A U.S. government survey claims that 1 in 10 U.S. children now has ADHD. This is a sizable increase from a few years earlier. ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) makes it hard for children to pay attention and control impulsive behavior.
About two-thirds of the children diagnosed with ADHD are on some form of prescription medication.
According to AP medical writer Mike Stobbe:
“In the latest survey, 9.5 percent said a doctor or health care provider had told them their child had ADHD … ADHD diagnosis is in many ways a matter of opinion.
There’s no blood test or brain-imaging exam for the condition. Sometimes reading disabilities or other problems in the classroom cause a teacher or others to mistakenly think a child has ADHD.”
Researchers suggested growing awareness and better screening may be responsible for the rising numbers, but there are a number of food additives that experts think may worsen ADHD as well. They include:
Blue #1 and #2 food coloring
Red #3 and #40
Yellow #5 and #6
Sodium benzoate, a preservative
According to Health.com:
“Will eliminating dye-containing foods from a child’s diet help ADHD? Experts say there’s not enough evidence … Most studies of a possible link analyzed blends of additives, not single ingredients, making it difficult to find a culprit.”
Dr. Mercola’s Comments:
When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveyed 73,000 children, they found one in 10 has ADHD — a 22 percent increase since 2003. In all this brings the number of U.S. kids with the disorder to over 5 million, about 1 million more than had it a few years ago.
As for why this massive increase occurred, there appears to be some serious head-scratching going on, and researchers could only say it could be due to greater awareness and more screening efforts.
I would argue, however, that Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) seems to have become more or less the catchall designations for children who do not “behave well” — and at least one study suggests that many children may be misdiagnosed.
One Million ADHD Kids May be Misdiagnosed
A study published in the Journal of Health Economics determined that about 20 percent of children have likely been misdiagnosed. That’s nearly 1 million children in the United States alone.
The study found that many of the youngest children in any given grade level are perceived as exhibiting “symptoms” of ADHD, such as fidgeting and inability to concentrate, simply because they’re younger and being compared to their older, more mature classmates.
In fact, the youngest students were 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest in the same grade. And when you take into account the maturity level, and in large part normal behavior of a 6 versus a 7-year old, you can easily see why.
Science Daily wrote:
“… the “smoking gun” of the study is that ADHD diagnoses depend on a child’s age relative to classmates and the teacher’s perceptions of whether the child has symptoms.
If a child is behaving poorly, if he’s inattentive, if he can’t sit still, it may simply be because he’s 5 and the other kids are 6,” said Elder, assistant professor of economics. “There’s a big difference between a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old, and teachers and medical practitioners need to take that into account when evaluating whether children have ADHD.”
Additionally, it’s important for parents to remain in charge and make their own assessments known, as the study also concluded that:
“A child’s birth date relative to the eligibility cutoff also strongly influences teachers’ assessments of whether the child exhibits ADHD symptoms but is only weakly associated with similarly measured parental assessments, suggesting that many diagnoses may be driven by teachers’ perceptions of poor behavior among the youngest children in a classroom.
These perceptions have long-lasting consequences: the youngest children in fifth and eighth grades are nearly twice as likely as their older classmates to regularly use stimulants prescribed to treat ADHD.”
Confusion in How to “Diagnose” ADHD
Diagnosing ADHD really comes down to a matter of opinion, as there is no physical test, like a brain scan, that can pinpoint the condition. There’s only subjective evaluation, and, for better or worse, teachers can play a significant role in this evaluation.
Along with inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior, the two “hallmarks” of the disorder, children may also show the following symptoms:
Frequent fidgeting or squirming
Feels restless or often runs and climbs excessively, or leaves his or her seat in the classroom when not appropriate
Has difficulty playing quietly
Talks excessively, interrupts often, and may blurt out answers to questions at inappropriate times
Always seems on the go
Has difficulty waiting his or her turn
As you can see, many of these “symptoms” could describe most children at one time or another! Therefore, only those who struggle with inattention and hyperactive or impulsive behaviors around the clock are candidates for the ADHD label, but it is frequently given to many other children as well.
Given that two-thirds of children diagnosed with ADHD are prescribed medication — drugs that often contain different formulations of methylphenidate, a powerful psychostimulant drug that is in the same class as cocaine — receiving an ADHD diagnosis unnecessarily can be very harmful to a child.
What About Food Additives?
There are a number of theories to explain the rise in ADHD diagnoses, and there could be some instances where kids are displaying the above-mentioned symptoms due to external influences.
Among them, exposure to food additives including preservatives and food coloring may cause ADHD-like symptoms. These chemicals have a particularly pernicious synergy if they are combined with sugars such as fructose.
