Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is the most commonly diagnosed syndrome among American children, with 4.5 million children diagnosed in the U.S. as of 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most children with ADD do not outgrow it, as was previously thought. Symptoms include the inability to focus, disorganization, short attention span, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Left untreated, ADD can interfere with learning, school performance, work performance and interpersonal relationships.
Treatment for ADD typically includes a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. Herbal supplements may also be used to help reduce ADD symptoms, especially for mild to moderate cases. Herbal treatments may be a good first-approach treatment, one that can help determine whether medication is truly necessary. Both medication and herbs will be most effective when used in combination with other natural therapies, such as improved nutrition, behavior modification, physical exercise and training in organizational skills.
Dr. Robert A. Schulman recommends ginkgo biloba and ginseng to help improve memory and concentration for those with ADD or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). These herbs — widely available in natural food stores, vitamin shops and drug stores — appear to improve brain function by increasing blood flow. Increased blood flow means greater delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Ginseng, however, has also been shown to lower blood sugar, which may increase the intensity of ADD symptoms. If you choose to try Ginseng, make sure your child eats regularly and consistently to help stabilize blood sugar.
Calming herbs may also be helpful in treating ADD. Attention deficit disorder, even without the hyperactivity component, often causes anxiety. Anxiety can divert your child’s mental energy, limiting the amount of brain power he can dedicate to a challenging task. Dr. Linda B. White recommends the herb kava-kava for the treatment of ADD-related anxiety. Kava-kava is one of the few sedative herbs that reduces anxiety without causing mental fogginess or fatigue. It is widely available in tea and tincture form. If your child’s ADD symptoms include hyperactivity, he may be able to tolerate a stronger sedative herb, such as valerian, during the day. Valerian can also be useful as a sleep aid if the hyperactivity or anxiety tends to interrupt sleep. Adequate sleep is essential to optimal brain function. Fitful sleep and frequent late nights will likely exacerbate symptoms of ADD.
Many natural health practitioners recommend vitamin, mineral and other nutrient supplements to help combat the symptoms of ADD. Dr. Robert Schulman recommends magnesium (a common deficiency that can cause inattentiveness), B vitamins (to help synthesize neurotransmitters in the brain and to help the brain to usee carbs for energy), vitamin C (which aids neurotransmitter function in the brain), Spirulina (a nutrient-rich algae available in pills, powders and some health drinks) and omega-3 fatty acids (to enhance neurotransmitter activity in the brain). Always give your child vitamins with food and never on an empty stomach for optimal nutrient absorption and to avoid upset stomach. If your child‘s ADD makes remembering to take pills difficult, make sure to keep them in a highly-visible place.