Alternative Treatments for ADD
I have been hesitant to do this page, but I've heard from
so many people with both positive and negative experiences, and people asking about
specific treatments, that I've decided to go ahead. This page describes MY OPINIONS
about various forms of alternative treatments for attention deficit disorder.
My opinions are subject to change if and when I find out more information. If you
have any positive or negative experiences about anything listed here, or think I should
add something else, please send me an email.
Stuff I like:
(Vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and antioxidents) and a healthy diet: Poor
nutrition has been linked to ADD, learning disorders, memory problems, reduced IQ,
behavior problems and depression. The vast majority of the U.S. population is
deficient in at least one of the vitamins, minerals or essential fatty acids that impact
behavior and mood. Modern foods do NOT contain all the nutrients you need due to
modern farming techniques, processing, and extended shelf lives. Therefore, it makes sense
to supplement your diet with the nutrients that you are missing. Especially
important with neurological problems are essential fatty acids (Effalex, flax
oil, fish oil, and primrose oil are variations)
and I've heard from several people who said they were significantly helped by taking fatty
acid supplements. (March 4: I've just ordered the book "Your Miracle
Brain" which discusses new studies pertaining to how nutrition and herbal
supplements affect the brain and was just released in March 2000. Based on the Amazon.com
review and an article I read in the paper this may be a very good book for people with
ADD. I plan to add an overview page on nutrition soon, which will probably include info
from this book.) For more information see my pages: borntoexplore.org/omega.htm
and borntoexplore.org/neurochem.htm, and for children borntoexplore.org/nutrition.htm
Check for allergies/sensitivities:
Allergies can reportedly cause serious hyperactivity, poor handwriting, hostile behavior,
general poor health, and inability to concentrate. There are two general groupings
of food allergies. First there are general food allergies (milk, eggs, etc.). Then
there are food additives (especially colors) and salicylates, substances the Feingold diet
eliminates. The most likely food allergy is the food that is always craved. This subject
is usually overlooked by adults who are ADD. For more information see my page borntoexplore.org/allergies.htm.
MBTI Temperament Theory: I strongly
endorse the use of MBTI temperament theory with people who are labeled ADD (and the people
around them!) The modern medical profession no longer seems to believe in
temperament diversity. MBTI theorists do, and they can tell you what is
"normal" for certain temperament types. (Impulsivity, daydreaming, high activity
levels, bossiness, and talkativeness are all normal for certain temperament types.
Getting fired from 4 jobs in one year, failing to pay your taxes, having temper tantrums,
or having a complete inability to ever complete a simple task is NOT.) For more info
Exercise: Lots of studies show
exercise helps mental health and increases the ability to concentrate and remember.
It's hard to go wrong here.
Alternative Forms of Discipline: For
highly active, oppositional kids. I have personally seen incredibly dramatic results
from things like "Abuse It - Lose It" and "Choice." See borntoexplore.htm/discipline.htm.
Alternative Education: For kids who are
bright, bored or who have a different learning style. I've spoken with lots of
people who tell me their child's ADD seemed to vanish when they began homeschooling. And
bright kids who are falling behind in school often pass their peers when taken out of the
traditional school setting. For more information read borntoexplore.org/addsvs.htm.
Meditation: An increasing number of
studies are showing that meditation has real, tangible effects on the body, such as
increased concentration and reduced stress. For more info, see borntoexplore.org/medication.htm.
Bright Lights: For people who become tired
and depressed in the winter and who don't get exposure to strong sunlight each morning.
Light units are now sold that are effective in combating this type of depression.
I include it in my list because people diagnosed with ADD are more likely to be
depressed, and depression can cause serious problems with concentration, memory and the
ability to deal with ADD traits. It may also be useful for "night-owls"
because it may reset your biological clock when used first thing in the morning so that
you are ready to go to sleep at bedtime (of course, if you can just go outside for a while
in the morning that would be even better).
Attitude adjustment: For ADDers who feel
bad about themselves. This is especially common for people who have recently been
diagnosed and have been bombarded by all kinds of really negative information from
doctors, family, CHADD, books, most of the websites, and other sources. Certain
temperment types also have a high tendency to fault themselves (often perfectionists). A
depressive attitude can rob you of your ability to deal with your quirks and enjoy life.
Don't let other people make you feel bad (I'm assuming you're not a child molester or
anything like that). Read Positive Quotes and Different Perceptions and take a look at some of the positive books I've listed. You're also likely to get a positive
boost by figuring our your temperament type (see above).