For instance, a study published in the journal The Lancet concluded that a variety of common food dyes, and the preservative sodium benzoate — found in many soft drinks, fruit juices and salad dressings — cause some children to become measurably more hyperactive and distractible.
The study also found that the E-numbered food dyes (such as tartrazine (E102), ponceau 4R (E124), sunset yellow (E110), carmoisine (E122), quinoline yellow (E104) and allura red AC (E129) do as much damage to children’s brains as lead in gasoline, resulting in a significant reduction in IQ.
The results of this study prompted the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) to issue an immediate advisory to parents, warning them to limit their children’s intake of additives if they notice an effect on behavior. They also advised the food industry to voluntarily remove the six food dyes named in the study in 2009 and replace them with natural alternatives if possible.
Of course, the United States has not followed suit in issuing any similar warnings to American parents.
What Else Could be Causing Increased Symptoms of ADHD?
A key factor, I believe, is eating foods that one was not designed to eat.
We know the food choices of most children — and adults — today are incredibly poor. How can you possibly expect a child to have normal behavior if he is fed refined grains, sugars, processed foods loaded with chemicals and genetically engineered ingredients, and juices and sodas instead of pure water?
It is virtually impossible to have a healthy functioning brain when the proper building blocks to develop or maintain a healthy brain are not being given!
Most notably, children who consume highly processed foods loaded with high fructose corn syrup and fruit juices tend to have a higher rate and severity of these symptoms. While organic whole grains are superior to processed ones, many children with ADHD do not respond well to most grains, especially wheat.
Other theories that may also be leading to an increase of ADHD-like symptoms include:
Genetic factors — Some scientists are now aiming their research at finding genes that may make a person more susceptible to this disorder.
Environmental toxins — A 2006 study found that a mother’s use of cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs during pregnancy could increase the risk for ADHD. Exposure to lead and mercury may also cause ADHD symptoms, and pesticides and the industrial chemicals polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have also been named as potential culprits.
Allergic reactions — Chemically-sensitive people may exhibit ADHD symptoms when exposed to something as simple as clothing washed with perfumed and chemical-laden soap. Permanent press or stain-resistant products also contain chemicals that can initiate ADHD-like reactions in sensitive individuals.
Increased number of childhood vaccinations – One 2007 survey found a strong correlation between rates of neurological disorders, such as ADHD, and childhood vaccinations. Vaccine adjuvants have also been associated with ADHD-type neurological problems.
Emotionally unstable home environments — Stress is the frequently unappreciated and overlooked variable that can easily worsen ADHD. If the parents are having trouble in their relationship this can easily influence the child’s behavior.
Increased rates of birth interventions. This can result in birth trauma and lack of oxygen in the newborn, which significantly increases the risk of developmental delay.
Be Careful With Labeling Your Child With ADHD
The majority of kids diagnosed with ADHD will be prescribed potentially dangerous drugs. It is my sincere hope that people will begin to realize that drug therapy, if at all necessary, should be a very last resort when it comes to behavioral problems such as ADHD, used only after all other options have been exhausted.
Unfortunately, U.S. pharmacists distribute five times more Ritalin than the rest of the world combined, according to Dr. Samuel Epstein’s Cancer Prevention Coalition (CPC). In all, 60 percent to 90 percent of U.S. kids with attention deficit disorders are prescribed this powerful drug, which amounts to 3 percent to 5 percent of U.S. children and teens on Ritalin.
By definition, Ritalin stimulates your central nervous system, leading to side effects such as:
Increased blood pressure
Increased heart rate
Increased body temperature
Research has also linked Ritalin with more severe health problems such as cancer as well as an increased probability of suicidal thoughts and behavior.
Ritalin also has the same pharmacological profile as cocaine, yet its effects are even more potent. Using brain imaging, scientists have found that, in pill form, Ritalin occupies more of the neural transporters responsible for the “high” experienced by addicts than smoked or injected cocaine.
In essence, we have created a large body of new drug addicts, priming them for addiction from an extremely young age. And most of these kids are receiving the drugs unnecessarily, when they’ve been either misdiagnosed or the true underlying causes of their hyperactive behavior have not been recognized!
Natural Tips for Treating ADHD and ADHD-Like Symptoms
If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD or displays ADHD-like symptoms, first be sure they have been given an assessment that is appropriate for their age to rule out that their “acting out” is actually normal.
