Alternative Treatments for ADHD

Parent Q&A

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  • We are at our wit's end with our 12-year-old ADHD kiddo: medication doesn't work, or has such serious side effects that we had to stop it. Our doctor feels like she is out of her depth. I find the Amen approach to ADHD intriguing and would love to hear from people who actually were diagnosed and treated there . Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! 

    Stay away at all costs. Amen is snake oil, and NOT scientifically-grounded, despite what they might lead you to believe. Try a consult with the HALP Clinic at UCSF.

  • Eastern Medicine for ADHD

    (3 replies)

    Has anyone been successful with using Eastern Medicine to help with ADHD?  My daughter is only five, and is finally at the need for medication.  However in reading about the different options, none of them actually go after her underlying anxiety or stress that she constantly carries.  I don't want to give medication to someone so young, just so she can focus for a few hours at school, but not relive any of her other issues.  Are there any resources in the East Bay that you may be familiar with, that I could go to and talk with someone?

    Hi there!  I recommend Jill Stevens L.Ac. (licensed acupuncturist) at Whole Family Wellness Center in Emeryville.  She specializes in pediatrics and is truly wonderful!  In addition to acupuncture and herbs, she utilizes other modalities -- flower essences, nutrition, homeopathy, etc. -- to treat those underlying conditions that you mention.  I've seen her for years, as well as friends and their children, and will definitely establish my child later on this year after it is born :) 

    Not in the East Bay but across the bay in San Francisco is the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine -- There is a doctor there, Dr. Newmark, who takes an integrative medicine approach to children with ADHD.  Good luck!

    Mom of an ADD teen here. Do you have a diagnosis for ADHD from a neuropsych or pediatrician? It's pretty unusual to get an ADHD diagnosis before 2nd or 3rd grade, since it doesn't really become apparent before academic pressures start appearing (reading, math, etc.) Hopefully your kindergartener isn't being pressured like that. Also, anxiety and stress are not necessarily a "feature" of ADHD.  My ADD kid is very low-stress and he is rarely anxious -- he just isn't focused enough to follow what's happening in the classroom, which is a real impediment in 10th grade but not really that big of an issue in kindergarten. So I would say that if your kindergartener is constantly stressed and anxious as you say, then that is something you should be talking to your pediatrician about. Maybe her school is not the right fit. I don't think a kindergartener should feel like she is under stress to perform.

  • We are getting rather desperate with our son, his impulsivity, quick temper, forgetfulness, inattention - the usual stuff.  I just came across an article on some computer programs which are similar to home neurofeedback - "Play Attention" and "Wild Divine" are two that come up. 

    Has any one tried these and are they useful?  Also if you bought, how did you buy them and what exactly did you buy?  Both seem to have confusing packages and I am not sure.  Play Attention website doesn't even list the price anywhere that I can see, which makes it seem like an expensive scam so I am hesitant to call and get caught up in a heavy sales pitch.

    Or is there a different program worth a try?  I don't need guarantees, I would just like to give it a shot if it has any chance of helping him feel more in control of his emotions.


    My teen son has ADHD. People with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine which makes them physically unable to respond to stimuli as quickly as those without ADHD.  ADHD is a physical impairment, not a cognitive or emotional impairment. Computer programs, neurofeedback, therapy, diets, etc. do nothing to change this.  Yes, of course they are a waste of money, and they will also make your son feel like he is once again failing when he doesn't show improvement from an expensive program. Why put him through that?  If he really has ADHD, then the only treatment that really works, and has been used successfully since the 1940's, is the one that addresses the chemistry problem, namely ADD meds like ritalin. 

  • Hi. My child had side effects from medicine to help him focus (aderall, methylphenidate). While he needs something, it wasn't worth the stomach aches, lack o appetite, reduced creativity  and difficulty sleeping. Did any of these meds work for your kid?  Any suggestions for alternate remedies, supplements, or any treatments. Any experience welcome. Thank you. 

    Hi,  We went through several medication before finding one that worked.  There were some really disturbing side effects along the way - OCD, obesity.  I really wavered on whether or not we were doing the right thing by medicating, but our son's team of psychiatrist and therapists insisted that he needed it and we had picked them for their balance and moderation, so stuck with it.  He is now doing well on the lowest dose of Focalin (5mg extended release)  It has cut back his appetite but not too much and gives him just enough of a boost in focus and verbal control that he is able to successfully navigate middle school.  Since he started struggling I have been pursuing parallel paths of western and alternative medicine.  He sees a wonderful osteopath (was 2x month, now monthly) who works not only on soft tissue tension but also keeping his nervous system under control and has prescribed several homeopathic remedies for him that support the functions of liver and heart.  Additionally, he has been going for occupational therapy for the last few years and has made great progress with connecting better with his body and his emotional regulation.  He attends social communication classes too, and sees a therapist every other week.  We also moved to a mostly paleo diet.  After several years of intense struggle with depression and ADHD, he is now a more reasonable, even-keel, happier and academically successful kid.  It has taken a lot of work (and money) on my part and especially on his part, but some combination of these things turned the tide for him.  He is a different kid than two years ago and we are so very grateful.  I think he is too though he struggles sometimes with how much is asked of him.  He will always struggle with certain things, and he still has some areas to work on, but we are in a much more manageable place and he is happy which is what matters most.

