Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD) affects millions of children and their families. Currently accepted statistics say that as many as 10% of the school-aged population have ADHD and perhaps another 20% have symptoms of the disorder suggestive of ADHD. Boys are diagnosed three times more often than girls and 30-50% of these children will continue to manifest these symptoms and problems in adulthood.
It’s no wonder that the pharmaceutical industry has made a huge effort to market drugs for ADHD and that a large and intelligent backlash has developed against the widespread use of these powerful chemicals.
I have been a pediatrician for twenty years and for fifteen of those years I completely disdained the use of Ritalin and the other psychopharmaceuticals for ADHD kids. I was probably wrong to “throw out the baby with the bath water.” Denying that a small percentage of children receiving Ritalin actually benefited from the drug was not fair to them. We don’t know enough about brain chemistry to completely understand ADHD, but we do know the impact of untreated ADHD on children: a much more difficult childhood and adolescence with school and social problems which can be nonstop.
I now try “everything else” before resorting to prescription medication, but I no longer rule out that possibility.
Deficiency in central nervous system dopamine probably causes many, if not most, of the problems associated with ADHD. Nutritional problems can cause or exacerbate this deficiency: supplemental tyrosine, B vitamins, vitamin C and copper have all shown a positive influence on improving the school performance of children with ADHD. These can all be combined with conventional therapy with no adverse interactions. Ritalin and similar drugs act by directly increasing brain dopamine levels.
Before I consider anything else, I try to persuade the family to put their child and themselves on an excellent diet. The standard American diet filled with sugar, artificial sweeteners, colors, preservatives, saturated fats, low levels of vitamins and minerals, and too much protein is not good for brain health or health in general. Mainstream medical journals have debated this topic for decades and most medical practitioners don’t like to consider nutritional alternatives in the treatment of any disease because it takes too long to discuss it with their patients.
I recommend whole foods as the backbone of the nutritional regimen. As obvious as this sounds, most children get the bulk of their food in an over-processed form. Whole grain cereals and breads and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and beans and pasta make for meals which interest children and adults. Counsel your patients to avoid sugar!! Reading labels closely will show parents just how many artificial additives have worked their way into kids’ daily diets. Many chemicals mimic brain neurotransmitters and even conventionally published research admits that sugar has a negative impact on the behavior of ADHD children. Processed cereals and high-fructose corn syrup sweetened drinks add huge amounts of sugar to a child’s day. Even regular unsweetened apple juice in the quantities some children like can be a large source of extra sugar.
There are many alternative remedies which can be used to treat children with ADHD and learning disorders. We must help the families in our practices find these and guide them in their usage.
Ginkgo Biloba dilates blood vessels and improves circulation to the brain. Researchers have shown it’s utility in Alzheimer’s Disease.
Variations are to be expected, and are in no way to be considered a defect.
— Hang tag from Madras shirt
Statistics reflect this confusion. Depending on who you read, some experts say we have about eight hundred-thousand learning disabled children in the country. Others put the figure as high as eight million.
In 1963, when “learning disabilities” were first described, we found very few students with the problem and thought the problem was rare.
Some take a very conservative view and say that 30 – 50% of us will outgrow it, but a growing body of experts think we just learn to cope with it. There’s a certain brain development that takes place at puberty that sometimes makes ADD much easier to live with. I think the jury’s still out but my guess that most of learn to live with it, not outgrow it.