Natural Help for ADHD

My son, Jacob, is six years old and has always been a very active child. I am the oldest of five children and I have four younger brothers so I am well aware of how active boys can be. Jacob's activity level has always been way above normal. When we adopted him at age two, one of the things his foster parents wrote about him was that they had a hard time taking his picture because he was always moving. This had not changed much in the almost five years he has been our son. We have not had Jacob officially diagnosed with ADHD because we homeschool him and he is not on any medication. I am almost 100% certain that he has the hyperactive/impulsive version of ADHD which runs on both sides of his biological family. There is a printable questionnaire from the University of Buffalo which can help parents determine if their child might have ADHD. Jacob scored extremely high on this questionnaire in the areas related to hyperactive/impulsive ADHD. He has fewer issues related to inattention.

We have not wanted to put Jacob on medication while he was young because of the negative side effects such as loss of appetite, stunted growth, difficulties sleeping, etc. Homeschooling allows us to be much more in control of Jacob's environment and eliminates outside pressure to medicate him. I just want to make it clear that I completely understand why parents choose to medicate young children who have ADHD and I have been tempted to consider medication at different times myself. Activities outside the home have always been the most difficult for Jacob, especially when there are large groups of children, the environment is very stimulating, or when a child is expected to sit still and be quiet for extended periods of time such as in church. When my son first turned six, he still needed constant monitoring or he would be getting into something or doing something he shouldn't be.

Over the spring and summer of 2008, we implemented some alternative treatment ideas and have seen improvement in Jacob's behavior. He is on fish oil capsules (Source Naturals), organic flax oil, a magnesium/zinc supplement (Kids Natural Calm), and a dye free multivitamin (Animal Parade). We have removed all dyes from his diet as well as most preservatives and additives. In addition, we are eating a lot more organic food. We also switched to natural toothpaste and bath products using the Skin Deep website to figure out which of the cheaper natural products have the least possible toxic ingredients. There is a great website that lists which natural supplements, according to scientific studies, have been most helpful in treating the symptoms of ADHD.

The biggest improvement we have seen in Jacob occurred after we took him off wheat. I had recently developed issues with wheat so it wasn't too hard to put him on a wheat free diet because I was already on one. Our son had suffered from digestive issues from the time we adopted him at age two and before that as well. The doctors said it was an immature digestive tract and he would grow out of it by the time he reached five or six. Our son is quite healthy, relatively tall, and a normal weight so the doctor's weren't too concerned with his digestive issues. Although Jacob's digestive issues had improved over the last four years, they still were not normal and I was starting to think we needed to get him tested again for different things that could be causing his problems. I suspected that he might be having an allergy reaction to something in his diet. I figured I would start by taking him off wheat since I was already on a wheat free diet and it would be an easy thing to try. Well two days after going off wheat, Jacob's digestive tract was operating normally for the first time that I can remember and it has been fine ever since. Our son has been much calmer since we took him off wheat. I also gave Jacob a month long pro-biotic treatment to help his digestive tract heal.

Let me just say that Jacob is not calm every minute of the day but he is so much improved that our family has commented on it. We went to my nephew's birthday party a couple of months ago and Jacob sat quietly while my nephew was opening presents. That had never happened before.
Usually he has to be grabbing at presents and trying to hand the ones over he thinks should be opened next or we have to constantly remind him to leave the toys that have been unwrapped alone while the birthday child is unwrapping their gifts. During the summer, we went to a restaurant and Jacob sat quietly and colored a picture very carefully for 15 minutes. Before we started his supplements and the wheat free diet, Jacob would usually just scribble a picture at a restaurant as quickly as possible and then be wiggling around in his seat for the rest of the wait. Our daughter Rosa was being very talkative and a bit noisy at this restaurant and the waitress commented on how our son must be our quiet child. Jacob has never been called a quiet child before, ever!

We have seen some dramatic changes since starting homeschooling again in September. Jacob can sit for longer periods of time and his attention span has increased. His handwriting has greatly improved and he really enjoys working on his reading which was his most challenging subject last spring. He is much calmer at home and does not get frustrated as easily. We have been so pleased with how Jacob is doing. He is a very intelligent little boy who is so full of life and bursting with creativity and imagination. He is generous, affectionate, loving, and enthusiastic. We are extremely thankful that we no longer feel he might need medication because we would hate to see his wonderful traits dulled by the side effects of a medication.

We have also used a few behavioral therapy strategies which have helped a little but the biggest improvement has come with removing wheat from Jacob's diet. I just wanted to share what has helped our son because we know there are many children out there who suffer from ADHD. We
don't have unlimited resources so I have been slowly trying different supplements as we can afford them. We are thrilled that we are seeing results and the things we are doing are healthy for Jacob and our entire family.

As a foot note, I would like to add that our son takes two fish oil gel caps a day from Source Naturals which I mentioned above. He has learned to swallow them and they are much cheaper than the chewable versions. If your child can not swallow gel caps, there are some chewable versions on the market such as Coromega Omega-3, High DHA squeeze packets and Nordic Naturals Children's DHA chewable soft gels.

