|Drug-Free Solutions to Attention Deficit Disorder|
The number of children with behavior and learning disorders in America has reached epidemic proportions. Children who display inattentive, non-compliant or hyperactive behaviors do not have a disease or disorder in the orthodox sense; instead, they may be suffering from a condition of abnormal brain chemistry due to a number of possible factors.
Medical scientists have come up with the term Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) to identify these children who, by definition, have difficulty paying attention, do not work well with others, or simply do not follow instructions.
Once ADD was medically defined, pharmaceutical companies raced for an answer in the form of a drug. Unfortunately, the most successful treatments thus far have been central nervous systems stimulants such as RitalinŽ (methylphenidate). While these drugs appear to be effective for psychological, educational and social disorders, many professionals feel they only offer a temporary solution, since these drugs do not permanently change behavior patterns.
A more sensible approach to ADD would be to examine the core problem, and then build a solution based on the cause. While most in the medical establishment maintain that the cause of ADD is still largely unknown, a number of progressive researchers have discovered several key factors. Nutritional deficiencies, neurochemical imbalances, food allergies and hypoglycemia are top suspects.
Essential Fatty Acids
During a child's early years, the delicate nervous and endocrine systems are still in the developmental stages. Researchers have found that in children with ADD, these systems may not be developing correctly due to specific nutritional deficiencies. The most commonly implicated deficiencies include essential fatty acids (EFAs), phospholipids, and vitamins and minerals - all of which are essential for healthy brain, neuro-and endocrine function. Other nutritional components, including certain herbs and trace minerals can be helpful against the condition, as well.
The EFA docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid commonly found in fish oils, is perhaps the most important nutrient needed by children suffering from ADD.
DHA is naturally concentrated in the brain, where it is critical for the healthy transmission of nerve impulses and cell membrane functionality. Several studies have shown that DHA supplementation has a positive effect on the reading ability and overall behavior of those suffering from symptoms of ADD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and related disorders.
Phosphatidylserine (PS), a natural phospholipid found in the brain, is another important nutritional compound for children with ADD. Its positive effects on brain neurotransmitters can help improve behavior, cognitive function, concentration, attention and memory.
Several important studies have also shown that B vitamins may be essential for children with ADD. In fact, certain B vitamin deficiencies are directly associated with reduced mental performance. Vitamins B-6, B-12 and folic acid deficiencies are specifically implicated in behavioral problems, as well as in depression and personality disorders.
Vitamin B-6 is essential for optimal brain function, in part because it acts as an important coenzyme for the synthesis of the brain neurotransmitters GABA, dopamine and serotonin. With vitamin B-12 deficiencies, neurologic and psychiatric disturbances are often present, along with symptoms of depression.
Other research shows that certain mineral deficiencies can contribute to ADD, hyperactivity and other abdominal behaviors. The results of a Canadian study, for example, showed that adolescents with behavior problems often had striking iron deficiencies. Another mineral, magnesium, was found to be deficient in the plasma of children with behavioral problems.
An unfortunate consequence of long-term mineral deficiencies is that the body will eventually latch on to heavy metals in an attempt to quench its mineral requirements. If the body lacks the proper minerals that it requires, it may accept and store dangerous metals such as lead, mercury and aluminum instead.
Many clinicians believe that the consumption of sugary or refined carbohydrate foods can trigger behavior problems in children by wreaking havoc with their blood sugar and causing abnormalities in their glucose metabolism. These imbalances often develop into hypoglycemia, which provokes the release of adrenaline and other hormones that can trigger hyperactive behavior.
The trace mineral chromium, which plays a key role in balancing blood sugar, can help the body to regulate insulin, while the native Indian herb Gymnema sylvestre has also been shown to improve blood sugar imbalances.
Finally, the antioxidant lipoic acid can also help, as it acts as a co-factor for a number of important enzymes responsible for the conversion of food into energy. Clinical studies show that lipoic acid can help normalize blood sugar levels by increasing cellular uptake through the burning of glucose. These supplements can be used individually or together with a balanced diet to help regulate blood sugar in children with behavior problems.
The best approach to ADD and related disorders begins in the refrigerator and extends into the vitamin cabinet.
Mark Olson, M.Sc., currently is director of research and development for Chemi-Source Inc., based in Newport Beach, Calif.
Steve Holmes, a 15-year clinical nutritionist, is presently working in a multi-doctor medical office specializing in childhood behavior problems.