ADD/ADHD: Holistic and Natural Approaches

Author // Pathways Magazine

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine have different approaches to diagnosing and treating attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. In the West, ADHD sufferers are usually prescribed anti-depressants or stimulants, such as Ritalin or Adderall. However, while prescription drugs may temporarily alleviate symptoms, they don’t treat the core problems. In addition, parents are often concerned about the effectiveness of prescription medication and the possible side effects. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), ADHD is attributed to an imbalance between yin and yang, the negative and positive phases in the body’s flow of vital energy, or qi. TCM comprises acupuncture, Chinese herbs, Tui-Na massage and nutritional therapy. It’s founded on the belief that good health is a function of inner harmony.

Treatment focuses on correcting the imbalance by applying the yin and yang theory. For example, a child with a yang (active) nature would receive treatment for the hyperactive, impulsive type of ADHD, as opposed to a child with a yin (passive) nature, who would be treated for inattentiveness. Once a pattern is diagnosed, acupuncture, Tui-Na massage and, in some cases, herbs are used to restore balance and a sense of relaxation and well-being. For children and infants, a non-needling modality of acupuncture called Shonishin is recommended before introducing needles. It consists of using small tools in a gentle stroking, rubbing or tapping manner to stimulate the child’s qi. Over the years, large strides have been made to treat ADHD with a combination of TCM and lifestyle changes. In cases of mild ADHD, TCM can be used as the sole form of treatment, eliminating the need for prescription drugs. For more severe cases, TCM is often used in conjunction with western medicine to help lower the dosage of medication needed or to reduce the side effects of prescription drugs.

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Sharing in their child’s lifestyle changes can offer important benefits to parents as well, and they should also try to live balanced lives. Diet, physical exercise, yoga and meditation—or even simply some alone time—can all help parents restore balance and energy in their lives while reflecting positively on their children.

Montserrat Markou, MS, L.Ac., LMT,

Nutrition and Nutrients

A review of scientific literature finds certain risk factors for ADHD clustered around the following problems: food allergies; thyroid disorders; deficiencies in amino acids, essential fatty acids (EFAs), minerals and vitamin B; heavy metal toxicities; and a diet high in carbohydrates and low in protein. In 1981, I. Colquhoun and S. Bunday noted that hyperactive children exhibited physical disturbances (such as excessive thirst, frequent urination, drying and scaling of the skin, and behavioral abnormalities) that had been observed in animals deficient in EFAs. They found evidence that EFAs in the diet normally provide a “waterproofing” effect in the skin, but that in children with ADHD this did not seem to occur, resulting in eczema and similar abnormalities. Colquhoun and Bunday attributed the problem to a lack of the normal conversion of dietary EFAs into polyunsaturated fatty acids, PUFAs, through metabolism in the liver and gut, noting the critical role of PUFAs in perception, cognition, memory, attention and other cerebral functions.

Corroborating Colquhoun and Bunday’s hypothesis was a report published in the Netherlands in the 1980s and cited by David Horrobin, an investigator of EFAs. The report from the Netherlands was based on that nation’s highly complete public health records, which date back to a period of starvation during the Nazi occupation in the Second World War. The report described highly specific problems, including dyslexia and dyspraxia (later identified as representing ADHD) among children born to women from 4 to 12 months after the period of starvation. Very few studies have been done in the United States on the effect of diet on the disorder. Several studies reported after Horrobin’s work have found lower levels of EFAs in children with in ADHD, and at a 1999 conference sponsored

by the Georgetown University medical center, Bellanti and colleagues presented evidence that ADHD was worsened by a junk food diet, food dyes, sugar, and yeast overgrowth due to antibiotics and sugar.

