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Natural medicine can help ADHD

My son has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. What is it, how is it diagnosed, and is there anything natural medicine can do to help him?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD, is the most common nervous system disorder in children. The condition becomes apparent in early school years, even as early as pre-school, and can continue into adulthood. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately three to five percent of children in the United States have ADHD.

The common signs and symptoms of children with ADHD include inattention or frequent daydreaming; they may often be sidetracked or unable to focus because they're easily distracted by activity around them. Children with ADHD have trouble following instructions and often lose their homework or tools they need, like pencil or paper. They are impulsive, tend to act without thinking, and may blurt things out in the classroom. They can also be restless and in constant motion, whether by running around, fidgeting, talking incessantly, or touching or playing with anything nearby.

For a diagnosis of ADHD, these behaviors must appear before age seven and continue for six months. They must also create a handicap in two key areas of the child's life, such as at school or at home. Usually the teacher is the first person to notice a child may have ADHD and recommend that he or she be evaluated by a licensed professional.

If your child has been definitively diagnosed with ADHD, there are prescription medications that can help. However, there are many ways natural medicine can also help with this condition. Two of the immediate and easiest things to do include changing your child's diet, and increasing his or her consumption of essential fats.

Insist that your child eat a whole foods diet that limits exposure to food colorings and preservatives. A double-blind placebo controlled study published in the prestigious journal Lancet (2007) showed that the consumption of artificial colors, or a preservative called sodium benzoate, or both, increased hyperactivity in three-year-olds and eight- and nine-year-olds. This study supports the observations of many parents, teachers, and researchers. In fact, 30 years ago researcher Dr. Ben Feingold reported that consuming large amounts of artificial food colorings contributed to hyperactive behavior.

To help your child with ADHD, give him or her essential fatty acids from fish oils. A pilot study published in the journal Nutrition (2007) reported that consuming high doses (16.2 grams daily) of the essential fats (called EPA and DHA) found in fish oil for eight weeks improved attention, and reduced hyperactivity.


Dr. Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu, as well as author of the new book Natural Choices for Women's Health, published by Random House. You can reach her and read her past columns at www.DrSteelsmith.com. This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.


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