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Monday to Friday 8-4pm and by appointment


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Ask a Naturopathic Doctor: ADHD


by Katherine Willow ND

In time for the start of school, let’s look at the topic of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, otherwise known by its acronym ADHD. Symptoms include a combination of inattention, inability to regulate behaviour, hyperactivity/impulsivity, decreased concentration, poor memory and a tendency to disrupt class or simply do poorly in school (or in jobs and relationships as adults). It can be utterly debilitating for an individual or a whole family.

ADHD is common, between 5-12% of school aged children and around 4% of adults, with three times more boys than girls being affected—although it does look different between the sexes and is often missed in girls.

Diagnosis is challenging as the symptoms occur in everyone at times. There is not a simple medical test, more a list of difficulties on a spectrum. At a certain point, they are not tolerated, either in school or at home, and help is sought.

And help there is. Standard medical treatment is medication and behavioural therapy with the assumption that the causes are unknown, possibly a combination of genetics and environment.

Holistic treatment can include an assessment of diet, nutritional deficiencies, allergies/sensitivities, toxicities, emotional stress, exposure to electromagnetic frequencies (EMF’s) and physical structure. The treatment is then adjusted to the individual picture. Not everyone with ADHD needs every natural treatment! Naturopathic doctors tend to have success with ADHD, often seeing these children at the head of the class after they are rebalanced according to what was required.

My first step for an ADHD family is to recommend a craniosacral assessment, especially in the neck and head area. Trauma from birth, even minor, can disrupt brain function far into life and can be corrected with gentle craniosacral treatments given by a massage therapist, chiropractor, osteopath or physiotherapist. One source quotes that 60% of people with ADHD have such a dysfunction and can be treated 100% successfully with physical means.

The next step is to check for allergies/sensitivities, toxins and deficiencies while balancing the diet in obvious ways for the individual’s constitution: lower sugar consumption, take out chemicals and move towards eating healthy proteins, whole grains, lots of veggies, essential oils and pure water. Sensitivities are checked through Biotron testing, toxins are screened with a hair analysis and deficiencies are measured by signs, symptoms and blood tests.

Emotional stress may indicate the need of support for the whole family through parenting classes, therapy and specific remedies and supplements. Homeopathic remedies can have startlingly good results.

The internet has many sources of studies which correlate ADHD with deficiencies (magnesium, calcium, iodine, zinc, iron, DHA, B1, choline), toxicities (lead, copper, aluminum, cadmium), allergies (aspartame, MSG, additives, wheat, dairy), the absence of natural lighting, excess EMF’s, family dysfunctions and structural tensions. There are books, websites and CD’s which can help parents understand where to start for their particular child.

Relaxation strategies such as meditation, visualization, calming music and gentle stories are helpful and lovely additions for any modern family, but especially those with members manifesting ADHD.

Most cases of ADHD do not require medication; however I have seen some families who are so stressed by their ADHD child or children, that starting with prudent doses of drugs under the supervision of a caring physician can be the most realistic path. After things are calmed down one can then explore the underlying causes and wean off the medications.

ADHD often coexists with other conditions such as mental disorders, ie anxiety, and learning disabilities, ie dyslexia which can have the same or different roots. Patience and persistence is sometimes the most important requirement to continue on the healing path into a calm, clear and energized mind.

Katherine Willow ND is a fourth generation naturopathic doctor who directs the Carp Ridge EcoWellness Centre, half an hour northwest of Ottawa.