Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a real, lifelong condition characterized by the following core symptoms: inattention, distractibility, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. These symptoms are not, however, the only problems that an ADHD sufferer encounters. The disorder results in behaviours that affect almost every aspect of a person's life, resulting in impaired functioning that commonly persists into adulthood.
ADHD is often present from birth, and in most cases is inherited. In many people, however, symptoms do not appear for several years. At younger ages, hyperactivity is the most commonly observed symptom. Inattentiveness and problems with organization and executive functions are not usually seen until much later as life's demands increase or symptoms overwhelm a person's ability to cope.
In general, women and girls with ADHD are less hyperactive and more inattentive than males with the disorder. For a girl with ADHD, symptoms may not affect her functioning for years if she receives a lot of support at home or at school, has a high IQ, or if she works hard and uses coping strategies.
ADHD symptoms are not episodic or transient. One key to its diagnosis is that the symptoms are excessive, pervasive, and long-term. That being said, the triad of symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity characterizes ADHD.
Problems with attention can include:
- Poor time management
- Frequent misplacing or loss of items
- Mind wandering during meetings, lectures, or conversations
- Lack of planning
Problems with impulse control and hyperactivity are often manifested in adults by:
- Tendency to interrupt others
- Easy loss of temper
- Low frustration tolerance
- Risk-taking behaviours
The following additional problems are often associated with ADHD. They possibly arise from the symptoms or they are due to problems adjusting to the symptoms:
- Chronic lateness and forgetfulness; poor organization skills
- Low self-esteem
- Employment problems
- Difficulty controlling anger
- Substance abuse or addition
- Chronic boredom
- Difficulty concentrating when reading
- Mood swings
- Relationship problems
There are several theories of the causes of ADHD, including genetic factors, lead poisoning, and nutritional deficiency. Most scientists agree that the condition is neurobiological in nature and affects several areas of the brain, including those responsible for behaviour, working memory, and executive functions.
Other current theories include:
- Structural abnormalities in the brain. Research using magnetic resonance imaging has shown that four brain regions in children with ADHD are smaller than those in children without ADHD.
- An insufficient supply of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. This theory would explain why stimulant medications that increase dopamine in the brain are effective in controlling ADHD symptoms. Researchers speculate that the lack of dopamine may affect how it interacts with two other neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and serotonin.
- ADHD is really a sleep disorder in disguise. Some researchers believe the disorder may be caused by a sleep-deprived brain, and the hyperactivity in children with ADHD exhibit may be an effort to compensate for drowsiness. Many kids with ADHD have sleep disorders, while others sleep so soundly that it's hard to wake them up.
- Heredity. While researchers don't fully understand why and how ADHD is passed from one generation to the next, they agree there is a strong genetic component.
- Environmental agents. Cigarette and alcohol use during pregnancy may increase the risk of ADHD in children. High levels of lead also cause ADHD.
- Nutritional deficiencies and suboptimal nutrition. Calcium, magnesium, and zinc deficiencies are found to be common in clients with ADHD. Iron can cause some concentration deficits. Several B vitamins as well as omega-3 essential fatty acids are vital for healthy brain function.
- Allergies and blood sugar issues have to be managed. Allergies are often found to be the main cause.
- Intestinal infections such as yeast overgrowth are also implicated in a condition known as Gut and Psychology Syndrome, GAPS.
Sometimes primary care providers don't know enough about ADHD to diagnose ADHD properly, or they simply don't have enough time to do a good job during a busy day. That's where parents and carers come in. If they are armed with knowledge of the disorder and have an understanding of the criteria of a good diagnosis of ADHD, they can help gather the relevant information, or, where necessary, insist that the medical evaluation follow good practice guidelines.
A good diagnosis of ADHD follows criteria established by an approved child behaviour checklist and includes behavioural information on the child from multiple informants.
The Orthodox Approach
Stimulant drugs such as Ritalin are commonly the mainstay.
The IMI Approach
The Naturopathic Approach. Our first consideration is to feed the starving brain. Treatment can include nutritional supplementation, starting with magnesium and calcium daily, along with suitable omega-3 products. Vitamin B6 can be indicated if dream recall is poor. Omega-3 with DHA and also the gamma-linolenic acid oils (GLA) is indicated if the client has dry skin or a history of eczema. With these simple supplements, a high percent of clients with ADHD are able to stop taking Ritalin or other stimulant drugs within months.
Another supplement, phosphatidylserine, has proven to be effective for more difficult cases. It is especially effective for issues such as poor concentration, low alertness, chronic lateness, forgetfulness, and poor organization skills.
Allergies are common contributors, and "brain allergies" are well documented. If the young client has dark circles and swellings under the eyes, it indicates a sensitivity to something in the diet. If the client had frequent ear infections as an infant, the naturopath will look into a milk allergy. Usually, it is the client's favourite food. Milk, wheat, corn, chocolate, eggs, citrus, and artificial colours are often the source of the allergy. Removal of these foods and additives, and supplementation of quality therapeutic grade probiotics can result in remarkable changes in a client with ADHD.
If the client has a Candida yeast overgrowth in the intestines as a result of excessive antibiotic courses, this might require anti-fungal treatment for several months.
Dr Ben Feingold, an allergist, found that many hyperactive people are sensitive to aspirin, which occurs naturally in many foods. He found that such clients often developed asthma, nasal polyps, skin rashes, and even irritability and odd behaviour, including hyperactivity. When these clients (often adults) stopped using aspirin, the symptoms disappeared.
If the client has severe mood swings, or a Jekyll-and-Hyde-type personality, it might indicate an intermittent low blood sugar condition. In this case, the client will be advised to nibble at small meals and snacks throughout the day to keep blood sugar levels up, or at least eat some additional protein and less sugary carbohydrates for better maintenance of blood sugar levels. Removing sugar, sodas, or white-flour junk food from the diet is often the only thing needed in this situation, along with supplements that help balance blood sugar.
In other cases, boosting dopamine levels with certain amino acids or herbs can be worthwhile. Developing good sleep habits is also recommended.
A naturopath will usually conduct blood testing for allergies and check levels of zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6, and essential fatty acids to identify the deficiencies and correct them.
The Homeopathic Approach. Homeopathy is one of the most popular holistic systems of medicine. Remedies are selected based upon the theory of individualization and symptoms similarity. The aim of homeopathy is to not only treat the symptoms, but to address its underlying cause and individual susceptibility. The only way complete health can be regained is by removing all the signs and symptoms from which the client is suffering.
As far as therapeutic medication is concerned, several can be selected on the basis of the cause, sensations, and modalities of the complaints. There are some specific homeopathic remedies that are quite helpful in the treatment of ADHD symptoms: Ars alb, Nux, Cina, Acon, Sul, Bry, Hyosc, Anac, Rhus Tox, Ign, Sil, Baryta Carb, Phos, and many others.
For individualized remedy selection and treatment, the client should consult a qualified homeopathic doctor.
Parenting Skills. Parents also tend to benefit from courses tailored to the particular challenges presented by a child with ADHD. In the U.K., such parent training courses are now considered the first line of treatment for ADHD. Medication is used only in severe cases or when other approaches don't work. Your doctor may be able to recommend course for parents and carers (as well as for children) to attend, or refer you to a practitioner who provides behavioural therapy or family counselling. There also are active client and family support groups.