ADHD affects over 11% of children in the United States, according to CDC statistic as of 2011. This number has steady gone up since 2003.1 More than half the children with ADHD continue to suffer into adulthood. ADHD is categorized as a mental health condition.2 Therefore, a diagnosis of ADHD/ADD also a stigma attached to it. Children with ADHD may have difficulty performing at school, making or keeping friends, seen as “trouble-makers”, or have difficulty fitting in social spaces.3 These Children may be treated different in classrooms and in other social environments. Parents can feel overwhelmed and in some cases, feel a sense of failure on their part. In other words, this condition is associated with a social impacts, in addition to the obvious health impacts.
In Naturopathic and Ayurvedic medicine treatment of this condition is always considered on a case-by-case basis. One of the most important part of this is to avoid assumptions about how a child should behave. Instead, it is important that we begin with understanding the child and his/her world. One must ask questions like:
- Whether they have difficulty learning or understanding? If so, is it because of inattention or because they respond better to different forms of learning?
- Do they have challenge fitting in? if so, is it because they are anxious or because they feel judged or treated differently because of their behavior?
- Do they have challenge being still or focused? If so, is this because they child is very curious or experience some form of emotional agitation that keeps them from being engaged?
Furthermore, in Ayurveda we go into a deeper constitutional assessment to understand the individuals biochemical and physiological make-up. Also, we look at the health and tendencies of the parents, grandparents, and close family to understand the epigenetic make-up of the child. Finally, we assess the environment in which the child lives day-to-day. This information, in turn, helps us to assess the susceptibility of the child toward developing deficits. Basically, we try to answer the questions:
- What makes this particular child susceptible to this condition?
- Whether it is due genetic or epigenetic factor?
- Whether it is due to parenting-style?
- Whether it is due to chemical or environmental exposure? Etc
Based on such thorough understanding we recommend specific dietary and herbal interventions that help support healthy development of the child.
Primary location of the dis-ease in ADHD:
As ADHD primarily affects the Mind or Manas. The primary aggravation in these cases is likely Vata dosha, associated with aggravations of Pitta and depletions kapha dosha depending on the individuals constitution. In Western terms, this means individuals primarily have a deficit in regulation of activating and inhibiting aspects of nervous system activity. For this reason, child demonstrates hyperactive, compulsive, or in-attentive behavior. These may be a secondary manifestation of agitation, aggression (related to pitta) or dryness in the system (depletion of kapha). Understanding this, we can choose our interventions, restore balance to function, and resolve the condition.
Primary concern with diet is to assess how the child is digesting the food. Do they have an appetite, issues that indicate indigestion, irregular bowels, etc? To make sure child doesn’t have nutritional deficiency. Low appetite can also happen because the adrenal activation related to condition. This is especially associated with anxiety, overactivity, and compulsive behaviors. So, first step is assessement and restoration of agni (digestive fire or digestive function).
As the digestion is restored, the child can then begin to digest and absorb the nutrition he/she needs for proper development. Simply put, children will often get Vata balancing foods that are well-cooked, warm, moist and spiced to support digestion/absorption. Food ingredients might be squashes, root vegetables, poultry, fish, some forms of beans, and baked sweet fruits. In case of symptoms of pitta aggravation, we may include cruciferous and other anti-inflammatory vegetables.
Brahmi: This herb is one of my go to for the developing brain. It is very nourishing to the brain tissue and support the insulating myelin sheeths. Thus, improving the health of individual neurons while improving communication and regulation among them. In a 90 day study on children with ADHD, Brahmi improved working memory that relates to learning tasks, as well as special memory which related remembering unique details.4 Brahmi has proven helpful in improving attention among children. This effect is demonstrated in another study where 5 week and 12 week administration of Brahmi improved Auditory-verbal learning among children.5 Brahmi can be given in combination with Ginkgo, which improves blood flow to the nervous system. A study with this combination showed that it improved planning and problem solving, decision-making, information processing and responsiveness.6
Ashwagandha: This herb interacts with the adrenal system and nervous system. It has been shown to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) by as much as 30%.7 Thus, having a stress lowering effect on the individuals. GABA neurotransmitter has a relaxing and calming effect on the nervous system. It is an important part of regulatory mechanisms of the brain. Active compounds from Ashwagandha can also bind to GABA receptor in the brain.8 This contributes to anti-stress and mood uplifting effect of Ashwagandha.
Ayurvedic Therapies: Abhyanga and Shirodhara
External oil applications are very beneficial for calming the nervous system. Abhyanga, a treatment where medicated oil is applied all over the body, helps draw the attention and awareness of the nervous system into the body. This, in turn, has a calming effect on the mind. Furthermore, herbs in the oil are absorbed systemically. This support system nourishing and regenerative effect of the herbs on the nervous system. Perform head and foot massage with oil is very helpful practice at home. The therapeutic touch of a parents, especially the mother, has an emotionally nourishing effect on the mind.
Shirodhara is reserved of children become relatively calm over the course some Ayurvedic treatments and can remain still for some time. This treatment involves a slow, steady oil drip to the forehead. It nourishes the frontal lobe of the brain; a part that is involved in cognitive functions like processing, planning, decision making and learning. It also nourishes and helps regulates the pineal gland. This gland regulates the sleep cycle through melotonin, as well as supports healthy function of calming neurotransmitters like GABA.
Each child is precious, their gifts are priceless for the world, we must be good stewards of their growth process.
When treating ADHD through natural medicine, we are reminded that we much understand the child as an individual. Avoid suppressing and inhibiting their unique nature by excessive and forceful treatments. Instead, provide supportive therapies that help regulate brain development and behaviors… This can be done through simple things like foods, herbs, daily routines, and ayurvedic treatments.
- CDC.gov “Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Data & Statistics.” Online article: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html
- American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth edition: DSM-5. Washington: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.
- CDC.gov “Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Symptoms & Diagnosis.” Online article: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html
- Con Stough et al (2008) examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa monniera Linn. on human cognitive functioning: 90 day double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Phytother Research 22(12):1629-34.
- Negi KS, Singh YD, Kushwaha KP (2000) Clinical evaluation of memory enhancing properties of Memory Plus in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Ind J Psychiatry 42(2) supplement. 6.
- Nathan PJ, et al. Effects of a combined extract of Ginkgo biloba and Bacopa monniera on cognitive function in healthy humans. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, 2004; Vol. 19(2), pages 91–96.
- Kalani A. et al. Ashwagandha root in the treatment of non-classical adrenal hyperplasia. BMJ Case Reports 2012.
- K. Mehta, et al.; Pharmacological effects of Withania somnifera root extract on GABA receptor complex. Indian J Med Res., Aug. 1991; Vol. 94, Pg. 312–315.