Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention-deficit disorder (ADD) are developmental issues in a person who is easily distracted and unable to concentrate, with or without accompanying hyperactivity. The symptoms of one of these conditions must have developed in a person before he/she reaches 7 years of age that result in substantial academic or social impairment. The occurrence of ADHD/ ADD is about 3% to 7% in school-age children, while about 2% to 7% of adults suffer from it.
The real cause of ADHD is not known. Some medical researchers suspect that certain regions of the brain associated with attention suffer from poor neural transmission. The neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine have been related to ADD/ADHD. Methylphenidate (Ritalin) and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrin) and other such stimulants are the treatments usually prescribed for the treatment of these 2 conditions. Typical temporal -term side effects include tic exacerbation, mood fluctuations, headaches, weight loss, appetite suppression and significant insomnia in children. Long-term side effects may include possible retardation of growth, particularly if they’re used for a long time. Moreover, stimulants have a substantial potential for abuse and should be closely regulated.
Herbal Research and Treatment
Based on traditional Chinese medicine or TCM, ADHD/ADD is seen as liver wind rising with spirit (shen) disturbance due to deficiency in the liver yin. To resolve these problems, both tonic and sedative herbs need to be utilized together to bring back the internal balance in the body.
To calm the rise of liver yang (seen as restlessness or muscle twitching) and to remove liver wind, Ramulus uncariae cum uncis, Semen cassia and Concha ostreae are given the patient. These three herbs help normalize mood. The herbal remedies Plastrum testudinis and Carapax trionycis strengthen liver yin and further aid in banishing liver wind. To resolve deficiency in yin, Radix ophiopogonis, Radix rehmanniae, and Radix paeoniae alba are used. Radix paeoniae alba also softens the liver to alleviate stiffness, cramps and spasms that can be related with seizure or convulsion.
Radix ophiopogonis helps to also calm heart fire to alleviate shen disturbance. Radix polygalae and Rhizoma acori are the aromatic herbs that can clear phlegm blocking the orifices and help bring back sensory and cognitive functions. Thee two remedies are usually utilized for the inability to concentrate and forgetfulness. Radix curcumae removes heart heat, opens orifices and boosts consciousness. Radix pseudostellariae tonifies both yin and qi. Rhizoma acori improves flow of blood and rectifies pain and stagnation in the meridians that may be due to long-term twitching or stiffening of muscles. Radix glycyrrhizae preparata harmonizes the entire formula and nourishes the heart. From the viewpoint of pharmacological science, these herbs can help boost learning capacities and memory, remove the allergens or toxins that exacerbate the risk of ADHD/ADD and balance the central nervous system to treat hyperactivity.
One particular study involving the administration of Rhizoma Acori Tatarinowii showed a dose-dependent effect in enhancing memory. Also, in one clinical study, 30 children with low IQ were treated and the results showed a light to moderate betterment in the performance of these children in the classroom after being given Polygala tenuifolia and an herbal formula containing Rhizoma Acori Tatarinowii. The treatment protocol was to give the herbal remedies two times a day everyday for two weeks per course of treatment. The entire plan of treatment is about three months long.
The need to remove environmental toxins is very important in the treating of ADHD/ADD. In this formula, herbs are given to protect the liver and accelerate the detoxification of environmental toxins.
Radix Glycyrrhizae is a remedy that has been used for thousands of years to help detoxify the body. It is now known to resolve a number of poisonings including food and drug poisoning. Both Radix Glycyrrhizae and Radix Curcumae possess hepato-protective qualities that can help treat liver cancer and tetrachloride-or chemical-induced liver damage.
Since ADHD/ADD is marked neurotransmitter imbalance resulting in a disharmony of the body, herbs that can restore balance/harmony to the entire body are used with significant results. Chinese herbs such as chuan xiong, shi chang pu, bai shao and mai men dong calm hyperactivity and help balance the central nervous system. These remedies are also effective in reversing drug-induced excitation. Chuan xiong, bai shao and mai men dong minimize the changes in blood pressure and heart rate as well as harmonize the cardiovascular system. Sheng di huang normalizes the endocrine system to restore normal production and secretion of endogenous hormones.
All the aforementioned herbs are usually safe although caution needs to be taken in individuals with coldness or yang deficiency. Moreover, the herbs must be discontinued once the desired results are attained or if the condition has been stabilized.
The patient needs to be given an adequate amount of magnesium and calcium since both possess a calming effect. Herring, salmon, tuna and other cold-water fishes are rich in DHA or docosahexaenoic acid. This type of essential fatty acid is important for the normal development of the brain. Whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits and other complex carbohydrates also need to be added to the patient’s regular diet.
ADD/ADHD sufferers need to avoid allergens, food coloring or additives or toxic substances that add to the risk of ADD/ADHD development. Lower your consumption of simple carbohydrates like grains, processed sugars, fructose and glucose and remove from your diet fried foods, junk foods with artificial flavor and color, candy or sugar as well as carbonated beverages, throat lozenges, cough drops and antacids.
Some very important factors to consider for ADD/ADHD patients are the psychosocial approaches for long-term and complete cure their ADD/ADHD. These approaches may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (self-reinforcement, problem-solving activities, verbal self-instruction, self monitoring, etc.), clinical behavior therapy (managed and coordinated by teachers and parents) and contingency management (timeout and reward systems). Lastly, the patient should be encouraged to read books and participate in outdoor activities and at the same time curtail exposure to loud music, video games, and television.
Herbs not only can boost attention and focus, they can also better learning ability and memory. Moreover, herbs are a lot safer than drugs, regardless if they are for short-term or long-term use.
Dr. Vickery is a licensed acupuncturist in Tarzana, CA., and the founder and clinical director of Vickery Health and Wellness.