In a later post, I will be discussing good wheat free products and cookbooks we have found as well as other ADHD resources that have been helpful. You can check out some of our favorite ADHD books in my store. I also belong to a yahoo group for parents who want to treat their children's ADHD naturally. It is called ADHD_DrugFree and this has been a wonderful resource!


umelbanat said...

Hi ...
I work with kids on the spectrum & also kids with ADHD...I'm ADD myself...: )
I really appreciate the effort you put in this blog..it's very informative...

bean said...

Have you ever heard of the Feingold Association? Membership in the FA provides a list of foods and products that do not contain certain preservatives, artificial colors, etc. They are dedicated to helping families with children with ADHD and other behavioral challenges.

Hope this helps!

I would like to know more about how the fish oil gel caps help, if you can point me in the right direction.

susan allport said...

Thought you would be interested in this short omega-3 video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIgNpsbvcVM

Amy Smith said...

I have heard of the Feingold Association and we tried the diet for a few weeks but saw minimal results in our son. I know there are many families who have seen more dramatic results though which is one reason we try to avoid dyes and preservatives.

The fish oil gel caps are a good source of EFA's and you can read more about why kids with ADHD need more EFA's in their diets. This information is from the website http://www.healing-arts.org/children/ADHD/nutritional.htm

Amy Smith

Hypothesis : A Lack of Essential Fatty Acids as a Possible Cause of Hyperactivity in Children

Colquhoun I, Bunday S
Med Hypotheses 1981 May;7(5):673-9

Many ADHD children have a deficiency of essential fatty acids (EFAs) either because they cannot metabolise linoleic acid normally, or because they cannot absorb EFAs normally from the gut, or because their EFA requirements are higher than normal.

The main pieces of evidence are:

1. Most of the food constituents which cause trouble in ADHD children are weak inhibitors of the conversion of EFAs to prostaglandins (PGs).
2. Boys are much more commonly effected than girls and males are known to have much higher requirements for EFAs than females.
3. A high proportion of ADHD children have abnormal thirst and thirst is one of the cardinal signs of EFA deficiency.
4. Many of ADHD children have eczema, allergies and asthma which some reports suggest can be alleviated by EFAs.
5. Many of ADHD children are deficient in zinc which is required for conversion of EFAs to PGs.
6. Some ADHD children are badly affected by wheat and milk which are known to give rise to exorphins in the gut which can block conversion of EFAs to PGE1.

A preliminary study of EFA supplementation in a number of ADHD children had given promising results.

Long-chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Burgess JR, Stevens L, Zhang W, Peck L
Am J Clin Nutr 2000 Jan;71(1 Suppl):327S-30S

Several previous studies indicated that some physical symptoms reported in ADHD are similar to symptoms observed in essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency in animals and humans deprived of EFAs. We reported previously that a subgroup of ADHD subjects reporting many symptoms indicative of EFA deficiency (L-ADHD) had significantly lower proportions of plasma arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid than did ADHD subjects with few such symptoms or control subjects. In another study using contrast analysis of the plasma polar lipid data, subjects with lower compositions of total n-3 fatty acids had significantly more behavioral problems, temper tantrums, and learning, health, and sleep problems than did those with high proportions of n-3 fatty acids. The reasons for the lower proportions of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) in these children are not clear; however, factors may involve inadequate fatty acid intake, poor conversion of EFAs to LCPUFA products, and enhanced metabolism.

Essential Fatty Acid Metabolism in Boys with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Stevens LJ, Zentall SS, Deck JL, Abate ML, Watkins BA, Lipp SR, Burgess JR
Am J Clin Nutr 1995 Oct;62(4):761-8

This study hypothesized that some children with ADHD have altered fatty acid metabolism. The present study found that 53 subjects with ADHD had significantly lower concentrations of key fatty acids in the plasma polar lipids (20:4n-6, 20:5n-3, and 22:6n-3) and in red blood cell total lipids (20:4n-6 and 22:4n-6) than did the 43 control subjects. Also, a subgroup of 21 subjects with ADHD exhibiting many symptoms of essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency had significantly lower plasma concentrations of 20:4n-6 and 22:6n-3 than did 32 subjects with ADHD with few EFA-deficiency symptoms. The data are discussed with respect to cause, but the precise reason for lower fatty acid concentrations in some children with ADHD is not clear.

bean said...

Thank you for that thorough explanation. Much appreciated.

Jennifer said...

We also have had wonderful results with Feingold in our 5 year old adopted son. He has mild FASD/drug exposure and was ADHD out of control. Now he's as mellow as can be and everyone notices. His 2 year old brother is another story :o) Maybe I'll try the wheat/oils thing with him.

Jenny said...

My son, who has ADHD, has fortunately not had any digestive issues. We also chose not to medicate him. However I would like to add a suggestion to your dietary changes...protein. A diet higher in protein, lower in simple carbs and sugar helps maintain blood sugar levels and maintain behaviors and attention. It certainly is not a magic pill but does make a difference.