What is ADHD?

Today, the term “ADHD” is heard frequently, although it is often used in the wrong context, such as when you spot a child running around the store and say to yourself “He must have ADHD.”  In all actuality, he may be a calm child who ate an entire pack of cookies.  Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a chronic condition that involves biologically active substances in the brain.  It is believed to affect several areas in the brain that are responsible for impulse control, problem solving, and planning ahead.  It cannot be cured, although it can be managed. 
It is interesting to note that brain scans have found that children with ADHD have altered brain activity in their prefrontal cortex, which is referred to as the command center of the brain.  Researchers also think that too little theta (slow) wave activity in certain areas of the brain may cause hyperactive behavior, though this hasn’t been proven.


Demographics of ADHD

According to the American Pediatric Association (APA), 6.4 million children between the ages of 4-17 have been diagnosed with this disease.  In addition, around 4% of adults over the age of 18 in the United States also struggle with ADHD.  Here is a quick breakdown, according to the APA, of what populations are most affected by ADHD.

Boys are almost three times more than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD.

9.8% of white children suffer from ADHD, while 9.5% of black children do.  However, only 5.5% of Latino children have the diagnosis.

In most cases, the younger a child is when he is diagnosed with ADHD, the more severe his symptoms will be.

Children living in Midwestern states, including Kentucky, Arkansas, and Louisiana have the highest ADHD rates.  Children in western states, including Nevada, Colorado, Utah, and California have the lowest rates of ADHD.  The only anomaly is New Jersey, which has the second lowest ADHD rate in the country.

Research indicates that the disease often runs in families. 

Common Symptoms of ADHD

adhdFor the majority of individuals, hyperactivity is the most common symptom.  They have trouble sitting still and often fidget, wiggle around, or get up and down over and over again.  They may also constantly tap their fingers on a desk and their feet on the floor.  Additional symptoms include:

Impulsiveness, characterized by blurting out comments, failing to consider the consequences of their actions, and trouble controlling their emotions.  Although you may tell someone to calm down or control their behavior, it’s simply not that easy.

Inattentiveness, characterized by getting easily distracted, losing interest in an activity quickly or an inability to complete one task before moving on to another, difficulty remembering or following directions, and making careless mistakes on a regular basis. 

In some cases, physical or verbal aggression may be present.

How is ADHD Diagnosed

Unfortunately, there is not a blood or diagnostic test available to diagnose.  Instead, a health care provider uses standard diagnostic guidelines from the APA and the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM.  The provider usually considers information presented by parents, caregivers, and teachers, as well as how the child behaves during sessions.  This disease is not diagnosed in one visit; it can take months for a definitive diagnosis to be established.

ADHD Treatment Options

In the past, children were often prescribed stimulant medications to reduce their symptoms.  Due to side effects, including poor appetite, weight loss, and a significant change in mood, parents are increasingly reluctant to give these medications, such as Ritalin and Adderall, to their children. Nonstimulant medications, such as Strattera, are also recommended as a treatment option.  However, they carry a “black box” warning that it can cause suicidal thoughts in teens and children.
Currently, only 6.1% of the children with ADHD in the U.S. are given prescription medication.  In fact, one in five American children with an ADHD diagnosis is not receiving treatment of any kind.


Natural Treatment Alternatives for ADHD

More and more parents are turning to herbal supplements in an effort to control their child’s ADHD without the risk of harmful side effects.  Though specific numbers are not available on how many children are receiving alternative treatments, the following are the most commonly used.

Glutathione:  An antioxidant that is found in every one of the body’s cells, glutathione removes toxic substances, such as heavy metals and preservatives, from the body.  When glutathione production is inhibited by toxic metals, the toxic metals are able to accumulate in the body, which results in many of the behaviors exhibited by children with ADHD.

Vitamin B6: B6 is crucial for the production of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain, which are all neurotransmitters that can be affected by ADHD.  One study has found that children taking B6 was slightly more effective than Ritalin at improving behavior in children with ADHD.  However, other studies have not been able to duplicate these results.

Iron:  One study found that 84% of children with this disease had low iron levels compared to only 18% who did not have this disease.  A correlation has been found between low iron levels, cognitive deficits, and severe ADHD.  As a result, a number of parents give their children a daily iron supplement or multivitamin to decrease symptoms. 

Certain preservatives and food colorings are believed to increase hyperactivity in some children.  Many parents of children with ADHD limit the following preservatives and colorings in their diet.

FD&C Red No. 40 (allura red)

FD&C Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine)

FD&C Yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow)

D&C Yellow No. 10 (quinoline yellow)

Final Thoughts
Fortunately, research indicates that anywhere from 50 to 90% of children with this disease will grow out of it by adulthood.  There is no way of predicting which children this will occur in.