By Sarah Clachar, Health Writer
It's October. Fall and school are fully underway – the unstructured, dreamy days of summer packed away in memory. By now, your child has started to settle into the school routine...
Or maybe not. Maybe it hasn't been so easy.
If your child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), this is when things start to get tough. The first weeks of school included a little wiggle room. But by now, no more excuses for incomplete homework, squirming and daydreaming.
As a parent with children diagnosed with ADHD, you might feel like you're between a rock and a hard place – either brace yourself for a rocky school year or put your child on prescription stimulants.
The Need For A Holistic Approach
And these drugs are nothing to play around with. The journal Pediatrics just reported that in the past eight years poison control centers have reported a 76% increase in calls regarding abuse of ADHD drugs among teenagers.1 Clearly ADHD drugs are swiftly taking their place among other destructive recreational drugs.
On top of the risk of abuse, like most prescription drugs, the stimulants prescribed for ADHD offer only a quick fix without really addressing the underlying problems. ADHD, like many of the health issues dealt with at Jigsaw Health, is actually a puzzle of factors with a jigsaw solution that fits the pieces together.
Dr. Kathi Kemper, MD holds the Caryl J Guth, MD Chair for Holistic and Integrative Medicine at Wake Forest University and is the Director of the Brenner Children's Hospital Clinic. She has been right out front in researching and publicizing more holistic options for children with ADHD. Author of The Holistic Pediatrician, Dr. Kemper has noted that most parents are looking for alternatives. And a growing number of pediatricians are offering them.
"Data suggests 3% - 10% of school age kids, depending on age and gender, have ADHD. But I don't think they all need stimulant medications," says Dr. Kemper. "Many respond well to behavioral therapy, more authoritative parenting, and improved nutrition."2
Before any therapeutic approach, however, Dr. Kemper suggests that parents first reframe their perspective on their child's behavior. Hyperactivity, for example, can be redefined as having enormous energy and vitality. And inattentiveness may indicate creativity. Instead of "bad" behaviors, consider them behaviors your child needs to learn to manage.
That being said - there are natural tactics for helping children adjust these behaviors in order to succeed at school.
First, Dr. Kemper recommends increasing exercise and improving sleep routines. And while the research results are mixed, she advocates limiting TV and video games as well. In her upcoming book, Mental Health, Naturally, Dr. Kemper also offers ideas for providing more structure as a parent, making it easier for children to learn self-control.3
Artificial Ingredients Aggravate ADHD
Dr. Kemper also strongly advocates good nutrition. First, Dr. Kemper recommends parents eliminate artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, additives, and preservatives from your child's diet.
A double-blind crossover study conducted in Britain, involving over 1800 3-year-olds, "showed consistent, significant improvements in the children's hyperactive behavior" when artificial additives were removed from the children's diet. When the additives were reintroduced to the children's diet, their behavior worsened. So compelling was this and other studies like it, that schools in Wales banned foods with these additives from school lunches. As a result, the schools have reported improved behavior.4
And while sugar has not been linked definitively to behavioral problems, Dr. Kemper advises to keep a sharp eye out. Most products with sugar in them have artificial ingredients as well.
Some parents have also found success in tackling food allergens. Gluten sensitivity, for example, has been linked to ADHD.5
Magnesium Deficiency Linked to ADHD
Once you've gotten rid of the bad stuff, make sure your child gets enough of the good. And here, as a regular Jigsaw Health reader, you'll see the familiar hero, magnesium.
Dr. Kemper prescribes magnesium supplementation to many of her patients. "Magnesium is essential in making several key neurotransmitters in the brain," explains Dr. Kemper. "Deficiencies are sometimes associated with high blood pressure, tension, ADHD, and anxiety."6
In a study reported on in Magnesium Research, 25 children with ADHD took 200 mg of magnesium daily while 25 with ADHD did not take magnesium. After six months, clinicians rated the children's behavior. The children who took magnesium for the study time period all had significantly higher ratings in behavior than the ones who did not.7
Several other studies have replicated this 1997 study, some combining magnesium with Vitamin B6, another key nutrient in neurotransmitter production. With similarly significant results, these studies build on the observation that many ADHD children are magnesium deficient.8
Magnesium relaxes muscles and nerves, and helps in energy production. Energy production and relaxation may seem like opposites, but in fact they work together. As any parent has seen, a tired child can just as easily bounce off the walls as fall asleep in your lap. By increasing magnesium, you provide your child with the nutrient key for clear thinking, focus, and relaxation.
Putting These Tools to Work
Leafy greens, legumes and nuts will provide your child with some magnesium. But unfortunately we don't get much magnesium from our food due to soil depletion. Supplementing is usually necessary.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium for children is 80 mg for ages 1-3; 130 mg for ages 4-8; 240 for ages 9-13; and 410 for boys and 360 for girls ages 14-18.9 However, Dr. Carolyn Dean warns these numbers may fall short of what young bodies need, especially with exercise and the stress of school in the picture.10 Jigsaw's Magnesium with Slow-Release Technology (SRT) is a great choice for providing higher doses to children since it does not cause diarrhea like most magnesium supplements.
So if your child is struggling with ADHD, you have a full toolbox to dig into. Better sleep, exercise, and a healthier diet featuring that essential mineral magnesium. These healthy treatments beat prescription stimulants hands-down in providing your child with a long-term solution to ADHD.
- A Complementary Approach to ADHD - Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D.
- Attention Deficit Disorder: Overview, Symptoms, Causes, Natural Treatments, and Medicine
- Setlik J et al. Adolescent Prescription ADHD Medication Abuse Is Rising Along With Prescriptions for These Medications. Pediatrics. 2009 Aug 24.
- Personal Interview, Kathi Kemper 9/14/09
- Kemper, K. Treating ADHD Naturally. Natural Triad Magazine, August 2009.
- Kemper, K. Lifestyle and Complementary Therapies for ADHD: How Health Professionals Can Approach Patients. Medscape Pediatrics. http://cme.medscape.com/viewarticle/554850_1. viewed 9/23/09
- Personal Interview with Kathi Kemper, MD.
- Starobrat-Hermelin, B et al. The Effects of Magnesium Physiological Supplementation on Hyperactivity in Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – Positive Response to Magnesium Oral Loading Test. Magnesium Research. 1997. Volume 10, Issue 2, p. 149-156
- Mousain-Bosc, Marianne et al. Magnesium VitB6 Intake Reduces Central Nervous System Hyperexcitability in Children. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2004 Oct; 23 (5): 545S-548S
- Carolyn Dean, The Magnesium Miracle. Ballantine, New York. 2007, p. 216.
Article ID: 582