consider Safer Supplements Clinical research is still inconclusive, but in their practices, Deichert and Baral have both seen ADHD patients benefit from zinc, ginkgo biloba, acetyl-carnitine and omega-3 supplements.

A final note: While it helps that research has been stepped up to address the epidemic of attention-related disorders, that doesn’t mean that all valid solutions need to carry a company trademark.

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