Research Study on Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
By Terry S. Friedmann, M. D., A.B.H.M.
Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder is one of the most frequently diagnosed
disorders in young children and teenagers. Several million children are reported to
be treated for ADHD; however, some school classrooms report that as high as 30% of the students are being treated for this illness. The child is normally diagnosed with ADHD between the ages of six and twelve years of age1. The symptoms are usually: o Inattention - Having a shorter than usual attention span and can be easily distracted. o Impulsivity - Not being able to control impulses. o Hyperactivity - Periodic over activity.
The diagnosis of ADHD is made by several methods: medical history and physical exam and/or tests, both verbal and written. It is not uncommon for the diagnosis to be
made by the parents and/or educational personnel, such as teachers and school nurses. This is usually the result of close observation and monitoring of the child's behavior and
Many children diagnosed as having ADHD perform poorly in school due to their inability to focus their attention and stay on task. Once diagnosed, treatment can be broad and varied. The present approaches include medication, behavior management,
social skills training, counseling, and a holistic approach. Included under the
broad category of holistic are biofeedback, homeopathy, diet restriction, herbal
medicines, and other natural substances.
Not enough research has been obtained relative to these holistic modalities. One of the modalities, which has been researched and has shown some promise, is food restriction. It appears that both restricting dietary sugar and food chemical additives have helped a limited number of children who have ADHD.
The common treatment in our society for ADHD is usually the drugs Ritalin, chemically named methylphenidate, or to a lesser extent the drug Dexedrine, chemically named dextroamphetamine3. Ritalin is said to control the symptoms in 70% of the cases. However, neither medication sustains any healing properties.
Unfortunately, both drugs have been shown to have similar side effects on the brain, mind, and behavior including conditions such as psychosis, mania, drug abuse, and addiction. Ritalin can cause permanent neurological tics and also growth retardation in children by disrupting the cycles of growth hormone secretion by the pituitary gland.
Ritalin, when ground up and inhaled, is being used as a recreational drug. It is
being obtained illegally with and without a prescription, and reports indicate that
it could present a problem of addiction. There is also evidence that occasionally it eventually leads to the use of more serious narcotics.
In this study, I have elected to use natural substances as a treatment for ADHD in
children. The substances are essential oils. Essential oils are aromatic, volatile liquids distilled from shrubs, trees, roots, bushes, seeds, and flowers. The oils, made up of resin and plant extracts, are the most powerful part of the plant. The essential oils are extracted from the plant or tree by various methods. The most effective method is by the process of distillation wherein the plant is heated at specific temperatures, pressures, and time to best separate the oil from the plant structure without fracturing the chemical constituents. Essential oils contain hundreds of different chemical compounds, each having specific properties and actions. When these essential oils are inhaled, they not only provide exquisite fragrances, but they have also proven to:
1. To be able to produce physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being of people since the beginning of time.
2. Records dating back to 4500 BC describe the use of balsamic aromatic substances for religious rituals and medical conditions
3. The chemical constituents of essential oils have been compared to human blood for they have similar properties; that of immune and nervous system stimulation, being
antimicrobial in nature, of containing nutrients and oxygen, and of stimulating the regeneration of all tissues. One of the reasons for this is the way by which the
oils are absorbed by the body. When the essential oil is inhaled, the micro droplets are carried to the limbic system of the brain, which is that portion that is the processing center for reason, emotion, and smell, and to the hypothalamus, which is the hormone command center. The essential oil micro droplets are also carried to the lungs where they enter the circulatory system. Some essential oils contain high levels of the chemical constituents sesquiterpenes, which can dramatically increase oxygenation and activity in the brain
4. Other essential oils because of their unique constituents tend to have a greater role in hormonal secretion and in the balance of mood and emotions.
Equipment: The equipment used in testing the subjects was a real-time
electro-encephalograph (EEG). This measures electrical impulses in the brain by
placing small sensors called electrodes on a person's scalp to detect the electrical
impulses moving through the brain. The real-time EEG measures all major areas of the brain and gives instant feedback. The instruments used in the study were the J and J-I-330-Beta-Theta and the Neurodata 3000. Although the equipment is manufactured by
two different sources, their operation is essentially the same in its measurement of
the brain waves.
Equipment Technique: While the real-time EEG equipment is capable of measuring all
the brain waves, only two parameter types were measured, beta and theta waves.
The beta brain waves, whose frequency is 13-30 cycles per second, reflect those waves that are being produced by the brain when the subject is alert and/or performing a task. For example, if one were mentally performing a test, such as deriving a solution to a mathematical problem, then the brain would be functioning in such a manner as to express a large amount of beta waves.
The theta waves, whose frequency is 4-8 cycles per second, on the other hand reflect
the brain in the state of sleep or daydreaming, but awake. Therefore, we would tend
to see a large amount of theta waves during these states. Consequently, if we
measured the ratio of beta waves to theta waves, we would then have criteria for
knowing if the brain is functioning primarily in a beta state, meaning alertness, or
a theta state, indicating lack of focus on the tasks at hand.
Obviously, a beta-theta ratio is a significant tool, which can be used to measure
the kind of brain function, which we are interested in knowing. One fact observed
regarding the brain waves measured by the real-time EEG is that initially there was
a difference between the waves of normal children compared to ADHD children. While
brain waves from normal children were high in amounts of beta waves and low in the
amounts of theta waves during waking hours, the reverse was true in the 2 children
diagnosed with ADHD. In other words, ADHD children had higher amounts of theta waves
as compared to beta waves.
