I recently watched a stand-up comedy special starring Norm MacDonald. He was commenting on his childhood, and how all he wanted to do while sitting in a classroom was to go outside and play with a big tree branch.
He then wondered about hyperactive kids today and their feelings about being stuck in a classroom with the addition of authority figures yelling, “Now we’re going to drug you.”
While this commentary is an oversimplification of the plight of modern kids, it does raise the question of whether or not medications are the only option when dealing with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Researchers estimate that 5% of all Canadian children ages 3 to 9 fit the criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD (1). Boys are more commonly affected. Inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, in both the classroom and at home, are the main symptoms of ADHD.
The recent changes to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) now include details to help doctors identify ADHD in adults, and changes the previous age cutoff in children from 7 to 12 years old (2).
It is important to not jump to a quick diagnosis of ADHD, as many other disorders mimic it.
Autism and ADD / ADHD
Often, Children who are on the autism spectrum often have ADHD.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is often mistaken for ADHD. In ODD, children display angry and irritable mood, argumentative or defiant behaviour, or vindictiveness for at least six months.
Children and adults with ODD will direct their anger towards at least one person who is not a sibling and will have significant problems at work, in the classroom, or at home (3).
While children with ODD are more likely also to have a learning disability, the important issue here is to receive a thorough workup and diagnosis from a trained psychologist. An accurate diagnosis will ensure that appropriate treatment for you or your child.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that preschool children with ADHD receive behavioural therapy as a first line treatment.
In school children with ADHD, stimulant ADHD drugs like methylphenidate (aka Ritalin) and atomoxetine are considered first line treatment (4).
Common side effects of these ADHD drugs include reduced appetite and weight loss, problems sleeping, and stunted growth. Long-term use of methylphenidate can also lead to depletion of zinc in children with ADHD (5).
When supplemented with zinc + methylphenidate, children with ADHD in a 2004 study improved in teacher and parent rating scales compared to children taking placebo + methylphenidate (6).
Diet and Allergies
In a 2016 a retrospective study of around 4200 children in the Netherlands, researchers found that children with ADHD were more likely to be medicated for asthma, seasonal allergies, and eczema.
Furthermore, ADHD was deemed to be more common in children whose parents were taking medications for asthma and seasonal allergies (7).
In 2015, a systematic review of hypoallergenic diets for children with ADHD found a small but significant improvement in symptom severity (8).
Another 2015 study showed that supplementing fish oil into children’s diets for 16 weeks brought down both inflammatory markers and ADHD symptom severity (9).
The reality is that some people require ADHD drugs to control their symptoms.
A variety of naturopathic interventions can target the side effects of commonly prescribed ADHD medications, ADHD symptoms, and conditions often found alongside ADD / ADHD like allergies and digestive concerns.
Speak with your Naturopathic Doctor to find out which interventions are best suited for you or your child.
This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Now I would like to hear from you. Does your child have ADHD? What have you tried to help their symptoms? Let us know in the comments below.