Q: My young son has ADHD and the doctor wants to put him on Ritalin. I have some concerns about this drug. Are there any alternatives, preferably natural ones?
A: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) involves serious and persistent difficulties with attention and concentration and/or hyperactive and impulsive behaviour. It is said to affect at least five per cent of children in the UK , but the diagnosis is controversial, says Dr Alex Richardson of the Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention at Oxford University. ‘There are no objective tests, and distinctions from normal behaviour are not clear-cut. Also many different things can cause or exacerbate symptoms. You should make sure your son’s problems are not primarily caused by sleep problems, lack of exercise, or worries about school or home’.
Medications such as Ritalin don’t help all children with ADHD. They are usually not suitable for children under six, or those with anxiety or depression. They do sometimes help with behavioural problems, but only short-term. Potential side effects may include reduced appetite, stunted growth and sleep problems.
There are other approaches to managing ADHD, either as an alternative to, or alongside, medication, says Dr Richardson. For instance, behavioural therapy can help. Ask your GP for advice.
Dietary changes benefit some ADHD children. Avoid artificial food-colourings and other additives; they can worsen behaviour. Also avoid processed, refined foods. Prepare simple meals with plenty of fruit and veg, as well as protein (meat, chicken, oily fish, eggs, cheese and tofu). Read They Are What You Feed Them by Dr Alex Richardson (Harper Thorsons, £12.99).
Food allergies or intolerances may be an issue, but don’t exclude foods from your child’s diet without expert advice. Ask to be referred to a dietician or visit bda.uk.com.
Limit sugary foods and drinks as much as possible. These don’t cause ADHD , but can lead to rapid swings in blood sugar that adversely affect mood, behaviour and concentration. Refined sugar is actually toxic, says Professor Robert Lustig from the University of California, San Francisco.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA) can reduce ADHD symptoms. Make sure your son gets at least 500mg daily. If he won’t eat fish or seafood three times per week, give him a good supplement such as lemon-flavoured Ideal Omega Taste (£22 for two months’ supply, Victoria Health, tel: 0800 389 8195; victoriahealth.com).
Zinc may improve symptoms. Ask your doctor to check his iron status, especially if he is often pale or tired.
ADHD symptoms often co-occur with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or autistic tendencies, so these are worth investigating too. Dr Richardson’s helpful website, Food and Behaviour Research, fabresearch.org, covers conditions where behaviour, learning and mood are linked to food and nutrition.
ON THE BABY BOARD
Tommy’s, the charity for healthy births, is once again holding its annual Lets Get Baby Friendly Awards. There are ten categories, including best baby food, clothes and skincare, and also UK and overseas holiday provider, family supermarket and restaurant. Not forgetting the best toy shop, of course! Cast your vote at tommys.org/awards. Also on the website you’ll find information on pregnancy and details of Tommy’songoing research and health campaigns.
High-Street Medicine Help
High-street pharmacists including Boots have collaborated with the NHS New Medicine Service to give patients advice on prescribed medications. This initiative aims to offer people with conditions such as asthma, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure and blood clotting problems access to detailed information and support through their local pharmacist. GP Dr Catherine Maytum, from Bristol, explains, ‘when patients commence new medications, GPs will always try to give sufficiently detailed advice, but inevitably patients find that further questions occur to them later. Pharmacists are in an ideal position to help.’ Consultations are free and confidential. Ask at your local pharmacy or visit nhs.uk and search New Medicine Service.
Have Healthy Feet To Boot
Wearing squishy slippers around the house may be comfy, but their lack of proper under-foot cushioning can play havoc with knees and feet, particularly for elderly people. A friend’s 70-something mother lives ina modern house with concrete floors, which lack the give of traditional wooden flooring or carpet. She regularly suffered with heel pain until she was given Lounge Deluxe Black Raspberry Slippers (£70, fitflop.com) in bright pink. ‘Now her feet are protected by their high-tech, shock-absorbing soles, she can go back to being a busy bee,’ says my friend. But the problem of hard floors (think marble floors in shopping centres) affects us all. We love the new FitFlop Blizz Boots, £110, and their cousin, the Superblizz, £175.