After working with ADD/ADHD children and their parents for nearly 10 years, I have found two things to be true. The first and most important truth is that parents love their children and want desperately to help them with their health issues. Unfortunately, this love often conflicts with a second truth: we are a society of instant gratification. The desire for instant gratification contributes to many of the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. The excessive use of video games, on-demand TV programs, fast food, social media, and smart phones all support our culture of instant gratification. Our children learn about instant gratification from us. We’ve accepted these activities because they fit into our fast-paced world fairly easily. All of these activities make it so we never have to feel bored and are rarely inconvenienced.
Now what does any of this have to do with how Chinese Medicine helps ADD/ADHD? One word: balance. Chinese Medicine is a system of using acupuncture, acupressure, herbal medicine, food therapy, and lifestyle changes to bring the body back into a state of balance. The word “balance” is often used in an esoteric way that conjures up an image of cross-legged meditation in a beautifully serene, nature-filled environment. Now that would be an ideal scenario, but does not reflect modern life. Modern life is not ideal for healing ADD/ADHD and the problems facing these children are not simplistic. These disorders take time to correct and many issues need to be addressed. To achieve balance in the life of an ADD/ADHD child we need to look at it on four different levels.
ADD/ADHD and 4 Levels of Chinese Medicine
Level #1 is called Essence. We use theatrical terminology in Chinese Medicine, which is very beautiful, but can boggle our Western minds. Basically, Essence translates into two concepts: Pre-Heaven Essence (genetics) and Post-Heaven Essence (food, environment, and lifestyle). The concept of Essence points out that a child’s genetics combined with the quality of food, environment, and lifestyle will determine his or her state of health. You may have heard this general statement about disease: “Genetics loads the gun and the environment pulls the trigger.” Many ADD/ADHD children exhibit genetic mutations called SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms). The SNP that many people are familiar with is called MTHFR. The MTHFR mutation greatly reduces the body’s ability to detoxify itself, which leads to a body that is overwhelmed with toxicity. This toxicity can be a large contributor to ADD/ADHD symptoms and can cause tremendous inflammation throughout a child’s body, including the brain. When a child has these unfortunate genetic issues, it makes the quality of the food, environment, and lifestyle vastly more important in order to limit toxicity and inflammation.
Level #2 is the Liver. In Chinese Medicine, when the liver is not healthy, symptoms such as irritability, hyperactivity, and inattention may occur. Sound familiar? Interestingly enough, the MTHFR mutation affects the ability of the liver to detoxify the body. Chinese Medicine uses herbs in most cases of ADD/ADHD that are naturally protective of the liver and improve detoxification. I have found that simply eliminating many of the toxic chemicals that a child may come in contact with via processed food or bathing can greatly reduce symptoms. Chinese Medicine also associates the health of the liver with movement. A child has to be active to detoxify. So, you see how sitting in front of the television or video game screen for excessive amounts of time could increase ADD/ADHD symptoms.
Level #3 is the Digestive System. Digestive health has to be addressed in order to optimize a child’s health. A healthy digestive system absorbs nutrients that nourish the entire body and eliminates waste. Interestingly, your digestive system is also responsible for producing about 90% of your serotonin (neurotransmitter that influences happiness and mood) and much of your dopamine (neurotransmitter involved with focus). Having appropriate levels of beneficial bacteria in your digestive system is critical for these functions. Antibiotic use and an unhealthy diet destroy beneficial bacteria, which introduces malabsorption and yeast overgrowth, both of which have been associated with mental and emotional health. Chinese Medicine uses acupuncture, herbal medicine, and food therapy to help a child with appropriate digestion of nutrients, toxin elimination, and beneficial bacteria replenishment in the gut.
Level #4 is the Mind. As I stated before, we use technology to alleviate boredom. Unfortunately, the brain is not designed to tolerate constant stimulation. When a child plays video games for long periods of time, excessive amounts of dopamine are released. Dopamine is what keeps you focused. If you notice, a child playing a video game is very focused on the game—so much so, it is almost impossible to pull him away from it. When we do finally make him stop playing and do homework, chores, or simply come to dinner, he no longer has the appropriate levels of dopamine and will lack focus. You do not need to know much about brain chemistry to understand that a child who just saved the world in a video game might have some trouble transitioning to her math homework. It simply does not provide the same level of stimulation. Children must have balance! Technology doesn’t have to be the enemy, but it must be balanced with activities that provide relaxation and movement such as playing outside, sports or other physical activities, and deep breathing. Chinese Medicine has been shown through studies to improve focus with these children while also regulating other systems of the body.
How Can Chinese Medicine Help ADD/ADHD?
The world is different than it once was and it is not going to change or slow down anytime soon. Do not let the pace of today’s society tell you that a complicated ADD/ADHD disorder must be corrected in the modern world’s time frame! Balance will be achieved differently for each child. Each child may have symptoms that present differently than another child with the exact same diagnosis. Chinese Medicine does a wonderful job of finding these subtle differences within each child and using the right herbal medicines, acupuncture or acupressure treatments, and diet changes to fit each child’s unique needs.
I will be leading a discussion about the personalized and drug-free approaches to ADD/ADHD at the next in-office event:
Dwight Franklin, DOM is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and owner of Franklin Family Wellness Institute. He is a graduate of the Florida College of Integrative Medicine, where he received a Master’s Degree in Oriental Medicine and a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Studies. Over the course of his career, Dwight has worked alongside both pediatricians and psychiatrists in the treatment of ADD, ADHD, Autism, and various other common childhood and mental disorders through the practice of Oriental Medicine, Nutritional and Lifestyle changes, and Craniosacral Therapy.
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