Coaches: I admittedly don't know
very much about coaches, but they are basically someone who helps you learn coping
strategies in a practical way. They can also act as a cheering section and a friendly
reminder. If you've got money to burn and like that sort of attention, it may be of
Professional Organizer: This is someone
you hired to set up an organizational system at your business or even at your home.
Particularly useful for those unorganized entreprenuer types who forgot to go into
business with an organized partner.
For parents, I also have a more extended checklist of
alternatives. See "Children: Diagnoses, Medications and
Stuff I'm undecided about
BioFeedback: I've heard some
positives about biofeedback, but it costs a lot of money and takes a lot of your time.
People use biofeedback to teach themselves how to focus on something they normally
wouldn't. People going through it that I've talked to usually say they are undecided
or they are moderately pleased with the results. I've heard that studies show promising
short term results but questionable long term results. If you've got extra money or
your insurance covers it, then it might be worth trying it out. If not, don't
mortgage the house in hopes that this treatment will "cure" you.
Herbs for Adults: Herbs have been used for
thousands of years and certainly have medicinal effects. Unfortunately,
pharmaceutical companies can't make any money off of them so they have gone mostly
untested for safety. There are growing reports of drug interactions and in one
preliminary study Saw Palmetto, Ginkgo Biloba, St. John's Wort and
Echinacea were implicated in male infertility. In addition, herbs are not regulated in the
U.S. so you never know quite what you're getting. Are you getting the best part of
the herb? What about filler ingredients? How much are you getting? Therefore, anyone
using herbs should do so with the knowlege that they are taking a risk. In my opinion,
herbs should NOT be taken by pregnant women and children. Some people don't
seem to realize that most herbs are actually drugs. Also, there is absolutely no
correlations between whether something is natural and whether something is safe. (If you
doubt this, I dare you to go outside and eat the first wild plant that you see.
You'll probably get sick.)
Herbs used for ADD are:
1. St. John's Wort: An antidepressent that
appears to increase dopamine activity in the brain with almost no side
effects. Dopamine is the "feel-good" neurotransmitter responsible
for concentration. All the major ADD medications are said to work on dopamine. St.
John's Wort is not a stimulant however, and you are not likely to feel like you're
"on something". To get a significant effect you may have to take two to
three times the normally recommended dosage and it takes up to six weeks for it to really
start working. You must also be sure to purchase high-quality product because there
is a lot of St. John's Wort on the market that doesn't contain what is claimed on the
package. Kira is the brand that was used in studies showing effectiveness in
treating depression. St. John's Wort is probably the most studied of all the herbs and it
is actually prescribed quite a bit in Germany for mild depression. It has not been
tested for use in treating ADD.
2. Gingko Biloba: For difficulties with
concentration and memory due to blood circulation problems, especially associated with
aging. I haven't heard from anyone that thought it really helped them, but it's a
popular herb and a lot of people try it out for ADD. It's a blood thinning or
anti-clotting agent, so there are potential sides effects such as bleeding under the skin
or into the eye, and there are possible interactions with other medicines that also thing
blood such as aspirin or heart medications.
3. Pine bark extract (or
Pycnogenol) and grape seed extract contain proanthocyanidin,a
bioflavonoid which has reportedly demonstrated anti-oxidant properties and may be closer
to a nutritional supplement than a medication. Very popular for treating ADD, with
some scientific backing. Click here for more info.
4. Primrose oil, flax oil, fish oil and Effalex
are nutritional supplements rather than medicinal herbal supplements because they contain
essential fatty acids, something the body MUST have (see my section above on nutritional
5. Coenzyme Q10 in high doses
reportedly stimulates dopamine activity in nerve cells. Dopamine is the
neurotransmittor implicated in ADD. The National Institute of Health has launched
new studies of coQ10 as a treatment for Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases.
For specific information on herbs and other medications go
to the website Rx List - The Internet Drug Index.
They have bulletin boards for St. John's Wort, Gingko Biloba and Ritalin.
Vision Therapy: The idea here is
that some people have trouble visually processing things close up because human evolution
did not including hours and hours of reading, Game Boys, TV and computer games. I've
heard from one person who said vision therapy helped their grades significantly. On
the other hand, I know someone who put their son through it and wasn't helped at all.
According to the OEP Website these
are the signs of vision problems:
- Holding a book very close (only 7 or 8 inches away).
- Child holds head at an extreme angle to the book when
- Child covers one eye when reading.
- Child squints when doing near vision work.
- Constant poor posture when working close.
- The child moves his or her head back and forth while
reading instead of moving only eyes.
- Poor attention span, drowsiness after prolonged work
less than arm's length away.