    Without knowing the age of your son, it's a bit difficult to say what might work. Are there any things that hold his interest? Any things he can hyperfocus on? People with ADD can focus some of the time when they are interested in something. Exercise helps with focus. It kind of wakes up the brain. If he has a short attention span, it helps to break things down into small bits that fit his attention time frame. Also, sometimes games work. For example using a timer or hour glass and challenging him to do something within or for a specific amount of time.

    My son has severe ADHD and ODD. Katie Reid of changed his life by changing his diet. Check out her Ted talk. Absolutely amazing! 


    You did not note the age of your child.  I have a 16-year-old son with ADHD combined type.  Side effects from stimulant medication were severe, although he tried to hide them from me because he liked the laser focus he experienced in regard to his schoolwork.  After he narrowly escaped hospitalization, we agreed stimulants are not for him.  The experience scared him to the point that he does not want to try any other medications, including non-stimulants.

    We've gone back to the alternative methods we had used for years, before my son asked to consider medication.  The approach changes as he grows and changes, but includes regular psychotherapy for him and parenting training and support for me, structured homework time, and thoughtful coordination with the school in regard to a meaningful 504Plan.  It's required a lot of soul-searching and adjustment of expectations on my part, particularly around school (although very bright, his grades may never reflect his full aptitude and that's ok) and home (he gets a lot more slack around responsibilities than his sibling).  When he was younger, he thrived with a lot of structure around sleeping, eating, etc.  Now it's important he learn by trial and (a lot of ) error.  When he was younger we tried numerous supplements, but they did not seem to have any noticeable effect.  The biggest impact in regard to school performance has been his girlfriend!  He helps her with the concepts, she makes sure he cranks out his homework.

    If you've not looked into it CHADD is a wonderful resource.  Good luck.

    I've never used it, but I knew a mom who swore by Hyland's Calms Forte homeopathic. She only gave it to her kid in the evenings (her kid was ADHD with ODD), it seemed to work well for her, although I can say it was in conjunction with an anti-depressant.

    My teenage son has inattentive ADD and he really cannot do anything that requires focus without the meds, not just at school but also outside the school day - having a conversation with him or interacting with friends or participating in a sport are often impossible when he loses focus. We tried a lot of different things before we finally settled on meds. They have been a lifesaver for our kid. However we also experienced many of the side effects you have.

    My advice is to work with your doctor to try different brands and dosages and delivery methods (like extended release vs. not) until you find something that works for your kid.  Keep a daily log as you change meds -- appetite, mood, focus, bedtime -- so you know what's working. Try to be patient.

    After a few years of trying different things, we have settled on a particular dose of Adderal that is enough to keep him focused during the day, but doesn't keep him up at night and lets him eat lunch. The downside is it's super hard to get him going in the mornings until the meds kick in. And the afternoons are very challenging because the meds have worn off by 4.  He really can't do homework or any kind of activity after school because he has no focus. But he's doing fine in school 8-3 and we don't have to worry now about him eating or getting enough sleep, so it's a fair trade-off.  Hang in there! 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

ADD Treatment without Medication

Fish oil for ADHD?

Nov 2010

Not asking for medical advice here, but personal experience only. I've read the Australian study that said around 40% of 7-12 year olds they tested had the same improvements with their ADD/ADHD symptoms (focusing, impulsivity control, etc.)after using a certain amount of fish oil, than as if they had taken medications. Has anyone had luck with the fish oil? How much did you use? I'm seeing alot of different info on dosing amounts. I'm also wondering how long the fish oil takes before being effective. We gave my diagnosed child the smallest amount of Concerta possible for 1 day. It was amazing to see how it effected him just for one day, but then he stayed up ALL NIGHT LONG. I know we can go back to the dr. and get new meds, but I ran across the fish oil thing and thought I'd try it. anon

We've been using it for our 5 year old and it's hard to know if and how much it helps but it certainly is good for him in other ways, brain development, healthy skin, to name just two, so it's a very beneficial supplement overall. Don't expect to see any dramatic changes, though, and give it at least a month. To learn more about fish oil's overall benefits, ''Super Immunity'' by Dr. Leo Galland is a very good book, and also includes the advice of giving the type of fish oil that contains vitamin A for a week during a cold or flu to help boost the immune system. Otherwise use the kind that has little or no vit a or d, as these can be toxic over time in the amounts that you'd want to give your kid for ADHD. We give our boy one tablespoon of Carlson's ''best'' lemon flavor fish oil (no a & d). He enjoys the taste, and he likes taking it in capsule form also. We keep Carlson cod liver oil capsules for when he's sick or at risk of becoming sick and the no a & d kind for when he's well. The 500 ml liquid Carlson makes is the most economical, as it is loaded with DHA. You want about 1500 mg of DHA to treat ADHD, and Carlson's has about 500 per teaspoon. When buying fish oil, it's very important to get a brand that tests for heavy metals and other junk--Carlson's does thoroughly and is very high quality, but there are other companies that do too. Our two year old also likes the taste of the lemon fish oil, and she likes chewing on the 1000 mg. capsules. Just watch out: if it gets on clothes your kids will smell like fish and the oil stain can set, so use stain remover and wash asap. To read more about fish oil, check out Andrew Weill's advice and also Dr. Sears, the famed pediatrician, is big into the benefits of DHA. BTW, there are a number of good books about non-drug treatment of ADHD, one of which is by Edward Hallowell...i'm currently reading another one of his books, ''Super-parenting for ADD'' and it's a small but really great and important book. Mark K.

