Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral condition that is characterized by a poor attention span and uncontrollable hyperactivity. Once referenced as either hyperkinetic syndrome or attention deficit disorder (ADD), experts now refer to it as ADHD. ADHD is divided into three different categories:
Genetics may be a contributing factor to ADHD. Frequent ear infections with antibiotic use may contribute to a greater likelihood of developing ADHD. Many experts believe that antibiotics diminish beneficial intestinal bacteria and allow toxins to enter the blood stream, causing hyperactivity. Other suggested ADHD causes include; food additives (artificial flavors and colors), food preservatives (BHA and BHT), sugars (sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, mannitol sorbitol, and other sweeteners), and food allergies. Certain nutrient and essential fatty acid deficiencies are also thought to contribute to one developing this condition. ADHD is usually diagnosed in preschool or early elementary years, and may continue into adolescence and adulthood.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 2001 (1):
- 4.1% of children ages 9 to 17 in a 6-month period have ADHD.
- Approximately three times more boys than girls are affected with ADHD.
- About 1/2 - 2/3 of children with ADHD will continue to have ADHD as adults.
ADHD symptoms usually become apparent in children ages 3 to 7. Many ADHD symptoms are associated with learning and behavioral difficulties in school. The major symptoms associated with ADHD include:
- Motor Problems: Hyperactivity, excessive fidgeting, restlessness, excessive running about or climbing.
- Attention Problems: Short attention span, difficulty concentrating on school work and repetitive tasks, impulsivity, disruptive behavior, needing excessive supervision, reading disorders.
- Mood Disorders: Inappropriate social behavior, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem.
For more severe ADHD symptoms, drug treatment is most often recommended. Stimulant medications such as Ritalin (methylphenidate), Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine), Desoxyn (methamphetamine), Cylert (pemoline), or Adderall, are frequently prescribed. These medications effectively reduce the spontaneous behavior that is associated to the varying forms of the condition. Within the last decade, there has been a growing concern in regards to both the addictive potential and possible side effects of these medicines. Adverse reactions from long term use of these medicines may include; certain drug interactions, insomnia, anxiety, dizziness, headache, loss of appetite, growth impairment, facial tics, stomach aches, and depression. Unfortunately, additional medications (antidepressants, sedatives, and mood stabilizers) may be required to control these side effects.
Nutritional, dietary, and environmental interventions may provide a safer alternative to these drug therapies, or perhaps an effective adjunct for a more comprehensive treatment program.
Essential Fatty Acids (Fish Oil, Flaxseed Oil) ADHD patients are often deficient in essential fatty acids (EFAs) (2). Various studies have found that deficiencies in EFAs can cause the symptoms of ADHD (3-5). One study found that children with low omega-3 fatty acid levels had health, sleep, and learning problems. Compared to children with high proportions of these fatty acids, deficient children were also more likely to have drastic mood swings, or as parents refer to them, “temper tantrums” (6). Supplementation with EFA’s such as fish oil and flaxseed oil may improve such ADHD-related symptoms in children.
Multivitamins Nutrient deficiency (including vitamin and mineral deficiencies) is common in ADHD patients. These deficiencies are critical to this condition, as insufficient amounts of certain nutrients directly impair brain and nervous system function, and one’s overall mental performance (7). One study found that multivitamin supplementation helped with various ADHD symptoms, including antisocial behaviors (8). A good high potency multivitamin/mineral supplement helps the brain and nervous system function optimally in ADHD individuals (9).
Multiminerals (Magnesium, Iron) Magnesium and iron deficiencies are the most common mineral deficiencies associated with ADHD (10-12). In one study, magnesium supplementation was shown to reduce the symptoms of hyperactivity (13). Many scientists agree that the proper supplementation of a high potency multivitamin/mineral formula can assist in treated ADHD (9).
Amino Acids Amino acids are essential for manufacturing the brain’s neurotransmitters. ADHD patients are often deficient in L-glutamine, a precursor for the calming neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Amino acids are critical for many processes within the brain, and amino acid deficiency may be associated with ADHD hyperactivity. One study reveals that a deficiency of glutamate may even cause ADHD (14). Another study suggests that short-term supplementation with amino acids are beneficial for ADHD patients (15).
Probiotics (Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacteria) Frequent ear infections with antibiotics use is associated with a greater likelihood of developing ADHD (16). Many experts believe that antibiotics diminish beneficial intestinal bacteria and allow toxins to enter the blood stream, thereby causing hyperactivity. Probiotics, including lactobacillus acidophilus (small bowel friendly bacteria) and bifidobacteria (large bowel friendly bacteria), are nutritional supplements that contain the same beneficial bacteria that are found in the digestive tract. Probiotics enhance beneficial intestinal bacteria and help to improve digestive health (17).
1. National Institute of Mental Health, 2001 http://www.pdrhealth.com/drug_info/nmdrugprofiles/herbaldrugs/101840.shtml
2. Mitchell EA, et al. Clinical characteristics and serum essential fatty acid levels in hyperactive children. Clin Pediatr (Phila). Aug1987;26(8):406-11.
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5. Richardson, A.J., Ross, M.A. Fatty acid metabolism in neurodevelopmental disorder: a new perspective on associations between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, dyspraxia and the autistic spectrum. Prostaglandins Leukot. Essent. Fatty Acids 2000b Jul-Aug; 63(1-2): 1-9.
6. Burgess JR, Stevens L, Zhang W, Peck L. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Am J Clin Nutr. Jan2000;71(1 Suppl):327S-30S. 7. Pizzorno JE and Murray MT, eds. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, revised 2nd edition, CA: Prima Publishing, 1998: 279
8. Schoenthaler, S.J., Bier, I.D. The effect of vitamin-mineral supplementation on juvenile delinquency among American schoolchildren: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial. J. Altern. Complement. Med. 2000 Feb; 6(1): 7-17.
9. Benton D et al., “Effect of vitamin and mineral supplementation on intelligence of a sample of schoolchildren,” Lancet 1988 (i): 140-3.
10. Kozielec T, Starobrat-Hermelin B. Assessment of magnesium levels in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Magnes Res. Jun1997;10(2):143-8.
11. Pollitt E et al., “Iron deficiency and behavior,” J Pediatrics 1976 (8): 372-81.
12. Starobrat-Hermelin B. The effect of deficiency of selected bioelements on hyperactivity in children with certain specified mental disorders. Ann Acad Med Stetin. 1998:297-314.
13. Starobrat-Hermelin, B., Kozielec, T. The effects of magnesium physiological supplementation on hyperactivity in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Positive response to magnesium oral loading test. Magnesium Res. 1997; 10(2): 149-56.
14. Carlsson, M.L. On the role of cortical glutamate in obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, two phenomenologically antithetical conditions. Acta Psychiatr. Scand. 2000 Dec; 102(6): 401-13; erratum, Acta Psychiatr. Scand. 2001 Jul; 104(1): 80.
15. Arnold, L.E. Alternative treatments for adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 2001 Jun; 931: 310-41.
16. Adesman AR, et al. Otitis media in children with learning disabilities and in children with attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity. Pediatrics. Mar1990;85(3 Pt 2):442-6.
17. Saavedra, J.M. Clinical applications of probiotic agents. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2001 Jun; 73(6): 1147S-1151S.
18. Stoppard M. Family Health Guide, New York: DK Publishing, 2002.
19. Balch JF, and Balch PA. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 3rd ed. New York: Penguin Putnam Avery, 2000.
20. Life Extension eds., Disease Prevention and Treatment, 4th ed. Florida: Life Extension Media, 2003.