Naturopathic Medicine for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a medical condition that usually first becomes apparent during early childhood. It is one of the most common of all childhood disorders, affecting anywhere from 3 to 8 percent of all children in the United States. Authorities differ about the prevalence of the disorder because its symptoms tend to mimic behaviors that are not unusual in children who do not have ADHD. Those symptoms include hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sometimes referred to as attention deficit disorder (ADD), find it difficult to concentrate for very long on any one task, tend to move quickly from one activity to another, act before they have given any thought to their behavior, have difficulty remaining quiet and focused, and easily become bored with challenges set before them.
A number of medications are available for treating attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), perhaps the most popular of which is methylphenidate (Ritalin®). But many parents and health care workers are reluctant to medicate children who exhibit the symptoms of ADHD. Fortunately, alternative treatments are available, one of which is provided by naturopathic medicine, a method of treatment that relies on herbs, diet, and other natural materials and forces as they work in conjunction with the body’s own inherent ability to heal itself and to cure disease.
How Can Naturopathic Medicine Be Used to Treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
Naturopaths believe that the symptoms associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be caused by any number of factors, including heredity, diet, family problems, and cultural pressures. The first step in treating the disorder, therefore, is a consultation in which the practitioner obtains a complete life history of the patient to discover which of these factors might be involved in causing ADHD. The naturopath may also take blood samples and conduct other tests that can be used to assess a patient’s body chemistry, to determine whether there are any obvious dietary deficiencies that must be corrected. The treatment recommended for the patient is determined, then, as a result of the initial consultation and any tests that are performed.
Adjustments to a patient’s diet may be the first step a naturopathic doctor takes in treating ADHD. Many practitioners believe, for example, that American children eat too much refined sugar and foods with artificial additives. A reduction or elimination of such foods from the diet may help relieve the symptoms of ADHD. In other cases, a patient may be deficient in any one of a number of essential nutrients that every health person should have in his or her diet, nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, vitamin B6, zinc, and iron. Patients who are deficient in these nutrients may be offered dietary supplements to ensure they receive adequate amounts of each.
Lifestyle issues are also important. American society is often characterized by a rapid pace in which family life is fragmented, causing emotional pressures on children and producing irregular and disruptive sleeping and eating patterns. A naturopath will review a child’s family life to look for ways in which he or she can lead a calmer, more regular existence. Cultural influences may also affect a child’s behavior. Some naturopaths believe, for example, that television provides young people with negative images that may lead to violent antisocial behaviors. Simply reducing the amount of time a child spends watching television or playing violent games may contribute to reducing the child’s own inappropriate behaviors. Mind-body techniques, such a biofeedback training and relaxation therapy, may also help reduce the antisocial behaviors characteristic of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Finally, a number of herbs have been recommended for the treatment of ADHD. These herbs include catnip (Nepeta cataria), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), hawthorne (Crataegus oxyacantha), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), and valerian (Valeriana officinalis).
What is Naturopathic Medicine?
Naturopathic Medicine is form of alternative and complementary medicine based on the concept that the human body has a natural ability and tendency to fight disease and heal itself. The practitioner’s task is to find ways to help the patient’s body achieve these results. The specific procedures or materials used to bring about improvements in one’s physical and mental health depends on the specific conditions that have led to a person’s diminished condition. Those procedures and materials may include techniques such as aromatherapy, hypnotism, acupuncture, physical therapy, massage, and hydrotherapy. The control of diet is often an important element in naturopathic medicine involving the removal of certain harmful materials from one’s diet and the inclusion of helpful materials, such as herbs and foods with special nutritional benefits.
What Are the Causes of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
Medical researchers are not certain about the cause or causes of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). There is strong evidence that heredity may be an important factor. Children who have ADHD are likely to have relatives with the same condition. Researchers suspect that brain structure and brain function may also be responsible for the symptoms of ADHD. Imaging studies have shown that some parts of the brain do not function properly in children with ADHD, nor do their brains produce and/or process neurotransmitters (chemical compounds that carry messages in the brain) as they do in children without ADHD. Women who use tobacco or certain types of drugs when they are pregnant are more likely to have children with ADHD than are women who do not use those substances. Allopathic practitioners may differ from naturopathic physicians about the causes of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in that they tend to think that dietary and parenting factors are not responsible for the development of ADHD.
Mitchell, Stewart. Naturopathy: Understanding the Healing Power of Nature. Boston: Element Books, 1998.
The Natural Health Service. “Case History: Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).”
Thiel, Robert J. Combining Old and New: Naturopathy for the 21st Century. Warsaw, IN: Whitman Publications, 2001.
Lawton, Suzanne ND. “AD(H)D and Natural Medicine.”