I give my ADHD diagnosed daughter fish oil off and on. I think it takes the edge off, but I have no miracle cure to report. If her symptoms get worse we get out the fish oil and are good about it for a few weeks. She is also dyslexic and she did make a leap in reading about 6 weeks after we first started fish oil. We usually use Trader Joe's sea gummies, but she also sometimes takes pills. Have you tried tea or coffee? I give them in small amounts when she really needs to concentrate. tea and fish oil--breakfast of champions

I don't know about fish oil - we have a bottle on the kitchen counter but I can't say I've noticed any change.

However I do have a 9-year-old on meds for ADD and I do know exactly the problem of the ''big improvement, but now he's up all night.'' I just wanted to tell you not to give up on the meds yet. We found that at Kaiser, they start everybody out on Concerta, but it does not work well for every single kid. It didn't work well for our kid - it kept him awake. But there are a LOT of different ''delivery systems'' for ritalin and you don't have to use Concerta. Talk to your doctor. We ended up consulting with a meds specialist to sort out the options (child psychiatrist at Kaiser). It turned out that our kid has a slow metabolism, so the timed-release meds like Concerta were just sitting there in his gut too long and then kicking in too late. Thus the all-nighters. We found something that works, and everything is smooth sailing now. But it took us several months of trying different things mainly because we didn't understand enough about what to look for, what the side-effects are. With ritalin (unlike SSRIs), you can see immediately whether it works, and immediately see the side-effects. When they stop taking it, it immediately leaves their system. So that makes it easier to find out what works for your kid.

Ritalin has made such a dramatic difference for our son. Without it, he can't function in a classroom at all, on any level. Not only that but his social interactions suffer because he can't hear what other kids are saying. (He has Inattentive Type ADD). I wish we had tried it sooner than 3rd grade. I'd be happy to answer any questions about our experience.

hi, i am adhd and been treated for 18 years. i also am extremely qualified to offer an opinion about various treatments. i have studied and researched every option with dozens of people and although fish oil has a noticable(sometimes) benefit, it really isn't significant or even measurable greater than placeboes compared to the profound effect of the stimulants. It is not uncommon to hear concerns about all sorts of negative affects or issues from the three stimulants, (especially around here) but it honestly is almost entirely unfounded. the irony is ritalin is the oldest and one of the safest medications after the more than 50 yrs it's been available. it's an irrational stigma not based in science and until you try them, i suggest you keep an open mind about the possibility. if not, focusing on your diet can help. little or no caffiene, low carbs, suger and multiple high protien sources thoughout the day is the answer. i imagine its about opposite of what you actually consume but the wrong diet can hurt maybe more than the stimulants can help. exercise everyday and letting the bodies natural endorphines focus the mind and calm the body is the best thing anyone with adhd can do to find clarity, keep alertness and be calm and productive rather than reactive and agitated. thanks and if you need suggestions for help, feel free. w.

I have given my 13 year old son fish oil for years now to help with ADHD. Even with 2-4 capsules a day, there was not enough of an impact on his symptoms. I consulted a nutritionist and was diligent with his recommendations, but in the long run, it was not enough to help him. After much hesitation, we put him on meds. He was on Concerta and it was really difficult with him losing his appetite and having trouble getting to sleep. We switched him to Strattera and it has been significantly better. It does not affect appetite or sleep. I highly recommend you consider that if you're looking into meds. It keeps him calm, focused and less impulsive. anon

We tried fish oil with my son who has attention issues related to ADHD (at the recommendation of his neurologist) when he was in 4th grade, as I felt the need to do full due-diligence before trying any medications. After one month we found no difference in his ability to focus and finally stopped. When we finally tried medication (Concerta), the change was immediate and dramatic. No doubt there are side effects (he has a bit of trouble falling asleep at night), but we find it manageable if he takes his medication early enough in the day (never after 8am on a week day). Anon

