Yesterday I wrote about how the American Academy of Pediatrics has changed the guidelines about how young (and old) a child could be diagnosed with ADHD. The new guidelines say that a child as young as 4 and as old as 18 may now be diagnosed with ADHD.
They went on to say that Ritalin and other drugs are good choices for treatment even for the youngest patients. To me this sounds like a terrible idea.
So what are some effective alternatives?
First and foremost, we must look at a child’s diet. A healthy diet is a big key to helping a child regulate his brain function. The problem in ADHD is that circuits in the brain that are responsible for attention, focus and other executive functions are under active. That is precisely why most of the medications that exist are stimulants. These stimulants speed up the processing in these brain regions and allow the child to function more normally. The problem is that they carry serious side effect profiles, some of them very dangerous.
So where, exactly, does diet fit into this? Good question. First, each and every child must begin the day with breakfast. Food provides the fuel that the brain uses to do its job! If there isn’t enough of the right kind of fuel, the child’s brain cannot function as well as it should.
And what is the right kind of food? Each child should begin the day with a source of protein and a little healthy sugar in the form of fruit. This will provide ample amounts of fuel so your child can make it until his next meal at lunch. Do not allow a child to eat sugary cereals or pop tarts or to skip breakfast. Those types of fuel (or lack thereof) only set the child up for a crash in blood sugar which deprives the brain of the vital energy it needs.
The rest of the day should be roughly the same. Be sure that your child eats protein and a fruit or vegetable every time he eats. Steer them away from sugary snacks and drinks. They have a negative impact on brain function.
A natural program to balance neurotransmitters in the brain is important. Neurotransmitters are specialized proteins that each nerve in the brain uses to communicate with its neighbors. The balance of them is important. In ADHD the focus has been on the neurotransmitters called dopamine and norepineprhine. Others, however, may play a role and include GABA, glutamate, PEA and serotonin to name a few.
The levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain is important. Levels that are too high or too low can cause the brain to function less than optimally. In my office we measure these neurotransmitters in a urine test and have found them very helpful clinically. If we find levels that are low, we can supplement to raise them. For example, dopamine is raised by increasing dietary levels of tyrosine (or its derivatives) and serotonin is raised by increasing dietary levels of tryptophan (or its derivatives). The process is relatively simple, but it is very effective. Through this process we are able to rebalance the neurotransmitter system and see improvements in behavior and attention.
Reprogram the brain
This sounds very much like something out of a science fiction movie, but it is all based in neurology. In ADHD the brain is wired incorrectly. The circuits that we want to work are not efficient enough to produce balanced brain function. To change this we must provide a program of neurologic rehabilitation. It can be done many ways, but in our office we use a combination of home exercises that include eye exercises, balance exercises, light and sound therapy and proprioceptive feedback with an in-offfice therapy called interactive metronome or IM.
IM was developed in the early 1990s and is used to help children with learning and developmental disorders as well as adult neuro rehabilitation patients. IM is a neuro-motor assessment & treatment tool used in therapy to improve the neurological processes of motor planning and sequencing.
The IM program provides a structured, goal-oriented process that challenges the patient to synchronize a range of hand and foot exercises to a precise computer-generated reference tone heard through headphones. The patient attempts to match the rhythmic beat with repetitive motor actions. A patented auditory-visual guidance system provides immediate feedback measured in milliseconds, and a score is provided.
Over the course of the treatment, patients learn to:
- Focus and attend for longer periods of time
- Increase physical endurance and stamina
- Filter out internal and external distractions
- Improve ability to monitor mental and physical actions as they are occurring
- Progressively improve coordinated performance.
I’ve used this program with many children and adults in my office and it works exceptionally well. It is a great option for patients who have been diagnosed with ADHD and other learning disorders.
There are many options for parents with children with ADHD. Medications are of course one of them, but there is no permanent benefit to taking them. As a matter of fact, 50% of children who take medications will still need them as adults. Rewiring the brain, dietary changes and rebalancing neurotransmitters has lasting and permanent effects. In my opinion, it’s the best way to go.