The ADHD debate: To medicate or not to medicate, that is the question

Nature’s Pharmacy: Qualified homeopath Hanli Rautenbach gives advice on how to manage and treat a child’s ADHD.

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most commonly treated psychiatric disorder in children. Once diagnosed, a child is normally either treated with a medication that has a stimulating action in the brain (Ritalin or Concerta) or with a non-stimulant like Strattera.

In some cases certain types of blood pressure medication are prescribed for young children that are aggressive or extremely overactive. There might also be a antidepressant prescription depending on the age of the child and their predominating symptoms.

ADHD and medication

The debate on whether or not to medicate is a difficult one. Parents are concerned about the consequences if you don’t medicate before your child reaches adulthood.

Of the 5-9% of children diagnosed with ADHD, 70% of people carry it into adolescence and 50% into adulthood. As we age, the hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour decreases, but the non-core issues relating to peer relationships, self esteem, family function and social skills can remain negatively impacted.

Some statistics show that an untreated adult ADHD sufferer has 50% more chance of getting divorced as opposed to a treated person with ADHD.

If it was that simple, why the debate? Why the agonising decision-making process?

The simple answer is because all substances have a pharmacological effect in the body. These medications do not always work optimally, or if they do, there are side effects to contend with.

Healing ADHD naturally

A must-read is the book by Dr Daniel Amen called Healing ADD: The Breakthrough Program that allows you to see and heal the 7 types of ADD.

After two decades of study, this psychiatrist and brain imaging specialist using SPECT (single-photon emission computerised tomography) scans to study blood flow and brain activity. He has identified seven different types of ADD and the effective and different ways to treat them.

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Helping a child with ADHD. Image via Adobe Stock

When taking this information into account, it starts to make it easier to understand why results are varied when treating ADD.

He primarily looked at the many areas that ADHD affects in the brain and identified that the neurotransmitters dopamine, gabba and serotonin were also affected by ADHD.

Looking at the limbic system (emotional tone and bonding), pre-frontal cortex and cerebellum (attention span, planning, impulse control, judgement), temporal lobes (memory, emotional reactions, visual processing), basal ganglia (dopamine producer) and anterior cingulate cortex ( helps with the detection of errors and different states of alertness), he worked out how to treat ADHD according to where and how it affected the brain.

When treating a complicated condition like this from a holistic perspective, a process of trial and error with regards to dietary changes is worth it.

In some kinds of ADHD, a high protein diet is better (inattentive ADD) and in some cases it is an aggravating factor (over-focused ADD). Talking to your doctor to identify the type of ADD will help with knowing which kind of amino acids, minerals and herbs to use.

Other ways to help

Reducing screen time or using blue screen glasses is important. Exercise is essential.

Herbally, depending on the type of ADD, calming herbs like relora (a combination of two herbs) and holy basil (also known as tulsi) can be considered. Stimulating herbs like ginseng, rhodiola, and combination-herbs that focus and calm like bacopa (found in Keenmind, Mentat and Brain Power) are options.

Colour Therapy for focus will include green and if you need to stimulate, red can be considered. Supplementally omega 3 (with high EPA), magnesium and the amino acid L-Tyrosine (stimulating) or L-Theanine and GABA (calming).

Homeopathically, there are certain remedies that describe nervous, anxious individuals and inflexible individuals, and as always, this is considered in the total picture when prescribing. 

Essential oils that help to calm include lavender, vetiver and frankincense whilst peppermint, sweet orange and rosemary assist with mental focus.

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Lavender essential oil. Image via Adobe Stock

Treating and managing this complex condition will help your child to develop a healthy self image and will affect how they act and perform into their adult lives.

It is definitely worth reading up and talking about ADHD until you find the correct combination for your child.

Also read: Getting some shut-eye: The benefits of sleep, glorious sleep

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