My son took Omega-3 fish oil for anxiety and ADD. HUUUUUGGGGGEEEE difference w/in a few days. This was rx'd for him by his psychiatrist instead of meds. He was in 5th or 6th grade at the time and is small for his age...This was also after a brain scan to compare his brain activity to others of his age and level. First we started w/ 3 of the big caps...No difference. Then we added a 4th...MAJOR!!! I can't say enough about this. We got high quality...there are many brands. The caps are soft and squishy so easy to swallow. He took them every day (usually at night...his preference) for several years....then slowly kept forgetting, I forgot to nag, summer camp, etc. Now he doesn't take it at all. He has gotten through hsi anxiety and is doing great. Personally I think EVERYONE should take Omega-3. It's an important supplement to our health and daily nutrition for many reasons. Definately worth a try but get a high quality brand...not TJ's or cheapo....the cheapo brands are often rancid and will give him fishy burps. UCH!! Good luck. anon mom

We are just one family, but fish oil did not work for us and we tried for an entire year. In fact we tried every possible alternative program we could find: occupational therapy, cranial sacral therapy, acupuncture, family therapy, social skills group, chiropractor and finally we tried meds and they worked! Our son was a new child on the very first day of concerta. Later, we noticed that he became dull and unconnected with the world, so we tried other meds that worked better. Now he is 11 and his wonderful school is working with him without meds!!! They say it is like a new upbeat child with great things to say has joined their school. When he was on meds he didn't raise his hand or participate in group discussion. He actually didn't say much at all and not to his parents either. Plus, he lost his appetite and didn't like sleeping either. I wish I had all the answers, but it is a very hard road you are on & going through it will make you stronger and a better person/parent. Be sure you have a great Behaviorist like we have at Children's Hospital who is willing to work with you and find the lowest dosage possible. Parents of boy who happens to have ADHD

I don't have any experience with fish oil, but I do with meds. My daughter has ADHD and I ''fought'' the concept of putting her on medication. However, as many people reminded me, I would give her medication for any other serious problem that was treatable with medicine.

In any case, on so many levels my decision to try medication for her was one of the best I've ever made. Her grades sky-rocketed, her social interactions and friendships improved dramatically, and home life got less chaotic, particularly around homework and chores. In fact, she thanked me for having her take them. I now wish I hadn't waited as long as I did (5th grade).

There are many options in terms of meds and forms of delivery. The time-release options did not work (they ''ran out'' early rather than keeping her up) and others gave her stomach upset. I did not want her to have the stigma of going to the school nurse to take a pill at lunch, her doctor suggested the daily patch (Daytrana). It is fabulous, but very expensive, so it is usually not a first choice (particularly for Kaiser, I would assume). She takes it off around 5 p.m. and has no problems getting to sleep.

In retrospect, I realize there is no reason not to use medication. She is not ''drugged'' any more than a kid with Type 1 Diabetes is ''drugged'' when they use insulin. Mom of happier child

We've used both Fish Oil, Concerta and Methelphenedate (Ritilin). In my son's case case the fish oil was not nearly as effective as the drugs, but was considerably better than nothing at all. I took the fish oil too, although I didn't notice it helping my ADD. We had a devil of a time finding fish oil that did not make us both stink and that had pills that were small enough for a child to swallow. And when we succeeded my hubby stocked up on them, and it turns out that they also make you stink when they are not fresh, so my son no longer trusts them not to make him stink, and resists taking them. Also hampered by DH's giving child ''a break'' from the fish oil pills, since the other drugs worked better, during which child forgot (and now refuses to believe) that there was one fish oil pill that was really stink-less. (The break was a bad notion because success via drugs does not mean the child has enough Omega 3 in his brain. I may try another less smelly source of Omega 3 such as flax seed oil in addition to the drugs. ) I'll repost the info on stinkless fish oil capsules if I can find it. Those that claim to be ''burpless'' still make you stink, and not just a little.

Since your son responded well to Concerta except the sleep problem, I suggest you try the short-acting Ritilin or generic equiv. methelphenedate. Same stuff without the candy coating. Although we give our child Concerta most days, I prefer the short-acting which has no candy coating to introduce digestive variables. We also must ignore instructions to give the drug on an empty stomach since it suppresses our child's appetite.

BTW, we decided we'll feel guiltier depriving our son of the drugs than we will giving him the drugs. One mom said, ''If I could get a drug to help my child, I would crawl across burning coals to get it.'' Either way, we'll feel guilty. And we cannot get our son to sleep on time with or without drugs, so you are better parents than we are in that respect. - Hope this helps -

Neurofeedback training for ADD

June 2010

I would love to hear from anyone who has any experience with neurofeedback training for children with learning difficulties. My son is a 4th grader with inattentive type ADD. Searching online, I found the Attention & Achievement Center (4 bay area locations) as well as a handful of independent practictioners. Please share any experiences you may have as to the efficacy of the therapy itself as well as any reviews of local practitioners. I also would like to find out how much it costs (and do costs vary much among providers). Heidi

I had a bad experience with Attention & Achievement Center. They saw that I was desperate, said what I wanted to hear, and took my money. The results: they had an unexperienced, revolving staff perform the neurofeedback on my son. The whole experience was frustrating and a waste of time and money.

I'm not saying that neurofeedback does not work. It does but it's finding the right practitioner. Susan Snyder, PhD does neurofeedback but I don't know if she works with children. Her contact number is 925-388-2001.

