The Four Types of ADHD in Children

In the middle of summer, no one wants to think of going back to school. But for many parents of children with ADHD, summer is an opportunity to reevaluate their children in a relaxed setting and wrestle with the best options for their developing minds. Most parents are fearful of the medications and personality changes that they see with many ADHD treatments, but also recognize that school failure affects a child’s self-esteem and academic success.

I am starting to think that ADHD, like many other conditions that affect our children today, is another hallmark of inflammation and a symptom of an underlying epidemic impacting adults and children in different ways. The first step I’ve found in managing ADHD is to really get to the core or root of the symptoms. There are many different types of ADHD and for each child, the cause can be very different. Here are my steps to helping parents manage ADHD at home. 

Type 1: The Serotonin Imbalance

Serotonin, or the “feel good” neurotransmitter, is primarily manufactured in the gut. When it’s too low or too high, children can display signs of poor impulse control, aggression and inattention. Adults can experience low serotonin symptoms, like anxiety, that impair their ability to focus. Researchers have found a gene correlating to serotonin balance that can be passed down through a family, but has to be activated, or “turned on,” by cellular environment or chemistry.(1)

Anxiety, mild depression and sleep disorders are additional signs of low serotonin. High serotonin levels typically result in more aggression and issues with impulse control.

Risk factors for Type 1 ADHD include low cholesterol levels, low fatty acids and depleted B vitamins, all key ingredients for serotonin production and regulation.

RX: If you think this is your child, consider starting with a high protein diet (aim for 50 grams per day), and a methylated B supplement, and correct anxiety and an altered sleep cycle using 5-HTP, magnesium or theanine.

Type 2: Dopamine 

Dopamine is another neurotransmitter made in the gut and critical in attention and learning. Dopamine regulates the pleasure response or the sense of well-being. Low dopamine will result in inattention, forgetfulness and poor impulse control. High dopamine, on the other hand, makes the mind race and increases sensory processing issues and excitability. (2)

Many of the current ADHD drugs focus on dopamine regulation, including Ritalin, Strattera and Concerta. Natural alternatives to improving dopamine include increasing the intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine, amino acids that boost dopamine production, along with phosphatidylserine- now available in prescription form as Vayarin.

RX: I recommend explore options like Vayarin, a medical food, to get in the essential amino acids. You can also add a protein shake daily with pre- digested amino acids for better absorption or an amino acid supplement. Breakfast is one of the best times to add in the protein shake by disguising it as a smoothie or shake.

Type 3: Norepinephrine/ Epinephrine

Low and high levels of norepinephrine and epinephrine are associated with ADHD. These are the adrenaline hormones that help regulate attention. Many of the stimulant medications act on norepinephrine and epinephrine regulation.  This includes medications like Adderall and Ritalin. (3)

Children with norepinephrine imbalances have inattention and hyperactivity. Trying to regulate their “adrenaline” brains becomes a key focus. Improving sleep quality and exercise are two very critical components of norepinephrine and epinephrine imbalance.

RX: Children should get at least 10 hours of sleep each night. Develop a wind-down routine with your child, such as bath time, reading, “me-time” for journaling, and keep a consistent bed time, going to bed and waking at the same time each night. For exercise, children should get in 30 minutes to 1 hour of physical activity each day. And limit screen time for electronics.  Want to go a bit more out of the box? Some parents have found benefits from earthing sheets that seem to “ground” all that adrenaline and restless energy.

Type 4- Glutamate/ Gaba Imbalance

Low gaba levels are also associated with ADHD. The gaba- glutamate balance of neurotransmitters plays a role in ADHD. Low gaba is usually accompanied by inattention while high glutamate levels can lead to aggression and impulsivity.

Gaba is an amino acid and neurotransmitter that calms the brain, while glutamate is more excitatory in nature, wiring the brain or putting in overdrive. There are medications that increase gaba, but are not recommended for routine use. These medications include xanax, ativan and valium. (4)

Instead gaba can be increased by increasing amino acids and supplementing with niacin and theanine, which seem to cross the blood brain barrier easier than supplementing with gaba alone.

RX: It is helpful to check gaba levels to gauge where you or your child may be with this neurotransmitter.

No one knows your child better than you! Did you identify your child in the types above? Comment below with questions or what you’ve found to be helpful! And stay tuned for my new web book “The Complete Guide to Managing ADHD” to learn more integrative tips on managing ADHD holistically!