Natural ADD/ADHD Treatment
Symptoms of ADD/ADHD
There are three subtypes of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Predominately hyperactive/impulsive, predominately inattentive, and combined hyperactive/impulsive and inattentive (the most common type). Per the National Institute of Mental Health, the following symptoms are associated with these subtypes:
An individual with inattention may have some or all of the following symptoms:
- Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
- Have difficulty maintaining focus on one task
- Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless doing something enjoyable
- Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new
- Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
- Not seem to listen when spoken to
- Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly
- Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
- Struggle to follow instructions
An individual with hyperactivity may have some or all of the following symptoms:
- Fidget and squirm in their seats
- Talk nonstop
- Dash around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
- Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, doing homework, and story time
- Be constantly in motion
- Have difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities
An individual with impulsivity may have some or all of the following symptoms:
- Be very impatient
- Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences
- Have difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turns in games
- Often interrupt conversations or others’ activities
Causes of ADD/ADHD
From a conventional medical perspective, the cause of ADD/ADHD is unknown. Some factors have been identified, however, that may play a role in ADD/ADHD:
- Environmental factors such as heavy metals, and alcohol and tobacco during pregnancy
- Food additives
- Brain injury
From a naturopathic medical perspective, however, there are other dietary/nutritional factors that can contribute to ADD/ADHD. While research on these factors has been mixed (probably because each of them only affects a subset, rather than all, kids with ADD/ADHD), in my experience most kids and adults with ADD/ADHD will improve when these factors are addressed. These factors are as follows:
- Food allergy/sensitivity
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Methylation defects
- Omega 3 fatty acid deficiency
ADD/ADHD, like most conditions, is multi-factorial. In any given person, a variety of factors will add up to cause the ADD/ADHD. When enough of those factors are present (when a certain threshold is exceeded), the person experiences ADD/ADHD. To prevent the ADD/ADHD, all of the factors don’t generally need to be addressed, just enough of the factors to take the person below this threshold.
Food Allergies in ADD/ADHD Treatment
Natural ADD/ADHD treatment, first and foremost, should begin with identifying food allergies. Food allergies are a common condition in which the immune system reacts to certain foods in the same way that it reacts to bacteria and viruses, namely by producing antibodies. Food allergies can be immediate and life threatening, as in the case of someone who eats a strawberry and can’t breathe, or they can be delayed and much less severe but nevertheless cause significant problems. The vast majority of people who have food allergies, many of whom don’t know it, have the delayed type of reaction.
The reason that many people aren’t aware that they have food allergies is because the allergic reaction can take up to two days to occur after eating the allergic food. This makes it very difficult to associate the symptoms of an allergic reaction to a particular food. The other difficulty is that food allergies can cause a wide variety of symptoms such as asthma, eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, ear infections, sinusitis, headaches, irritable bowel, inflammatory bowel disease, anxiety, depression, fatigue, hyperactivity, obesity, and post nasal drip.
There are many different options when it comes to diagnosing food allergies. The best is a blood antibody test, which is more accurate for this type of allergy than a skin prick test.
Blood Sugar Imbalances in ADD/ADHD Treatment
Blood sugar imbalances, caused by eating too much sugar and flour, are very important to address in natural ADD/ADHD treatment. Sugar and flour are high glycemic foods, which mean they cause your blood sugar to spike after you eat them. This is often followed by a blood sugar drop, known as reactive hypoglycemia. In addition to ADD/ADHD, sugar and flour can also cause inflammation, fatigue, weight gain, and anxiety. Adults who have high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol, or are overweight may have metabolic syndrome and are especially likely to benefit from avoiding high glycemic foods. Added sugars such as dessert, soda and other sugar sweetened beverages, honey, and maple syrup should be eliminated, and all grains should be whole grains and limited to once daily.
Methylation Defects in ADD/ADHD Treatment
Methylation is a process the body uses to make and metabolize neurotransmitters. Problems with methylation can therefore trigger neurotransmitter imbalances which lead to ADD/ADHD. The vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid/folate are crucial to proper methylation, and hence any problems with these nutrients can contribute to ADD/ADHD. Unfortunately it is not always as simple as taking a vitamin pill with the above nutrients, because some people don’t absorb or metabolize these vitamins properly.
