Written By: Dr. Daniel Amen
Taking a dose of Ritalin or Adderall at school is a daily ritual for many students in the United States.
That shouldn’t be a surprise because the number of cases of attention deficit disorder, also called attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is on the rise among children and teenagers, up 43 percent over an eight-year period, according to a recently published study by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. Today, roughly 12 percent of children and teens have the diagnosis.
But medication isn’t the only alternative for treating ADD. Focusing on natural treatments and the individual ADHD type can produce great results, says Dr. Daniel Amen, a clinical neuroscientist and brain imaging expert who also is the Founder of Amen Clinics (www.amenclinics.com), which treat patients at six locations around the country.
“Through our work with over 20,000 ADD patients over the last three decades, using a powerful brain-imaging tool called SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography), we discovered that ADD is not a single or simple disorder; there are seven different types,” says Amen, author of numerous books, including “Healing ADD” and “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.”
“In addition, many natural treatments can help all the ADD types. I always prefer to start with the least toxic, most effective treatment,”
That doesn’t mean medication is never right, he says.
“For some children medication is the best option,” Amen says. “But whether they are on medication or not, there are several lifestyle changes that can help all types.”
He suggests parents consider these four non-medical interventions:
• Nutrition. The right diet can have an impact. Amen says parents should try putting their children on a high protein, low carbohydrate diet that is relatively high in healthy fat. The reason: Such a diet has a stabilizing effect on blood sugar levels and helps with both energy level and concentration.
• Exercise. Parents need to make sure their children aren’t just sitting around watching TV. Exercise increases blood flow to all parts of the body, the brain included. That, of course, is particularly beneficial to people with ADD. Exercise also increases the availability of serotonin in the brain, helping to calm hyperactivity.
• Meditation. Parents should teach their children how to meditate because research shows that meditation can calm stress and enhance brain function. Help them find a quiet spot where they can sit comfortably, Amen says, then tell them to gently close their eyes and focus on their breathing. He suggests starting with just a few minutes and working up to 10, 15 or 20 minutes.
• Neurofeedback. This is a specialized treatment that uses computer technology to balance and optimize the brain. During each session, patients play a video game using just their brain. Amen says it’s both fun for the child, and also helps strengthen their brains “to a healthier, more focused state.”
“Parents shouldn’t automatically discount medication as a way to treat children with ADD,” Amen says. “But they also need to be mindful that medication isn’t their only option.”