Then, implement the following strategies before resorting to medications, as often they work exceptionally well in treating this condition:
Eliminate most grains and sugars from your child’s diet. Grains and sugars both tend to cause allergies in sensitive individuals. Even organic, whole grain can cause problems in many children so it would be wise to give them a grain holiday and see if their behavior improves.
Replace soft drinks (whether diet and regular), fruit juices, and pasteurized milk with pure, clean non-fluoridated water. While you may believe fruit juices are a healthy option to soda, they aren’t and need to be avoided as strictly as soda does.
Increase omega-3 fats by taking a high quality animal-based omega-3 oil. Research has confirmed that something as simple as animal-based omega-3 fat can improve the symptoms of ADHD more effectively than drugs like Ritalin and Concerta. In my view, krill oil is the best option for this. It contains essential EPA and DHA in a double chain phospholipid structure that makes it far more absorbable than the omega-3s in fish oil.
Minimize your use of nearly all processed fats, especially trans fats as they disrupt nerve cell intercommunication.
Avoid all processed foods, especially those containing artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, which may trigger or worsen symptoms.
Clear your house of dangerous pesticides and other commercial chemicals. Pesticide exposure has been linked with ADHD.
Avoid commercial washing detergents and cleaning products used on clothes, and replace them with naturally derived cleaning products with no added perfumes, softeners, etc.
Spend more time in nature. Researchers have found that exposing ADHD children to nature is an affordable, healthy way of controlling symptoms.
Investigate sensory therapy and emotional wellness tools. Instead of looking for a quick fix, encourage ADHD sufferers to talk, and find out what emotions are causing issues. You may want to consider the energy tapping techniques to improve emotional coping and healing.
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By Dr. Mercola
According to a 2010 US government survey,1 1 in 10 American children now has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—a 22 percent increase from 2003.
ADHD makes it hard for children to pay attention and control impulsive behavior, and an increasing number of older children, including high school students, are now being labeled as having ADHD. Adult ADHD is also becoming more prevalent.
As reported by the Las Vegas Guardian Express,2 nearly 11 percent of American kids are labeled with the disorder. More than twice as many boys are diagnosed with ADHD than girls—one in five, compared to one in 11. The featured article speculates about the cause behind these rising numbers.
Some experts feel the increase could be due to increased awareness and better diagnosis, but I think you’ll find it interesting that this trend also coincides with increased prevalence of the pervasive weed killer, glyphosate, in the American food supply.
There’s also plenty of room for overdiagnosis. In fact, an ADHD diagnosis is often made on the subjective observations of teachers or guardians, based on signs that nearly every child will display at some point. Aggravating factors, such as diet or home environment, are oftentimes overlooked entirely.
The featured article actually points out some interesting correlations between ADHD diagnoses and changes to the American educational system that might help explain how, if not why, so many children are misdiagnosed or flat out falsely diagnosed.
What Is ADHD?
But before we get into potential causes for the uptick in prevalence, let’s review how ADHD is qualified in the first place. The disorder involves a cluster of symptoms that includes inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviors.
Often, children with ADHD struggle in school and have difficulty managing interpersonal relationships. They also tend to suffer from low self-esteem. The similar term attention deficit disorder (ADD) has largely been replaced with ADHD, as it describes two of the most common symptoms of the condition, inattention, and hyperactive-impulsive behavior.
Diagnosing ADHD really comes down to a matter of opinion, as there is no physical test, like a brain scan, that can pinpoint the condition. This could change, however. According to a recent study, a newer MRI method called magnetic field correlation imaging that can detect low iron levels in the brains of children with ADHD could potentially help parents and patients make better informed decisions about treatment. As reported by Medicine.net:3
“Psychostimulant drugs used to treat ADHD affect levels of the brain chemical dopamine. Because iron is required to process dopamine, using MRI to assess iron levels in the brain may provide a noninvasive, indirect measure of the chemical, explained study author Vitria Adisetiyo… If these findings are confirmed in larger studies, this technique might help improve ADHD diagnosis and treatment…
The [magnetic field correlation imaging] scans revealed that the 12 ADHD patients who’d never been treated with psychostimulant drugs such as Ritalin had lower brain iron levels than those who’d received the drugs and those in the control group. The lower iron levels in the ADHD patients who’d never taken stimulant drugs appeared to normalize after they took the medicines.”
At present, diagnosis is dependent on subjective evaluation, and, for better or worse, teachers can play a significant role in this evaluation. Most children with ADHD will display a combination of inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior, along with the following symptoms:4
|Frequent fidgeting or squirming
||Difficulty playing quietly
||Always seems on the go
||Excessive talking and interrupting others
||Difficulty waiting his or her turn
||Frequently has problems organizing tasks or activities
||Difficulty following through on instructions and apparently not listening
Many of these “symptoms” could describe virtually any child, or most children, on any given day. Hence, those who display these symptoms at school but not at home or with friends are not considered to have ADHD. Ditto for children who display symptoms at home but not at school.
