Here, Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) David Brochstein presents an approach to the treatment of ADHD beyond the quick-fix approach of mainstream meds. After several years as a classroom teacher, this is an issue especially relevant for me. I hope you’ll take Dr. D’s insight to heart and consider these more compassionate, long-term options for treatment.
— Ben Koch, Managing Editor
In this article:
- What is ADHD?
- ADHD, kids, and parents.
- A Holistic View of ADHD.
- Pharmaceutical vs. Natural Treatments.
- Treatment Safety & Lifestyle Integration.
Many parents are concerned for their childrens’ safety when taking pharmaceuticals. They should be concerned since most pharmaceutical medicines have side effects which can range from mild and troublesome to severely risky. This week I will compare and discuss the modern medical view versus the holistic natural medical view of ADHD.
Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a diagnosis often applied to children with a combination of attentional problems and hyperactivity. The term ADHD first appeared in the DSM-III-R (a book of guidelines for psychological diagnostic criteria) in 1987, although the symptoms have been analyzed and discussed publicly among medical professionals since the 1700’s. More can be read about modern medicine’s view of ADHD on the National Institute of Mental Health’s website here. The combination of attention deficit and hyperactivity is the key to diagnosis. However, parents should always stay keenly aware that the diagnosis simply describes behavior patterns, but it does not describe the causes and underlying contributing factors that cause the symptoms, which are unclear to the modern medicine community.
From a holistic medicine view, in order to achieve a healthy quality of life the causes of disease must be undermined and resolved. These causes create the symptoms, and the symptoms indicate the “disease”, but the symptoms are just part of the disease… they are merely the effects of the disease process. To treat symptoms without treating the cause means one will be reliant on the treatment like leaning on a crutch.
- Did you know that 4.5 million American children between the ages of 5-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD since 2006? (1)
- Did you know that ADHD diagnosis is “significantly higher among non-Hispanic, primarily English-speaking, and insured children?” (2)
- And lastly, this is a relevent statistic: 7.8% of school-aged children were reported to have been diagnosed by their parent in 2003. (3)
We can see that these behavioral problems are prevalent in our community, and that parents are often concerned enough to do their own research and even casually diagnose their own kids. At that point, what do they do with the diagnosis? What treatment do they consider?
In school as well as at home ADHD can be an increasingly difficult problem. Once a child at school has either a reputation for being a difficult student or has missed part of their lesson in class due to an attention problem, their educational foundation and opportunities can further crumble. Teachers may give them less chance in class and the kids will have even less of an outlet leading to a possibility of further restlessness and need of further distraction. It may be a snowball effect. In order to reel in a distracted and hyperactive student, the maximum amount of potentially contributing factors must be positive and not negative. This is why I place great importance on the “other” factors such as lifestyle, social dynamics, and diet in addition to the direct treatment of mental function.
From a holistic standpoint there is no question that all factors must be accounted for. Certainly there are problems with the mind, and when the mental function is abnormal, the understanding of those problems may be reduced down to brain chemistry changes… and this view has validity (as the brain is in chemical flux constantly by its nature). However, there are larger yet more nebulous factors that contribute to the whole picture such as lifestyle, diet, and social dynamics. Because these factors are so unwieldy in terms of defining them within the scope of a child’s life and behavior patterns, there can be difficulty in attempting to reduce down these factors to statistics (although research is still extensive). My own professional opinion is this: If the behavior patterns are identified as problematic, then treatment is warranted. Yet the most important thing is to be safe in treatment since you are affecting a child’s health and life now and in the future when treating conditions with medicine.
Many players in the modern medicine and pharmaceutical communities have made treatments for children’s ADHD very available to parents seeking a reduction in these symptoms. Unfortunately many of the treatment strategies are extremely narrow-minded and choose to focus exlusively on brain and nervous system chemistry while ignoring lifestyle factors, social factors, dietary factors, and the pharmaceutical risks and side effects so common with these synthetic chemical treatments. My professional experience clearly demonstrates to me that many parents want a wider range of treatment options to consider for their children. But many parents may only be exposed to pharmaceutical commercials or some other form of modern medical advertising. Caring parents may not be aware that safe and natural treatments may be available and effective.
