What is ADHD?(The Medical Opinion)
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is medically classified in a number of ways with varying degrees of severity. There are 3 characteristics that they all share in some combination or another though, which include impulsiveness, inattentiveness, and hyperactivity.
Hyperactive children always seem to be in motion. A child who is hyperactive may move around touching or playing with whatever is around, or talk continually. The child might squirm around, fidget, or get up and move around the room, sometimes wiggling their feet or tapping their fingers.
Impulsive children often blurt out comments without thinking first, often displaying their emotions without restraint. They may also fail to consider the consequences of their actions. They are often impatient and tend to make choices based on instant gratification, rather than working towards a more long-term goal.
Inattentive children may quickly get bored with an activity if it’s not something they really enjoy. Organizing and completing a task or learning something new is difficult for them. As students, they often forget to write down a school assignment or bring a book home and therefore, completing homework can be a huge challenge.
What Is Not ADHD?
Many children and adults are easily distracted at times or have trouble finishing tasks. To be ADHD, however, the behaviours must appear before age 7 and continue for at least six months. The symptoms must also create a real handicap in at least two areas of the child’s life—in the classroom, on the playground, at home, in the community, or in social settings.
Even if a child’s behavior seems like ADHD, it might not actually be ADHD. Many other conditions and situations can trigger behavior that resembles ADHD. For example, a child might show ADHD symptoms when experiencing death or divorce in the family, sudden changes, ear infections, learning disabilities or anxiety.
The American Psychiatric Association states that ADHD is “one of the most common health disorders, affecting approximately 5 to 10 percent of children in the United States. Symptoms of this condition are expressed in multiple settings and across numerous functional domains, thus demonstrating the pervasiveness of this condition.”
Is it an issue of our society or of our children?
(An Alternate Perspective)
The question has to be asked as to whether or not our society is at fault here. Is the problem, which has allegedly become rampant across North America and Europe, really that our kids are too active and fidgety? Or is it rather a problem of us trying to shove a round peg into a square hole?
When did it become acceptable to medicate the childhood out of our children just so they would sit in a desk and shut up for 8 hours a day at school? Or so that they would sit like coma-zombies in front of their frontal-cortex-destroying televisions while we work too hard to give them the time of day, to cultivate their imaginations and harness their seemingly boundless energy? Since when did our children become forced to comply with the rules of an adult world?
It is my belief that the majority of over/misdiagnoses of ADD and ADHD are the mistakes of overzealous doctors and incapable parents who would rather sweep an issue under the rug, rather than recognize that children are, in fact, children. It’s time for us to wake up and stop letting the status quo tell us that our children aren’t “normal”. If everyone is so busy trying to fit in, we may miss out on how incredible our children actually are.
The over diagnosis of ADHD not only has social implications for our children, but there are real dangers associated with treating this “disease” only medically, beyond the suppression of our childrens’ personalities and imaginations. Below, we will discuss the growing epidemic of Ritalin abuse and addiction, and at what nutritional conditions are overlooked in favour of pharmaceuticalizing our kids. In reality, your child could have a serious allergy or deficiency that exacerbates their behavior that is not being addressed because we are too quick to fill our prescription pads and our doctors’ wallets.
The most popular drug prescribed for ADHD is Ritalin (Methylphenidate). As a central nervous system stimulant, the drug increases the patient's dopamine level - the hormone that helps to stimulate feelings of pleasure and also assists in triggering the motivational processes within the brain. Researchers say the drug allegedly helps patients diagnosed with ADHD to maintain attentiveness, focus and clarity in their daily activities, and has a calming effect on hyperactive children.
It all started when Ciba-Geigy, the manufacturers of Ritalin, patented "the cure" to a newly discovered “epidemic” diagnosed as Minimal Brain Dysfunctions (MBD) that was believed at that time to affect 40 percent of all children in the United States. The symptoms of MBD disorder allegedly ranged from being too hyperactive, all the way to being overly gullible or easily led. Ritalin came to be seen as a "miracle drug" for many families with elementary-aged children that “had MBD”. It should be noted that today, doctors and psychiatrists no longer diagnose anyone as having MBD.
Since educators and parents were so pleased with the effectiveness of Ritalin, more and more children were given it if they showed any symptoms of MBD at all. During the '70s, researchers began to test the effectiveness of "chemical therapy" using Ritalin in the classroom as a way to deal with student behavior and attention problems. In order to see if "chemical therapy" was the answer, teachers with no medical background were given the authority to prescribe Ritalin to their students.
In the 1970s, around 150,000 children were taking Ritalin. Just four years later, in 1974, the number had climbed up to 500,000 children. By 1977 there were an estimated 1.8 million kids using Ritalin on a day-to-day basis. Between 1990 and 2000, the production of Ritalin in the United States increased seven-fold. In 1991 over 3 million prescriptions for Ritalin were written. By 1998, over 11 million Ritalin prescriptions were written.