- Homework requiring reading takes longer than it should.
- Child occasionally or persistently reports seeing
blurring or double while reading or writing.
- Child reports blurring or doubling only when work is
- Loses place when moving gaze from desk work to
chalkboard, or when copying from text to notebook.
- Child must use a marker to keep their place when
- Writing up down hill, irregular letter or word spacing.
- Child reverses letters (b for D) or words (saw for
- Repeatedly omits "small" words.
- Rereads or skips words or lines unknowingly.
- Fails to recognize the same word in the next sentence.
- Misaligns digits in columns of numbers.
- Headaches after reading or near work.
- Burning or itching eyes after doing near vision work.
- Child blinks excessively when doing near work, but not
- Rubs eyes during or after short periods of reading.
- Comprehension declines as reading continues.
- Child fails to visualize (can't describe what they have
been reading about).
Stuff I don't like so far (until someone
can persuade me otherwise with personal experience, scientific studies or a logical basis
as to why these options are worthwhile)
This isn't an alternative, really, it's what the ADD professionals usually tell parents to
do. The idea is to change the child's behavior by constantly being right there in
the child's face, either praising or correcting the child. Elaborate systems of
charts and stickers are used. This is extremely controlling and very annoying to the
child, and a lot of work for the parent. You may as well just suck the life out of
the child. It works to the extent the child's behavior changes for awhile. But
the child doesn't learn SELF CONTROL. He or she only learns to act the way you want
when you are right there on top of them. Studies have shown that the behavior of
kids handled this way regresses very rapidly once the tight restrictions have been
lifted. Eventually the child will leave home, and what will keep them acting
appropriately then? Bribing kids with rewards teaches them not to behave unless they
get a reward. As a result they will always expect a reward. Many people have
told me "We tried behavior mod and it didn't work, so medication must be
used." No, it simply shows that behavior modification doesn't work that well
ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE A GIFTED CHILD. Gifted children require more independence than
other children and may go completely bonkers if you try this on them.
Instead, use the discipline techniques I outline on my discipline page. These techniques allow the child to
CHOOSE to learn SELF DISCIPLINE. Life is much easier.
Example: Child has trouble getting ready for school.
Behavior mod technique: Use stickers/rewards if the child accomplish one specific task,
like brushing teeth, and a brief timeout or a mark on a chart if the child fails.
Practice this for several days, then try adding another task, like putting on shoes.
Gradually build up the number of tasks over time, carefully listed on a chart. Each
day the child marks off the tasks as they are completed. Good behavior is rewarded
with stars, and a certain number of stars "buys" a reward. Bad behavior is
rewarded with a mark, and multiple marks typically lose stars. Assumption is
basically that the child simply can't do anything for himself unless you hound over him
every minute and change his or her habits.
My technique (for Ryan, age 7, EXTREMELY distractable and
the slowest person on the planet to get ready for anything and an extreme rule-tester): If
Ryan is not ready by 8:00 am he goes to bed an hour early on the grounds that he's
probably tired, AND/OR he will not be allowed to watch TV in the morning before school
because he obviously needs more time to get ready. This is called 'logical
consequences' or 'abuse it - lose it' and it works quite well. He is expected to do
everything pretty much by himself. No list or charts. I may or may not give him a
warning if he's moving slowly (a certain amount of unpredictability is actually good).
He understands the rules and realizes that HE CHOOSES whether to get ready for
school on time or not. The omnipresent threat of consequences is what gives his
brain the focus he needs to get ready. Note that on mornings my husband is in charge Ryan
has all kinds of trouble getting ready, being distracted, forgetting things, ignoring his
father, taking too long, basically all the things a child labeled ADHD would do.
When I'm in charge he magically does everything quickly without being asked. The
difference? Ryan knows I will very quickly enact the consequences while his father
For behavior problems in school there is a very simple and
effective technique called "Abuse It - Lose It" that is just about guaranteed to
work as long as you really follow it. See my discipline
page for more info.