Consider the following list of accepted modern medical treatments for childrens’ ADHD and their known published side-effects:
- Rx Adderall side effects: fast, pounding, or uneven heartbeats, feeling light-headed, fainting, increased blood pressure (severe headache, blurred vision, trouble concentrating, chest pain, numbness, seizure), tremor, restlessness, hallucinations, unusual behavior, or motor tics (muscle twitches).
- Rx Dexedrine side effects: slowing of growth (height and weight) in children, eyesight changes or blurred vision, trouble sleeping, stomach upset, dry mouth, weight loss, headache, etc.
- Rx Strattera (a non-addicting, non-stimulant drug) side effects: abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, fatigue, irritability, decreased appetite, headache, somnolence, thoughts of suicide (when improperly combined with certain other meds), etc.
Compare those to a selection of traditional Chinese herbal medicine formulas that may be used for ADHD (depending on the differential diagnosis by a qualified doctor of Oriental medicine — please note all formulas are scientifically batch tested for ingredient accuracy, freedom from heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and pesticide residues):
- Rx Tian Wang Bu Xin side effects: none.
- Rx Chai Hu Long Gu Mu Li side effects: none.
- Rx Shen Qi Wu Wei Zi side effects: none.
Please note that this information is not provided for treatment options for parents to treat their kids. Even these herbal medicines MUST be properly prescribed for the case, and only a skilled doctor of Oriental medicine can do that to achieve the proper effect and stay clear of further health difficulties.
When considering treatment for your own child’s issues with behavior, first consider safety. Whether or not certain herbal medicines are scientifically proven to work on ADHD symptoms means little to me if the treatment option is proven safe and effective in my clinical experience. These herbal medicines are scientifically proven to be safe and are manufactured in accordance with international GMP standards. Risking a child’s complete health picture with pharmaceutical side effects will never be a part of my
own practice… I am charged by parents to improve their childrens’ health, but never to negatively affect health even to manage symptoms. This is the way of holistic medicine: to improve health overall while resolving or managing symptoms safely. The first two rules of my own holistic medical practice are:
- Do No Harm (including negative side effects).
- Don’t feed the problem… which brings me to my next point.
The scope of evaluation by a holistic practitioner of medicine such as myself is huge. In my evaluations of any problem I allow for all information to be possibly relelvant. After several years of treating these types of problems in children and adults both, I have repeatedly seen that two factors are always relevant: lifestyle and diet. The examples are many…
- When children are not trained to read text without distraction and practice that skill adequately, they will tend to have poor focus skills.
- When children are allowed to watch TV for many hours daily, they become disengaged and are unattentive to instruction.
- When children regularly eat significant amounts of simple sugar their behavior becomes fitful and spastic, especially when combined with stimulants.
- When children are left alone in their distraction and are not reeled in by a caring, reasonably authoritative, and parental guiding force, they will not improve but will worsen.
This is mostly common sense, but it is also my clinical experience as well as that of many fellow practitioners of any form of medicine. So to ignore these examples may be to allow the problem to continually be fed by these other contributing factors.
When considering treatment options for your children, whether for ADHD, allergies, or any other health problem, consider safety first. As a doctor of Oriental medicine I consider the safety of the treatments and medicines in my pharmacy more than most (and I am obsessive about safety concerns and consider pharmaceutical side effects unacceptable unless in dire circumstances). Also consider the additional factors related to your child’s life and mental health as described above. And finally, be certain that if you are working to overcome a long-standing pattern of difficult behavior, that you are in communication with your child’s teachers/faculty at school. Make sure that everyone is on board to give him or her a fresh start.
Thanks for reading!
–David at DB Dallas Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine
(1)Bloom B, Cohen RA. Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Children: National Health Interview Survey, 2006. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(234). 2007.
(2)SN Visser, MS, CA Lesesne, PhD, Div of Human Development and Disability, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, CDC.