Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is the most commonly reported childhood behaviour disorder, and is characterised by poor attention span, impulsive behaviour, and hyperactivity in some children. It is most common in childhood but some sufferers carry the condition on into adulthood. While the most common treatment for this condition is a medication called Ritalin, there are some natural therapies that can be of great help. Read on to learn more.
While the exact cause or precursor of ADD is unknown, there are some major contributors, such as food intolerances, adverse reactions to food additives, sensitivities to environmental chemicals, moulds, and fungi, and exposure to neurodevelopmental toxins such as heavy metals and organohalide pollutants. Nutritional deficiencies are common in ADD and supplementation can be of help. This will be discussed in a later section.
There are several characteristics of ADD. These include:
• difficulty organising tasks and finding it difficult to get started
• mental restlessness
• easily distracted
• difficulty completing tasks
• moving from task to another
• trouble keeping attention
• constantly losing belongings
• forgetting things easily
• trouble keeping track of events or sequences
There are several dietary changes that can be made in order to improve the symptoms of ADD. B vitamins are required in order to assist the brain enzymes that process carbohydrates for energy and to regulate neurotransmitters. DHA, an important fatty acid, is often present in lower levels in sufferers of ADD. Improving the levels of this fatty acid in the body improves behaviour. While supplements are available, it is best to increase the consumption of fatty cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, and tuna, all rich sources of DHA.
Vitamin C and proanthocyanidins (found in grape seed extract) are necessary for several functions in the brain. Vitamin C is used to manufacture neurotransmitters and proanthocyanidins are used to modify enzymatic activities. The proanthocyanidins are also used to stop the vitamin C from being oxidised or interacting with copper and iron to produce free radicals. Zinc and magnesium supplementation is useful as deficiencies in both of these have been associated with ADD.
If a salicylate and additive free diet is followed, the symptoms of ADD will often improve dramatically, but if additives are reintroduced, the symptoms will return straight away. Food allergens are also thought to be a cause of ADD. Following an elimination diet can help to improve behaviour in sufferers of ADD. Common dietary allergens are implicated – such as dairy, nuts, fish, wheat, and soy – as well as additives.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the main causes for ADD are: a congenital liver or kidney deficiency or trauma during birth or childhood. The main TCM mechanism for ADD is the disharmony between yin and yang in the dysfunctional heart, liver, spleen or kidney. This is the cause of lack of concentration. If there is a heart and kidney deficiency, the person will have slow mental reactions, poor memory, lack of concentration, enuresis, many dreams, and a dark complexion. The remedy for this is Kong Sheng Zhen Zhong Dan. If there is a kidney deficiency with a hyperactive liver yang, the person is easily upset, loud, easily excited, and finds it difficult to sit down for long periods of time. The remedy for this is Qi Ju Di Huang Wan and Long Gu, Mu Li. In a heart and spleen qi deficiency, the person is in their own world, has a lack of concentration, is a dream, has quiet, subtle movement, is a light sleeper, sweats spontaneously, sweats at night, and is a picky eater. The remedy for this is Gui Pi Tang and Gan Mai Da Zao Tang.
Behaviour modification therapies are helpful for children with ADD but they are shown to be more successful when the child has an active role in deciding the program, and its goals and incentives. Therapies that aim to change behaviour using punishments alone are generally unsuccessful. The key is to reward good behaviour.
Cognitive therapy aims to help the child to manage skills such as problem solving and self control. Activities used in cognitive therapy can range from role playing to having a plan in advance on how to handle particular situations. The person learns to think through the consequences their actions may have before actually performing the action. This therapy is most helpful for impulsive people.
People that are quick to anger as a result of their ADD can benefit from anger management training. They are taught to recognise the signs of their growing anger and are given a range of tools and coping skills in order to diffuse the aggression. Relaxation techniques and stress management skills are also taught.
ADD can make a child or person unpopular due to aggression and the lack of coping skills. Social training can help to teach the child or person how to interact with other people in an appropriate and satisfying way. Some basic social skills that are taught include different ways of starting a conversation, the importance of holding eye contact when speaking, listening skills, and how to play cooperatively with others.
For this to be effective, everyone in the family needs to know as much as possible about the disorder. The aim is to help all of the members of the family to better understand and cope with the sufferer’s behaviour. For example, parents may be taught to use management techniques such as time out and how to balance punishment and rewards.
Herbal remedies are used for ADD due to their sedative or anxiolytic properties as well as their role in enhancing memory and cognition. Sedative herbs are often used due to the frequency of sleep problems in children with ADD, and the most popular sedative herbs are chamomile, lemon balm, valerian, passion flower, and hops. Kava is thought to have anxiolytic, sedative, and muscle relaxant properties without adverse effects on cognitive function or mental acuity. Trials have suggested that kava is helpful for managing anxiety and tension. Gingko biloba has promising effects on adult cognition, concentration, and memory, making it useful for treating ADD.
Hypnotherapy makes it possible for the sufferer to gain a sense of control, increase their self esteem and competence, and reduce stress. It is particularly helpful when it is integrated into a treatment program and adapted to the sufferer’s developmental age. While it may not necessarily improve the core symptoms of ADD, it can help with the associated symptoms such as sleep disturbances.
Mindful awareness or mindfulness involves paying close attention to your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. It is a tool used to foster wellness, especially psychological wellbeing. In ADD, it helps to control your attention. It helps you to pay attention to paying attention. As well, it also makes you more aware of your emotional state, to avoid impulsive reactions.