What is ADHD?
ADHD, Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder affects as many as 16 million children and adults in the United States alone. This condition manifests by difficulty focusing or concentrating on a specific subject, difficulty controlling behaviors (impulsivity) and being overactive. A critical requirement for diagnosis is that the symptoms occur outside of accepted parameters for the individual’s age and development.
Historically people with ADHA were labeled as a troublemakers’ or as developmentally delayed and isolated from peers to avoid disruption. Many adults afflicted ended up incarcerated due to their poor self-control. They experienced difficulty and failure in both professional and personal relationships.
What Causes ADHD
There have been many suggested etiologies for ADHD including lead exposure, diet, organophosphate insecticide exposure, childhood traumatic brain injury, and family dysfunction. Twin studies demonstrate that there is a strong heredity component. A 75% twin concordance is strong evidence of a genetic link. It may be that the genetic profile combined with an environmental trigger may result in the expression of the condition. This could explain why in two individuals exposed to the same environmental risk, only one develops the syndrome.
Current Treatment of ADHD
A common finding in affected individuals is called a paradoxical drug reaction. The person with ADHD reacts oppositely to the expected drug effect. Medications that usually result in sedation may cause central nervous system excitement, while stimulant drugs can produce a calming effect and improved concentration.
Prescriptive drug treatments for ADHD are typically stimulant drugs. These have been beneficial to many, however; they are not without risks and possibly significant side effects. The potential for abuse is significant.
Certain dietary risks have been clearly associated with ADHD symptoms, particularly in children.
Studies have failed to demonstrate a hyperactive effect from food coloring on children in general. An association with food coloring in children with ADHD is postulated. It appears as if the combination of certain synthetic food coloring additives in the presence of the genetic profile for ADHD can produce symptoms. Specific food colorings implicated include:
- Allura Red (FD and C #40)
- Quinoline Yellow (FD and C #10)
- Tartrazine (FD and C #5)
- Sunset Yellow (FD and C #6)
Sodium Benzoate is a commonly used preservative found in many foods and drinks. Can sodas in particular contain this substance. In the U.K. major soda companies have discontinued use of sodium benzoate, however; in the United States it is still widely used and often contained within products label as “all natural.”
Several herbal preparations have been found that have a positive effect on the hyperactivity symptoms of ADHD without containing caffeine. These herbs provide increased mental alertness and concentration in the general population as well.
Ginkgo biloba is derived from the oldest known tree in existence. Its medical properties have been used for centuries. It appears to dilated cerebral blood vessels and decrease blood viscosity (thickness) providing increased blood flow to the brain. Studies demonstrate improved memory and reasoning. In ADHD it allows maximal cognitive functioning with translates into decreased symptoms.
- Brahmi is a creeping vine. It has several uses in Ayurvedic medicine. In ADHD it is thought to stimulate chemical receptors in the brain implicated in the syndrome. Other names include Indian Pennyworth, Water Hyssop, Jalanimba, and Herb of Grace.
- Siberian Ginseng is also called Eleuthero or Ciwujia and is native to Asia. It is considered an adapogen, a substance that improves physical strength and decrease daily stress. It appears to enhance neurotransmitters associated with ADHD. Siberian Ginseng is not the same as other ginseng’s that are marketed.
- Gotu Kola is a swamp plant found in India, other parts of Asia and Africa. It also affects the brain’s chemical receptors.
Structure and Routine
Most individuals with ADHD spend their entire lives wondering why they can’t be successful or make progress in life; others find mechanisms to overcome their limiting behaviors. Creating a structured routine is one way to minimize the propensity for undirected energy.
Find a place for everything. If the keys to the car are put on a table or hook just inside of the front door every time, that is where they will be when needed. The same applies to a cell phone, mail, address book, wallet, purse or any object routinely misplaced and requiring time to look for. Establishing the habit of “everything in its place” can be more difficult for someone with ADHD, but once accomplished, saves time and increases self-esteem.
Do more than one thing at a time. Typically school systems require students to perform one activity at a time. The perception is that concentrating on one goal will encourage expedient and superior completion. This may not be true for ADHD. Working on several tasks simultaneously may prolong completion time as compared to the non-ADHD population for the one goal, however; in the end goals are completed versus remaining incomplete, and more things are accomplished over time.
Schedule “unscheduled activity.” Many with ADHD become “bored” with goal directed activities. Scheduling 10 minutes every hour, or a half hour every one to two hours of “free” time can encourage completion of a desired task. The impulse to “check my email”, get a snack, pet the dog or whatever impulse behavior threatens concentration can be redirected to acknowledged unstructured or uncommitted time in the schedule.
Another approach is to allow the free time after a certain goal has been met in the process. Create reasonable intermittent completion goals to break up a larger project and allow some divergent time as a reward.