One of the side effects of our modern environment and diet has been an increase in illnesses such as autism and hyperactivity. It is important to recognize that these do not have a single cause but are rather the common endpoint for many different problems. When we understand these problems, it makes it easier to develop effective treatment strategies.
I would like to begin with pregnancy, as nutritional and hormonal deficiencies in the mother can increase the risk of hyperactivity and learning disabilities in the child. Although this information may not help with your child now, looking for and treating these problems may prevent hyperactivity and other problems in the children that you will have in the future.
The three key areas to be aware of to prevent these problems in pregnancy are hypothyroidism and iodine and fish oil deficiencies. Unfortunately, hypothyroidism is dramatically under diagnosed in the United States. Even the using current lab guidelines, only one quarter of the 26 million Americans, mostly women, who are hypothyroid are receiving adequate care. Sadly, most doctors, and even the lab forms themselves have not updated to the new guidelines that were developed by the American Academy of Clinical Endocrinology almost three years ago. In addition, I believe that many people have an underactive thyroid – even if the tests are normal using the new lab guidelines. Also, some doctors are not aware that even in a hypothyroid patient who is on optimal levels of thyroid hormone, the dose needs to be increased by 30-60 percent during pregnancy to maintain normal thyroid levels as your blood volume increases. The effects of missing an underactive thyroid can be devastating to a pregnancy.
To give you some idea of the scope of the problem, the effect of not treating hypothyroidism results in over 4600 miscarriages/yr after 15 weeks of pregnancy-with countless more before. An astounding six percent of miscarriages are associated with hypothyroidism and undiagnosed hypothyroidism is also associated with infertility. In moderate to severely hypothyroid mothers, the baby was also over 6 times as likely to die soon after being born.
If they survive these problems, children born to hypothyroid mothers have a lower IQ by an average of 7 points. They are also almost 4 times as likely to have an IQ under 85 and over twice as likely to have learning difficulties resulting in their having to repeat a grade. Iodine deficiency during pregnancy, which can contribute to an underactive thyroid and is once again becoming more prevalent in the United States since iodine was removed from flour, has also been found to be much more common in mothers of children with hyperactivity. Fish oil deficiency, which along with low magnesium and zinc are the most critical deficiencies during pregnancy, may also impair proper brain development in the child. As you can see, a gram of prevention can be worth a pound of cure!
Having discussed what can be done to prevent attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity, let’s look at the many factors which may contribute to these problems and how to treat them. This may eliminate or lower the need for Ritalin which, although sometimes helpful, is not necessarily the preferred approach to treatment. It important to remember however, that the underlying problems may vary from child to child. As is the case with adults, magnesium deficiency is critical with 95% of hyperactive children been found to have low levels. Magnesium deficiency is characterized by excessive fidgeting, anxious restlessness, psychomotor instability, and learning disabilities –even the presence of a normal IQ. In one study, supplementing the children with 200 mg of magnesium daily for six months resulted in significant improvement. Calcium, which is another mineral related to magnesium, is also often deficient in hyperactivity and supplementation may also result in improvement. 1 cup of milk supplies 400 mg of calcium and can be helpful if the child does not have milk allergies. Milk allergies should be suspected, however, in children that had frequent ear infections. Other nutrient deficiencies are also important. Iron deficiency was found in 82% of hyperactive children and one study found that supplementing these children with iron was helpful. The ferritin blood test for iron should be kept at a level of over 40. Zinc deficiency is also common in these children. Because of this, I would consider supplementing with magnesium 200 mg daily, calcium, zinc, and iron.
Another important area to explore in these children is the role of allergies and sensitivities to foods and food additives. Because the offending agent or agents may vary dramatically from child to child, the approach that I recommend is an elimination diet. This can be difficult to get the child to do, but given a somewhat controlled environment and the right amount of bribery it is possible. In the elimination diet, almost all of the foods and food additives normally eaten by the child are eliminated for five to seven days. If a marked improvement is seen by the end of that time, food allergies are likely. It is important to remember that symptoms may initially worsen as the offending foods or food additives are eliminated, so pick a time that you can stick with the diet for the full five to seven days. As you reintroduce different foods and food additives, you’ll be able to tell which foods are the offending agents. In addition, using an allergy desensitization technique based on acupressure called NAET, a child can be tested for multiple food sensitivities and have them eliminated in 30 to 40 simple sessions. For more information see www.NAET.com.
Before we conclude, I would also like to add one more critical point.
Unfortunately, our schools today often try to make each child fit into the same mold. That your child is “a round and not a square peg” so to speak does not necessarily make them a bad child. Nonetheless, the teachers will often try to intimidate both the child and you and eventually convince the child that they are bad or inadequate. Unfortunately, the child will often then live up to that expectation. To be honest, when I was a child back in grade school, I found much of what was being taught to be boring and irrelevant. Spacing out and fidgeting was a very reasonable response. You’ll often find that when your child does not respond to your or the teacher’s instructions, it is because they’re doing something that is more interesting to them. Although this may be distracting to the adult, it is often a reasonable action on the child’s part. Even though your child’s teacher may read you the riot act, do not reinforce the misconception that the child is given that they are bad. In fact, it is often a good idea for you to run interference between the child and the teacher and to recognize with the child that perhaps what they are being taught is boring. Instead of teaching the child of that they are bad, take the approach of teaching them to adapt to a system that doesn’t always make sense. To be honest, you may find that you often do the same at your job. In fact this is the basis for the Dilbert comic strip. By giving the child understanding and letting them know that they are indeed good children who simply learn differently and that they are not “defective” , you’ll be better able to strike a compromise that may prevent some of the more disruptive behavior. When it feels appropriate, I encourage you to become the child’s advocate—even if this is done secretly between you and your child. This is appropriate as many of the hyperactive children and adults that I know are actually wonderful and more creative than their peers. They simply need to be taught differently and respected for who they are.