The IPC in the New York Times

Tara Parker-Pope’s NYT health column, “Well,” published today features the Integrative Pediatrics Council and IPC Board member Wendy Weber’s research on ADHD.

Titled “Weighing Nondrug Options for A.D.H.D.,” the piece reviews a variety of CAM therapies for Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, including botanicals, nutrition and neurofeedback. I’ve written about several of these therapies previously. Dr. Wendy Weber, an expert on botanical remedies for children, discusses her work recently published in JAMA. Kudos to Wendy on getting this important research published in a mainstream medical journal. While the work is preliminary, it does highlight the need for continued high-quality research in pediatric CAM therapies, something we will feature at this year’s Pangea Conference in New York City. The IPC is listed as a resource for parents and professionals interested in an integrative approach to ADHD and general children’s health.

Here’s the whole piece (though I recommend going straight to the article itself online to access web links):


The New York Times

June 17, 2008


Weighing Nondrug Options for A.D.H.D.


About 2.5 million children in the United States take stimulant drugs for attention and hyperactivity problems. But concerns about side effects have prompted many parents to look elsewhere: as many as two-thirds of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or A.D.H.D., have used some form of alternative treatment.

The most common strategy involves diet changes, like giving up processed foods, sugars and food additives. About 20 percent of children with the disorder have been given some form of herbal therapy; others have tried supplements like vitamins and fish oil or have used biofeedback, massage and yoga.

While some studies of alternative treatments show promise, there is little solid research to guide parents. That is unfortunate, because for some children, prescription drugs aren’t an option.

The drugs have been life-changing for many children. But nearly one-third experience worrisome side effects, and a 2001 report in The Canadian Medical Association Journal found that for more than 10 percent, the effects could be severe — including decreased appetite and weight loss, insomnia, abdominal pain and personality changes.

Although the drugs are widely viewed as safe, many parents were alarmed when the Food and Drug Administration ordered in 2006 that stimulants like Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta carry warnings of risk for sudden death, heart attacks and hallucinations in some patients.

What about the alternatives? Last week, The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the first study of the herb St. John’s wort worked no better than a placebo to counter A.D.H.D. But the trial, of 54 children, lasted only eight weeks, and even prescription drugs can take up to three months to show a measurable effect.

But the larger issue may be that in complementary medicine, one treatment is rarely used alone, making the range of alternative remedies difficult to study. Natural treatments may well be beneficial, said the report’s lead author, Wendy Weber, a research associate professor at the school of naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash. “We just need to do more studies and document the effect.”

Other herbal treatments for the disorder include echinacea, ginkgo biloba and ginseng. There are no reliable data on echinacea; a 2001 study showed improvement after four weeks in children using ginkgo and ginseng, but there was no control group for comparison.

There is more hope for omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and fish-oil supplements. A review last year in the journal Pediatric Clinics of North America concluded that a “growing body of evidence” supported the use of such supplements for children with A.D.H.D.

As for dietary changes, a 2007 study in The Lancet examined the effect of artificial coloring and preservatives on hyperactive behavior in children. After consuming an additive-free diet for six weeks, the children were given either a placebo beverage or one containing a mix of additives in two-week intervals. In the additive group, hyperactive behaviors increased.

The study caused many pediatricians to rethink their skepticism about a link between diet and A.D.H.D. “The overall findings of the study are clear and require that even we skeptics, who have long doubted parental claims of the effects of various foods on the behavior of their children, admit we might have been wrong,” reported a February issue of AAP Grand Rounds, a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Data on sugar avoidance are less persuasive. Several studies suggest that any link between sugar and hyperactivity is one of parental perception, rather than reality. In one study, mothers who were told the child received sugar reported more hyperactive behavior, even when the food was in fact artificially sweetened. Mothers who were told the child received a low-sugar snack were less likely to report worse behavior.

One interesting option is a form of biofeedback therapy in which children wear electrodes on their head and learn to control video games by exercising the parts of the brain related to attention and focus. Research has suggested that the method works just as well as medication, and many children report that they enjoy it.

The challenge is finding a doctor who will help explore the range of options. For instance, the best way to tell whether dietary changes may help is to eliminate the foods and then reintroduce them, monitoring the child’s behavior all the while. The best evidence may come from a teacher who is unaware of any change in diet.

The Integrative Pediatrics Council, at, offers a list of pediatricians who offer alternative treatments. Its chairman, Dr. Lawrence D. Rosen, chief of pediatric integrative medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, says parents should seek a holistic approach. But he notes that that may well include prescription drugs.

“I do prescribe medications in my practice, and there are kids whose lives have been saved by that,” he said. “But it’s a holistic approach that is very different than one pill, one symptom. We’re addressing not just the physical, chemical needs of kids, but their total emotional and mental health.”


  1. Dr. Rosen
    With regard to the article on ADHD treatment alternatives.
    I teach juggling in elementary schools with slow moving nylon scarves. I’ve been in over 2,000 schools in 32 years and have taught over 1,000,000 kids, leaving the skill behind for teachers to use in daily desk-side “scarf juggling breaks”. The teachers love these breaks because they are simple to administer and the kids return to work refreshed. Teachers see almost immediate upticks in reading and higher order skills like math and science which they attribute to these activity breaks. There is no empirical research, but lots of anecdotal evidence for these improvements.
    Many parents and teachers have reported that once their kids are engaged in juggling and by the rhythmic cross lateral pattern they see big positive changes in behavior, particularly among kids designated as AD and ADHD or simply children who are hyperactive, but not clinically diagnosed as such. Many are reported to have gotten off Riddilin entirely. I call this “Juggling, not druggling.”
    I believe there is a possibility that repetitively crossing the midline and visually tracking, working bilaterally and combining visual cues with motor movement might be a cure or at least a help for some kids. Ten years ago when I tried to approach the ADHD association with this information to speak at their convention, I was politely told they were not interested in this untested theory. I realized then that they were largely funded by the drug manufacturers and could not pursue any path that might not require drugs.
    I was shocked, but I was too busy to make a big deal out of it. The reason I am writing to you is to ask you and any readers of this blog, to share the name and/or e-mail address of any researcher or institution where there might be real interest in finding alternatives to drugs. I would then contact that organization or institution and offer my services to try to test this theory in a field trial.
    Thank you in advance for any leads you can offer.
    Dave Finnigan

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