01.09.2011 Eastern Healing

An Eastern View of ADHD

Olivier Lejus discusses Chinese medicine's perspective on ADHD

The last 20 years have seen an enormous increase in the incidence of behavioural problems with children. Unfortunately today, many Australian parents have now become very familiar with the term Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It is a condition, which is characterised by extreme levels of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness in children. Those affected are unable to sit still or settle for very long, often touching and playing with anything in sight, or talking incessantly, while expressing irrational displays of emotion without care for others. Due to their lack of concentration, they have difficulties processing information as quickly as their schoolmates, so they quickly fall behind and get poor marks in the classroom. In its extreme form, this medical condition becomes autism.

While children are most commonly affected, the symptoms can often last into adulthood, causing not only learning difficulties, but also poor performance at work, emotional immaturity, and defective social interactive skills. As individuals with ADHD enter adolescence and then adulthood, some behavioural symptoms often begin to disappear. According to some sources, this could be connected with the intake of caffeine which usually starts in late adolescence. Low doses of this stimulant have been found to have similar benefits to the commonly prescribed drug Ritalin (methylphenidate). One should mention that these benefits cease when the intake of caffeine is increased.

Numerous studies regarding the causes of this disorder have produced interesting results. Some of them show a correlation between the use of tobacco and alcohol by the mother during the pregnancy, while others point to environmental factors such as high lead levels in the bodies of affected children. Other mentioned causes include trauma, such as brain injuries from accidents, and excessive intake of food additives and sugar.

A recent study by the University of Southampton has shown evidence of an increased level of hyperactivity in children consuming artificial food colourings and the preservative sodium benzoate. Finally, there seem to be some genetic factors involved since attention deficit disorders often run in families. For example, some studies have shown that 25% of the close relatives of ADHD children are also affected.

Treatment approaches involving multiple modalities have been tested in the past, with mixed results. Nowadays, the most successful approach to treating children seems to be a combination of stimulant medication, which affects the regulation of the two neurotransmitters, noradrenaline and dopamine, in partnership with regular behavioural therapy.

As ADHD is a modern medical disorder, there isn't any mention of treatment strategies in the ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine classics. But according to the contemporary American author Giovanni Macciocia, who writes on oriental medicine, one needs to look first at the emotional, mental, and spiritual attributes of each organ.

In this oriental medical framework, the mind ("the Shen") is housed in the heart. The Shen is responsible for thinking, memory, wisdom, and the processing of our ideas. Thus, if the heart is weakened, our concentration, thinking, and ability to memorise will be affected.

Its counterpart, the liver is associated with the ethereal soul ("the Hun"). It is what gives us our creativity, our imagination, our ability to develop and execute projects. In one of my earlier NOVA articles about the liver, I previously mentioned that an imbalance in liver energy could result in somebody being full of ideas, but unable to execute any of them. One could deduct that those affected by ADHD find themselves unable to settle on one thing at a time because their liver's mental energy (the Hun) is unsettled.

The third organ concerned is the spleen, whose mental attribute ("the Yi") is often translated as the intellect. It is expressed in our ability to concentrate, but it also includes the emotional ability to empathise with those around us. It is a level of emotional maturity generally lacking in children suffering from ADHD, as well as autism.

From a Chinese medicinal perspective, one can see a hereditary weakness in the heart, liver or the spleen as a potential cause of this disorder. Any disharmonies in these organs will be expressed in a specific way. For example, if the liver's energy is unbalanced due to an excess of liver heat, the affected person will be confrontational and easily angered. A weakness of spleen Qi energy due to poor digestion of fluids will see a child being generally passive and placid, but unable to focus and concentrate for any period of time.

In Chinese medicine, it is considered that a Western diet with an excess intake of dairy products, fats and sugar will lead to what we call "dampness" or accumulation of fluids in the body. This obstruction, which affects the digestive functions of the spleen and the stomach, can transform into phlegm, then travel and disturb the heart's emotional balance and potentially lead to ADD or ADHD disorders. In addition, emotional stress in the early years would also weaken the spleen and the heart and therefore the mind and the intellect of a young child.

We will continue this fascinating topic in next month's issue of NOVA Magazine.

Olivier Lejus MHSc (TCM), BHSc (Acup.) is an accredited acupuncturist practising in Sydney.

Olivier Lejus

Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com