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ADD/ADHD: Holistic and Natural Approaches

Written by Pathways Magazine   
Monday, 01 March 2010 00:00
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Traditional Chinese Medicine

Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine have different approaches to diagnosing and treating attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. In the West, ADHD sufferers are usually prescribed anti-depressants or stimulants, such as Ritalin or Adderall. However, while prescription drugs may temporarily alleviate symptoms, they don’t treat the core problems. In addition, parents are often concerned about the effectiveness of prescription medication and the possible side effects. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), ADHD is attributed to an imbalance between yin and yang, the negative and positive phases in the body’s flow of vital energy, or qi. TCM comprises acupuncture, Chinese herbs, Tui-Na massage and nutritional therapy. It’s founded on the belief that good health is a function of inner harmony.

Treatment focuses on correcting the imbalance by applying the yin and yang theory. For example, a child with a yang (active) nature would receive treatment for the hyperactive, impulsive type of ADHD, as opposed to a child with a yin (passive) nature, who would be treated for inattentiveness. Once a pattern is diagnosed, acupuncture, Tui-Na massage and, in some cases, herbs are used to restore balance and a sense of relaxation and well-being. For children and infants, a non-needling modality of acupuncture called Shonishin is recommended before introducing needles. It consists of using small tools in a gentle stroking, rubbing or tapping manner to stimulate the child’s qi. Over the years, large strides have been made to treat ADHD with a combination of TCM and lifestyle changes. In cases of mild ADHD, TCM can be used as the sole form of treatment, eliminating the need for prescription drugs. For more severe cases, TCM is often used in conjunction with western medicine to help lower the dosage of medication needed or to reduce the side effects of prescription drugs.

Sharing in their child’s lifestyle changes can offer important benefits to parents as well, and they should also try to live balanced lives. Diet, physical exercise, yoga and meditation—or even simply some alone time—can all help parents restore balance and energy in their lives while reflecting positively on their children.

Montserrat Markou, MS, L.Ac., LMT, AlquimiaForHealth.com


Nutrition and Nutrients

A review of scientific literature finds certain risk factors for ADHD clustered around the following problems: food allergies; thyroid disorders; deficiencies in amino acids, essential fatty acids (EFAs), minerals and vitamin B; heavy metal toxicities; and a diet high in carbohydrates and low in protein. In 1981, I. Colquhoun and S. Bunday noted that hyperactive children exhibited physical disturbances (such as excessive thirst, frequent urination, drying and scaling of the skin, and behavioral abnormalities) that had been observed in animals deficient in EFAs. They found evidence that EFAs in the diet normally provide a “waterproofing” effect in the skin, but that in children with ADHD this did not seem to occur, resulting in eczema and similar abnormalities. Colquhoun and Bunday attributed the problem to a lack of the normal conversion of dietary EFAs into polyunsaturated fatty acids, PUFAs, through metabolism in the liver and gut, noting the critical role of PUFAs in perception, cognition, memory, attention and other cerebral functions.

Corroborating Colquhoun and Bunday’s hypothesis was a report published in the Netherlands in the 1980s and cited by David Horrobin, an investigator of EFAs. The report from the Netherlands was based on that nation’s highly complete public health records, which date back to a period of starvation during the Nazi occupation in the Second World War. The report described highly specific problems, including dyslexia and dyspraxia (later identified as representing ADHD) among children born to women from 4 to 12 months after the period of starvation. Very few studies have been done in the United States on the effect of diet on the disorder. Several studies reported after Horrobin’s work have found lower levels of EFAs in children with in ADHD, and at a 1999 conference sponsored

by the Georgetown University medical center, Bellanti and colleagues presented evidence that ADHD was worsened by a junk food diet, food dyes, sugar, and yeast overgrowth due to antibiotics and sugar.

Nutritional supplementation might also have beneficial effects on ADHD. A 1996 study found that children with ADHD had zinc levels one-third lower than children without the disorder, and a study published in 1997 found that 95 percent of children with ADHD were deficient in magnesium, as well. More recently, a small study published in a 2003 issue of the journal Alternative Medicine Review compared the effects of Ritalin to a nutritional supplement regimen of a multivitamin, multiple minerals, phytonutrients, EFAs from fish oil, soy lecithin as a source of phospholipid, acidophilus as a probiotic, amino acids, and supplements for detoxification. The researchers found that the supplementation regimen was as effective as Ritalin for children with ADHD, without the latter’s risk of side effects. The authors concluded that the study results suggested that the abnormalities in ADHD are not preprogrammed and inevitable, but are instead an expression of genetically determined risk, based on individual requirements for specific nutrients—which, if not provided in optimum quantities, may render affected individuals significantly more vulnerable to ADHD. In the near term, the key to managing ADHD at an intrinsic level, as opposed to “staving off ” its effects pharmacologically, is further research in nutrition and its relationship to behavior, focusing particularly on EFAs and the effects of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals on cerebral metabolism. A genetic answer, however, may lie farther in the future.

Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, drcarolyndean.com