There is no easy answer. It takes a lot of work and any one who makes outrageous promises - beware! Anon

Dr. Stein's book about parenting ADHD no drugs

Feb 2009

Hi, I'm reading dr. David B. Stein's book ''Unraveling the ADD/ADHD fiasco, successful parenting without drugs''. Anyone read this book and followed his Caregivers' Skill Program (CSP)? My position is that I don't want to give my children drugs. Dr. Stein's CSP is about behavior modification implementing a firm program with time-outs for target (mis)behaviors, at the same time as you lovingly encourage the positive behavior. So, no positive or negative reinforcing of bad behavior, just time-outs, and lots of positive reinforcement for behaviors we want to keep.

The only thing I really have a problem with is the spanking. He says to spank the child three times on the bottom if he's not complying with going to time-out. I don't want to spank my children but he says it's necessary in the beginning to get started and showing them that you mean business. After that, just the threat of spanking could suffice. Any comments, views, opinions? K

Do you have ADD or ADHD? I do. I knew that I had problems focusing as a child. My parents talked about more discipline, that it's all in self-discipline and parental discipline. I believed the hooey until I became an adult.

As an adult in my early 40s I had the courage to bring this up to my doctor. I have been on medication since. After medication for the first time in my life, I could take my 170 point IQ (yes, really), slow it down and actually concentrate for 2 or more hours at a time. Before medication, my mind would race, here's how it looked. Okay, students open your math books to page 151, lets begin with problem three - my mind would then think 3 is a prime number I wonder how many other number problems are prime numbers? What about the answers to the problems do they create prime numbers? Why don't they teach us early on about the specialty of prime numbers? Surely the teachers must recognize it, because they begin teaching prime numbers in middle school. Then the teacher would make me stay in - I could do the assignment in less than a quarter of the time as other students - if I could only concentrate - and so it goes.

Imagine what I could have accomplished if only the chemicals in my brain had been balanced?

My guess is that your kids are really smart. I would like for you to try one thing. Try the method you say for 30 days. Then try medication for 30 days. Let the results of each guide your decision. You sound like a great mom; you'll know what to do with the simple experiment over 60 days. ADD Mom

Please don't spank your ADD/ADHD child. It won't work. The brain chemistry of these kids is such that punishments like that aren't effective--they don't have as much self- control and ability to inhibit their own behaviors and think about future results as typical kids. Most of ADD/ADHD kids already are confounded by what they do and why everyone around them is so exasperated or they have trouble with friends. Keep reading books and exploring websites that offer solutions you are comfortable with and that resonate with what you think will work for your child. Good luck. Another mom of an ADD/ADHD kid

Please go to the CHADD website: It's stands for Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. I am an adult with ADHD. I strongly disagree with the ideas you mentioned. ADHD, while called a disorder, is not something to punish for. The brain is malleable and there are many tools and programs to help ADHD children (and adults) improve their focus and behaviors. SM

First of all, many people I know with extensive experience working with children feel that time-outs don't work.

Second, while as a parent you always want to reinforce good behavior and discourage bad behavior, you have to look for the source of the behavior. Kids with ADHD aren't just being bad to be bad. For a child with ADHD, behavior problems result from an inability to direct or focus their attention appropriately to cope with the demands of the world (in school in particular). ADHD is not a lack of attention per se, but a lack of an ability to direct the attention as needed.

So, while you may develop a program to deal with a child's behavior at home, if you don't deal with the underlying cause, how with the child get along in the world away from home, especially at school? Will you expect your child's teacher to follow this program? In which case you will be out of luck because I don't think a school exists that will use spanking as a punishmet. At least I hope it doesn't exist.

You don't say why you are opposed to medication, but I think you should talk to some parents and children who have gone that route. The brains of children with ADHD are wired differently, and the medication is very effective in helping them control impulses and focus their attention. It is not the answer by itself, usually these children also need help in other ways; often accomodations need to be made in the way lessons are taught or tests are administered.

Finally, I would ask myself why instead of using medication, you would consider an approach that depends on a threat of physical violence as a way of modifying behavior. Skeptical

I work with adults and adolescents who have AD/HD. The damage that methods such as these have produced is heartbreaking to witness. It's really unfair to punish a child for something he or she cannot control, and it doesn't teach successful self-control either. All it does is raise the saliency of the desired behavior, using fear, at the expense of the relationship with you and the child's sense of self-worth. Better to teach enlightened self-control, practice greater patience (as all parents of kids with learning differences must), and protect and help the child more. Discipline has it's proper place in every family, but it is NOT a cure for AD/HD.

It's really hard to parent kids who don't fit society's expectations of what's possible, especially when the kids don't show any visible signs of their difference. I teach a special parenting class developed by CHADD for parents of kids with AD/HD, ''Parent-to-Parent Family Training in AD/HD''. There are lots of useful, practical and scientifically valid techniques that you can use to help your child. LL

Non-medical remedies for 9-year-old's ADD?

