I am sure that parents have noticed hyperactivity in their children ever since the homo sapiens erected onto two legs. Parents today will notice periods where their children are more active or overexcited than at other times. Learning appropriate responses takes time and is the cause of the ‘terrible twos’.

I believe that one must be careful not to label a child overactive when the problem may be parental intolerance. Overactivity must be disruptive, persistent and preferably recognized by a third party such as a teacher. There is a strong correlation, especially in America, between hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder (ADD). Attention deficit disorder may be present without hyperactivity and is characterized by a short attention span, poor concentration, an inability to finish projects and an ease of distraction. It is important to differentiate between this and the absences seen in petit mal epilepsy .

It is worth noting that both hyperactivity and ADD may continue beyond childhood and when it does so it is termed ‘residual attention deficit disorder’. The causes are much the same and are well researched. It is thought to affect approximately three per cent of the population although – and this is why it is very important to establish diagnosis – some studies have suggested hyperactivity in up to 20 per cent of the population.

Food additives, of which, believe it or not, there are over 5,000 in the USA, have been clearly cited as a cause for these syndromes. It is important to understand that the term additives includes not just colourings but also include thickeners, preservatives, flavourings and many others. Artificial ‘anti-oxidants’ are being confused by the public as being healthy additives because antioxidants have come to prominence in dealing with cardiovascular and cancer problems. Please do not be fooled. Individuals buying foods predominantly from supermarkets may be ingesting up to 15g of additives per day.

Low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) is a major contributing factor to hyperactivity and ADD, predominantly caused by taking in refined (white) sugars that are absorbed rapidly, and which cause a large insulin response that in turn lowers the blood sugar level. Any hyperactive child who behaves in such a way an hour or so after eating is probably taking in too many carbohydrates.

Food allergies are a major consideration and an individual correlation between poor behaviour and specific foods can be made by keeping a list, noting any changes with particular foods.

Lead poisoning has been shown to be responsible for bad behaviour and therefore this and other metal or environmental toxins should be considered as possible causes of ADD.

Discuss the matter of a hyperactive or suspected ADD child with teachers, a counsellor experienced in these matters or a local group.

Remove refined carbohydrates (especially white sugar) and all processed foods from the diet.

Consider food allergy testing or keep a very clear diary of foods eaten and the child’s behaviour.

Consider the possibility of nutritional deficiencies. It is possible that deficiencies in certain amino acids (tyrosine, tryptophan or phenylalanine), as well as a lack of certain minerals such as zinc or iron, may all be contributing factors, if not the cause.

Consider the possibility of metal poisoning or other toxins such as pesticides.

Consider art therapy if the problem persists and assessment through an art therapist who specializes in problems with children. • A medical opinion may be necessary if none of the above considerations work but, because orthodox medicine is pharmaceutical^ oriented, a first-line treatment may be a drug such as methylphenidate hydrochloride, known as Ritalin. This option should be used as a last resort. Ritalin might, although I have no evidence to support this, go on to show itself as an addictive drug and require persistent use. If so, in later life it could lead to a dependency on tranquillizers.