Many mental health illnesses and disorders such as ADHD/ADD, depression, and bipolar disorder are increasingly being understood as mere symptoms of underlying medical issues or biological imbalances in the body.
Typically, disorders such as ADHD have complex etiologies that are specific to each individual who manifests symptoms.
However, most children who manifest the symptoms of a psychiatric, behavioral, or mood disorder are also suffering from immune dysregulation and/or gut dysbiosis–two medical conditions that are treatable.
Currently, prescription medications that are used to treat many of these conditions simply mask the symptoms and do not address the root cause.
Among the environmental variables most commonly linked to the etiology of ADHD are diet/allergies, disruptions to neurotransmitter systems (which is related to gut dysbiosis and immune dysregulation), and chemical/toxic exposure.
Gut and Immune Health Are of Critical Importance
Below is an excerpt from A Compromised Generation: The Epidemic of Chronic Illness in America’s Children, explaining the importance of gut health to the development of ADHD:
As with autism, dysfunction in the gut leads to dysfunction in the brain.
One of the most promising recent developments in the field of ADHD research is the finding that children with ADHD suffer from deficits of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter that promotes calm and feelings of well-being.
This discovery was made in part by the observation that stimulant medications (such as methylphenidate/Ritalin), which increase available dopamine levels, help mitigate symptoms of ADHD.
Impaired dopamine systems can impair cognitive function, but can also impact motor control and regulation of kinesis.
While research involving impaired dopamine systems continues, the vast majority of published studies look at the synthesis of dopamine as it occurs in the brain (in nerve terminals).
Again, we see the brain-first approach to understanding neurobiological disorders.
However, studies demonstrate that the critical biochemical precursors to dopamine are not produced in the brain.
In order for the body to produce dopamine in the brain, a cascade of biochemical reactions needs to occur first.
The following is the cascade of events that lead up to the production of dopamine: The amino acid L-phenylalanine is converted to L-tyrosine, which is then converted to L-DOPA, which is required for the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.
Interestingly, L-phenylalanine is made available through food we ingest and is then converted into L-tyrosine by an enzyme known as tyrosine hydroxylase.
Tyrosine hydroxylase is coded on the TH gene, which requires induction by butyrate – a short-chain fatty acid that is produced by microorganisms in our gut.
Whew. This is a rather involved process to explain, but the key takeaway is that without good gut flora, we cannot effectively make the neurotransmitters that we need to regulate our behavior and moods.
How Do I Go About Healing a Child with ADHD/ADD?
- Find a practitioner who is skilled in looking for the root cause of ADHD (a functional medicine practitioner, integrative or “green” physician or naturopath)
Many practitioners see dramatic improvements in their patients by taking the following steps with their patients:
- Removing food allergens from the diet and improving gut health
- Instituting a “clean” diet–organic, whole foods, with no processed or junk foods (especially no food colorings, preservatives, MSG or other additives)
- Testing to evaluate biochemical imbalances, gut dysbiosis and immune dysfunction such as:
- IgE food/environmental allergy panel
- IgG food/environmental allergy panel
- Neurotransmitter test
- CDSA–Comprehensive Diagnostic Stool Analysis
- Heavy metal toxicity test such as a urine porphyrin test
- Removing any known toxic exposures from the child’s life such as cleaning products, personal products and cosmetics, pesticides, flame retardants, lead, mercury or other metal exposures
- Providing any supplemental vitamins or minerals to replace those that are deficient
Learn more about how to treat a child with ADHD without using medication. Read ADHD Without Drugs, written by Integrative Physician Gail Szakacs, MD.
For more information on ADHD, see the Epidemic Answers’ Winter Newsletter: Spotlight on ADHD