While we are busy medically sedating our children instead of parenting them properly, there is a terrifying trend among those children and adults that has been growing since this most popular ADHD med made its appearance on the market. While prescriptions for Ritalin grew dramatically in the 1990s, reports of its illegal use also rose. Here's the range of official US statistics on the problem:
- According to the University of Michigan's annual "Monitoring the Future" studies, from 1988-1999 the percentage of high-school seniors who reported using Ritalin without a prescription went from 0.3 percent to 2.4 percent. In fact, in its 1994 report, data indicated that at that time, there were more U.S. high-school seniors who abused Ritalin than there were seniors who were legally prescribed the drug.
- According to a 1996 Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) study of three states (Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Indiana), roughly 30-50 percent of adolescents in drug treatment centers reported "non-medical" use of methylphenidate. However, it wasn't identified as their primary drug of abuse.
- A 1998 Indiana University study of 44,232 students found that 6.8 percent of ninth-graders surveyed reported using Ritalin illicitly at least once.
- The Drug Enforcement Agency's "Drugs of Concern" Bulletin lists Ritalin alongside cocaine, LSD and ecstasy. Testifying before the House Subcommittee in May 2000, DEA Deputy Director Terrance Woodworth said that the extent to which adolescents are abusing methylphenidate is unknown, but that anecdotal evidence suggests that its incidence seems to have increased with the availability of the drug. In his statement to the committee, Woodworth said that "continued increases in the medical prescription of these drugs without the appropriate safeguards ... can only lead to increased stimulant abuse among U.S. children."
- The Drug Abuse Warning Network's 1999 report on drug-abuse related visits to hospital emergency departments, shows 1,478 mentions for methylphenidate abuse.
On the street Ritalin has been branded with names such as "vitamin R," "r-ball," "skittles," "kibbles and bits," "pineapple" and "smarties." Pills can be bought on the street for anywhere from $2 to $20 each. Users are swallowing, snorting and even injecting the drug. Some are combining Ritalin with heroin or a mixture of cocaine and heroin to increase the effects.
Several new studies have come out that point to Ritalin as possibly permanently altering the brain and leading to depression adulthood based on accelerated studies on animals. Though a rat’s brain is significantly different than a child’s brain, these findings point to a serious need to diagnose properly ADHD, if at all, before prescribing. Philosophically speaking, it is clear that this disorder is one in which the criteria are highly subjective and actually describes many normal children (not listening when spoken directly to, not following instructions, being easily distracted, fidgeting or squirming).
Is this really what we want for our children? Just because they won’t sit still?
The Influence of Deficiencies and Allergies
Let’s change how we approach parenting and our children from now on. Let’s accept our children as they are and do everything in our power to help them succeed naturally, with their personalities and childhood intact, before we jump the gun and start putting pills down their throats.
Below are some of the key influencing factors on your child’s behavior. All factors should be considered and dealt with before resorting to pharmaceutical dependency.
Nutritional Deficiencies: The most common nutritional deficiencies associated with ADHD are essential fatty acids (particularly DHA), B Vitamins, Vitamin D3 and adequate protein intake.
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS: In various studies of children looking at the effects of essential fatty acid supplementation to alleviate symptoms of ADHD, it has shown time and time again that adequate dietary intake of polyunsaturated fats is effective. Even in the instances of using the significantly less-concentrated flax seed oil in conjunction with elevated doses of Vitamin C, behavioural scores ranked higher in those children using the supplements compared with placebo groups. In a very important study from 2008 out of the Nutrition Journal, it was found that children who took higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids with the highest concentrations of DHA, scored the best on behavioural testing after several months of supplementation.
B VITAMINS: Several studies point to B Vitamin deficiencies as being implicated in behavioural disorders like ADHD and recommend that parents add each B Vitamin individually, rather than giving their child a B Vitamin complex. Specifically Vitamin B6 was found to significantly improve instances of hyperactivity and particularly rage and is thought to help with normal brain development.
VITAMIN D3: In a study published in the Alternative Medicine Review in 2003, it was concluded that a vitamin mineral regimen supplemented in children with ADHD, particularly rich in minerals and Vitamin D3 (minimum 1000IU per day), was as if not more effective than conventional medical treatment via prescription Ritalin. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry published in 2010 that Vitamin D deficiency in Swedish patients covering a wide range of ages was implicated in behavioural disorders and pointed to supplementation as a means of therapy. This is particularly important in more northernly, winter-based climates where sunlight exposure necessary to produce Vitamin D3 is limited and can lead to a deficiency.
Food Allergies: Chronic intestinal inflammation caused by food allergies or intolerances is one of the primary affecters of neurotransmitter production in the human body, including serotonin and dopamine levels. Inflammation is a form of physical stress in the body that directly upregulates levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Under chronic conditions of inflammation – as we see when one suffers from digestive problems – our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode, an activated sympathetic state, in which our adrenal glands secrete excessive levels of the hormone cortisol.
