Can homeopathy treat ADHD?
“Troubled”, “tricky”, “hyper”, “horrid”, “little monster”: there are many far-from-affectionate ways to describe the difficult child, but when homoeopaths choose the description of “challenging children”, it’s more than just a way of encompassing the behaviour associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), tantrums, fears and night terrors. It implies that children with behavioural problems have positive attributes just waiting to be accessed, rather than seeing the child as a checklist of negative behaviours. This non-judgemental attitude pervades the practice of homoeopathy and rubs off on parents.
Countless numbers of families searching for non-pharmaceutical help have successfully treated their challenging children with homoeopathy. Their treatment is often a journey that starts with despair and ends in relief. Their stories all involve more than just the child because there are always other people who are affected: teachers, siblings, neighbours and parents. Jenny is one of those parents and her story offers insight and hope to others.
Jenny wakes every morning with a hazy head and she can’t think clearly. A blanket of sleep deprivation heightens the misery caused by the behaviour of her ADHD child. At night, he screams for help and clings to her, but in the daytime he has forgotten her soothing words and he hits her. Ordinary errands and everyday tasks are a battle.
She has come to hate her frustrating trips to buy groceries and dreads the voice on the mall loudspeaker. “Blue-eyed boy with blond hair. Found in front of the baker. He is distressed and screaming.” Just as upsetting are the whispered comments from other shoppers. “She should just give him a good smack.” Their words no longer shock her. What happened to the dream of having a sweet-faced child sitting in the supermarket trolley, chatting away to grandmas?
For Jenny, getting through one day is an achievement. Some of her friends have had similar problems and found a solution with homoeopathic treatment. So, one day, not knowing quite what to expect, Jenny took the plunge and made an appointment with a homoeopath. Her friends had explained that homoeopathy is a holistic medicine with an excellent reputation for treating kids.
Jenny was dubious that she’d have enough to say to fill a whole hour, but when she got to the consultation, she talked. And she talked. The whole package of problems was opened in clear view: mental, emotional and physical factors, poor sleeping and eating — everything about her child right back to the birth-from-hell. A river of emotions flowed: self-blame, love and despair.
The homoeopath prescribed the remedy hyoscyamus and to everybody’s relief they got a well-earned night of no crying and clinging. They were so used to being woken that in the morning Jenny and her husband rushed to check their son was still breathing. Thanks to the hyoscyamus, their son was able to sleep all night and his daytime restlessness was calmed.
At the follow-up consultation, Jenny came with her husband and they opened up even more about how bad things used to be. They could really tell the difference. A chronic, dry, night-time cough had cleared up and they now felt comfortable enough to reveal an embarrassing detail. The little boy with his mischievous face would not only run off at the shops but he would also tear off his shoes, pants and underpants after escaping. Then he would be so revved-up he would laugh at everything and shake his penis at people who tried to catch him. When they chased after him, he would go into a rage and lash out and bite. At Home, even on relatively calm days, he used to be extremely loud, loquacious, irritable and jealous. After the homoeopathic treatment, he was calmer in every way and his loving nature started to show.
The latest study of hyoscyamus was conducted in Australia by homoeopath Penny Barron in conjunction with the Aurum Project. The study looked at cases where hyoscyamus had been given to children with a diagnosis of ADHD, learning disorder, dyslexia or developmental disorders, and some also had coughs and teeth grinding. The choice of remedy was not based purely on the diagnosis but more importantly on their individual behaviour and different personalities because, when a case is analysed homoeopathically, problems that may stem from personality traits are taken into account.
The study confirmed that those children who respond well to hyoscyamus commonly have a cluster of problems including night terrors, sly behaviour, loud talking, tantrums, clinginess, jealousy and aggression. It also found that specific fears of being eaten by monsters or dinosaurs are an important part of the picture for children who benefit from hyoscyamus.
The diagnosis of ADHD reads like a checklist of negative behaviours and includes inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. These problems may occur from time to time in all children and the difference for those who are diagnosed is the frequency at which they occur and how much they interfere with the child’s development. Inattention includes careless mistakes, poor listening, distractability and forgetfulness. Hyperactivity shows as fidgeting, excessive running or talking, foot tapping and restlessness. Impulsivity is characterised by impatience, a high level of interrupting and greater likelihood of accidents. ADHD is diagnosed more often in boys than in girls, but this has changed over the years, with more girls being diagnosed.
If negative behaviour stems from an internal drive of jealousy in the child, it’s the jealousy plus the aggression that homoeopathy goes to work on. Another child may act out terribly at bedtime because of a very real fear of being alone in the dark of the bedroom. “You don’t love me” is another common sentiment underlying ADHD. Homoeopathy will zoom in on the jealousy, fear or feeling of being forsakened. Homoeopathic remedies work on the emotions of the child and go to the root of the problem rather than merely suppress the symptoms of restlessness and inattention in the way pharmaceuticals do.
The behaviours of ADHD respond well to homoeopathy. In the study by Penny Barron, many children received vital help, just like Jenny’s son. It was found that 53 per cent of the children had an excellent response in all areas including emotions, rage and physical complaints such as coughs; 20 per cent had a moderate improvement; and 20 per cent had slight improvement. Overall, the number of children who had a positive response, even if slight, was 93 per cent.
This Australian research is similar to the work of the authors of Ritalin Free Kids, who claim a 70 per cent success rate when treating even the most unrelenting cases. Homoeopathic success means improvement on physical, mental and emotional levels, so when compared with modern medication, the homoeopathic success is incomparably better in the long term. Jenny found her son had improved in all these areas. His cough improved at the same time as his night waking and his daytime behaviour.
