Children and ADHD
The scene is familiar to most integrative pediatricians- the child sitting in their chair, maybe fidgeting or playing with a toy or iphone shared by their parent. That parent shares with you, under hushed voices, the challenges that have been going on with your patient- the trouble focusing in school, the behavior, the frustration they all feel, including the child herself, because they aren’t achieving the goals they hoped for when they started medication or counseling. They’ve tried everything traditionally recommended: Adderall, Stratera, Concerta, Ritalin and others. And so they are here- looking for your help today.
Unfortunately, this is a familiar scene. The US Centers for Disease Control reports that in 2011, the percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis increased to 11.0%, with some states, like Kentucky, posting diagnosis rates of nearly 19%- one in five children!
So, what can we do?
First, make sure that you are getting a good history and comparing a child’s behavior to how children should behave, not to how adults should behave. There is likely an element of over-diagnosis contributing to this rising statistic, and setting expectations of what can be expected of children is important, as well as coaching good parenting skills that can help to get the best out of children.
Second, look around at the child’s environment. The data is fascinating about the role of environmental toxins on children’s neuronal development, and this starts in-utero. What is in this child’s environment that may be harming their brain function, and what things can be easily changed? Preservatives, pesticides, and additives in food can be contributors to changed behavior. Get the family eating closer to the earth, with a focus on whole, unprocessed, organic food!
Lastly, consider what therapeutics can be helpful, and start with behaviors before ANY pills, pharmaceutical or natural. Does the child get enough fresh air and exercise? Consider a prescription of an exercise regime that also offers the chance to practice focus, such as martial arts or kids’ yoga. Consider what daily routines could help a child stay on track. Most schools offer support in this area, including support not just in the school, but guiding parents to what can help at home.
Regarding therapeutics, think first about what nutrients will help with healthy brain growth and development, and also consider nutrients that will help support increased blood flow to the brain and support healthy cognition. For the former, some go-to therapeutics include a good multivitamin (free of colors, additives, etc) and fish oil. With fish oil, a combination product containing both EPA and DHA is preferred, and I’d shoot for a potent dose, about 1 gram daily (1,000 mg) of EPA/DHA for a child of 50-75 lbs. To support healthy cognition, there are many combination products available and intended specifically for children. These often contain ingredients like L-theanine and GABA to support a calm mind, in addition to herbs like gotu kola and rhodiola. In addition to the nutrients in a multivitamin, additional B vitamins may also support a healthy, focused mind in kids, and can be dosed in an easy-to-use lozenge.
If you’re a health care practitioner, feel free to use Emerson’s Ask the Doctor feature to get more info. If you are a patient, I encourage you to look for a licensed naturopathic physician or integrative healthcare practitioner in your area to get personalized professional advice.
Jaclyn Chasse, ND