Supplements for ADD and ADHD

Since many children don't get the nutrients they need, proper healthful supplementation will do wonders at turning behavior difficulties around.  Here are some suggestions for  nutritional supplements that may help children with learning or behavioral problems.

General Supplements

GABA Plus-- GABA is a neurotransmitter in the brain that serves to slow excess brain activity, thereby reducing anxiety and hyperactivity.  Glutamine forms glutemic acid, which also calms excess brain activity.  Taurine helps stabilize and protect brain tissue and may help reduce seizures.  This formula was designed to help reduce mental stress and excess mental chatter. It may be helpful for ADD, seizures, hyperactivity and anxiety. 

Focus Attention—This formula provides nutrients that help to reduce overactivity in the brain's neurotransmitter system. It also helps protect the brain from toxic chemicals. This supplement specifically helps hyperactivity and ADD. For best results, it should be taken with flax seed oil.

Balanced B-Complex—B vitamins are necessary for the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain.  They help to regulate the nervous system.

Flax Seed oil, Omega-3 EPA or Super MEFA—Essential fatty acids have been shown to have a very positive effect on ADHD children. The brain is 60% fat and a deficiency of the proper essential fatty acids contributes to a lack of good brain function.  Our kids eat a lot of fat, but it is the wrong kind of fat.  Flax seed oil contains a healthy balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils.  The brain will also benefit from using olive oil and butter instead of hydrogenated fats and oils. I've particularly found Super MEFA, a supplement that blends multiple essential and non-essential fatty acids helpful.

Grapine (Grapine with Protectors or Antioxidants with Grapine)—Grapine is an antioxidant that can cross the blood brain barrier and help protect the brain against free radical damage. It is often helpful in ADHD.

Gotu Kola or Ginkgo/Gotu Kola —Gotu kola has a reputation for improving memory and brain function.  It is a general tonic for the body, helping it adapt to stress.  Many people have found it enhances concentration and mental alertness. The Mind Max formula combines gotu kola with ginkgo and bacopa.  Ginkgo enhances circulation to the brain and ginseng acts as a general tonic.  Parents have found either of these supplements helpful with many children's inability to concentrate or learn.

Iodine —We have also discovered the ADHD kids are often low in iodine and using Iodoral, a high potency iodine supplement, can be very helpful with ADHD.  We use 1-2 tablets per day for adults, half that dose for children.

Parasympathetic Nervines

For the child who is having problems because they are too stressed, the following nervines may help to relax and calm them down.  These formulas will react backwards in true ADHD.  The reason is explained below under the heading, understanding ADHD.

Chamomile —Chamomile helps reduce inflammation in the intestinal membranes.  It is also a nervine that is particularly useful where heat  (inflammation or fever) is found in combination with tension and irritability.  It helps children who are peevish and whiny, calming irritability and crankiness. Herbalist Matthew Wood says that chamomile is for “babies of any age.”

Stress-J  Liquid —This is a good general nervine formula for stress, anxiety, and nervous tension.

Nutri-Calm—This is an anti-stress vitamin/mineral supplement which helps calm nervous, high-strung individuals and does not cause drowsiness.  It contains B-vitamins for synthesis of neurotransmitters, vitamin C and nervine and adaptagenic herbs to help reduce stress.

Understanding True ADHD

Ritalin belongs to the class of drugs known as amphetamines.  These drugs, which include cocaine,  mimic the hormone and neurotransmitter ephinephrine (adrenaline).  These drugs are “uppers” or “speed” because they are highly stimulating.  Why does “speed” appear to calm ADHD children down? 

I discovered the answer to this several years ago when working with a friend of mine who was an adult with ADHD.  As she was describing her experience of the world (caffeine and Chinese ephedra helped her feel calmer) it occurred to me that she may not be reacting backwards to nervines at all.  I realized that her problem was an overactive parasympathetic nervous system coupled with an underactive sympathetic nervous system. 

To test my theory, I mixed her a combination of powerful sympathetic nervines (ephedra, lily of the valley and scotch broom) and asked her to take small doses (3-5 drops).  This formula would give most people anxiety and heart palpitations.  It helped her go to sleep.

Together, we tested this theory on other ADHD kids and discovered that true ADHD children and adults are “parasympathetic dominant” in their nervous system.  Under the influence of the parasympathetic nervous system they become more open to sensory input.  These people are in constant sensory overload, which keeps them constantly agitated.

Ironically, as a result, they often feel calmer and more focused when their sympathetic nervous system ( “fight-or-flight” response) is activated.  Hence, they often live “on the edge” creating stress in their lives to initiate a sympathetic nervous system response.  Although the sympathetic nervous system tend to “wind us up,” it also helps us filter out distractions and stay focused.  This is why a  small amount of an ephinephrine “mimic” will improve concentration.

A child who is tense and “hyper” is probably just stressed, and calming nervines which activate a parasympathetic response will help.  For the ADHD child however, calming nervines just make the problem worse.

So, how can you tell the difference?  It's rather simple.  Just look at the child's pupils.  If the pupil is enlarged, this is an excess sympathetic nervous system reaction (i.e., stress) and will respond to calming (parasympathetic enhancing) nervines.  If the pupil is small, however, this indicates excess parasympathetic activity and nervines that enhance sympathetic activity (stimulants) are needed in small doses.  Here are some sympathetic agents.

Sympathetic Agents

ENRG-V—This is an adaptagenic formula that helps the adrenals.  It is very useful for younger children with symptoms of ADHD.  The hard part is convincing parents that the formula will calm their child down not “energize” them. 

Chinese Ephedra—Chinese ephedra or MaHuang, contains ephedrine, which mimics ephinephrine (like Ritalin and amphetamines do).  Hence, small amounts of formulas that contain them may be used as alternatives to Ritalin and other medications.  Unfortunately, Chinese ephedra has been made illegal in the United States.  However, Western ephedra, also known as Brigham tea, is still legal and will still have some positive effect for ADHD.

Bitter Orange-This remedy is still legal and contains a small amount of synephrine, a compound that stimulates the sympathetic nervous system like ephedrine. 

Caffeine—Remedies that contain caffeine can help ADHD children feel calmer. Good choices are a little green tea, chocolate or an extract of kola nuts. 

Scotch Broom —I've used small amounts of this toxic botanical on someone with adult ADHD.  I think it's too strong for children, however.  With adults, use dosages of 3-5 drops.

Using sympathetic agents is symptom controlling strategy (like taking the meds) and should be used only for stabilization while dietary changes, lifestyle adjustments and supplements are used for a more permanent solution.  However, the bottom line is that there are many options for solving ADHD besides taking drugs. I highly encourage parents to explore these options rather than just submitting to pressure to put their children on medications. 

For more information on helping children with learning problems, see my DVD program Holistic Solutions to Learning Problems.