As naturopathic doctors, we have worked with a numerous children with a number of different conditions that are along the behavior disorder continuum. In many cases, we have witnessed first-hand how diet, family and lifestyle changes along with appropriate nutrient supplementation will help avoid medicines and create optimal health. Our hope is this article will inform parents of the well-researched effective natural choices available and that medication can often be reserved as either a back up plan if these are not successful or for cases of true urgency. Our experience is that in most cases, more natural means can achieve positive results, address the underlying factors, and avoid side effects that can come with stimulant medications.
Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is an increasingly pervasive condition in our pediatric community. Although the National Institute of Mental Health reports an incidence of 3 to 5 percent, the most recent pediatric investigation shows almost 10 percent of children are now diagnosed.[i]
As a result, this illness is now considered the most common childhood behavior disorder with a six-fold increase in boys over girls. The United States claims the greatest prevalence of ADHD over other nations.
Symptoms and Causes
ADHD is considered a neurobiological disorder which inhibits a child’s ability to balance activity, perform tasks, and regulate behavior. Children with this disorder can have functional difficulties in the school environment, at home, and with peer relationships. Typical symptoms include a child’s inability to sit still for a reasonable period of time, act without thinking, and not finishing tasks. Children with this condition become at advanced risk for gambling, depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
ADHD is thought to have a genetic component. Some emerging research suggests medicated hospital birthing procedures may promote ADHD.[ii]
Other studies have drawn relationships between simultaneous prenatal toxic exposures to lead and tobacco.[iii]
Health difficulties in the mother, including ADHD, seem to predispose a child to this illness.[iv]
Finally, parental marital difficulty and tumultuous environments also seem to increase predisposition to ADHD.[v]
Conventional treatments medications and behavioral work. Stimulant medications like Ritalin, Adderall and Dexedrine increase dopamine, a brain chemical known to balance motivation, attention, movement and pleasure. Non-stimulant medications such as atomoxetine (Strattera) increase the level of norepinephrine, but is not found as effective as the stimulants.
In the United States, these drugs are used a greater percentage of time to treat ADHD over any other part of the world. Stimulant medications may prevent certain children to go on to have other mood disorders such as depression later in life,[vi]
and thus may be appropriate if other natural treatments are not effective. However, it is in our opinion that these medications should be used more judiciously than currently prescribed. We know that nearly one-third of children on these medications experience worrisome side effects.[vii]
There is an association with sudden unexplained deaths in pediatric patients, [viii]
adolescent medications abuse,[xi]
as well as increases in blood pressure and heart rates.[xii]