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Goodbye Ritalin! Nonmedical Approaches to ADHD

Goodbye Ritalin! Nonmedical Approaches to ADHD

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Updated on Mar 5, 2009

In this diagnosis-driven society, it’s very easy to tell the doctor what’s wrong and get a quick prescription to cure what ails you. And thanks to modern medicine and advances in technology, it often does.

But to believe there is one undisputable remedy for every symptom, condition, syndrome, disorder, and disease you’ll ever encounter, you might as well believe in dragons, fairies, and the monsters under the bed too. In the real world, even though the doctor can give you some medication – even a free sample if you’re lucky – there are almost always multiple ways to approach every health problem. And ADHD is no different.

“Sometimes people seek diagnosis, but it is not necessarily the first place to start,” says Dr. Amy Rothenberg, a Connecticut-based physician with a private practice in Classical Homeopathy and Naturopathic Medicine. “Often a child will be labeled ADD/ADHD because he has behaviors or emotional temperaments that are challenging in the classroom. That doesn’t mean he has ADD/ADHD,” she says. “There are a lot of reasons kids are the way they are.”

When it comes to ADHD, one of the first words that pops into most heads is Ritalin. But with side effects including nausea, insomnia, headaches, blurry vision, psychosis, and in some rare cases, death, it is no surprise that many parents are looking for nonmedical treatments for their children.

According to Dr. Rothenberg, no matter which route you take in helping your child, all practitioners should begin by asking the question "What is it that is most limiting the child at this time?" You may be startled by the answers.

Is the child restless? Easily distracted? Forgetful? Does he complain of stomachaches or headaches? Instead of focusing on the label of ADHD, Dr. Rothenberg says it’s important to focus on the child. When attention is paid to the symptoms, rather than the label, a host of treatments becomes possible – for example, naturopathic, homeopathic, and physical therapy remedies. Here’s what Dr. Rothenberg has to say about some of the alternative approaches to ADHD:

  • Diet. Take notice: Is your child sensitive to loud noises? Certain smells? This could be indicative of hidden food allergies. Have your child tested. Food allergies, such as those to wheat, dairy, eggs, citrus, and sugar, can be a source of significant irritation and stress and have nothing to do with ADHD. Even food additives and coloring can trigger ADHD type behaviors. As a general rule, Dr. Rothenberg suggests parents remove all refined sugar, soda, and chocolate from the child’s diet. Many dieticians believe that if those stressors are removed, the child’s immune system will be less sensitive, and thereby less likely to develop new allergies.
  • Supplements. Often children diagnosed with ADHD are found to have a zinc deficiency, and some experts believe that zinc supplements can help with agitated behavior. Experts also sometimes recommend essential fatty acids or a daily tablespoon of suflower oil or fish oil, which many believe can have a calming, anti- inflammatory effect. Dr. Rothenberg also points to the B vitamin family as potentially beneficial to children with ADHD. But dosage depends upon the weight of the child, so be sure to get the proper dosage from a professional.
  • Physical medicine. Quite often kids with ADHD benefit from hands-on treatment approaches that involve physical touch or manipulation. But self-healing can also be beneficial. Dr. Rothenberg suggests enrolling your child in some form of martial arts, like Chi Gong or Thai Chi. Both forms promote self-confidence and coordination and reduce anxiety.
  • Cranial Osteopathy. This is the hands-on practice of subtle movements to the skull to stimulate circulation and move blood through the body. Many experts believe treatments can improve spinal alignment and bring balance to the whole system. Benefits are immediate, even after just one treatment, but can be fleeting. Doing this once or twice a month over many months will slowly improve the patient.
  • Chiropractic. Chiropractic is based on the premise that a spinal joint misalignment can interfere with the nervous system and result in many health issues. As with cranial osteopathy, chiropractors that treat ADHD children believe that properly realigning the spine is crucial to reducing stress in children and that with treatment, they’ll exhibit less ADHD behavior.
  • Acupressure. This traditional Chinese medicine technique, based on the same ideas as acupuncture, involves applying physical pressure by hand, elbow, or with the aid of various devices on different points on the surface of the body. The belief is that putting pressure on these key points along the body brings relief because it rebalances the yin and yang.

On the homeopathic side of things, Dr. Rothenberg says that practitioners look at the way the child experiences his or her ADHD, not just the ADHD itself. Homeopathic specialists look at the whole child – every aspect of the child’s life and well-being – before creating an appropriate prescription. For example, Dr. Rothenberg says, “If the child is combative, irritable, acting out, and not performing in school, a possible remedy is sulfur. If the child is sweet, sleepy, easygoing, but needs constant redirecting, a possible remedy is pulsatilla.” She says that in homeopathy, when the correct remedy is given, the whole child will be better. So, not only will his schoolwork improve, but also his sleep, his attention span, his senses, and so on.

So before you jump on the Ritalin bandwagon because you think that’s what society expects you to do, be sure to weigh all your options. Perhaps your child’s ADHD behaviors can be diminished or eliminated by removing eggs from her diet, or enrolling him in martial arts. When it comes to ADHD, there are many choices. And Ritalin is just one of them.

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