Douglas Burr is a Licensed
Acupuncturist, with a Masters of Science in Traditional
Oriental Medicine. He was a Respiratory Therapist for 20
years before studying Oriental Medicine. He practices in
San Diego, CA.
Throughout the country
intense debates are taking place over the medical management
of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Parents, consumer
advocacy organizations, and many physicians are seeking
alternatives to the potent stimulants used in treatment.
Currently as many as 3 million children have been prescribed
methylphenidate (Ritalin), a CNS stimulant, for treatment. Of
course pharmaceutical interests are rigorously defending its use.
Drug treatment seems to offer a quick fix. But what parents need
to know is that drug treatment offers only a short-term limited
solution to a complex multifaceted problem. Medication only covers
some symptoms and does not actually get to the root of the problem.
Acupuncture for ADHD
Acupuncture can treat ADHD for adults and children without drug
side-affects. In my clinical practice, ADHD has been effectively
treated with acupuncture, nutritional counseling and glyconutritionals
for both adults and children. It's always great to hear parents
proclaim, "I can't believe it's the same kid!" after
just a few treatments. Parents are also amazed at the improvement
of the general health of their child. For any parent who knows
their child would scream and head for the quickest exit at the
site of a needle, needle-free treatment is available.
The ADHD Problem
Today, ADHD has become an all too familiar term with 3% to 11%
of school age children diagnosed with the disorder. The majority
diagnosed is boys, but some researchers feel the number of girls
may be under identified. The symptoms are a large group that is
loosely defined, and range from a lack of concentration with poor
study habits to major disruption at home and aggression in the
classroom. Approximately 50% of cases persist into adulthood.
While the exact cause of this disorder is still unknown a combination
of several factors is most likely; sensitivity to processed foods,
additives and sugar substitutes, inability to absorb vital nutrients,
exposure to environmental chemicals, toxins, molds and fungus,
and inactivity. It is also generally believed that genetics and
family medical history play a role but is difficult to determine
because more than one factor is identified in most cases.
In 1994, the American Psychiatric Association's Manual of Mental
Disorders, Forth Edition (DSM-IV) created the official term attention
deficit/hyperactivity disorder, ADHD and identified 3 subtypes;
inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Some professionals
use the term ADD for children who are only inattentive but official
reports and records are required to use ADHD. There are no straightforward
clinical tests to diagnosis ADHD. A detailed clinical history
provided by parents and teachers is used to provide a "definitive"
diagnosis. The drawback being that this information can be extremely
biased depending on the experience of teachers and education of
parents. (1,2) Other disorders and issues must be ruled out such
as learning disabilities, chemical dependency or the child is
academically unchallenged. It has also been found that some children
that have been labeled "gifted and talented" display
some of the same behavioral traits as those diagnosed with ADHD.
Western medical treatment has a multifaceted approach with individual
and family counseling, behavioral therapy, school remediation
and medication. An integral approach between school, family and
medical practitioner is ideal and yields the best long-term benefits.
Drug Treatments for ADHD
Many times drug treatment becomes the only medical management.
The first line of medications is the use of psycho stimulants
with methylphenidate (Ritalin) being the most widely used drug.
Approximately 70% of those treated show improvement in primary
symptoms such as impulsivity although benefits may not hold over
2 years. A study found that over half of children diagnosed with
ADHD also had depression, anxiety and conduct disorder which methylphenidate
does not treat. Ideally the medication use should be reevaluated
after the first semester of the child's school year. Many times,
however, this plan is not followed and the child remains on the
medication without any reevaluation for a very long period of
time. Unfortunately, the action of methylphenidate is virtually
identical with cocaine and in the United States it is a Schedule
II controlled drug. (3-5) With its potential for abuse it is fast
becoming a "street drug" among teenagers. (6)
Further controversy continues because of the long-term side effects
that include loss of appetite from nausea resulting in poor weight
gain, insomnia and headaches. Although rarely, psycho stimulants
have been know to cause leukopenia (drop in white blood cell count),
psychosis (7) and the development of tic disorder. Besides the
problems dealing with side effects parents are frustrated with
contradictory views from ADHD information groups. An example is
the Center for Science in the Public Interest reviewed 25 years
of scientific studies and found that certain foods and food additives
do cause behavior problems while groups like CHADD state that
there is no correlation between food sensitivities and behavioral
problems. Recently, individual schools that have changed their
lunch menus, eliminating soda, processed and fried foods and choosing
fresh fruits and vegetables are reporting a significant drop in
behavioral problems throughout the school. This reflects a Purdue
University study that found children deficient in omega-3 fatty
acids are more likely to have ADD, learning disorders, behavior
problems, depression and dyslexia.
