By Deborah Mitchell
Parents of children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) face daily challenges and questions concerning how to best cope with, manage, and help their kids. Moms and dads who are not satisfied with a purely conventional medicine approach, typically because of questionable safety and effectiveness of medications, often turn to other options. Should parents consider homeopathy for ADHD?
Some practitioners and researchers vote yes, and they point to the success they have witnessed in their practice and their studies. Many others, however, are not convinced about the value of homeopathy in general nor its use for this neurodevelopmental condition in particular.
Recently I interviewed Beth Landau-Halpern, a Toronto-based, classically trained homeopath who uses a wide range of natural approaches to treat ADHD, including nutritional medicine, relaxation techniques, and natural supplements along with homeopathy. Many but not all of her patients are already taking medications. Her natural therapies can both complement and enhance a child’s treatment program.
Homeopathy and ADHD: Two Studies
Landau-Halpern talked about her involvement in two studies of homeopathy and ADHD as well as about her experiences with her treatment approach overall. The two studies—one pilot study already completed and a new study currently underway that was initiated based on the findings of the first—involved evaluation of the impact of homeopathic remedies on children with ADHD.
The particulars of the first study were explained to me by one of Landau-Halpern’s colleagues, David Brulé, a research associate at the University of Toronto and owner of Riverdale Homeopathic Clinic.A total of 35 children were enrolled in the study, which involved an initial consultation with one of two homeopaths and then nine follow-up consultations.
Eighty percent of the participants completed all 10 consultations over an average of 12.1 months. During that time, a mean of three homeopathic remedies were prescribed for the children from a selection of more than three dozen options. The two found to be the most effective were phosphorus and tuberculinum. Parents were questioned about their child’s diet, but while Brulé said “diet works” for kids with ADHD, this factor was not emphasized in the study.
Overall the findings were positive: 63 percent achieved significant improvement in behavioral symptoms, and the benefits were generally observed at the seventh to eighth consultation. All of this good news prompted the researchers to plan another, larger study, which is now underway.
Based on her observations of participants in this study, Landau-Halpern explained that “most of the clients responded well to the homeopathic remedies, although it sometimes took a few months to find the most beneficial remedy.” This caveat was especially true, she said, among kids who were taking medication since “many of their ‘symptoms’ were masked” by the drugs. Overall, she believed the children’s behavioral symptoms were the most affected by the remedies, “those that the stimulant drugs don’t really affect in any case.”
What about the effect of diet and natural supplements on these patients who were taking homeopathic remedies? Landau-Halpern pointed out that many of the parents were finding it difficult to deal with the challenges of ADHD, so she did not normally introduce dietary suggestions. At the same time, she emphasized that “an optimized diet is obviously important” as are supplements, although she did not stress them in the study.
The new study, which currently is recruiting participants, will follow 180 children with ADHD. Unlike the earlier study, parents will be asked if they are using therapeutic dietary changes. (Download the announcement for recruitment into the new study.)
In her private practice, Landau-Halpern often recommends supplements for children with ADHD, especially omega-3 fatty acids. In addition she suggests B vitamins, iron, magnesium, vitamin D, zinc, and multivitamins, depending on the individual child. She also addresses diet.
When looking at the diet of a child who has ADHD, Landau-Halpern pointed out that while every child responds to preservatives, artificial colors, and artificial flavors differently, “in general, they have absolutely no place in any child’s diet—ADHD or not.” She also emphasized that eliminating these substances “can bring about huge improvements in all sorts of pathological behaviors and physical symptoms.”
In fact, cutting out foods that contain preservatives and artificial additives is the first advice she offers parents of kids with ADHD. Why? Because it works. “For some children, simply removing foods that impair their neurological function can make an enormous difference,” and that includes refined, processed foods containing artificial ingredients and preservatives as well as those to which children have a hypersensitivity.
A review in Current Psychiatry Reports that evaluated evidence for dietary and nutritional treatments, as well as homeopathy, for ADHD noted that “Controlled studies support the elimination of artificial food dyes to reduce ADHD symptoms, and that multivitamin/mineral supplements and especially essential fatty acids are suggested. Evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy for ADHD, however, was reported to be minimal.
Read more about kids and artificial colors
That could be changing, however, as researchers continue to conduct more comprehensive studies. Therefore, for parents of children with ADHD, alternative and complementary options such as homeopathy and nutritional medicine, including the elimination of artificial dyes and flavors and preservatives, should be considered and discussed with the appropriate healthcare professionals.