Nutritional supplementation might also have beneficial effects on ADHD. A 1996 study found that children with ADHD had zinc levels one-third lower than children without the disorder, and a study published in 1997 found that 95 percent of children with ADHD were deficient in magnesium, as well. More recently, a small study published in a 2003 issue of the journal Alternative Medicine Review compared the effects of Ritalin to a nutritional supplement regimen of a multivitamin, multiple minerals, phytonutrients, EFAs from fish oil, soy lecithin as a source of phospholipid, acidophilus as a probiotic, amino acids, and supplements for detoxification. The researchers found that the supplementation regimen was as effective as Ritalin for children with ADHD, without the latter’s risk of side effects. The authors concluded that the study results suggested that the abnormalities in ADHD are not preprogrammed and inevitable, but are instead an expression of genetically determined risk, based on individual requirements for specific nutrients—which, if not provided in optimum quantities, may render affected individuals significantly more vulnerable to ADHD. In the near term, the key to managing ADHD at an intrinsic level, as opposed to “staving off ” its effects pharmacologically, is further research in nutrition and its relationship to behavior, focusing particularly on EFAs and the effects of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals on cerebral metabolism. A genetic answer, however, may lie farther in the future.

Carolyn Dean, MD, ND,


Homeopathy has a long history of naturally addressing acute and chronic illnesses. The treatment of chronic conditions (such as ADHD) is called constitutional treatment, and is based on an in-depth consultation in which a homeopath gathers details about a child or adult’s current condition, medical complaints, history, past traumas, lifestyle, mental and emotional attitudes, character and other relevant information. This information helps a homeopath find a remedy aimed at treating conditions on a mental, emotional and physical level.

When I met five-year-old Sandro, he had been diagnosed with ADHD and his mother was anticipating the need for an aid in school to help him stay on task, as he was about to enter kindergarten. In addition to his inability to focus and his restlessness, Sandro was dependent, immature and suffered from chronically stuffy nose. After a comprehensive evaluation, I prescribed Sandro a homeopathic remedy specific to his presenting symptoms. His mother soon reported that he’d begun to make efforts to dress himself; his nose cleared, and he entered kindergarten without the need for an aid. Stories like this are common in a homeopath’s practice, and demonstrate the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies for children. These substances do not interfere with a young body’s natural inclination to heal and achieve balance.

Homeopathy is based on the administration of minute doses of remedies, which in their natural state are capable of producing symptoms like those of the disease being treated. This principle is known as “the law of similars.” In other words, a substance that could cause symptoms in large amounts can heal you in minute homeopathic doses. A common homeopathic remedy, for example, is Allium cepa (red onion). It’s used to treat runny nose and red eyes from a cold or hay fever—the very symptoms red onion would cause if you were cutting it in the kitchen.

Homeopathic preparations are derived from various plant, mineral and animal substances. Through a series of dilutions and successions, natural substances are distilled until all that is left in the remedy is its “print,” or essence. Just as if you were to leave your fingerprint on a glass, so in homeopathy the active agents of the substance remain while potential toxicity is diluted out. The homeopathic process renders natural products nontoxic, producing a safe and effective treatment for children and adults.

Lauren Feder, MD,


Although the use of acupuncture to treat children is relatively new to the United States, Asia’s children regularly receive the benefits of this ancient healing method. Acupuncture is used to treat many common childhood complaints and has proven an effective alternative to drugs in the treatment and management of ADHD symptoms.

Children are physiologically and emotionally different than adults. According to the theories that guide acupuncture, children are innately imbalanced. It is their nature to be excitable, active and emotional. Their regulatory mechanisms are immature, and they are easily susceptible to environmental influences. It follows that children, particularly boys, would have trouble settling themselves and focusing on things that may be of little interest to their active nature, such as schoolwork.

Acupuncture helps regulate the body’s responses to its environment by balancing the body’s energy, drawing mental focus inward and establishing a routine of calm and solitude. Physically, it readjusts the nervous system to clear out the frantic external noise caused by a hectic lifestyle. Most children tolerate acupuncture well, and research has been very promising in establishing acupuncture as an alternative to medication for many childhood ailments, including ADHD.

Naomi Gelperin Richman, L.Ac., CST,

Attention Restoration Theory

Nature Deficit Disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, refers to the trend of children spending less time outdoors, resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. Louv names parental fears, restricted access to natural areas, and television as chief causes for the phenomenon. Louv spent 10 years traveling around the country speaking to parents and children about their experiences in nature. He argues that sensationalist media coverage and frightened parents have literally “scared children straight out of the woods and fields,” while promoting a litigious culture of fear that favors “safe” regimented sports over imaginative play. “It’s a problem, because kids who don’t get nature-time seem more prone to anxiety, depression and attentiondeficit problems,” says Louv. Going outside and being in the quiet and calm can help greatly, he suggests.

