As a mother and a health practitioner I field a lot of questions about ADHD (attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder). People wonder if their child should be formally evaluated, if they should give medications, and are there any alternative treatments for ADHD. I believe that attention challenges are likely caused by a variety of sources. So, unfortunately, there is not one thing that will “fix it.” However, there are some non-medical ways that may help children to be more successful in school and home.
As a parent of a child with ADHD I understand how overwhelming it is, some days, to simply get out the door and off to school. I also understand how easy it is to get anxious about changes. For example, changing your child’s diet. Hopefully we can create a balanced diet without making our lives out of balance? Can we?
I am going to share just a few supportive approaches. I use the word supportive, rather than alternative, for a reason. It is essential to have a care team that may include several health professionals; a psychologist, your pediatrician, an occupational therapist, a pediatric psychiatrist, the school, and others.
Some of these approaches may seem difficult, or even impossible. Living with a hyperactive kid is difficult enough, right? But, consider how much easier life could be, if your family could get through a couple of tough months of change, but the result was a happier, more balanced child.
Before I talk strategy, it must be said that while I LOVE to help support kids with ADHD, I do not treat ADHD. Nor am I anti-medication either. However, we all can agree that it is desirable to reduce or avoid medications whenever possible. That said, even a child on medications can benefit from dietary strategies. And, while medications can help to manage the difficult behaviors, there are non-medical approaches that can address some of the causes of AHDH.
I am not going to give much explanation of how these interventions work, each topic merits entire articles and studies of their own. Please use this information as a starting point for learning more. And, please do contact me with your questions or for support.
FEINGOLD DIET (see Feingold.org, or the book Why Can’t My Child Behave?)
The Feingold Diet has been around since the early 1970’s. Very briefly, the Feingold Diet eliminates certain food additives, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners and certain fruits. One of the best things about Feingold is that YOU DON’T HAVE TO FOLLOW IT FOREVER! Many parents report seeing changes, even dramatic changes, in their child’s behavior in days. After 8 weeks avoiding the restricted foods/ ingredients you add them back, one at a time, observing for reactions. You may find a just a few things that exacerbate your child’s attention issues, and avoiding them may offer a little relief for everyone.
GLUTEN FREE/CASEIN FREE DIET
There are several theories about gluten and casein. One of the issues is the opiate-like effect of these foods on the brain. That’s right, opiate-like. The proteins from gluten [gliadorphin] and casein [casomorphin] are the culprits. They react with opiate receptors in the brain, thus mimicking the effects of opiate drugs like heroin and morphine. That may explain why some kids seem “addicted” to mac and cheese, or pizza. What does this have to do with ADHD? It may be the rise and fall of these opiate-receptor stimulating compounds cause irritability and poor cognition. If your child is one that cannot seem to follow two-step directions, or has meltdowns that remind you of Jekyll and Hyde, this approach may be a good one for you. It is important to remove BOTH gluten and casein, and it may be important to taper off slowly, or you could really unleash a monster when withdrawal symptoms begin!
If totally eliminating gluten and casein seems impossible you might look as digestive enzymes. As an enzyme nutrition practitioner, I recommend digestive enzymes to EVERYONE who comes into my office. There are certain specific ones that can help break down gluten and casein in the digestive system. My experience has been great with enzymes when we are also careful with diet, AND remember to take them!
See how this child’s head and shoulders tilt to the left? The horizon makes it obvious. Kids do not usually complain of back pain. Posture is a much better indicator that would be chiropractic may be beneficial.
Last but not least, consider chiropractic. The chiropractic approach is supportive to the child with ADHD due to its balancing effect on the nervous system. All functions of the body are controlled by the nervous system. It is easy to see how kids can get out of alignment with sports, slips and falls, slumping over tablets, etc. Kids do not typically complain of back pain, but pain is not a good indicator for kids. Look at your child from the back. Look at the heights of their shoulders and ears, are they unlevel? Look at the symmetry of movement when they walk. do their hips and arms move symmetrically? Often even the untrained eye can see that things are out of alignment. My kids get adjusted regularly and they look forward to it. I love seeing children in my office! They are fun to work with, they heal quickly and I love to watch them grow.
These are just a few of many approaches which can support your child, whether they are taking medicine or not. There is much, much more to look at; food allergies, digestive health, nutrient deficiencies, sensory issues, chemical sensitivities. A good member of your ADHD support team will not only be able to help choose what laboratory tests or interventions may be helpful, but will also direct you to resources, make appropriate referrals and be willing to cooperate with your child’s other caregivers.
There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my kids to help them be as happy and healthy as they can be. As a parent, I am sure you feel the same. Don’t forget, you are not alone. Those of us that have kids with ADHD can help each other, to share what we’ve learned or to just to say “I know what you’re going through.”
Wishing you Health and Happiness,
Dr. Rebecca Gould DC