Nondrug Options for ADHD

An article in the June 17, 2008 issue of the New York Times states that almost a third of the 2.5 million children who have been prescribed stimulant drugs for attention and hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) have experienced troubling side effects, including decreased appetite and weight loss, insomnia, personality changes, and abdominal pain. Since 2006, the Food and Drug Administration has required that stimulants used in the treatment of ADHD (including Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta) carry warnings of the risk for sudden death, heart attacks, and hallucinations in some patients. It's not surprising, then, that as many as two-thirds of children diagnosed with ADHD have been given some form of alternative treatment.

Seeking Alternatives to Prescription Drugs

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Most doctors will advise parents that scientific research has not yet substantiated the value of alternative treatments for ADHD, and will term reports of their efficacy "purely anecdotal." Keep in mind that the lack of scientific validation for a treatment doesn't necessarily mean that the treatment doesn't work; the studies simply may not have been performed. It may take some effort, but parents who wish to pursue a holistic approach to ADHD treatment can find a pediatrician willing to try alternatives (many are listed on the Integrative Pediatrics Council's website: www.integrativepeds.org). Remember that every child is an individual, with his or her own body chemistry and physiology: Be prepared to spend some time (and money) trying the different approaches to find ones that help. And if you need a second opinion when you think you see improvement in your child, remember that your child's teacher may be your most objective judge. Following are some nondrug options.

Diet Changes

According to the New York Times, several studies seem to suggest that any link between sugar and hyperactivity is one of "parental perception, rather than reality." However, in a 2007 study published in The Lancet, researchers from the University of Southampton in the U.K. found that artificial coloring and preservatives can cause an increase in hyperactive behaviors.

An elimination diet is the best way to monitor the effects of diet changes. Eliminate only one food or food additive at a time, and monitor the child's behavior closely when you reintroduce it after a period of time has elapsed.


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