June 2006

I would like some advice on hermal remedies for a 9 year old diagnosed with add. We have evaluated her, and a very conservative doctor diagnosed her add and wants to medicate her. I have battled with the thought and have finally come to the conclusion we need to do something. We are tutoring and helping at home all the time. I just can't bring myself to do the drugs. When she was little she was harrassed by my husband for not eating well(he's greek) and since we've had her tonsils removed, she eats great now, but is now calling herself stupid. The biggest side-effect to all the add drugs is loss of appetite. Other than the fact that I don't like the idea of my child on a narcotic, even if I could do that, I don't think she or I can deal with her not eating again and the negative effects on the household. Hopefully, being from the Walnut Creek area, all you great Berkeley-ites could recommend some herbal remedies? At my whits end

As a special educator, I feel strongly that you should listen to the advice of the ''conservative doctor'' that diagnosed your daughter's ADD. Think of ADD as television white noise always on in your head. Think of the meds as a tool to help your daughter focus enough to learn what she is being taught, such as appropriate behaviors, academics, etc., because that is what the meds are supposed to do... help clear her head of all the white noise so she can focus. I hope that your doctor recommended a good behavioral therapist/specialist who can help your daughter learn appropriate behavior and how to recognize and cope with the symptoms of ADD, etc. The meds get a bad reputation because often people expect that the meds will cure the child as with a physical ailment. With ADD it isn't true... it just helps focus the child's attention so she can be taught. She still needs to work with an expert who can help her identify her inappropriate behavior and help her with strategies to manage her ADD. As she gets older, and even as an adult, she will still have ADD and she will need to be able to manage herself in order to have a satisfying and productive school experience, adult life, etc. She won't outgrow her ADD. ADD is the result of an inherant difference in the chemical make-up of the brain. I have never heard of it being successfully managed by herbal remedies. And yes, the meds have side effects, but they can be managed well with vigilance and the help and supervision a good doctor with lots of experience with ADD. You owe it to your daughter to carefully and thoughtfully consider this... her education and the rest of her life is at stake. anon

I know you asked about herbal remedies so you may need to disregard my note. I am a clinical child psychologist with some expertise in the treatment of girls with ADHD. I completely understand your hesitancy to treat your daughter's ADHD with traditional medicine, especially given your concern about her appetite. However, let me just add that there is a good chance that stimulant medication will be quite effective, will help her in concentrate in school, will help her make and keep friends.

If she is concerned about being ''stupid'', stimulant medication is much more likely to help her to change this self-perception than any herbal remedies are. And please remember that herbal remedies have psychotropic effects too (which is why they would have any impact at all), but they are generally untested in terms of their effectiveness and side effects. Also, FYI, ADHD is never treated with narcotics. It is typically treated with a stimulant. Stimulants are very short acting and are not addictive. That means within a matter of hours you should see a positive effect on your daughter's behavior and there is little risk to a short-term trial (e.g., a few days). If stimulants aren't effective or if the side effects are intolerable, you'll find out very quickly and can discontinue medication. Good luck! I know you have a difficult decision to make. Liz O.

I suggest that you consult several websites to get information about treatment - both alternative and pharmaceutical. There is a growing body of scientific information about AD/HD (or ADD) that would save you a lot of worry and help your daughter get more out of school while the window of opportunity is wide open. I find that a lot of parents share your concern about using stimulants and associate them with images of the seamy side of life. There is an assumption that herbal or alternative remedies are somehow safer and don't expose a tender child to moral turpitude. You can check out the results of well-designed studies that measure treatment effects and choose one for your child that works reliably. We know a lot more about what works for girls these days. The most important thing you can do for your girl is to educate yourself about this disorder. Your husband may begin to respect your authority on the subject and use fewer negative parenting techniques. There are support groups and classes out there and you find out about them on these sites:,, and There are more, but these stick to the known facts, are open to considering the promising treatments (fish oil for example), and are careful not to scare people! It's hard enough to know what to do about AD/HD without confusing misinformation. LL

I cannot answer your herbal question directly, but I do want to clarify one thing. Stimulants such as Ritalin do decrease appetite, but you can counter that by feeding your kid before their meds, and by avoiding the extended release types of medicines, the ones that last 8+ hours. At one point my kid took 5mg of Adderall *after* breakfast, and although her lunchtime appetite was suppressed, she would eat heartily by 2pm and during dinner when the dose had completely worn off. Good luck. anonymous

My daughter was diagnosed with ADD at 8. She was not a great eater and was of average height but below the 10th percentile in weight. The developmental pediatrician, who had a reputation for prescribing, would not prescribe meds for her because of her weight and we were grateful for that at the time... although there were subsequent years when I would have tried *anything.*

So I absolutely, positively know where you are coming from and you were totally right to try behavioral modification first (and as well as anything else). BUT... your daughter is coming up on the age when start falling off rapidly in school if the situation is not corrected. I also have an adult friend with ADD who says, ''Even with their side effects, finding a good drug -the right drug- was heaven and made my life so much easier.'' Since you say your doctor is conservative --by which I hope you mean she doesn't prescribe at the drop of a hat-- I really urge you to send your husband to the doctor with your daughter to be educated on the issues... and then try the drugs. They are not forever, they are not all the time, and if they don't help you can stop.

