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ADHD diagnoses in kids on the rise, but help is available

ADHD diagnoses in kids jumped by 1 million between 2003 and 2007, according to a new government report. Medication can help symptoms—but so, too, may eating organic produce, addressing food sensitivities, avoiding artificial food dyes and preservatives, and supplementing with nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium, and calming with herbs and homeopathy.

According to a new government report, nearly one in ten U.S. children ages 4 to 17 has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). Compiled from a 2007 federal survey of parents, the numbers represent a 22 percent leap (about 1 million more kids diagnosed) from a 2003 survey.

“Doctors and other health-care professionals have to be ready for the 1 million more children who will need to be managed,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist and lead researcher Susan Visser told news agencies.

By management, doctors often mean medication. Two-thirds of kids with a current ADHD diagnosis take a prescribed medicine to treat it. Today’s array of ADHD medications tend to be more effective than in the past; many children and teens find dramatic improvement taking them.

What about more holistic support for behavior, learning, and brain function?


But don't other, non-drug remedies exist for symptoms of ADHD? The short answer is yes. Because experts still aren’t sure what’s causing the jump in ADHD cases—theories range from nutrient deficiencies to growing public awareness to increased toxin exposure—it makes good sense to explore a wide variety of strategies and remedies that may be helpful.

The toxins theory has research chops behind it: A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published this year in Pediatrics found children with above-average levels of organophosphates (a common pesticide) in their urine were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Avoiding pesticides, additives, and common problem foods


Eating organic is a great first step, especially for more vulnerable developing brains and bodies. Try to choose organic versions of the produce items on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List.

It’s also smart to avoid artificial colors and preservatives, which research links to increased hyperactivity in children. No-no list includes: nitrates and nitrites in hot dogs, bacon, and lunch meats, MSG, and dyes (especially yellow dye #5).

Removing common problem foods (such as dairy, gluten, and soy) seems to reduce symptoms for some children, parents report. See The Nutrition Link for more details.

Supplements, herbs, and homeopathy

Supplements can also be quite helpful. Omega-3 fatty acids helps with brain function and research suggests they may even reduce symptoms of learning disorders. Other good picks: antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, calcium and magnesium, probiotics, and zinc. Homeopathic and herbal calming remedies may also reduce symptoms.

Finally, targeted changes in routine around the house and at school can improve symptoms. For tips, read Strategies to Help Kids Focus at School.

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