Only children who struggle with inattention and hyperactive or impulsive behaviors around the clock are deemed to have ADHD—or at least they should be. According to a 2010 study,5 an estimated 20 percent of children are misdiagnosed with ADHD.
According to some, the disorder may not even be a “real” disorder at all. Psychiatrist Leon Eisenberg, hailed as the “scientific father of ADHD,” actually went on record saying that ADHD is “a prime example of a fictitious disease.”He made this stunning confession in a 2012 interview with the German paperDer Spiegel, just seven months prior to his death6 at the age of 87.
How the American School System May Be Promoting ADHD Diagnoses
At least part of the rise in prevalence could be attributed to inappropriate diagnosis. As reported in the featured article, there’s an interesting correlation between the rise in ADHD diagnoses and the implementation of the US Elementary and Secondary Education Act known as “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB). The program was implemented nationwide in 2002.
The NCLB standardized teaching methods across the US which, contrary to what the name implies, does leave a lot of kids “behind,” in the sense that brighter children frequently end up bored and discouraged from lack of academic challenge. And bored, discouraged children will oftentimes “act out.”
“Now with the implementation of CORE standards, who some describe as NCLB on steroids, there is a chance the ADHD numbers may climb even more,” the article predicts.7
But there’s more to this story…
“Another study, published by the Child Mind Institute, states there might be another incentive behind the rise, and that is the financial benefit to schools. Many schools, especially those where the tax base is much poorer… rely heavily on federal funding to operate.
Long before NCLB was enacted, many of these districts had already enacted ‘consequential accountability statutes,’” which penalized a school when children failed; however, often scores for children diagnosed with ADHD are not counted… thereby helping to ensure the passing test scores of the class as a whole.
Geographically speaking, children in the South are diagnosed far more often with ADHD than children living in Western states by a rate of nearly 63 percent. North Carolina, one of the first states to implement consequential accountability statutes, stands at a ADHD diagnosis rate of over 16 percent; California, one of the last states to implement these policies, ranks at only 6.2 percent. The difference is staggering.”
Raising a Generation of Drug Users
About two-thirds of the children diagnosed with ADHD are on some form of prescription medication, and oftentimes the side effects are far worse than the condition itself. These drugs actually rival illegal street drugs in terms of their dangerous risks to health, which include:
Sadly, tens of thousands of American kids are now prescribed dangerous antipsychotic drugs before the age of five—some even before reaching 12 months of age, hard as that is to imagine. Children in the Medicaid system are at greatest risk for overdiagnosis. Data shows they’re prescribed antipsychotic medications four times more often compared to those with private insurance.8
The price we pay as a society for drugging our children out of objectionable behavior patterns is steep. In children, the long-term effects of drugs are typically largely unknown, while in the short term, we’ve seen shocking increases in violent and aggressive acts committed by teens taking one or more psychotropic drugs.
These children are also likely to experience health problems as they mature into adulthood. Just look at what happens to street junkies through time, and then consider that Ritalin has a more potent effect on your brain than cocaine… Being raised firmly within the drug paradigm from an early age may also make them more likely to opt for drug treatment for other ailments rather than exploring other options.
What Causes Behavioral Difficulties?
Behavioral problems clearly do exist, and do appear to be more prevalent than in decades past, with or without the ADHD label. The question on everyone’s mind is what’s causing it? The cause of ADHD remains elusive, although there are many contending culprits, including poor nutrition and environmental toxins ranging from food- and vaccine additives to agricultural chemicals.
For example, a 2006 study9 found that a mother’s use of cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs during pregnancy could increase the risk for ADHD. The study also suggested that exposure to lead and/or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can cause ADHD symptoms. Pesticide exposure has also been linked with ADHD.
Unfortunately, few are focusing on basic nutrition, which I believe is a key factor. We know that the food choices of most children and adults today are incredibly poor, and how can you possibly expect a child to have normal behavior if he is fed refined grains, sugars, and processed foods loaded with chemicals and largely devoid of natural nutrients?
Five Dietary Factors to Address if Your Child Has ADHD
Five dietary factors of particular concern are the following. If your child struggles with behavioral difficulties, whether he or she has been diagnosed with ADHD or not, I strongly recommend addressing all of these factors:
- Too much sugar. High sugar content and starchy carbohydrates lead to excessive insulin release, which can lead to falling blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia, in turn, causes your brain to secrete glutamate in levels that can cause agitation, depression, anger, anxiety, and panic attacks.
