Attention-Deficit Disorder

By Dr. Joey Shulman D.C., RNCP

Attention-deficit disorder (ADD), also known as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is the leading childhood psychiatric disorder in North America. The diagnosis of ADD has grown from 500,000 in 1985 to between five and seven million in 2002. Boys are diagnosed with ADD more frequently than girls. The current estimation is that one in every five boys is diagnosed.

ADD is a criteria disorder, meaning there are no concrete physical signs that can be detected by diagnostic measures such as blood analysis, x-ray or ultrasound. Although studies have attempted to link ADD to various neurotransmitters (chemicals) in the brain, findings have been inconclusive. For a diagnosis, the behaviors must be pervasive, appear by the age of seven years and continue for a minimum of six months. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edition), the following are signs and symptoms of ADD:
  • Blurting out answers
  • Fidgeting with hands or feet
  • Squirming Losing or forgetting important things
  • Difficulty waiting in line
  • Failure to give attention to details or making careless mistakes in schoolwork
  • Does not seem to listen when spoken to

    Approximately 90 percent of children diagnosed with ADD are treated with a drug called Ritalin (a.k.a. methylphenidate). Ritalin is a class 2 narcotic in the same category as cocaine, barbiturates and opiates. Class 2 designation is used for drugs that have the greatest potential for abuse and addiction. As the number of ADD diagnoses increases, so too does the number of Ritalin prescriptions. In 1990, 138,000 prescriptions for Ritalin were filled in Canada for children with ADHD. By June 1998, that number rose to 693,000 prescriptions annually. Common side effects associated with Ritalin include lack of appetite and insomnia. Other known side effects of Ritalin include:
  • Adverse cardiovascular effects
  • Blood sugar fluctuations
  • Depression
  • Disruption of growth hormone
  • Headache or migraine
  • Increased blood pressure Permanent changes to brain chemistry Psychosis or paranoia Stomach upset Tics and repetitive movements

    Natural approaches to ADD/ADHD

    There are many natural approaches that can be taken if your child is diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. Often, a comprehensive approach that involves nutrition, supplementation, proper schooling and discipline works best. The following are the top five natural food tips that are helpful when addressing ADD:
    1. Check for food allergies: It is not uncommon for a childs behavior to be affected by food allergies. The most common food allergies are dairy, wheat, citrus, eggs, chocolate and soy. Detecting a food allergy in a child can often feel like finding a needle in a haystack. You can use an elimination diet to determine which food your child may be sensitive to. Eliminate suspected foods one by one for a two-week period to clearly identify the food culprit. It is best to start an elimination diet with dairy as it is the most common food allergy.

    2. Eliminate food coloring: Food coloring is often used in candy, cupcakes and other baked goods to enhance the visual appeal of these foods. Food coloring falls into the anti-nutrient category, meaning they have zero nutritional value and can be hazardous to health. Of all the food dyes, tartrazine (yellow #5) is one of the most problematic in children.

    3. Supplement with high quality fish oil (omega-3): Fish oil contains an essential fat called omega-3 essential fat. Research shows that children who suffer from ADD/ADHD are deficient in omega-3 and its derivative, DHA.

    It also appears that boys require more omega-3 than girls, which may be one of the reasons boys are diagnosed with ADD more often than girls. Fish oils are now available in flavors including butterscotch and lemon for children. Click here for Health Canada recommendations for omega-3 intake.

    4. Eliminate pop and sugary juices: Sugar can exacerbate a childs behavior by causing unnatural surges in blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, soda is the preferred beverage of many children. Unbeknownst to most parents, the average can of pop contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar! Start by not allowing pop into your home and substituting fresh clean water or natural juice that has been diluted with water.

    5. Ensure your child takes a high quality multivitamin: Research clearly shows that supplementing a childs diet with a multivitamin improves school performance. Multivitamins should be taken with food so fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K can be properly absorbed. It is important to remember that a multivitamin is a nutritional booster, not a replacement for a healthy diet.

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