- Folic acid – a fairly common genetic defect in the enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) can result in a reduced ability to convert dietary and supplemental folic acid to its activated form (L-5-methylfolate) which the body requires. Blood testing is available to determine if you have this genetic defect and supplemental L-5-methyfolate is available to bypass this issue
- Vitamin B12 – B12 is absorbed differently than any other vitamin or mineral, and some people are unable to absorb this nutrient properly. Even if you aren’t deficient, giving high levels of this vitamin by injection may help to compensate for other methylation defects and improve ADD/ADHD rapidly.
- Vitamin B6 – The levels of this nutrient in most vitamins and even B-complex formulas is too low for most people with ADD/ADHD. In addition, some people respond better to the activated form of vitamin B6, which is known as pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P).
Omega 3 Fatty Acid Deficiency in ADD/ADHD Treatment
Found primarily in fish, omega 3 oils such as EPA and DHA are crucial to proper brain function. They are therefore an important element of natural ADD/ADHD treatment. They also reduce inflammation and lower the risk of heart attack and stroke by about one third.
Neurotransmitter Imbalances in ADD/ADHD Treatment
Neurotransmitters are substances produced in the brain and elsewhere that substantially affect mood. Examples include serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, PEA, and GABA. Most medications used to treat ADD/ADHD alter neurotransmitter levels in one way or another. While most doctors treat most people with ADD/ADHD the same, not all people with ADD/ADHD have the same neurotransmitter imbalances. Some people have low levels of the focusing neurotransmitter PEA, others may low levels of the excitatory neurotransmitter norepinephrine.
Fortunately testing is now available to test neurotransmitter levels in the urine, allowing treatment to be tailored to the individual. Once a person’s specific imbalances are known, there are a variety of natural substances such as amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and herbal medicines that can be used to increase or decrease specific neurotransmitters to return the person to balance.
Natural Medicines for ADD/ADHD
For those in whom identifying and treating the underlying causes of ADD/ADHD aren’t enough, there are a variety of natural medicines that can be very effective. Here are some of my favorites:
- DL-phenylalanine – an amino acid precursor to the excitatory neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine
Natural Medicines vs. Prescription Drugs
While prescription drugs can offer effective relief from ADD/ADHD, they can also cause significant side effects, including headache, insomnia, nausea, abdominal pain, racing heart, nervousness, and other negative effects. Prescription drugs also usually just treat one complaint. If you have four different complaints, you will need to take 4 (or more) different drugs to address those complaints. Prescription drugs are also periodically recalled as new evidence comes to light on significant side effects (look at the example of hormone replacement therapy, to name only one). In contrast, the natural medicines I describe here typically have few to no side effects. The dietary changes and natural medicines I describe often help with many complaints at the same time. A person with food allergies, for example, may suffer from asthma, stomach aches, and eczema – addressing the food allergies typically resolves or helps with all of these complaints at the same time, and helps to prevent future disease. Here is what I like to say to illustrate this point:
“Give a man a drug, he’s healthy for a day.
Teach a woman a healthy lifestyle, she’ll be healthy for a lifetime.”
Bottom Line for the Natural Treatment of ADD/ADHD
Natural ADD/ADHD treatment should begin with identifying and treating the underlying causes that can contribute to ADD/ADHD. Specifically, I recommend:
- Get a blood test for food allergies – Easy and accurate, this can be extraordinarily helpful
- Eat less sugar and flour – the effects of this simple dietary intervention can be dramatic for many people
- Take fish oil, or another source of omega 3 oils
- Test your neurotransmitters if the above items aren’t enough
- Take natural medicines such as DL-phenylalanine when you need something more
How We Can Help
Naturopathic doctors are physician experts in treating the underlying cause of disease and using natural medicines to help people get and stay well. To find out which natural treatments are appropriate for you or to be tested for food allergies, schedule an office visit or food allergy test.