Besides that, sugar promotes chronic inflammation in your body, and many studies have demonstrated the connection between a high-sugar diet and worsened mental health.
- Gluten sensitivity. The evidence10, 11 suggesting that gluten sensitivity may be at the root of a number of neurological and psychiatric conditions, including ADHD, is quite compelling. According to a 2011 study,12 celiac disease is “markedly overrepresented among patients presenting with ADHD,” and a gluten-free diet has been shown to significantly improve behavior in kids. The study went so far as to suggest celiac disease should be added to the ADHD symptom checklist.
- Too few beneficial bacteria. As explained by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, a medical doctor with a postgraduate degree in neurology, toxicity in your gut can flow throughout your body and into your brain, where it can cause symptoms of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression, schizophrenia, and other mental disorders. Reducing gut inflammation is imperative when addressing mental health issues,13 so optimizing your child’s gut flora is a critical step. To learn more, please see my previous article, “Are Probiotics the New Prozac?”
- Animal-sourced omega-3 deficiency. Research has shown that kids low in omega-3 fats are significantly more likely to be hyperactive, struggle with learning disorders, and display behavioral problems. Omega-3 deficiencies have also been tied to dyslexia, violence, and depression. A clinical study published in 2007 examined the effects of krill oil on adults diagnosed with ADHD.14 In that study, patients improved their ability to concentrate by an average of over 60 percent after taking a daily 500mg dose of krill oil for six months. They also reported a 50 percent improvement in planning skills, and close to 49 percent improvement in social skills.
- Food additives and GMO ingredients. A number of food additives are thought to worsen ADHD, and many have subsequently been banned in Europe. Potential culprits to avoid include Blue #1 and #2 food coloring; Green #3; Orange B; Red #3 and #40; Yellow #5 and #6; and sodium benzoate, a preservative.
Recent research also shows that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, used in large quantities on genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops, limits your body’s ability to detoxify foreign chemical compounds. As a result, the damaging effects of those chemicals and environmental toxins are magnified, and may result in a wide variety of diseases, including brain disorders that can affect behavior.
The Hidden Health Hazards of Glyphosate and GMOs
Glyphosate-contaminated food has recently been implicated in the dramatic rise of both ADHD and autism, the latter of which is clearly more extreme in terms of behavioral difficulties. Still, both problems appear to be rooted to some degree in abnormal gut flora, and this is where glyphosate begins its path of destruction. How severe the effect might be in any given person will likely depend on a wide variety of individual factors, including the mother’s gut health during and at the time of giving birth.
Former US Navy staff scientist Dr. Nancy Swanson has meticulously collected statistics on glyphosate usage and various diseases and conditions, including autism. A more perfect match-up between the rise in glyphosate usage and incidence of autism, shown below, is hard to imagine. To access her published articles and reports, please visit Sustainable Pulse,15 a European Website dedicated to exposing the hazards of genetically engineered foods.
According to Dr. Swanson:16
“Prevalence and incidence data show correlations between diseases of the organs and the increase in Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the food supply, along with the increase in glyphosate-based herbicide applications. More and more studies have revealed carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting effects of Roundup at lower doses than those authorized for residues found in Genetically Modified Organisms… The endocrine disrupting properties also lead to neurological disorders (learning disabilities (LD), attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder). Those most susceptible are children and the elderly.”
How to Optimize Your Child’s Gut Flora
The two key problems caused by glyphosate in the diet are nutritional deficiencies and systemic toxicity, and your gut bacteria are a key component of glyphosate’s mechanism of harm. Effectively addressing this problem requires a two-pronged approach. First you need to avoid the primary sources of glyphosate, which more or less makes it imperative to avoid processed foods. Secondly, you need to address the damage already done. To reseed your child’s gut with the healthy bacteria (probiotics) necessary for optimal physical, mental, and emotional health, I recommend the following strategies:
- Avoid processed, refined foods as they promote the growth of pathogenic bacteria, yeast and fungus in the gut. Most processed foods are also high in sugar and fructose, grains (gluten), artificial additives, and genetically engineered ingredients (which tend to be more heavily contaminated with glyphosate)—all the top items that tend to aggravate ADHD symptoms. Also replace sweetened beverages (whether diet and regular), including fruit juices and pasteurized milk, with pure non-fluoridated water.