It always bothers me that folks are willing to try herbal remedies that have not been tested and are often not administered by a licensed practitioner. We are, after all, talking about a herb that will affect brain chemistry! Why should it necessarily be better or safer than taking a known quantity in a pill?

As for my own daughter... she's in high school now and found her own solution in a strenuous sport plus the maturity to stay on fixed, regular schedules. But it required a LOT of parental committment and I still think we were awfully, awfully lucky that we were able to keep her on the educational bandwagon until that happened. ADD Mom

We have not medicated our 12 year old with ADD so far, but one thing that has helped a lot is Omega 3 fish oil. We use Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega capsules (cause they avoid the fish taste cause they are in a lemon flavored capsule) and give him 2 in the morning and sometimes one after school. It has helped tons with his homework. Another thing we have done is to give him a very healthy diet, without chemicals and preservatives and we really limit the junk. Good luck and I hope this helps anon

I don't know about herbal remedies for ADD, but my daughter was diagnosed with ADD at the beginning of 3rd grade when she was 8. We did opt to put her on Strattera--it is neither a stimulant nor a narcotic. She is a picky eater, but her eating was really not affected by this drug; she continued to grow well. She did well on the drug, and after taking the summer off between 4th and 5th grade, she started back on Strattera for the first half of 5th grade to see if she needed to continue it. We stopped it during the winter break, and she has been off it ever since and doing well. rita

I was diagnosed with ADD at 15 and I'd like to share some of my experiences and suggestions. Hope they're relevant! I took ritalin and my grades improved, but I felt that it altered me quite profoundly. Taking it was like being given crazy powers of concentration, but my ''spark'' was lost. Yet the social and academic rewards for taking it were enormous, so I went along. In the end, I learned to deal with my brain and attention span myself, which allowed me to stop the drug (a relief!)

''Stupid.'' It is very easy to absorb the messages coming from doctors and schools that there is Something Wrong with you. Your girl seems to have learned some of these lessons already. Then comes that cycle where, the more you tell her she's not stupid, the worse it gets. I don't think there is anything Wrong with your daughter. I feel it is key that you create an atmosphere which lets your daughter be smart, and for that to happen, you and your husband need to believe it first. So she learns differently from other kids. So what? I'm sorry that it's hard for all of you right now, but ADD is not so bad. The real danger is that she hears ''there's something wrong with you'' and ''take this pill, it will all be better. I think that's a very dangerous lesson. Instead, what helped me was: ''of course you're smart and capable. Now let's figure out a way so you can show everyone else.''

I think it is great that you recognize the need to help her, but I would try a lot of other things before the drugs:

* More structure - having blocks of time assigned on a chart for different homework was helpful.

* Move! Get up, jump, chew stuff, walk around the room, whatever; it really helped me focus. My parents fixed it so that I was allowed to do this in class, too - great!

* Rewards for increased independence. My parents helped me a lot, but weaned me by letting me know (gradually) that I was smart enough to work on my own. Then they just became the homework checkers.

Maybe you could try to find some physical outlet for her, like a sensory gym where they allow kids to race around and pillowfight, and such. Those are great.

Best of luck to you, and may you never lose patience with your bright, beautiful girl! Fine Then, Better Now

If you doctor recommends ADD meds, I'd try them, before experimenting with herbal remedies. If the meds work you will know what to expect of non-prescription alternatives. If they don't work... she doesn't have ADD.

One dose of appropriately prescribed stimulant medication will do more to eradicate your daughter's sense of being ''stupid'' than almost anything. My daughter's life was changed with the first 15 mg dose of ADD meds... when she was 15. Within an hour she knew her ADD was real, and could be harnessed --- and for the first time she really believed she wasn't stupid... even though we'd been telling her for years that she was smart. She has taken meds continuously since then, but not every day or all the time. As her study skill improve and her impulsivity declines I predict she will not take them anymore...maybe 2 more years.

If we'd known about the ADD when she was 9, we would have done the same thing then, instead of 6 years later...

For me meds for ADD are like eyeglasses for myopia -- I would be cautious about getting the safest glasses I could and the ones with just the right prescription -- but wouldn't deprive my child of glasses because they might have unwanted side effects.

I understand your concern, but weight loss or loss of appetite aren't always side effects, and there are ways of dealing with either one if it happens. ADD mom of a (smart!) ADD daughter

Had any luck with alternative treatments?