Attention Restoration Theory develops this idea further, asserting that people can concentrate better after spending time in a wilderness, or even after looking at nature scenes. Organizations supporting this movement include the No Child Left Inside Coalition and the Children and Nature Network. The NCLI Coalition is supporting legislation called the No Child Left Inside Act, that seeks to add outdoors and environmental education to No Child Left Behind. (Learn more at their website, aspx?pid=687.) The Children and Nature Network supports people and organizations working worldwide to reconnect children with the outdoors. The group’s website,, provides access to the latest news and research in the field and a peer-to-peer network of researchers and individuals, educators and organizations dedicated to children’s health and well-being.

Lisa Reagan, wellness writer

Craniosacral Therapy

Craniosacral therapy can have a profoundly positive effect on brain and spinal cord function. It has been used successfully in the treatment of ADD and ADHD since 1975. Our clinical experience suggests that structural restrictions in the body, especially in the bones and membrane layers surrounding the brain and spinal cord, may be the primary factor in a significant number of such cases. These restrictions can interfere with the normal movement of fluids and vital nutrients into and out of the brain— nutrients that enable the brain to function properly.

In a gentle manner, craniosacral therapy can help release restrictions to naturally enhance brain function, decrease levels of ADD and ADHD, and in many cases, alleviate the disorders altogether. Sometimes stressful physical events such as the birth process, trauma or whiplash can cause the base of the skull to jam forward on the top segment of the spine. When this occurs, it places strain on the bones at the base of the skull and the membrane layers within the skull, especially in the area that forms the fluid-drainage openings. The neck muscles also chronically contract to prevent further jamming. This often will maintain the compromised positions of bone and membrane, even for a lifetime. This gentle, hands-on method of care is highly effective in relieving adverse strain patterns and restrictions, thereby enhancing the movement of fluid throughout the brain, spinal cord and the body as a whole. The stronger fluid motion helps brain cells receive normal levels of essential nutrients so they can function efficiently and in synchrony with other cells. It also creates a brain environment that is constantly flushed of waste products and toxic irritants. When the stress of compromised fluid flow is relieved, the areas of the brain that have been overactive and/or underactive can normalize.

John Upledger, DO, OMM and Tad Wanveer, LMT, CST-D, Reprinted with permission of the Upledger Institute.


Psychiatrist Peter Breggin, M.D., wrote, “Hyperactivity is the most frequent justification for drugging children. The difficult- to-control male child is certainly not a new phenomenon, but attempts to give him a medical diagnosis are the product of modern psychology and psychiatry. At first psychiatrists called hyperactivity a brain disease. When no brain disease could be found, they changed it to ‘minimal brain disease.’ When no minimal brain disease could be found the profession transformed the concept into ‘minimal brain dysfunction.’ When no minimal brain dysfunction could be demonstrated, the label became attention deficit disorder. Now it’s just assumed to be a real disease, regardless of the failure to prove it so. Biochemical © / Sebastian Meckelmann imbalance is the code word, but there’s no more evidence for that than there is for actual brain disease.”

While chiropractors do not “treat” ADD or ADHD, the effects of chiropractic care on children diagnosed with learning disorders and hyperactivity have been described in a growing body of scholarly publications. A study published in 1975 compared chiropractic care to drug treatment in children with learning and behavioral impairments due to neurological dysfunction. It was reported that chiropractic care “was more effective for the wide range of symptoms common in the neurological dysfunction syndrome in which thirteen symptom or problem areas were considered.” The study’s authors, E.V. Walton and Walter T. Brzozowski, also reported that chiropractic care was 24 percent more effective than commonly used medications.

Every child with a vertebral subluxation needs chiropractic care, regardless of whether symptoms are present. By correcting nerve interference, function is improved, with greater expression of human potential. Many families report terminating drug therapy and then seeing the personality, will and soul of the child unfold. As Maria Montessori wrote, “It is easy to substitute our will for that of the child by means of suggestion or coercion; but when we have done this we have robbed him of his greatest right, the right to construct his own personality.”

Christopher Kent, DC,

Pathways Issue 25 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #25.

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