- Eat traditionally fermented, unpasteurized foods: Fermented foods are one of the best routes to optimal digestive health, as long as you eat the traditionally made, unpasteurized versions. Some of the beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods are also excellent chelators of heavy metals and pesticides, which will also have a beneficial health effect by reducing your toxic load. Fermented vegetables are perhaps among the most palatable fermented foods. Many kids will also get used to fermented dairy products like kefir.
- Use a high-quality probiotic supplement. If you cannot get your child to eat fermented foods on a regular basis, a high-quality probiotic supplement may be highly beneficial in correcting abnormal gut flora that contribute to brain dysfunction.
Additional Strategies to Relieve ADHD Symptoms
Besides addressing your child’s nutrition, as described in the two sections above, I also recommend implementing the following strategies:
- Clear your house of dangerous pesticides and other commercial chemicals.
- Avoid commercial washing detergents and cleaning products used on clothes, and replace them with naturally derived cleaning products free of added perfumes, softeners, etc.
- Spend more time in nature. Researchers have found that exposing ADHD children to nature is an affordable, healthy way of controlling symptoms.
- Investigate sensory therapy and emotional wellness tools. Instead of looking for a quick fix, encourage ADHD sufferers to talk, and find out what emotions are causing issues. You may also want to consider energy psychology tools such as the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) to improve emotional coping and healing.
By Dr. Mercola
Medicating children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a double-edged sword, not only because of the steep health risks posed by the medications themselves, but also because many kids labeled with “ADHD” actually do not have ADHD at all.
Diagnosing ADHD really comes down to a matter of opinion, as there is no physical test, like a brain scan, that can pinpoint the condition.
There’s only subjective evaluation, based on signs nearly every child will display at some point (fidgeting, easily distracted, difficulty waiting his or her turn, and so on).
But a recent report from the New York Times highlights an equally concerning, if not more so, practice that is endangering some low-income families: pediatricians using the ADHD diagnosis as “an excuse” to prescribe powerful drugs like Adderall to kids simply because they are struggling in school.
Mind-Altering Drugs to Boost Elementary School Grades?
One pediatrician told the New York Times that because society has decided not to modify a child’s school environment to promote better learning, there is no choice left but to “modify the kid,” which is done by prescribing drugs.
Adderall, which contains amphetamine (aka “speed”) and dextroamphetamine, is a stimulant drug that is often prescribed to improve attention and focus and reduce impulsiveness and hyperactivity in patients with ADHD.
Because of its stimulant properties, it’s become a black-market drug of choice for college kids looking to pull all-nighters to boost their grades. An estimated one in 10 college students abuse Adderall as a way to gain a competitive edge in their studies, often comparing it to athletes who use steroids.1 But the pills have a dark side, often quickly leading to addiction and causing other side effects like mood swings, insomnia, depression and panic attacks.
College students who use Adderall as a “study drug” is a large enough problem on its own, but for pediatricians to prescribe these drugs to children for the same purpose is shocking, and dangerous. Even more alarming is that one particular physician interviewed by the New York Times said he views the drugs as a tool for “evening the scales a little bit,” to give poor children a leg up in their schooling…
Prescriptions for Adderall on the Rise
The use of psychotropic drugs in children has been on a steep upward trend for decades. Writing in the Huffington Post, Lawrence Diller, MD said:2
“Given the current CDC data, one can safely estimate (based on previously detailed distribution curves) that one of six 11-year-old white boys with medical insurance currently take a stimulant drug at least during the school week… we are the only society currently managing our under performing/misbehaving children with drugs to this degree.”
Many of the children prescribed ADHD drugs do not have ADHD at all. One study determined that about 20 percent of children have likely been misdiagnosed.3 That’s nearly 1 million children in the United States alone.
The study found that many of the youngest children in any given grade level are perceived as exhibiting “symptoms” of ADHD, such as fidgeting and inability to concentrate, simply because they’re younger and being compared to their older, more mature classmates. In fact, the youngest students were 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest in the same grade. And when you take into account the maturity level, and in large part normal behavior of a 6- versus a 7-year old, you can easily see why.
Even if they did have ADHD, there are many superior alternatives for treatment than mind-altering drugs (which I’ll get to shortly).
But it is especially appalling when a physician openly admits that the ADHD diagnosis is simply a ruse to give kids drugs for the purpose of boosting their academic performance. In some cases, three and four children from the same family are all put on the medications, usually along with a prescribed sleep aid, as the pills often cause insomnia – as well as a long list of other serious side effects.
