ADD / ADHD
ADD is characterized by a poor or short attention span and impulsiveness inappropriate for the childn’s age. When present with hyperactivity, it is called ADHD. The diagnosis of ADD usually requires that the child display at least eight of the following symptoms.Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms while sitting.Has difficulty remaining seated when required to do so.Is easily distracted.Has difficulty waiting for his or her turn in games or group situations.Has difficulty following instructions, even if the instructions are understood.Has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities.Often shifts from one uncompleted task to another.Often talks excessively.Often interrupts or intrudes on others.Often doesn’t seem to listen to what’s being said.Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities at school or at home.Often engages in physically dangerous activities without considering possible consequences.
Diagnosis is based on the number, frequency and severity of symptoms. Of course this “diagnosis” depends on the subjective opinion of the observer. The symptoms are not unique to a child with ADD and a child without ADD may have one or more of the symptoms.
The idea is not to treat ADD or ADHD, but rather treat the patient who has the condition. The goal is not merely to get rid of the symptom, but to find the cause and correct it. Health is not merely the absence of disease; health is optimal function.What is Ritalin?
Ritalin is methphenidate hydrochloride, a central nervous system stimulant used to treat ADD. Possible side effects of the drug include nervousness and insomnia; hypersensitivity (including skin rash, hives, fever, joint pain, dermatitis,); anorexia; nausea; dizziness; palpitations; headache; dyskinesia; drowsiness; blood pressure and pulse changes, both up and down; angina; cardiac arrhythmia; abdominal pain; and weight loss during prolonged therapy. There have been rare reports of Tourette’s syndrome. Toxic psychosis has been reported. Instances of abnormal liver function, isolated cases of cerebral arteritis and/or occlusion; leukopenia and/or anemia; transient depressed mood; a few instances of scalp hair loss have also been reported. Loss of appetite, abdominal pain, weight loss may occur during prolonged therapy. Insomnia, and rapid heart rate may occur more commonly than these other symptoms. Visual disturbances have been encountered in rare cases. Anxiety, tension and agitation are contraindications to methylphenidate hydrochloride, since the drug may aggravate these symptoms.
Suppression of growth has been reported with the long-term use of stimulants in children. Methylphenidate should not be used for severe depression, or for the prevention or treatment of normal fatigue states. It may lower the convulsive threshold (that is, increase the likelihood of seizures). Safe concomitant use of anticonvulsants and methylphenidate has not been established. In the presence of seizures, the drug should be discontinued.
There are many reasons for a child to have problems concentrating, or have behavioral problems. Too often a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD is handed down without any physical exam or lab work. We are not even talking about “alternative” medicine here, just good old-fashioned traditional medical diagnosis. A few of the medical problems that can cause a child to have poor concentration include: anemia, hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, and heavy metal toxicity. Before labeling a child as “ADD” and prescibing a mind-altering drug diagnosis, the doctor should have ruled out these conditions.
Poor eating habits can create nutrient deficiencies. Many children eat few vegetables. They consume refined sugar, refined carbohydrate and hydrogenated oils. When a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD is handed down it is important to consider the child’s diet. Don’t think of it in an overly simplistic manner, “He eats sugar, he gets wired.” Rather, it is a poor diet creating a health problem. Nutritional supplementation can be useful; paying attention to the diet is a must.
Essential fatty acids: Packaged food, fried food and junk foods are loaded with hydrogenated oils and partially hydrogenated oils. Cells, especially nerve cells, need oil (fat) for the integrity of the cell membrane. Hydrogenated oils contain trans fats that do not belong in the diet and do not resemble anything in nature. One idea nutritionists have about the cause of ADD is that the trans fats become incorporated into the nerve cells in the brain, making transmission of nerve impulses faulty. The trans fats may also be more permeable to chemical toxins and viruses. The solution is to give the child flax oil or DHA and remove all hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil from the diet.
