ADHD is a childhood disorder characterised by hyperactivity, emotional instability, poor concentration, unruly behaviour, difficulties with memory and learning and so forth. It should be noted that not all children wth ADD are hyperactive. There is also an inattentive type of ADD. Of course, like all disorders, it is a spectrum and the above symptoms may be absent or present in differing amounts. Many ADHD children are considered trouble at school and there is a growing pressure from educational facilities to manage children with medication so as to encourage better behaviour.
So is Medication the First line of Treatment?
Rarely should medication to control ADHD be the first intervention unless a child is so unruly as to be uncontrollable or dangerous. ADHD medications can have significant side effects and, whilst they may be necessary in some children, they are often over prescribed or used too early. Of course where alternative treatment is unsuccessful or a child acutely deteriorates, medication, optimistically over the short term, may be essential, even if not ideal.
So what are the Alternatives?
Broadly speaking, the alternative is to try and manage the causes of ADHD that lead to behavioural change rather than pharmaceutical control the brain. Rarely is a child ‘pre-destined’ to ADHD for most genetic predispositions need to be turned on by the environment before manifesting as active ADHD. Often the same factor(s) can result in similar symptoms in siblings.
Can Food really be the cause of my child’s ADHD?
Food definitely contributes to the process of ADHD in the genetically or environmentally susceptible child. Partially digested foods entering the symptoms can lead to hyperactivity, as may artificial colourings, flavourings and preservatives. Furthermore, hyperactivity may occur due to swings in blood sugar levels (hyper and hypoglycaemia). A deficiency in dietary EPA/DHA (Fish Oils) may also be responsible, amongst other nutritional deficits. Each of these factors can be physiologically traced to alterations in the neurotransmitter (e.g. histamine, serotonin, dopamine imbalances), neuropeptide (e.g. the creation of gluteomorphins and casomorphins from maldigested wheat and milk )products, hormonal (adrenalin and noradrenalin upregulation) and brain cell membrane adaptation. Each of these changes may explain the behaviours of the ‘irritated’ brain in ADHD children.
What should you do with your Child’s Eating Pattern?Are there Nutrients/Herbs that I should try?
There are a variety of treatment approaches to ADHD available through supplementation. The first step in this regard is to stabilise the gastrointestinal system such that it may effectively digest the foods and supplements provided. Keep in mind that feeding the gut ultimately is feeding the brain.
Are there Intensive Nutritional approaches for ADHD?
Many of the brain’s neurotransmitters are derived from amino acids through bioconversion in the body. These may be imbalanced if you suffer from ADHD. Thus amino acids such as Tryptophan, Tyrosine, Phenylalanine, Cysteine, Glutamine, etc in combination with supportive nutrients can be used to good effect in attempting to achieve a healthier neurotransmitter balance in the brain. These are usually tailor-made under carefully constructed programmes. These personalised supplementats may be provided by compounding chemists, although it is not essential. Therefore, given the complexity of these approaches, they should always be managed by an integrated medical practitioner trained in such prescriptions (experienced Doctor, naturopath, nutritionist), always respecting whether you are simultaneously on any pharmaceutical medication. Specialist training in this area has been provided by organisations such as:
The Bill Walsh Institute
The Pfeiffer Institute
What about Fish Oils?
High dose fish oils are very important. Up to 9 standard doses of Fish Oil may be used to assist with brain function. Fish oils particularly concentrated in the DHA component should be encouraged as DHA aids brain cell stability and hence memory and learning.
What about Nutrients for the Gut?
Good gastrointestinal health begins by addressing both probiotic balance and the integrity of the gut wall. A supplemental programme of a practitioner quality probiotic is strongly recommended here where the organism count is at least 6 billion and as diverse as possible. Secondly the gut wall should be fed and protected in turn with nutrients such as Glutamine and Glucosamine and herbs including Aloe Vera and Slippery Elm.
Can Heavy Metal Toxicity be a contributing Factor?