The Downward Spiral of Psychotropic Drug Use
Drugs like Adderall are powerful, mind-altering medications linked to growth suppression, increased blood pressure and psychotic episodes. In children, the impacts of their long-term use are completely unknown, although given the drug’s addictive nature, it’s quite possible these kids could become life-long addicts.
The New York Times featured the case of one family whose four children (ranging in age from 9 to 12) were prescribed either Adderall or Risperdal (an antipsychotic drug) along with sleep aids. After taking Adderall for years, one of the boys began seeing people and hearing voices that weren’t there – a known side effect of the drug. He became suicidal and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where he was then taken off Adderall and put onto Risperdal – another mind-altering drug with serious side effects.
Despite the child’s psychotic reaction, the parents continued to use the drugs in their other children, even though they acknowledged some of them did not have ADHD and were using Adderall “merely to help their grades.” Perhaps they are not aware, as many aren’t, that Adderall can cause potentially life-threatening side effects – the risks of which simply can’t be justified when used only to boost grades. Among them:4
|Aggressive behavior or hostility
||Worse behavior or thought problems
|Psychotic symptoms (hearing voices, believing things that are not true) or manic symptoms
||Sudden death in patients who have heart problems or heart defects
||Stroke or heart attack
|Increased blood pressure and heart rate
||Seizures and eyesight changes
||Slowing of growth in children
Does Adderall Steal Your Ability to Enjoy Life?
Many who start taking Adderall in high school or college as a way to boost their success find it does help them to excel in school and, later, in the job market. But the easy path to success comes at a price…
Former addicts explain the feeling that the drug took over their lives, allowing them to work and concentrate with a robot-like efficiency, but causing them to ignore the physical, emotional and social aspects of life, as well as their former creative passions.5 If they’re lucky, those affected are able to break free from Adderall’s spell – a process one former addict described as a “horrible, horrible process”6 – but what becomes of the child who started Adderall at the age of 8 or 9, during some of his or her key formative years?
Do these children grow up never knowing who they really are? What passions they may have had if not under the drug’s influence? And will they be able to quit when they are older, or will they be turned into life-long addicts? The answers to these questions are unknown.
Dr. William Graf, a pediatrician and child neurologist, told the New York Times he’s concerned the rising use of stimulant drugs may impact “the authenticity of development:”
“These children are still in the developmental phase, and we still don’t know how these drugs biologically affect the developing brain. There’s an obligation for parents, doctors and teachers to respect the authenticity issue, and I’m not sure that’s always happening.”
If You Have a “Hyper” Child You Want to Help Excel at School…
Before resorting to drugs, please understand that behavioral problems in children – including what might appear to be serious mental disorders – are very frequently related to improper diet, emotional upset and exposure to toxins.
Increasingly, scientific evidence shows that nourishing your gut flora with the beneficial bacteria found in traditionally fermented foods (or a probiotic supplement) is extremely important for proper brain function, and that includes psychological well-being and mood control. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride has successfully demonstrated the power and effectiveness of this theory. In her Cambridge, England clinic, she treats children and adults with a range of conditions, including autism, ADD/ADHD, neurological disorders, psychiatric disorders, immune disorders, and digestive problems using the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Nutritional Program, which she developed.
Her GAPS theory – which is fully explained in her excellent book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome – is an elegant description of how such conditions can develop as a direct result of gastrointestinal toxicity. Another helpful tool is my three-part interview with renowned children’s health expert, the late Dr. Lendon Smith, on Non-Drug Treatment of ADD/ADHD.
Advice from a World-Class Expert
Dr. Lendon Smith was one of the pioneer physicians in the treatment of ADHD. He had been effectively using nutrition and dietary interventions to help relieve the symptoms of ADHD for decades. He realized that drugs like Ritalin were not the answer for ADHD right from the start. Over ten years ago I did an extensive interview with him on this topic and I would encourage you to review it if you have an interest in this area. He stated in the interview:
“It is too bad psychiatrists have failed to recognize that if a stimulant acts as a calming agent, then they must shore up the flagging enzyme that is under-producing. This all fits with the damage that we have done to the top soil. It is washing and blowing away and with it, the magnesium. The psychiatrists have made ADD/ADHD a disease, like pneumonia.
It is actually a syndrome due to a defect in the screening device of the brain. I understand that since they had made it a disease they can be compensated for treating it. Another rule they have used: ‘If the Ritalin works, they need it.’ Sort of like a Ritalin deficiency.”
According to Dr. Smith, stimulant drugs like Ritalin have a calming effect in children with ADHD because there is not enough norepinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter, in their limbic system, the part of the brain that is supposed to filter out unimportant stimuli. Because of this, one common denominator that Dr. Smith often used as a diagnostic criterion for ADHD was being extremely ticklish. In other words, they were unable to disregard unimportant stimuli.