This kind of success was also apparent in a Californian study from 1997. The study was conducted on foster children, all with a diagnosis of ADHD, many of whom had been abused. Significant changes occurred for these children and Hyoscyamus was among the main remedies used.
In an important study conducted in Switzerland in 2005, it was found that, on average, ADHD children gained a 50 per cent improvement after five months of homoeopathy. However, children who had been given prior stimulant medication reacted more slowly to homoeopathy, even after the stimulant treatment had been stopped.
Stimulant medication is an option requiring daily doses for years, often until adulthood, while homoeopathy requires an initial six months then sees long-lasting improvement with perhaps follow-up doses once a year. For some children, like Jenny’s son, there is an immediate initial improvement in certain behaviours with the next few months consolidating the changes.
Choosing the right remedy
There are at least 30 frequently used homoeopathic remedies for ADHD, hyoscyamus being one of the most important. The remedies are always chosen individually according to the cluster of problems presenting in the child. Two other remedies that are very similar to hyoscyamus and need to be carefully differentiated are belladonna and stramonium. These are similar because they belong to the same plant family — the solanaceae. The child needing hyoscyamus has a higher level of exhibitionism than those benefitting from the other two remedies and is more independent than a child requiring stramonium. Belladonna might be more appropriate if the child is overly sensitive to noise and light.
Hyoscyamus is prepared in homoeopathic pharmacies from the plant Hyoscyamus niger, a native of southern Europe. It has delicate, slightly lobed leaves and bell-shaped, pale-yellow flowers. The plant has been known as henbane since ancient times for its medicinal, sedative and pain-relieving properties. The Egyptian Ebers Papyrus (c. 1500 BCE) records that henbane was smoked to relieve toothache and, writing in the 1st century AD, Dioscorides recommended henbane for sleep problems and coughs.
Henbane reputedly caused a sensation of lightness and visions, as though one was flying, and it was therefore one of the chief components of witches’ “flying ointments”. Like its cousin belladonna, it dilates the pupils when given in crude doses. In modern medicine, the plant was used to develop hyoscine, used as a pre-operative anaesthetic and in travel sickness formulations.
A crude dose of the plant is potentially toxic in overdose, something Shakespeare was well aware of. He spent time in the markets picking up useful information from plant sellers and chose henbane as the poison for Hamlet’s father (Act I, Scene V).
In a homoeopathic dose, it’s not possible to poison with it, overdose on it or experience toxic effects or side-effects. This is because the remedies are manufactured in a different way from herbal medicines or modern medicines. Homoeopathic pharmacies use only trace amounts of the active ingredient in a specially prepared form. After more than 200 years of homoeopathic prescribing, it has been consistently recorded around the world that these trace amounts are highly effective.
When the henbane plant is turned into the homoeopathic remedy hyoscyamus, it’s able to treat the same ailments it can produce if given in crude doses. This is because homoeopathy works on the principle of “like cures like”. So when history books record henbane poisoning as causing the victim to run about and tear off their clothes while raging and screaming, we can use this information to discover the perfect match for the tantrums of Jenny’s son.
One example of henbane poisoning from 1899 described it thus: “I felt as though without weight, as though I walked on air. I had an insane desire to laugh and shout. There were fits of ungovernable rage, with insane irrational suspicion. Tongue dry and pupils dilated. Extreme restlessness … did not want to be covered by clothes.”
Homoeopaths are able to discern some of the symptoms that will be alleviated by a homoeopathic dose of hyoscyamus by examining the history of poisonings. Plus, the history of the herbal use of the plant for coughs and toothache gives an understanding of the physical symptoms the remedy will treat.
Even more important than these two sources of information is a type of homoeopathic research known as “a proving”. A proving is conducted to establish the homoeopathic indications for use. If we already know the remedy will help symptoms of rage and restlessness, we would like to know what emotions are behind the rage. The proving can help to determine this. It will also help to confirm how many of the recorded traditional uses are based in fact.
Contemporary homoeopaths have a detailed profile on hyoscyamus built on 200 years of solid research and provings. We understand the child needing hyoscyamus, who runs away and rages like Jenny’s son, is doing so because of an internal drive stemming from an underlying feeling that at any moment he might be sold from the family. The children are extremely suspicious and think every caring word directed at another sibling, partner or friend means everyone else is cared for more than they are. They feel they have been let down or betrayed by the people who are supposed to care for them and, if their parents show attention to anybody else, the jealousy of the child is very real. This is especially apparent when there’s a new baby and the already problematic behaviour of the sibling has escalated since the baby’s arrival.
Success with homoeopathy
In Australia, the prevalence of ADHD in six- to 17-year-olds is 11.2 per cent of the population and it’s noteworthy that in 2005 the number of children being prescribed stimulants decreased by 10 per cent, according to a Department of Health report. The number of children being treated by homoeopaths has risen markedly in the past 10 years as parents seek a safe and effective solution.
Hyoscyamus is a frequent choice out of more than 30 available ADHD remedies. Each of the remedies is chosen according to an individual cluster of symptoms including the behaviour, emotions and physical problems of the whole child.
Even though the safety of the remedies is well known, using them for complaints such as behaviour problems is not for home prescribing and requires careful differentiation by trained professionals for maximum effect. The remedies are prescribed on holistic principles in a non-judgemental manner and have a 200-year reputation for being safe and effective, with their use in treating challenging children increasing around the world.
To find a homoeopath in your area, phone the Australian Homoeopathic Association or www.homoeopathyoz.org.au. For more information on the Aurum Project, the Australian homoeopathic research initiative into childhood behaviour, go to www.aurumproject.org.au.
Linlee Jordan is a homoeopath and registered nurse with a Masters in Health Science Education. She is author of Challenging Children: Success with Homoeopathy.