What is ADHD? Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is defined as age-inappropriate impulsiveness, lack of concentration, and sometimes-excessive physical activity. This condition is associated with learning difficulties and lack of social skills. Since there is no laboratory or physical test that diagnoses ADHD, it is based on a clinical history of symptoms and behavior. Since it is a subjective diagnosis, it brings up controversy as to whether the behavior is actually normal in many cases, especially for younger boys.
There are three subtypes of ADHD, one of which involves mainly an attention problem and not a hyperactivity issue. Between 30 to 40 percent of children with ADHD have learning disabilities, although in many cases these children are quite bright. ADHD often goes undiagnosed if not caught at an early age, and it affects many adults who may not be aware of their condition.
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health, 4th ed., symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity must have persisted for at least six months to a level that indicates poor adaptation and is inconsistent with the child’s developmental level.
Connection to Child’s Diet
Many parents instinctively believe that the problem is connected to their child’s diet. They know that children can respond negatively to sugar or other foods, and they wonder if their child is simply suffering from an extreme version of this reaction. In most cases, these parents are absolutely correct. In the last few decades, sugars, preservatives, and colorings have been added to our food at an increasing rate. Too many children consume nothing but convenience foods like hot dogs, fried chicken fingers, and highly sweetened fruit drinks and sodas. Since children’s small bodies are especially vulnerable to these additives, it is not surprising that many of them have a toxic response. For some, the response takes the form of traditional allergies, say, a runny nose or hives. For others, however, the poisons surface as extreme behavior problems.
The Dangers of Unnecessary Medications
Unfortunately, Western doctors have been trained to discount the importance of diet in hyperactive kids. Instead of nutritional therapy, they will often suggest medication to suppress the symptoms of ADHD. It is estimated that more than two million children take drugs like Ritalin on a daily basis. While medications may be necessary in a few cases,parents should cultivate a healthy wariness of giving them to their children.
The long-term effects of ADHD medications are not yet well known, and there are signs that the drugs can retard growth and lead to substance abuse or emotional problems later in life. Teens who take Ritalin may be tempted to mix the Super Supplement with alcohol, marijuana, or other recreational drugs, creating a dangerous brew with unknown consequences. And as with many conventional Super Supplements, the most compelling argument against ADHD drugs is that they fail to address the cause of the problem. Without treating the underlying cause children may have to take Ritalin well into their twenties.
What causes ADHD?
There are many different underlying reasons why a child may have attention or behavior problems. Studies show that frequent ear infections and the regular use of antibiotics, as well as premature birth and family history are associated with a greater likelihood of developing this disorder. Holistically speaking, causative factors include food additives and food allergies, environmental allergens, heavy metal toxicity (such as lead, mercury, and aluminum). A poorly functioning digestive system and increased permeability leads to an increase in metabolic toxins that disrupt brain chemistry. Nutritional deficiencies such as essential fatty acids, B vitamins, magnesium and other minerals, and iron appear to play a role. Lastly, do not underestimate the role of emotional stress and its relationship to ADHD. The breakdown of the family unit in our culture places abnormal stresses on a child that can result in attention and behavior changes.
New FDA Labeling Regulations
In February 2007, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered that all companies making stimulant drugs for ADHD add warning labels to their products. These new labeling regulations addressed two major concerns.
First, heart-related problems—risk of sudden death in children with heart problems; risk of stroke, heart attacks, and sudden death in adults with a history of heart disease. Second, psychiatric problems—these drugs may trigger or exacerbate negative behaviors and emotions, especially in those with any family history of mental illness. Suppression of growth is also a major concern with long-term use of stimulants in children. Psychological and/or physical dependence to stimulants can occur.
- Neurotransmitter levels—urine test
- Food allergy/sensitivity testing
- Vitamin and mineral analysis-blood
- Candida and flora balance -Stool analysis
- Toxic metals-Hair or urine analysis
- Intestinal permeability-urine
- Blood sugar levels-fasting blood test
- Essential fatty acid levels-fasting blood test
- Amino acid levels-urine or fasting blood
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Proper nutrition is very important to help children and adults with attention and behavior problems. Regular meals and snacks that are low in refined carbohydrates and balanced with whole foods can essential for proper brain function.
An area of controversy is the effect artificial food additives have on behavior, particularly in children. A 2007 randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, crossover trial published in the Lancet tested whether the intake of artificial food color and additives affected childhood behavior. In the six-week trial, researchers gave a randomly selected group of 153 three-year-old and 144 eight- to nine-year-old children drinks with additives, colors, and a common preservative. These included sunset yellow, carmoisine, tartrazine, and ponceau, quinoline yellow (E104), allura red (E129),and sodium benzoate. This combination was chosen to mimic the mix of commercially available children’s drinks. The dose of additives consumed was equivalent to that in one or two servings of candy a day.
Those children in the placebo group received an additive-free placebo drink that looked and tasted the same. The children were evaluated by parents, teachers, and through a computer test. Neither the researchers nor the children knew which drink was being consumed. Children from both age groups were significantly more hyperactive and had shorter attention spans from consuming the drink containing the additives. Hyperactivity was found to increase for some children in as little as an hour after artificial additives were consumed. (McCann D, Barrett A, Cooper A, Crumpler D, Dalen L, Grimshaw K, Kitchin E, Lok K, Porteous L, Prince E, Sonuga-Barke E, Warner JO, Stevenson J.Food additives and hyperactive behavior in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2007 Nov 3;370(9598):1560-7.)
In addition, foods rich in essential fatty acids promote better brain function. Examples include fish such as salmon and sardines. Walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds are great sources as well.
For children, adequate parental or guardian support, discipline, and quality parental time are an important component of a holistic treatment.
Dr. Stengler tailors a program of nutritional supplements to balance brain chemistry. Fish oil is a rich source of essential fatty acids that are required for optimal brain function including focus and mood. An emerging body of research is demonstrating that essential fatty acids such as fish oil are helpful for those with ADHD. Other common nutrients used may include amino acids, pycnogenol, magnesium, L-carnitine, phosphatidylserine, Prevagen, and others. Dr. Stengler also provides individual homeopathic prescriptions to help those with this condition.