Q. I have a 17-year-old son that I have suspected for years has a mild form of ADD. He tells me he seems to be bombarded with information like hundreds of highways leading to his brain at one time.

He’s willing to try medicine to see if it makes a difference. I’d like to try a more natural approach if there is one. Where can I get information on natural remedies and self-help with this issue?

A. Diagnosing attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD) is not simple. There’s no blood test or questionnaire that will definitively determine that a person has this condition.

Although there are medications that can help focus attention, they don’t work for everyone and they do have some side effects. Ritalin, for example, can cause nausea, insomnia, weight loss, anxiety, heart palpitations, headaches and increases in blood pressure.

We have interviewed Edward Hallowell, MD, one of the world’s leading experts on ADD and author of Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder. He suggests dietary supplements such as fish oil, grape seed extract and pine bark extract (Pycnogenol). He is also a big advocate of exercise, adequate sleep and a structured environment.

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  1. Gina Pera

    I find this answer highly irresponsible. While Dr. Hallowell has done much to popularize the notion of ADHD (along with many misconceptions), it would be a stretch to call him a leading expert when it comes to treatment when he recommends things like pine bark and a “structured environment.”
    He is the sole well-known “expert” who dispenses such reckless advice, and you would do well to consult those medical and research experts who are more familiar with the literature as well as real-life repercussions of treating ADHD so cavalierly.
    He has made it well known that he has ADHD himself and takes no medication. Perhaps that is the reason he is not thinking of such consequences when he makes such statements. Marketing ADHD as a gift also seems to have provided a useful niche. It’s a message some people want to hear, especially about their children.
    Unfortunately, it is a message that can feed the denial that is based in both physiology and psychology when it comes to ADHD. Moreover, it can postpone truly helpful solutions.
    It is also unfortunate that too many physicians’ first attempt to treat patients with ADHD involves Adderall, a medication known for its high side effect profile. Responsible clinicians use it only after other stimulants have failed. This is only one of the problems with medical treatment of ADHD. There are many more, and they lead people to give up on medical solutions in combination with dietary and lifestyle changes.
    Gina Pera, author
    Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

  2. Donna B.

    50 mg B-complex daily for attention and either fish oil or Efalex (can get it online). My son who is now 14 needs the AA in Efalex. ADHD kids that have been tested are also deficient in calcium, magnesium, & zinc as well as B-vitamins and essential fatty acids. No junk food or soda – cook from scratch.

  3. Alethea C

    My husband takes his melatonin immediately before bed, as it puts him to sleep pretty quickly. Our nutritionist didn’t have any issues with the 20mg. When he first started, it was actually 25mg that proved to be the magic dose (met criteria of remembering dreams on waking & dreaming in color). After a few weeks, he tried going down to 20mg and still met the 2 criteria. He’s been at 20mg for a while…he may be ready to try going down to 15. Don’t know how old your son is; we have no experience with a pediatric dose. Find an experienced naturopath in your area.

  4. Diana

    I’m a peds PT(25+ years)-most of my case load is sensory integration issues. The BEST out there that I’ve seen really work & is fun is the Handle Approach. This is an acronym for Holistic Approach to Neurodevelopment & Learning Efficiency. Just a few simple, but beneficial activities can make a huge difference in increasing the synapses of the brain & how information is organized.

  5. Gina T.

    My son takes melatonin to go to sleep. When does your husband take it? I’ve never heard of this. 20mg doesn’t have any risks? I’ve read not to take more than 9 mg. Does he take it all at once?

  6. Alethea C.

    Suggestion for ADD/ADHD. Our nutritionist/chiropractor suggested melatonin for my husband’s ADD. He’d been on Adderal, but hated the side effects. We were skeptical, since my husband didn’t really have trouble sleeping. We followed the nutritionist’s advice, starting with 3mg Melatonin for 10 days and increasing by 3mg every 10 days until 2 things happened: my husband dreamed in color and was able to remember his dreams as soon as he woke up. Apparently, there’s a link between how much REM (deep sleep) the brain gets and ADD. The melatonin did the trick! At 20mg, my husband met the 2 criteria and found his ADD symptoms were greatly reduced.

  7. MH

    My 13-year-old son was driving us crazy with his ADHD symptoms. We tried medication for 30 days, but didn’t like the thought of putting him on prescription drugs to alter his personality. I read about fish oil and ADHD last year and decided to try giving him the 850mg dose recommended in a UK study. It may be anecdotal, but our son made the honor roll this term and has more of an attention span these days. The constant calls and complaints from teachers about his inability to sit down and focus have dwindled to just a few. Best of all, he’s taking a supplement that’s natural and has many other health benefits. As my own doctor likes to say, if it doesn’t hurt and it may have some good, try it!

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