Complementary Therapies

DISCLAIMER

AADD-UK does not endorse or recommend any of the treatments listed on this website. Also, while care is taken to ensure that information included on this website is accurate, changes and mistakes may occur so with that in mind we periodically review our information.

Not all complementary & alternative treatments are quackery, although a good few are, but the complementary and alternative treatments industry is mostly un-regulated and largely without best practice standards, so we strongly recommend that you verify and question the credentials and quality of all practitioners, ask for references (the real practitioners won’t mind answering your questions and will provide references) and also read and heed our tips for sniffing out snake oil treatments at the bottom of this page (the number of snake oil peddlers touting ADHD cures and treatments is rising rapidly).

The following list is only a sampling of what is available, because there are far too many ADHD products and services in the Complementary and Alternative treatments world for us to list on one page so please remember the Rule of Thumb: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

NLP

NLP was begun in the mid-seventies by John Grinder (an American linguist and management consultant) and Richard Wayne Bandler (an American author and leader in the self-improvement movement). Grinder and Bandler believe that neurological processes, language and behavioural patterns (learned through experience) are connected (Editor’s Note: many of the descriptions of the core/key concepts of NLP are written in an obscure or vague style). NLP practitioners, including some coaches, use observations of their clients’ body language, behaviour and use of words to explore with their clients how they raise their own barriers to success and then follow this with suggestions for change. NLP practitioners are not regulated and there are many different training programmes of differing standards and quality. The Neuro Linguistic Psychotherapy & Counselling Association has a useful list of questions that can be asked when interviewing therapists which is available here.

Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback is also known as EEG biofeedback (electroencephalogram) and is increasingly being promoted as a non-medical treatment for ADHD. In neurofeedback therapy, sensors (which are connected to computer software) are placed on a client’s scalp to monitor brain activity which is then presented to the client in the form of either a visual display, a sound or a vibration. Practitioners claim that this representation of brain activity together with the practitioner’s advice and training can lead to positive changes in a client’s emotional and cognitive state. The training is a slow process and for people with ADHD can often take between 20 to 40 sessions with each session lasting about 30 to 40 minutes; and it can cost about £80 for an initial consultation and between £40 to £70 for each subsequent session. Several studies have been conducted into neurofeedback as a treatment for ADHD, but medical researchers are still not in agreement as to whether or not neurofeedback is effective for people with ADHD.  Neurofeedback is still experimental, but there are, however, many unqualified practitioners offering dubious treatments. Before agreeing to anything see our tips at the bottom of this page.

Homeopathy

Homeopathic remedies are extreme dilutions of substances that if taken in large quantities would produce symptoms similar to those already being experienced by patients. Homeopaths believe that by using these diluted substances, the patient’s immune system will be activated and will then remove whatever was causing the original problem. In other words if a patient is suffering from insommia, a homeopath would probably prescribe a diluted extract from Coffea Cruda (unroasted coffee). Stramonium, Cina and Hyoscyamus niger seem to be the most common remedies suggested for ADHD (although homeopaths have a very long list of remedies they consider suitable for ADHD). Stramonium is extracted from Thorn Apple (Datura stramonium), a very poisonous plant, and taken in a raw state it can give rise to delirium, frightening hallucinations, mania and death. Cina is extracted from santonica wormwood (Artemesia cina), and taken raw it can cause irritability, tooth grinding and twitching. It is also often used to treat intestinal worms in children. Hyoscyamus niger is Henbane and again, taken in a raw state it can cause mania, terrifying hallucinations and also muscular spasms and sometimes stupor and death. Modern medicine uses it in some painkillers and antispasmodics. Some homeopathic remedies are registered under a National Rules Scheme and can used for the relief and treatment of mild, self-limiting conditions (those that can be treated without the intervention of a doctor and this does not include ADHD). The Government’s Science & Technology Committee in 2009/10 conducted an investigation into homeopathy and one of the conclusions they came to was that “the systematic reviews and meta-analyses conclusively demonstrate that homeopathic products perform no better than placebos.” The full and comprehensive report is available for free on the UK Parliament website here.