Homeopaths or Naturopaths:
These are people who will give you herbal remedies for a fee. I recently got
a letter from a mother who was giving her son "arsenic album, tarantula and a calming
herb" for her oppositional son. She said the herbs worked well and raved about
the homeopath. I had to tell her that she was feeding her child arsenic, spider
venum, and some other unknown herb. Arsenic is one of the most toxic heavy metals there is
and it causes cancer. It's best known as a poison and pesticide. And this mother was
feeding it to her child. I found this unbelievable and had trouble sleeping that
night. Homeopaths claim arsenic is diluted to a level that is not toxic, but they
don't seem to know that arsenic is a very powerful carcinogen and there's no way to know
whether medicinal use of arsenic causes permanent organ damage. As an environmental
scientist with a background in toxicology and experience working with heavy metals,
including arsenic, let me tell you that I could not possibly trust any group of people
that are playing around with such a dangerous substance. According to the EPA, the
tiny trace amount of arsenic that occurs naturally in western drinking water results in a
1 in 1000 risk of skin cancer, far higher than the normally acceptable risk of 1 in
1,000,000. So there does not appear to be a "safe" amount of arsenic you
can give someone. If you really want to use herbs, you don't need a Homeopath.
Just try out some good quality St. John's Wort or pine bark extract all on your
own. And stay away from the arsenic!
Update: I've gotten some flack from people about my opinion
here, and they always say "If you knew more about it you'd change your mind - these
substances are used amounts that are not toxic." Well I DO know a lot about it.
I'm an environmental scientist with a background in toxicology with years spent working in
the heavy metal industry. You cannot take a safe amount of arsenic - the new
drinking water limit will soon be 0.005 ppm, and even this is considered too much arsenic.
The extreme toxicity of arsenic is well known. Any homeopath that so much as looked
at the EPA's website would know this. I'm really annoyed that these homeopaths take an
extremely toxic/carcinogenic substance, use a pretty name to prevent patients from knowing
what it really is, and tell people the amount they are getting is safe even though
information to the contrary is very easily available. And how could someone know
that twenty years later their bladder cancer was caused by the arsenic a homeopath gave
Medicinal Herbs for children: Herbs
or "dietary supplements" made from herbs are drugs. Untested and not
regulated for purity or strength. I'm amazed at how many people think anything called an
"herb" must be safe and pretty much the same thing as parsley, sage, rosemary
and thyme. It's not. Here are some herbal psychotropic drugs: heroin,
marijuana, cocaine, opium, and pennyroyal. How safe are they? Don't make a science
experiment out of your child! If you need a drug for your child then PLEASE use one
that has been tested and studied. (Note that nutritional supplements such as fish
oil, primrose oil, flax oil and Effelex are NOT medicinal herbs and are OK.) One
example is Gingko Biloba. This herb thins the blood and interacts with many
medication. Gingko can cause someone to bleed more than they otherwise would, and in
a critical accident or operation this could lead to death. Gingko is touted mostly
for older folks, anyway, and doesn't seem to do much for kids, but parents are trying it
as if it was Vitamin C.
Neurodevelopmentalists: One of the
nuttier letters I've received was from someone who called himself a
"neurodevelopmentalist." I don't know what qualifies a person to be one of
these, but let me say that this person passed off a lot of half-baked theories as fact,
and said quite a few things I know not to be true. Like the old idea that 97 percent
of your brain not being used (not true). He told me that kids who never crawled as
babies have trouble learning to read because their brain doesn't form the proper
lateralization. When I told him that MY son never crawled and is the best reader in
his class he responded by saying my son must have gotten over his lateralizaton problems.
Sounds like foofoo to me. I asked him for his scientific basis and he
didn't give me any, except to say that brain lateralization has been studied for decades
(true, but that doesn't mean it supports his theories). I've never heard from anyone
helped by it. He also argued vehemently that people who are slow at sequential
processing are "inefficient thinkers." Actually, they're inefficient
sequencers. "Thinking" involves a lot more than sequencing. The
human brain is very different from a computer. The book "In the Mind's Eye" does
a good job of describing visual thinkers (poor sequencers, great pattern
identifiers). Thinking in pictures is more efficient for some things, like science,
art and engineering. It's far better for recognizing patterns, understanding
concepts and coming up with new ideas.
Sensory Integration: According to this
theory, some people don't know where they are in space, and they have trouble with the
five senses: hearing, taste, smell, touch, sight, movement/balance and body awareness.
Because of this, they are uncoordinated and bump into things. In theory this is due to the
senses not becoming integrated like they are supposed to during childhood. The
"sensory integration checklist" of identifying traits I looked at includes a lot
of things associated with ADD, dyslexia, overexcitabilities due to giftedness, and visual
thinkers. I don't know of anyone with ADD who was helped by this idea. A big
hospital in my area is planning on making some money with it, though, because they just
sent out a flyer in the mail entitled "When it's not ADHD." The checklist
of problems caused by sensory integration was very similar to ADD, and a website address
was provided. At the website was a link to one of the founders of the concept, who
stated that sensory integration was useful in specific circumstances but was being
overapplied by the industry.