A brief Internet search found a multitude of websites proclaiming
the problems with the pharmaceutical management of ADHD. These
sites are from parent and medical professionals alike. Websites
like www.ritalindeath.com alone provides enough information for
any parent or teacher to search out a more integrative approach
in treating ADHD.
Yes, there is an alternative to medicating your child. Traditional
Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a complete system that can treat each
patient individually and address the problems specific to that
person. Western medicine views ADHD as a complex neurodevelopmental
disorder. Like Western medicine, TCM treatment of ADHD can be
extremely complex. Treatment takes into account the patient's
age and stage of development, which is extremely important in
Children grow in stages from infancy to adulthood and certain
organ systems may be deficient until development is complete.
While one organ system, according to TCM is deficient; another
can be in excess causing an imbalance. Balancing these organ systems
is at the heart of successful treatment. Western medicine lists
multiple side affects but does not consider the effects medications
have on this process. TCM can support this development while getting
to the root cause of ADHD. Symptoms that are unique to your child
can be address specifically as well as diet and environmental
What you can do at home:
TCM looks at children as mostly Yang in nature. Yang is exuberant,
moving, warm and loud. As opposed to Yin, which is still, quiet
and cool. Children need ample opportunity to run around, jump
up and down, and yell at the top of their lungs! Children need
to be involved in physical activity on a daily basis. Any kind
of sports, marital arts, horseback riding, dance etc. is highly
encouraged. One parent described asking her 16-year-old daughter
after a full Saturday of horseback riding, "any plans tonight?"
The daughter responded tiredly "I'm going to bed early".
YES! the mother happily exclaimed. And we must not forget the
dreaded TV, computer and video games. Fun as they are, long term
stimulus of this type is draining on creativity and cuts into
time for family and friends. Limiting time on these is always
a good idea. I've been heard many times telling my daughter "go
outside and get dirty!"
Diet is an extremely important issue in growth and development
of children. Good quality complex carbohydrates, essential fatty
acids, amino acids and enzymes as well as proteins, vitamins and
minerals are required for growth, development and all bodily functions.
It is important to note that a nutritional deficiency can alter
brain chemistry and impair function. But also eliminating offending
foods or additives is just as important. Hypersensitivity to certain
foods and additives can contribute to behavioral disorders. A
combination of these factors can be part of the problem. Studies
have shown that eliminating just one potential offending food
or additive showed limited or no improvement, while multiple elimination
was almost always successful. (8)
Drug treatment can be beneficial in the short term but you do
have other options for the long haul. An acupuncturist can work
with your western medical provider to adjust medications and create
a strategy for eliminating medication all together. For any questions
please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Barkley RA. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Handbook
for Diagnosis and Treatment. New York, NY: Guilford Press; 1998.
2. Fisher BC. Attention Deficit Disorder Misdiagnosis. Boca Ration,
FL: CRC Press; 1998
3. Volkow ND, Ding Y, Fowler JS, et al. A new PET ligand for the
dopamine transporter: studies in the human brain. J Nuclear Med
4. Volkow ND, Ding Y, Fowler JS, et al. Is methylphenidate like
cocaine? Arch Gen Psychiatry 1995; 52:456-463.
5. Volkow ND, Wang GJ, Fowler JS, et al. Dopamine transporter
occupancies in the human brain induced by therapeutic doses of
oral methylphenidate. Am J Psychiatry 1998; 155:1325-1331.
6. Breggin P, Breggin G. The hazards of treating ADHD with Ritalin.
J Coll Stud Psychotherapy 1995;10:55-72.
7. Findling RL, Dogin JW. Psychopharmacology of ADHD: children
and adolescents. J Clin Psychiatry 1998;59:42-49.
8. Boris M. Food and chemical intolerance: Placebo-controlled
studies in attention deficit disorders. In: Bellanti JA, Crook
WG, Layton RE, eds. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder:
Causes and Possible Solutions (proceeding of a conference). Jackson,
TN: International Health Foundation; 1999.