Children and the ADHD diagnosis

An estimated 5.4 million children ages 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD since 2007, and 66 percent of those diagnosed received medication for treatment, according to the Center for Disease Control.

by Dr. Tricia Pingel — 

If your child lacks focus, is unable to complete his or her school assignments or will not sit still, you may feel frustrated enough to seek medical advice. If you are like millions of parents, your child may then be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD.)

An estimated 5.4 million children ages 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD since 2007, and 66 percent of those diagnosed received medication for treatment, according to the Center for Disease Control. That translates to 2.7 million children medicated on drugs such as Ritalin or Strattera®, both of which are methamphetamines.

The problem with the ADHD diagnosis is that it is extremely difficult to support. Mental health practitioners make this diagnosis using a subjective questionnaire, which asks parents to rate questions about their child such as whether he or she “often fails to pay attention to details or makes careless errors in homework or other activities,” “often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in his or her seat,” and “often lies to obtain things or favors or to escape obligations.” The parents rate their child, and a diagnosis is made based on a point scale. The problem with this questionnaire is that it is subjective and does not focus on a case-by-case basis.

Possible causes

For some children with symptoms such as inattentiveness, lack of focus, hyperactivity or impulsivity, the problem may be caused by imbalances in neurotransmitters. Both ADHD patients and those who display similar symptoms may be suffering from imbalances in dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine is also a factor in drug addiction, a reason why so many ADHD patients often suffer from drug, alcohol or other addictions later in life.

Another possible cause of ADHD and behaviors similar to it is neurotoxins found in the body. In the womb, a mother may pass neurotoxins such as lead, mercury, cadmium, aluminum, drugs, alcohol or tobacco to the fetus. In some cases, this transmission may not be a direct result of actions taken by the mother during pregnancy. It may be that she has a high body burden due to environmental causes. For example, if she grew up in a house where her family smoked or in a toxic area such as near a power plant, she may have absorbed metals or other toxins into her system and passed them on to her fetus during gestation.

Nutritional deficiencies also are a factor. Many patients suffering with ADHD and similar symptoms have low levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid that is essential to brain development. Breast milk contains DHA, and studies have found that formula-fed children are twice as likely to develop ADHD than those who are breast fed, although some formulas now include DHA to better supplement as a breast milk alternative. Some patients also have very low levels of B vitamins, zinc and magnesium.

Diet and food allergies are contributing factors in children displaying symptoms associated with ADHD. Children with diets high in sugars, artificial colors and sweeteners may be more predisposed. Certain food allergies can cause malabsorption and gut inflammation, making it difficult for the child to absorb the essential nutrients they need for healthy development. Malabsorption may also be caused by bacterial overgrowth such as candida or H Pylori.


For cases of ADHD, a naturopathic doctor may refer a child to a specialist who will implement cognitive treatments such as neurofeedback. Neurofeedback is a technique that involves attaching a child to electrodes and giving him or her a computer game to play. The computer responds to the brain’s activity. It essentially forces the child to retrain his or her brain to focus on a specific task.

A naturopathic physician may administer a physical or blood test to find possible imbalances of dopamine and norepinephrine. Amino and fatty acids are then used to alter these imbalances. They may also be given zinc, magnesium and omega-3 to supplement deficiencies. Environmental toxins should be recognized and removed through a detoxification process. It is important to identify where the toxins are coming from to chelate metals out of the body and prevent recontamination.

Diet is always an essential element in overall health and wellness. It is imperative to look at a child’s diet and remove any refined flour, artificial colors (especially red and blue dyes), junk food, fried food and sugar. These foods should be replaced by foods such as fruits, vegetables, fiber and plenty of water.

An inflamed gut leads to malabsorption. Food allergies causing this inflammation need to be identified and removed from the child’s diet. The gut will need time to clean up and heal for proper nutrient and mineral absorption. To heal the intestinal lining, a naturopathic physician may administer digestive enzymes and/or herbs such as glutamine, aloe vera juice, slippery elm, marshmallow root, deglycyrrhizinated licorice or N-acetyl glucosamine.

There is no doubt that ADHD is a real problem facing children, but the diagnosis is made far too often, and many children are placed on harmful methamphetamines that are very toxic to the liver. It is important for parents to understand that ADHD is a serious condition that impacts a child’s socialization, leading to addictive behavior, aggression, depression, procrastination and the inability to hold appointments or meet deadlines. It is not a diagnosis to be taken lightly.

Many underlying issues may be present if your child is displaying symptoms similar to ADHD. Just because a child has difficulty focusing or is hyperactive does not mean he or she is suffering from ADHD. Before placing children on a potentially harmful drug, a parent should evaluate all possible causes and treatment options.

For those suffering from symptoms similar to ADHD, it is wise to seek the health care advice of a naturopathic physician before self-diagnosing or administering herbal remedies.


Dr. Tricia Pingel is a naturopathic medical doctor located in Scottsdale, Ariz. She treats a variety of conditions, including menopausal symptoms, infertility, thyroid disorders, anxiety/depression, gastrointestinal concerns, celiac disease, IBD and more.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 31, Number 6, December 2012/January 2013.

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