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Easing A Child's ADHD Mind With Food Therapy: An Oriental Medicine Approach

By: Dwight Franklin, AP

In today’s world we are constantly bombarded with unnatural substances in food that put our health at risk. To maintain the health of ourselves and our family we have to avoid many products at the local supermarket. From pesticides in produce to the preservatives that are in packaged foods these are destructive products that put a burden on our body. While these problems are great and deeply concerning to me as a health care provider, that is not the focus of this article. I would like to speak to the parents who have cut out processed sugars, done away with gluten, and have spent a little extra for organic foods with the desire to help their child and their ADD/ADHD symptoms. While the changes in food I mentioned previously will greatly help your child’s health, they may benefit from a more individualistic approach. Oriental Medicine has a unique way of working with any disease or dysfunction in the body. We, as Acupuncture Physicians, look at the person and their unique symptoms rather than treating based on some cookie cutter approach to any named diseased. ADD/ADHD for instance has many different variables when coming up with an Oriental Medicine treatment plan. Sure all kids that are suffering with ADD/ADHD symptoms are having trouble concentrating but the question is why? Is it due to a child’s need to be active rather than being confined for eight hours in a chair at school? Is it because the child has a strong need to fit in with other children and so personal relationships at school are more important than school itself? Maybe the child simply has a very self-righteous attitude and does not feel that the teachers or the parents have anything to offer that is worth learning. Each of these scenarios is treated differently with Oriental Medicine.  The acupuncture points (acupressure for children that are frightened around needles), herbal therapy, behavioral therapy, and yes even food therapy will be differentiated by the unique situation that the child is presenting.

​So let’s take a closer look at the different types of Food Therapy given for the different types of children with ADD/ADHD symptoms. When most of us think about a child with ADHD we think of a child that cannot sit still, very hyperactive, and cannot stay on task. Digging a little deeper into this child’s personality and physical symptoms we usually find that they have problems with aggression, have a very rapid and forceful pulse rate and quality respectively, and many times feel hot to the touch. This type of child needs to stay away from excess sugar, especially processed sugar but other foods can also be of detriment to the mental health of this child. Hot and spicy foods, especially those containing animal proteins, need to be limited as they will amplify the aggressive behavior and increase the child’s body temperature. How many of you when you are angry immediately feel your body temperature rising? The same principle applies here. What we want the child eating is very cooling foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, cucumbers, and broccoli. Adding cooling herbs to food such as mint and cilantro can also be very helpful. Combined with the right adjunctive therapies we will see this child become happier, less aggressive, and more attentive. Another example is the child who values personal relationships above all else. This child is an obsessive worrier. They worry about not fitting in at school and many times they get in trouble for things that are not typically in their personality just to get approval from friends. This causes a decline in their attention to school and eventually leads to bigger issues. This child usually loves sweets. If we take a step back and look at ourselves, what do we typically reach for when we are having trouble in our personal lives? Sweets!  The child looks for comfort from sweet, instant gratification foods but does not understand that these same foods can keep the brain from functioning at optimal levels. These children often tend to have abdominal pains along with diarrhea and/or constipation which are directly related to the overwhelming stress that they put on themselves and the diet that is rich in sugary foods. Healthy choices for this type of child are foods which are mildly sweet but high in nutrition such as yams, corn, squash, and sweet potatoes. These foods still give a small amount of comfort to the child that suffers from self-esteem issues but also are improving their nutrition and decreasing their abdominal discomfort at the same time. The most important thing with this type of child is to keep the food simple by not using many ingredients as complicated foods will cause problems with their digestion. The last type of child that I will talk about in this article is the self-righteous child who always wants to know WHY? These kids are tough to handle many times because they believe they know more than you do, whether they do or not. Besides the obvious mental and emotional symptoms of seemingly having very little respect for others, they also tend to suffer from allergies and are sick with colds often. A possible reasoning for this is a weakened immune system. In Oriental Medicine each of the body’s organs has a particular emotion which can harm that organ. The lung’s are weakened by the emotion of grief and sadness. Anyone that knows a child like this can’t help but to think that the child looks absolutely miserable. What I have found with working with these children is that they are just as critical of themselves as the people around them. This leads to a very unhappy way of looking at life which in return compromises the immune system. Excess sugar and dairy can cause increased mucous production with these kids which leads to more congestion and a poorly functioning lymphatic system (the body’s garbage disposal system). Many of you know the importance of a healthy lymphatic system in regards to mental and emotional health. Foods that are wonderful for a child such as this are very pungent tasting foods such as radishes, onions, and peppers. Herbs that can be useful when combined with food are garlic and horseradish. These foods and herbs remove mucous and support a healthy immune system. There are other forms of ADD/ADHD that Oriental Medicine works with but the most important point I would like parents to take away from this article is simply that there are rarely any situations in life where a one-size fits all approach works best. ADD/ADHD is no different and when we look at a child as a unique individual we better the chances that another kid does not fall through the cracks and can have a wonderful and successful life.