Nearly every chemical that controls the brain is also located in the gastrointestinal tract. The gut actually contains 100 million neurons – more than the spinal cord. But there are also two-dozen small brain proteins; major cells of the immune system; one class of the body’s natural opiates; and native benzodiazepines. The gut has also been proven to have it own nervous system, known as the enteric nervous system. It is located in sheaths of tissue lining the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon, and plays a key role in human emotions and brain health. But few know the enteric nervous system exists, and therefore gut health is often overlooked when determining psychological factors. Symptoms from the two brains can get confused, and just as the brain can upset the gut, the gut can also upset the brain.
In a study from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, it was determined that elevated cortisol secretion was so clearly correlated to decreased levels of serotonin and dopamine as to be called a ‘textbook truism’.
TYPES OF FOOD ALLERGIES: Though food allergies tend to be very individualistic and circumstantial, there are several common food allergies that are affecting larger swaths of people over bigger geographical regions. Key foods to look at include wheat, dairy, eggs, fish, nuts, soy, and corn.
It is recommended to test for food allergies beyond the standard scratch test of your medical doctor. Head to a naturopathic doctor who tests allergy levels via a blood test or stool analysis for more accurate, wide ranging results that point to intolerances as well as outright allergies. A very popular test that is widely know is the ELISA test.
Related article: How Gluten-Intolerance MayBe Affecting Your Health
Food Additives (Colourings, MSG, neurotoxins): Other sources of inflammation that affect neurotransmitters include various food dyes and additives whether at the site of production or of growing. For our purposes, we will leave our list to the most common culprits:
A study by the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency in 2007 showed that the consumption of foods containing dyes could increase hyperactive behaviour in children. In the study of 3-, 8- and 9-year-olds, children were given three different types of beverages to drink. Then their behaviour was evaluated by teachers and parents.
One of the drink mixtures contained artificial food colorings, including:
- Sunset yellow (E110)
- Carmoisine (E122)
- Tartrazine (E102)
- Ponceau 4R (E124)
It also contained the preservative sodium benzoate. The second drink mixture included:
- Quinoline yellow (E104)
- Allura red (E129)
- Sunset yellow
It also had sodium benzoate. The third drink mixture was a placebo and contained no additives.
The researchers found that hyperactive behavior by the 8- and 9-year-olds increased with both the mixtures containing artificial coloring additives. The hyperactive behavior of 3-year-olds increased with the first beverage but not necessarily with the second. They concluded that the results show an adverse effect on behavior after consumption of the food dyes.
Artificial food colors (AFCs) have not been established as the main cause of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but accumulated evidence suggests that a subgroup shows significant symptom improvement when consuming an AFC-free diet. Of children with suspected sensitivities, 65% to 89% reacted when challenged with at least 100 mg of AFC. Oligoantigenic diet studies suggested that some children in addition to being sensitive to AFCs are also sensitive to common nonsalicylate foods (milk, chocolate, soy, eggs, wheat, corn, legumes) as well as salicylate-containing grapes, tomatoes, and orange. Some studies found “cosensitivity” to be more the rule than the exception. Recently, 2 large studies demonstrated behavioural sensitivity to AFCs and benzoate in children both with and without ADHD. A trial elimination diet is appropriate for children who have not responded satisfactorily to conventional treatment or whose parents wish to pursue a dietary investigation.
In several animal studies, it was determined that excessive glutamate levels in the brain depressed levels of dopamine automatically. It is thought that the ingestion of this common food additive (meant to increase the savouriness of food), monosodium glutamate (MSG), downregulates natural levels of this essential neurotransmitter which directly leads to the exhibiting of symptoms of ADHD.
Sugar: The Gateway Drug to Ritalin:
This might seem like an obvious one to some of you and a not-so-obvious one to others. In literally countless studies, it has been determined time and time again that high sugar intake in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, glucose-fructose and sucrose is a direct causative factor in short-term symptoms of hyperactivity. Though no conclusive meta-analyses have determined sugar to contribute to longer-term prolonged symptom expressions such as in ADHD, it is my thought that if sugar contributes to hyperactivity in the short-term but is being consumed in the long-term, this can definitely have a detrimental effect on long-term hyperactive behaviour. Opt for a low-glycemic diet with sugars coming naturally from fruits (not juices!) to insure your child doesn’t ride the emotional roller coaster of blood sugar crashes.