Most definitely. Children with ADHD should be tested for exposure to Mercury, Lead, Aluminium and Copper excess. Other industrial chemicals should also be considered such as PCB and Arsenic. You can test for these minerals via a Hair Mineral Analysis or Comprehensive Urinary Element Profile. Plasma copper and zinc ratios can be perfomed by blood test.
Don’t ignore Passive Smoking risk!
Passive smoking is known to irritate the growing mind and body. If your child has ADHD, you need to address your own addiction issues for they will influence both the child’s body and mind.
How can Heavy Metal Toxicity be Treated?
There are a wide variety of heavy metal detoxification processes but you should carefully consider the approach in discussion with an experienced professional as the body needs to be able to manage and release the metal effectively. Carefully research and assess the risks of any therapy you are offered as conflicting evidence exists to both the benefits and risks of intensive forms of chelation therapy (DMSA/DMPS).
Are there Simple Methods I can try?
It may be worth attempting low risk low cost methods such as Epsom salt baths and ‘Footsies’, although scientfic research is scarce. Alkalinising the diet by consuming whole foods and herbs such as chlorella, Coriander, Keffir, coconut oil, fermented foods and fresh vegetables, Spirulina and Seaweed. That is, of course, if you can convince your child to try!
What about Exercise?
Your child should be as active as possible , particularly in the mornings before school.. “Rough and tumble” play can be effective in improving hyperactive levels. It may also encourage all important sleep, necessary for settling the restless brain.
What if your Child is a Poor Sleeper?
It is critical that this is addressed. Assess whether any underlying sleep disturbances exist. A Nutrient/Herb supplement programme specifically addressing sleep (including Magnesium) may be very beneficial. It is also important to establish a sleep friendly environment with limited electromagnetic frequencies. Artificial lights at night limit the production of melatonin, our natural sleeping hormone.
Do Psychological Approaches Help?
Yes, they can be very effective, however they MUST be integrated both at home or school to be effective. This, in fact, applies to all change, whether it be diet or cognitive behavioural therapies. Any lax environment, be it the school canteen or otherwise must be identified and addressed.
How about Neurofeedback?
This can be an effective approach if the child is old enough, generally over six. A child attempts behavioural change while concentrating on a task (often video games) and is provided with positive feedback and reward. However, multiple sessions are required over 6 months or more requiring considerable commitment.
Could your Child simply be "Bad"?
There is rarely if ever such a concept as a bad child, but there are, on occasion, toxic environments. Identify any social irritations your child may be experiencing. If parents are having relationship issues, they need to be addressed or at least removed from the child. Any stress or other issues can be easily relayed onto an unsettled child or adolescent. Watch out for any warning signs that your child may be being bullied at school or sexually harassed elsewhere. Furthermore, your school cannot cry foul and demand aggressive intervention while running a canteen programme and school environment that is unhealthy to the child.
But there have to be Rules.
Of course, a child needs to be aware of rules and boundaries and where they are not, educated to the fact. Bad behaviour cannot always be excused, children can and do learn to manipulate at an early age (including the children living with an ADHD child). You do need to work at the balancing act of parenthood, being a disciplinarian as much as an enjoyable family member. Start Stress Management, Emotional Intelligence and Relationship Skills if you need them Yourself. Lead and teach by example. If there is an act to be cleaned up, do so. This is not always the case, nor should you chastise yourself if it is is for we all have learning to do. Simply identify the reality that is and change it if it has to be changed. After all, there are many great parents whose children have ADHD because of genetic, food and/or environmental reasons who are passionately trying to find a united solution that has little if anything to do with themselves. The trick is to identify what possible contributing factors have led to your child’s behaviours and which have not and work with these. It is rarely the case that anyone intends to limit their child's progress, irrespective of whether or not they have developed all of the skills necessary to bring up the perfectly healthy child.
ADHD can be a complicated condition to treat but a successful outcome is well worth the effort! It requires an individualised identification of the contributing causes and a personalisation of the interventions, both for the family and the child. The child may be afflicted, but the broader issues that must be addressed include the family, school and any other part of society your child interacts with.