Herbal Medicines

The herbal medicines most commonly used for the treatment of ADHD are Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), Brahmi (Bacopa monniera), Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica also Hydrocotyle asiatica), Kava (Piper methysticum), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum) and Green Oats (Avena sativa). Tiaoshen Liquor is a Chinese herbal mixture that is sometimes used to treat ADHD, as well as herbal mixtures called Calm Dragon Formula, Liquid Serenity, Focus Formula and Compounded Melissa. There are too many to describe individually.

There is very limited evidence that herbal remedies effectively alleviate ADHD symptoms, moreover there are many concerns about the reliability and safety of herbal remedies because many of them (including Ginkgo biloba, Piper methysticum, Hypericum perforatum and Eleutherococcus senticosus) are associated with serious adverse reactions.

You should always tell your doctor if you are taking herbal medications. Also be aware that some herbal medicines have been contaminated with pesticides.

The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) also gives the following advice: You should be wary of, and avoid, products making claims such as: The herbal remedy is ‘100% safe’, herbal remedies are ‘safe because they are natural’, this herbal medicine ‘has no side effects’, ‘Chinese medicines will not interfere with the effects of any other medicine’, ‘You can avoid Chinese medicines interfering with other medicines if you take them an hour apart’.

Manufactured herbal medicines placed on the UK market are required to have either a Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) or a Marketing Authorisation (MA). This applies whether the product is marketed to consumers, herbal practitioners, retailers, or wholesalers.  So herbal medicines bearing the THR certification mark indicate that they meet the required standards for quality, safety, and evidence of traditional use.  More information about these marks as well as information about using herbal medicines safely can be found on the website for MHRA here.

Cranial Osteopathy

Some osteopaths claim that the trauma of birth can put pressure on the skull, thus limiting the movement of the individual parts of the skull.  They, therefore, attempt to manipulate the skull to relieve  pressure and to stimulate circulation which they say helps alleviate the symptoms of ADHD as well as many other disorders.

There’s very limited evidence for the efficacy and reliability of cranial osteopathy in alleviating ADHD symptoms.

Also please note that while osteopaths themselves are regulated by the General Osteopathic Council, and a cranial osteopath may be a Registered Osteopath, the Council does not formally recognise training or experience in cranial osteopathy, and it does not provide formal certification for cranial osteopathy.  So registering with the General Osteopathic Council does not guarantee a level of expertise in cranial osteopathy.

Brain Exercise Therapy

These are mental and physical exercises that proponents claim will stimulate the cerebellum, build new neural pathways etc and thus retrain the brain to work more efficiently. Brain Gym, PlayAttention, the Dore Programme (recently bought by Dynevor Ltd), the WriteBrain Potential Programme and BrainTrain are only a few of the many examples. There is very limited scientific evidence that these effectively bring about a sustained improvement in concentration for people with ADHD.

Sensory & Auditory Integration Therapy & Lightwave Stimulation

Sensory integration refers to the process by which the brain organises and interprets external stimuli such as touch, sight, sound and movement, and various people claim that certain disorders such as ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Autistic Spectrum Disorders arise from a disruption in the process, and consequently they have developed various treatment programmes using exercises and equipment that aim to improve how the brain processes and organises sensory information. Medical and scientific evidence for the effectiveness of these kinds of treatments is lacking.

Auditory integration therapy is based on the premise that people with Autism, ADHD, Asperger’s, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia etc are too sensitive to certain sound levels. In Auditory Integration Therapy an individual listens through headphones to music that has had the high and low frequencies altered by a device called an Audiokinetron. This is usually done for 30 minutes, twice a day, for 10 days. The aim is to decrease sensitivity to sounds and increase levels of concentration. Apart from the fact that there is no reliable scientific and medical evidence that this therapy works, some individuals have found the experience to be very distressing and in addition there have been a few reports of damaged hearing due to the volume of the music.

Please note that the Audiokinetron is listed on the US Food and Drug Administration’s Red List: ‘Detention Without Physical Examination of Class III Devices Without Approved PMA’s Or IDE’s and Other Devices Not Equivalent or No 510k’ published 4 February 2010.