Experimental Design and Procedures: When the subjects initially entered the study,
they were administered a T.O.V.A. test. The T.O.V.A. interpretation evaluates
attention to stimuli in comparison to the norms, thereby measuring the degree of
impulsivity, which is one of the symptoms of ADHD. This then detects the possible
presence of ADHD.
The results, compared to the normal same-gender, same-age, and average I.Q. group,
are reported as standard deviations and standard scores. Each subject was then
evaluated on the real-time EEG. Their beta and theta brain waves were measured and
their beta-theta ratios recorded.
Next, the subjects were randomly divided into three different groups with six
persons per group. For each of the three groups, one of three essential oils was
randomly selected. The intent was to administer that oil to the subject.
The first of these oils is Cedrus atlantica, common name Cedarwood; chosen because
of its high concentration of sesquiterpenes making up 50% of its constituents, which
improves oxygenation of the cells of the brain.
The second oil is Vetiveria zizanioides, common name Vetiver, whose action calms and
balances the nervous system and at the same time stimulates the circulatory system.
The third oil is Lavandula angustifolia, common name Lavender, which has both a
sedative as well as a stimulating action. It sedates part of the brain at the same
time stimulating the limbic region of the brain.
Each subject in the study was given a glass bottle of the appropriate essential oil
to administer at home.
Results: Overview of Analysis Procedure: For each essential oil, the initial
beta-theta ratios were compared with the post-treatment tests. The mean scores were
compared. Next, the control data was compared in order to find any change from the
first to the second real-time EEG.
The next test was the comparison of the overall T.O.V.A. test scores, both
pre-treatment and post-treatment. Then the controls were compared for any change
from first to second T.O.V.A. test.
The last comparison was between the pre-testing and post-testing changes of the
treated groups compared to pre-testing and post-testing of subjects who were not
treated, or controls.
The final numbers of subjects in the study shrank from thirty-four at the beginning
of the study to thirty at the end of the study. Four of the treated group dropped
out of the study, leaving the totals of each of the three groups of four subjects in the Vetiver group, four subjects in the Lavender group, and six subjects in the Cedarwood group.
The reasons for the non-compliance were varied from one subject who developed a skin
rash to another subject who moved out of the state during the study. The analyses
revealed a significant improvement in the pre- and post-treatment Vetiver essential
oil group. The improvement was 32%. A similar result was seen with the pre- and
post- treatment of the Cedarwood essential oil group. The Lavender treated group showed no improvement between pre- and post-treatment testing.
When compared with the control group, the Vetiver treated group's improvement was
statistically significant. However, because of the relatively small sample and the
extremely low-test scores in the pre-treated real-time EEG study of the Cedarwood
group, the statistical analysis was skewed. What this means is that the results
showing the improvement was not statistically significant when analyzed. This was
true even though the improvement of the test results of pre-treatment compared to
post-treatment subjects was quite notable in a positive way. The T.O.V.A. pre- and
post-testing results revealed an overall improvement, indicating a reduction of the
symptoms of ADHD. The data is provided in the following tables (listed at end of article):
Discussion: This study examined the effectiveness of essential oils in the treatment
of ADHD diagnosed children from the ages of six to fourteen years. Treatment outcome
results reveal that the essential oil of Vetiver improves the brain activity and
reduces the symptoms in ADHD diagnosed subjects. Similar results were found with the
essential oil Cedarwood, although not statistically significant. This lack of significance
could be the result of the relatively small number of subjects in this study. The
Lavender group showed no apparent improvement after the treatment program.
The improvement of the subjects who were treated with the Vetiver and Cedarwood
would have been greater had they not been compared to the change of the control
group after their second testing was performed. Note that in Table 1, the control
group had some improvement with regards to the beta-theta brain wave ratio. The
control group, however, showed a lesser improvement then did the treatment group.
This overall improvement in both groups obviously reflects the ability for the
subjects to learn the function of the real-time EEG, thereby improving their brain
wave response the second time that they were connected to the equipment. In spite of
this minor improvement in the control group, which represented learned familiarity,
when statistically analyzed and compared to the improvement of the subjects who were
treated with the essential oils, certainly in the case of Vetiver, the subjects scored much better in their post-testing versus pre-testing.
In addition, I received several letters from parents of the ADHD children stating
that their behavior at home had improved for the better. In several cases, they also
stated that school educators informed them that their performance was observed to
improve in the classroom. The report cards in some of the subjects had reflected this improvement as well. Since these results were not included in the design of the study, they will not be included here, but is only mentioned as an unexpected improvement in the
treated ADHD diagnosed children.
In summary, based on this study, I would not hesitate to recommend the use of the
essential oil Vetiver in the treatment of children diagnosed as having ADHD. I would
even consider using the essential oil Cedarwood in situations where Vetiver was not
available or other cases in which Vetiver was not appropriate. Certainly, the
essential oil Vetiver proved to be the treatment of choice between the three
different oils used in this study.
1. Diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Summary (August 1999).
Technical Review: Number 3 (AHCPR Publication No. 99-0049). Rockville, MD: Agency
for Health Care Policy and Research. Also
available:http://www.ahcpr.gov/clinic/adhdsutr.htm (accessed: August 26, 2000).
2. Essential oils desk reference compiled by Essential Science Publishing. Second
3. Elia, J., et al. (1999). Treatment of attention-deficit- hyperactivity disorder.
New England Journal of Medicine, 340(10): 780-788.