Naturopathic approach to ADD/ADHD

Posted on Oct 14, 2008 in Heavy Metals

The naturopathic approach to managing ADD/ADHD involves consideration of the following10,11:

* Remove common food triggers from the diet for a period of 2-3 weeks. Whilst there may be no identifiable food allergies or intolerances initially, it is very helpful to lift the load off the digestive system
* Lactic acid bacteria (L. acidophilus and B. animalis) to manage gut dysbiosis
* Glutamine is an essential nutrient for the cells lining the small intestine
* For those children sensitive to certain grains, alternatives to consider include spelt, kamut, millet, barley and rice
* It has been found that simply eliminating sugar from the diet does not bring about significant improvement over the long term. However, blood sugar irregularities should be investigated as they can contribute to mood swings
* Chromium supplementation to address impaired glucose tolerance resulting from disturbed insulin response (again, digestive dysfunction and food intolerances can impair insulin response)
* Minimise the consumption of artificial colourings and flavourings, antioxidant preservatives and processed foods including refined carbohydrates
* Ensure adequate protein is provided by the diet.

Identify the possibility of heavy metal involvement

Lead toxicity may contribute to hyperactivity and other behavioural problems in children. Children are more sensitive to lead toxicity because of their greater capacity for lead absorption12. Studies show that disturbances of attention function are a consistent effect of lead exposure, and that the effects of lead are most evident in the performance areas of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – Revised (an educational test13), and in perceptual and motor function14.

Over-exposure to heavy metals (such as lead) can interfere with nutrient uptake. Lead may interfere with calcium absorption, and in fact, lead absorption can be stimulated by calcium deficiency12.

It is also important for the practitioner to be aware that blood levels of lead below those associated with obvious symptoms may still have adverse effects on the brain14.

If heavy metal toxicity is identified, treatment with the following should be considered15:

* Alpha-lipoic acid
* Selenium
* Vitamin C
* Chlorella, garlic and coriander (fresh): useful for assisting chelating agents – a combination which could be taken as a juice.

Other nutrients to consider:

* Fish oil: the increased requirement for the omega-3 essential fatty acids in people with ADD/ADHD has been extensively studied. Research concludes that some hyperactive children have a deficiency of omega-3 essential fatty acids. This may be due to an inability to absorb them adequately from the gastrointestinal tract, dietary deficiency, or the result of the need for increased levels of essential fatty acids compared to other children16,17.
* Zinc is necessary for the metabolism of essential fatty acids. Many children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD are deficient in this vital mineral18. It is interesting to note that zinc concentrates in the hippocampus of the brain, an area involved in learning and memory19. Zinc deficiency has been found to be a factor in hyperactivity and concentration and it has been suggested that adequate stimulant response depends upon adequate plasma zinc levels5.
* Iron deficiency may lead to anxiety, aggressiveness and poor attention span, and any deficiency should be investigated and addressed. The frequent occurrence of ‘restless legs syndrome’ in children with ADD/ADHD may be associated with iron deficiencies20.
* Magnesium deficiency is very common in children and this has implications for the nervous system. Magnesium has a calming effect and has been shown in a study to decrease hyperactivity in magnesium deficient children with ADHD21. Low levels of magnesium produce an increase in irritability of the nervous system22.
* Calcium is synergistic with magnesium and important for the nervous system. Children can easily become deficient in calcium at times of accelerated growth. In a pilot study conducted by the Austin Hospital Department of Psychiatry, it was found that children with ADHD placed on mineral supplementation had a reduced degree of hyperactive disturbance23.
* B group vitamins, particularly vitamins B1, B9, B6 and B3, are indicated for metabolism and support to the nervous system. Vitamin B6 has been particularly identified as having relevance to ADD/ADHD due to its requirement for the synthesis of neurotransmitters8,24.

Herbal medicines:

* Ginkgo biloba has been found to be beneficial for neurotransmitter function and has been found to support cognitive function25. Studies have shown that children with ADD had reduced blood flow in the brain compared to controls26.
* Brahmi (Bacopa monniera) is an Ayurvedic herb having a positive influence on many nerve endings found in the brain that are important for memory and cognition. The herb is indicated for use as a brain tonic for improving memory, concentration and learning27.
* St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has effects on serotonin levels of the brain. It should be considered in patients with ADD/ADHD, as blood levels of serotonin tend to be lower in sufferers of ADD/ADHD with the more severe markers of hyperactivity, impulsiveness, aggressiveness and lack of concentration28.
* Sleep disorders may be a factor for children with ADD/ADHD, and nervous system herbs to be considered include valerian (Valeriana officinalis) , passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) , scullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) and vervain (Verbena officinalis) . Chamomile tea (Matricaria recutita) can function as a relaxant and digestive support, and is particularly suitable for children, with the added benefit that it contains minerals such as magnesium29,30. Calcium and magnesium supplementation may also help re-establish good sleeping patterns.