Inactivity: The Couch Potato Generation:
Part of the issue for our children nowadays is a lack of physical activity that is becoming epidemic in North America. Gone are the days of playing in the backyard for hours and being dragged in the house for dinner. Instead, our kids are being dragged off the couch and away from their PS3 or the computer or even the television. The lack of sunlight not only reduces their exposure to the essential sunshine Vitamin D3, but the decreased exercise levels also downregulates levels of endorphins and feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain. Opt to go for a walk with your children, or play a game of Frisbee in the backyard. Even just taking them grocery shopping and letting them walk through the store with you will not only get them moving, but they will also be spending quality time with their parental figures. Sometimes what we perceive as hyperactivity can be a desperate and natural biological cry for attention from those who care for us.
Lacking a Creative Outlet:
Another area often overlooked for children is having some kind of creative outlet for them to express them selves properly. Try to get your kids involved in the sciences, the arts, musical activities or some other form of creativity that they resonate with. The activity will focus their attention over time and may even be a “safe place” for them to go when they are feeling out of control of their activity level and emotions.
There are a number of natural helpers found in health food stores than can assist in meeting the nutritional requirements of your child in order to decrease symptoms of hyperactivity.
1) Rescue Remedy: This flower essence blend by Bach is designed for “emergency emotional situations”. In several studies of hyperactive children in the classroom, it was found that even just spraying the room with Rescue Remedy resulting in all children calming down within 15 minutes. Encourage your child to carry the spray in their pencil case and empower them to use it properly for themselves when they feel that they are getting out of control, or their teacher is scolding them for being distracted. This will not only help your child recognize their own symptoms of hyperactivity and when they need to calm down, but it will also encourage them to take action for themselves. No harm is done if they share with their friends too! In fact, you might even give a bottle to the teacher as a beginning of the year gift!
2) Essential Fatty Acid Supplement: As mentioned above, essential fats, particularly DHA, are required for optimal functioning and development of the brain, and can help alleviate chronic symptoms of ADHD. For a crowd-pleasing taste, I recommend Barlean’s Omega Swirls that now come in a variety of flavours for adults. For children, half of the adult dose is recommended, though you may use your parental discretion. Add to smoothies or have them lick it right off the spoon for a delicious brain boost!
3) Multivitamin: When it comes to a kid’s multi, your child will probably want the gummy ones. Please don’t buy them unless you like wasting money on expensive candy. Because of how gummy multis are produced , there is actually not a whole lot of room for healthy vitamins and minerals once the formula is finished with its liquid sugars and other harmful ingredients. I recommended chewable tablets from Progressive that not only taste great, but they contain all of the proper vitamins and minerals, a greenfood complex, additional essential fats, and digestive enzymes.
4) Vitamin D3: This comes in either drops or tablet form, though for children it is probably easier to take the drops. Each drop in an adult Vitamin D3 supplement will contain 1000IU of vitamin D3. For children over the age of 3 in Edmonton (a place notorious for lack of adequate sunlight to produce vitamin D ascribed to our long winters) it is not inappropriate for them to be taking 2 drops every day.
5) Protein: There are a number of ways of supplementing adequate protein in the diet that will not only be appetizing but will nourish your kid’s brain with all of the appropriate amino acids required to function properly. Optimum Health ISO-Whey comes in a variety of flavours and is excellent for making milkshake-style smoothies, provided that your child doesn’t have a dairy sensitivity. Also available are hemp and rice proteins that are smooth in flavour and texture from Prairie Naturals. Adding hemp bits to gluten-free oatmeal in the morning is also a great, brain-friendly way to start the day!
ADHD: Myth or Reality?
In conclusion, from everything we have talked about, it would seem that ADHD is a reality, but not one that is best managed in the long-term via potentially harmful and addictive pharmaceutical drugs. There are a number of nutritional and lifestyle concerns that can exacerbate hyperactive behavior that should always be addressed before medicating your child unnecessarily. This is part of the development of yourself as a parent and learning to empower your child, rather than ignore their bodies’ cries for help. ADHD is a set of symptoms that have an underlying biological cause, rather than being an “incurable” disease in and of itself. View hyperactive behavior as signs from your child that something is not right in their diet, their life or their emotions that needs to be addressed, and you’ll likely not only get better results, but you will also increase your familial bond through mutual understanding and consideration.
PostScript: Signs of Ritalin Addiction
Before you can seek Ritalin addiction treatment, you should know exactly how you are abusing the drug. Ritalin is often abused as a performance enhancement or just recreationally to get high. Some of the signs and symptoms you may be abusing Ritalin are as follows: agitation, confusion; increased wakefulness, appetite loss, nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, nervousness, insomnia, skin rashes and itching, weight loss, abdominal pain, toxic psychosis, digestive problems and severe depression. More serve symptoms also include delirium, hallucinations, high temperature (fever), enlarged pupils, flushing of the skin, muscle twitches, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, tremors, sweating and vomiting.
If you suspect that you or someone you know are abusing Ritalin as a drug, please consult a health care practitioner immediately.
Disclaimer: The above information is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your physician.