March 2002

My seven year old son has been diagnosed with ADHD. It's pretty obvious, and I know he needs help. Although stimulants are recommended I am curious to know if there are parents who have had luck with any alternative treatments: homeopathy, behavioral mod. etc. I would also be interested in any success stories from anyone using the medications. I'm just concerned about long term medication on a still delveloping brain. Are my fears unfounded? Worried Mom

I tried everything possible to avoid medication. We waited till he was almost 7 yrs. I tried the OPC-3, a health food drink with documented improvement with many kids with ADHD. I tried for about 4 months, with a teenie bit of relief. With school progressing, and his situation getting more demanding, we finally conceded to Ritalin. The result is remarkable. He is now on a time released all day medication.. It has made an amazing change in his life, and the rest of our family. Getting him to eat is the only , but large problem. That is my constant challenge to get him to eat, let alone foods that are high in calories, but healthy. I choose not to share this with the school. He still is a wonderful, but very tough child. anonymous

I can completely relate to your concerns regarding longterm affects of medicine on a growing body. And I think they are valid concerns. When my (then) 5 year old was diagnosed 2 weeks before the start of Kindergarten, I resisted medication for the same reason. I spent a year and a half trying alternatives including several different homeopathists, and a food allergy theory that basically eliminated wheat, sugar and milk products (this was really hard!). Although I believe we gave all approaches a fair amount of time, sadly, they did absolutely nothing for our daughter. As a result, she had a miserable Kindergarten experience, and only a somewhat better First Grade experience (mostly because of a great teacher who was willing to go way out her way to help her). Mid-way through First Grade, I caved and decided to try traditional medicine. As much as I hate to say it, I now believe this is the right road and only wish I had done it sooner. My daughter, now in second grade, can actually sit and listen and take turns and cultivate friendships, etc. The key, I think, is to have a doctor that is well-versed in the condition as well as the available meds and their possible side-effects - a doctor that has the sense to start small and is willing to closely moniter your child's health. For instance, the medicine my daughter is on has been known to cause heart problems in a very small number of cases. Some doctors' approach is to say just that and assume your child statistically will fall in the category of no harm done. Instead, my daughter's doctor requests regular EKG's at Children's where an expert can look for the slightest anomaly. These are powerful drugs and it is very scary to put your child on them. But I think if it's done with care and intelligence, it's worth it. You have to weigh that against the emotional damage and lowered self-esteem that occurs when they are constantly getting into trouble at school and when noone wants to be your child's friend. Best of luck to you as you make this difficult decision. Anonymous

Does too much TV cause ADHD?

Feb 2002

Have any of you ever heard the idea that too much T.V. can be linked to development of AD/HD? I'm particularly wondering if any of you have read anything by T. Berry Brazelton or Matthew Dumont that supports this idea. Also, does anyone know, have any independent, verifiable, double-blind (i.e. scientific method) studies shown any link between AD/HD and T.V.? Colleen

I am a research psychologist at UC Berkeley specializing in the study of behavior disorders in children and I've worked extensively on 2 studies of ADHD in children. I know of no evidence linking TV viewing to ADHD. There is no theoretical reason to believe there would be a link, and certainly no conclusive evidence that this is the case. ''Proving'' that ADHD is caused by TV viewing would require randomly assigning children to either watch TV or to not watch TV for long periods of time. No one could implement a study like this, and no parent I can think of would agree to have their kids watch TV to see if ADHD develops. I am certainly not advocating a lot of TV watching, but there is no reason I know of to believe it causes or is even linked to ADHD. 


Diet, Sugar, and ADHD

March 1999

I have a 10 year son who has recently been diagnose with ADD. He is not on any medication(ridilin). His Doctors recommend the Feingold diet before starting the medication.

I would strongly suggest some research and a visit with a behavioral pediatrician. There are many useful techniques for dealing with ADHD that don't involve the use of medications. The Feingold diet is not one of them.

The Feingold diet removes foods containing additives and preservatives on the theory that these substances cause ADHD. This claim has not stood up under scientific testing.

Russell Barkley, Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at University of Massachusetts Medical Center, is a leading ADHD researcher. In his book Taking Charge of ADHD he addressed Benjamin Feingold's claim:


Most of the substantial research done over the next decade [after Feingold announced his theory] was simply unable to substantiate Feingold's claim. In fact, only a very small number (5% or less) of mainly preschoolers showed a slight increase in activity or inattentiveness when consuming these substances. No evidence has ever been provided that normal children develop ADHD or that ADHD children are made considerably worse by eating them.

Barkley also addresses another myth about diet--that sugar causes ADHD.

Not a single scientific study has been provided by proponents to support these claims. Since 1987 a number of scientific studies of sugar have been conducted, and these have generally proven negative.

There are number of people who promote low-sugar diets for treatment of ADHD. The diets with the best self-reported success rates tend to be extremely structured. Researchers believe that the success of those diets comes not from lower sugar levels, but from the increased structure in the child's life and changed parental expectations.

A healthy diet can only help any child, but none of the diet-based theories about the cause of ADHD have panned out. Research has established that ADHD is linked strongly to heredity, and current research points to inherent chemical imbalances in the brain. In light of these findings, it seems unrealistic for parents to pin their hopes on diet as a solution to the problems associated with ADHD. Ken

With regard to info of interest re ADD, John Taylor, PhD has written several books on the subject and also speaks nationally about nutrition and ADHD. He also includes why nutritional blue green algae shows benefits in many cases across the country. MaryAnn