This means that these devices do not meet FDA requirements for medical devices because the FDA considers that there are no clinical studies or scientific evidence to prove they are safe and effective. The FDA has given these devices a Class III designation, the highest classification, which would seem to indicate that the Americans think that there is a substantial risk of harm to patients from these devices. The National Autistic Society has a section about Auditory Integration Training on their website here:

Lightwave Stimulation is a sensory treatment programme that uses lights and colours to treat learning disabilities, memory problems, concentration difficulties, light sensitivity, vision problems, hyperactivity, headaches, anxiety, depression, insomnia, lack of physical coordination etc. The treatment involves sitting in a darkened room looking at coloured lights. Again, medical and scientific evidence for the effectiveness of these treatments is absent.

Resonant Field Imaging

Proponents claim that Resonant Field Imaging is an electromagnetic measurement and imaging process by which they can get data about an individual’s bio-energy field (aka aura). They say this data will indicate whether or not the individual’s energy field is chaotic. They will often claim that people with ADHD have chaotic energy fields and that their auras are indigo in colour. Practitioners will then say that they can use various techniques to harmonise chaotic frequencies in an individual’s energy field to reduce or eliminate ADHD symptoms. There is absolutely no scientific or medical validity in any of this. Resonant Field Imaging is pseudo-science.

Tips for Sniffing out Snake Oil Treatments

  • Promoters of snake oil treatments are usually focused on selling hope because they are exploiting people who are desperate for help; they’re exploiting people who want to believe that the treatment works. They will imply that they care about you, they may say that their labour is a work of love; they may have pictures of happy, confident people using their products.
  • They take advantage of people’s disillusionment with modern medical science and with people’s concerns about the use of psychostimulants for the treatment of ADHD. Some peddlers will claim that their treatments reduce or even eliminate the use of psychostimulants by their patients, or they may proclaim loudly that theirs is the new, drug free treatment for ADHD.
  • Snake oil peddlers release stories about their scientific studies or discoveries directly to the media instead of submitting them to serious peer-reviewed journals.
  • They may also publish their own studies in their own journals and then claim that scientific evidence backs up their service/product.
  • Peddlers rely heavily on testimonials (often from fictitious people or from people with a vested interest) because their products are not backed by reliable, scientific evidence.
  • They will use language that sounds impressively scientific to try and impress you (eg resonant field imaging, electromagnetic, quantum techniques, licensed scientific investigator); they will promise to ‘detoxify’ your body, ‘balance’ its chemistry or energy fields, release its ‘nerve energy’, ‘bring it in harmony with nature’, or to correct supposed ‘weaknesses’ of various organs. These terms don’t mean anything, but they sound as if there is some sort of scientific process going on.
  • Snake oil peddlers may claim that your current medication is harmful or dangerous, and that you can discontinue your medication if you will just buy their service/product.
  • The promoters might claim that they have access to technology that was previously kept secret for years by governments (the Russian Government is often a favourite) or that universities and pharmaceutical companies are trying to suppress the treatment out of professional jealousy or for fear of losing profits.
  • On the reverse side of this they may make vague and unsubstantiated claims that their treatment is backed by scientific studies and/or university sponsored research supports their treatment, services, or product. They may even say that studies are underway. But they may only be citing their own ‘research’ or study or even non-existent research. If they name a university, do not hesitate to contact the university to verify the claims.
  • They may also claim that their invention is based upon technology developed by NASA.
  • Promoters may claim that their remedy/product/treatment is either a cure-all or is effective against a wide range of disorders such as anxiety, depression, dyspraxia, dyslexia, Down’s syndrome, autistic spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, Schizophrenia, concentration difficulties, behaviour problems, ADHD, and so on.

More tips and information can be found on Quackwatch:

Remember the Rule of thumb – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

If there is anything on this page you would like to discuss, or if you have any questions, please join us in our Forum here.

Review date: 13/04/2011

Next review due: 13/04/2012

What is ADHD?     Symptoms      Comorbidities      Diagnosis & Treatment     Home 

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