Dietary and Lifestyle Interventions to Help Relieve ADHD Symptoms Naturally
As mentioned, dietary interventions can be incredibly effective in helping alleviate the symptoms of ADHD. Dr. Smith also said in our interview:
“When I became familiar with nutrition, I found that if a stimulant drug had a calming effect [as is the case with ADHD], it meant that the child did not have enough norepinephrine (a stimulant) in his limbic system, and that I could help with a good diet and some supplements which should shore up the enzymes in his brain that make that neurotransmitter.
- If he had ever had ear infections, I stopped his dairy products, and added calcium – 1,000 mg – usually at bedtime. (Note that while I think removing the milk is a great idea, adding the calcium is not. Adding magnesium typically is far more effective)
- If he was ticklish, I added magnesium – 500 mg is usually safe for a child or adult.
- If he was a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ type of person (severe mood swings), he had intermittent low blood sugar and he needed to nibble all day to keep his blood sugar up. Or at least eat some additional protein and fewer carbohydrates for better maintenance of blood sugar levels. No sugar or white-flour junk food.
- If he could not remember his dreams, he needed vitamin B6 – 50 mg is about right.
- If he ever had eczema or dry scaly skin, he is to take the essential fatty acids [omega-3 fats like krill oil].
- If he had dark circles under his eyes, he was eating something to which he is sensitive. Milk, wheat, corn, chocolate, eggs, citrus. Usually it is his favorite food.”
Here are a few additional guidelines to help you address underlying toxins in your child, without, or at least BEFORE, you agree to any kind of drug therapy:
- Severely limit or eliminate fructose from your child’s diet as sugar/fructose has been linked to mental health problemssuch as depression and schizophrenia.
- Avoid giving your child ANY processed foods, especially those containing artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. This includes lunch meats and hot dogs, which are common food staples in many households.
- Replace soft drinks, fruit juices, and pasteurized milk with pure water. This is HUGE since high fructose corn syrup is a primary source of calories in children.
- Make sure your child is getting large regular doses of healthy bacteria, either with high-quality fermented organic foods and/or high quality probiotic supplements.
- Give your child plenty of high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats like krill oil. Also, make sure to balance your child’s intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, by simultaneously limiting their intake of vegetable oils.
- Include as many whole organic foods as possible in your child’s diet, both to reduce chemical exposure and increase nutrient content of each meal.
- Also reduce or eliminate grains from your child’s diet, especially wheat. Beyond the fact that even healthy organic whole grains can cause problems as they too break down into sugars, gluten-containing grains have pharmacologically active peptides that can cause cognitive and behavioral issues in susceptible children.7
Additionally, whole and even sprouted wheat contains high amounts of wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), which can have adverse effects on mental health due to its neurotoxic actions. Wheat also inhibits production of serotonin, the largest concentration of which can, again, be found in your intestines, not your brain. Try eliminating them first for 1-2 weeks and see if you don’t notice a radical and amazing improvement in your child’s behavior.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners and colors of all kinds.
- Make sure your child gets plenty of exercise and outdoor playtime.
- Get them out into the sun to help maintain optimal vitamin D levels. Scientists are now beginning to realize vitamin D is involved in maintaining the health of your brain, as they’ve recently discovered vitamin D receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and central nervous system. There’s even evidence indicating vitamin D improves your brain’s detoxification process. For children and pregnant women, getting enough vitamin D is especially crucial, as it may play a major role in protecting infants from autism.
If natural sun exposure is not feasible, for whatever reason, you can use either a safe tanning bed or an oral vitamin D3 supplement. For more details on how to safely optimize your and your child’s vitamin D levels, please see this previous article.
- Give your child a way to address his or her emotions. Even children can benefit from the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which you or an EFT practitioner can teach them to use.
Be sure you are also providing positive praise to your child. Dr. Smith believed parents should be able to say nice things to their child twice as often as they give commands or ask questions. If you are shouting and scolding more than you are complimenting and rewarding your child, it could be contributing to psychiatric problems.
- Prevent exposure to toxic metals and chemical by replacing personal care products, detergents and household cleaners with all natural varieties. Metals like aluminum, cadmium, lead and mercury are commonly found in thousands of different food products, household products, personal products and untold numbers of industrial products and chemicals. The presence of toxic metals in your child’s body is highly significant for they are capable of causing serious health problems by interfering with normal biological functioning. The health effects range from minor physical ailments to chronic diseases, and altered mood and behavior.