Sugar: The Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 274 No. 20, November 22, 1995) Published a meta analysis of studies linking hyperactivity to sugar and came to the conclusion that sugar does not affect behavior or cognitive abilities in children. But the studies are flawed, because the researchers are looking at a single dose of sugar and the immediate effect on the children. If you want to get a better sense of the connection between diet and behavior, go to my site (drvarnas.com) and follow the link to the film produced by Natural Ovens about the food program in the Appleton, Wisconsin schools. The connection between diet, and learning and behavior needs to be more closely examined. One thing, children who eat a lot of sugar are vitamin deficient—especially in B vitamins and in minerals. A large percentage of their food is starch, which is turned to sugar by the body. Lots of parents think that bagels, English muffins, and sugar-free cereals are healthy. But starch and sugar are essentially the same thing. They both deplete B vitamins, vitamin C and minerals. They stress the adrenal glands. Ritalin mimics the output of the adrenal gland and if you give up sugar and support the adrenals, you will get a better result.
B vitamins: Deficiency in B vitamins causes neurologic symptoms. Traditional medicine only recognizes a thiamine deficiency as beriberi or a niacin deficiency as pellagra. What about subclinical deficiencies? Nervousness, poor concentration, fatigue, depression, poor sleep, forgetfulness and other symptoms can all be caused by not having enough B vitamins. B vitamins are very important for mental function. Eating sugar and refined carbohydrate depletes B vitamins. One of the most common deficiencies is folic acid. Folic acid is necessary to produce serotonin and norepinephrin. Very often a child with sensory integration problems needs serotonin. Folic acid is found in fresh green produce. How many children get enough green vegetables? You can get a liquid folic acid and a liquid multivitamin that can be placed in juice (if the label on a liquid multivitamin tells you it has folic acid—it probably isn’t true because folic acid is too unstable to be in a liquid multiple).
Chemical additives: Read Ruth Winter’s book on chemical additives. You will see that many of them cause poor concentration, fatigue and trouble with the nervous system. For example, aspartame, sold under the brand name Nutrasweet or Equal found in many sugar-free snacks, creates methanol (a neurotoxin) in the body.
Minerals: ADHD has been linked to zinc/copper imbalance. Trace mineral deficiency has been linked to allergies. Minerals are often the cofactors that enable enzymes to work. Once again, a poor diet will be deficient in minerals.
Amino acids: Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are important for the production of neurotransmitters. A diet high in junk food, poor digestion and vegetarianism can cause a deficiency of certain amino acids. There are lab tests to determine amino acid status.
Nutrition is an important first step in treating any health issue naturally. There are other effective therapies for ADD and ADHD, like chiropractic and craniosacral therapy. There are also other health issues like Candida, heavy metal toxicity, endocrine function, sensory integration and learning disabilities.
Children with sensory integration problems do not properly process information from the environment. It can lead to unusual, even bizarre behavior. A simple example would be a child having trouble paying attention in class because he is focused on his uncomfortable shoes. It is hard to give a complete picture of sensory integration problems in this short section. To read more about sensory integration, get a copy of The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A. One thing that may be involved with sensory integration problems is a need for serotonin. Cofactors necessary to produce serotonin include pyridoxine, folic acid, vitamin C and other nutrients. Also, exercise helps to boost serotonin levels.
Learning disabilities are another issue. A child may have problems with reading, and the reading problem may not become evident until fourth or fifth grade. These kids are often diagnosed with ADD. A child can have a reading problem, but the the teachers and administrators may think that everything is fine because if the grades are good and the standard test scores are within the normal range. Often the problem comes to a head in the fourth grade. Between first and third grades most children learn to read. From fourth grade forward, children read to learn. A dyslexic child will rely on memory to get through school work, and since most students with dyslexia are of above average intelligence, this works for a while. In fourth grade this becomes almost impossible. This is when many students exhibit “symptoms” or behavior problems. Children with learning problems may develop behavior problems or simply let their minds wander. They can become poor students, and it is easy for them to get labeled as ADD or ADHD. Contact the International Dyslexia Association for more information.
A diagnosis of ADD tells us how the child acts, but not what is wrong. Too often a drug is prescribed after a short interview, with no exam, no lab work and no investigation into the source of the child’s problem. You do not have to believe in alternative medicine to know that this is not right. Ritalin may affect the behavior of the learning-disabled fifth grader, but not improve grades. Ritalin may have no effect on the child with a sensory integration problem. Sometimes Prozac or heavier drugs are used—this is sad and unnecessary. Many of these cases respond to simple nutriton and chiropractic care.