Could This be the Key Factor Spiking the Rise in ADHD?
Posted By Dr. Mercola | September 01 2010
Close to 1 million children in the United States have potentially been misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) -- simply because they are the youngest, and therefore the most immature, in their kindergarten class.
These children are significantly more likely to be prescribed behavior-modifying drugs such as Ritalin. Such inappropriate treatment is particularly troubling because of the unknown impacts of long-term stimulant use on children's health.
According to Science Daily:
“It also wastes an estimated $320 million-$500 million a year on unnecessary medication -- some $80 million-$90 million of it paid by Medicaid”.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) seem to have become more or less the catch-all designations for children who do not “behave well,” and as this study shows, this personal observation may have some merit.
As of 2006, at least 4.5 million American children under the age of 18 were diagnosed with ADHD,according to CDC statistics.
The study above, published in the Journal of Health Economics in June, determined that about 20 percent of these children have likely been misdiagnosed. That’s nearly one million children in the US 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 compared to more mature classmates.
How Do You Diagnose ADHD?
ADHD involves a cluster of symptoms that include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviors. There is no definitive diagnostic tool, such as a brain scan, to determine if you have ADHD. There’s only subjective evaluation, and, for better or worse, teachers can play a significant role in this evaluation.
The term ADD has largely been replaced with ADHD, as it describes two of the most common symptoms of the condition, inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior.
Most children display a combination of these two traits, and 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.
Children who display these symptoms at school but not at home or with friends are not considered to have ADHD. Likewise, with children who display symptoms at home but not at school.
Is it ADHD, or Just Immaturity?
Since this behavioral disorder is so easily misdiagnosed, and the ramifications of a diagnosis so severe, it’s essential that you become actively involved and pay close attention to your child’s developmental progress.
The drugs prescribed for this condition are quite dangerous, and can lead to addiction and long-term health complications, including death. Drugs really should be a last resort, and not a knee-jerk consequence of immature or “poor” behavior.
The study found that 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 writes:
“… 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."
In addition, 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.”
What Causes ADHD?
There are a number of theories to explain the rise in ADHD diagnoses, including:
- Sugars and Grains. 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.
- 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.
- Processed food additives – Certain food dyes and other additives may cause ADHD-like symptoms. These chemicals have a particularly pernicious synergy if they are combined with sugars such as fructose.
- 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.
- Fluoridated water
- 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.
But the key factor, I believe, is nutrition, or rather lack thereof.
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?
Add to that the substandard amount of vegetables in most people’s diets -- up to 90 percent fewer than what is required for health -- an overabundance of highly processed, damaged omega-6 fats and a deficiency of omega-3 fats, and behavioral issues are not far behind.
You simply cannot have a healthy functioning brain when the proper ingredients to develop or maintain a healthy brain are not being given!
The ADHD “Epidemic” is Creating a Generation of Drug Addicts
Once a diagnosis has been made, the conventional approach typically involves drug therapy. Commonly prescribed drugs include:
These products, with the exception of Strattera®, all contain different formulations of methylphenidate, a powerful psychostimulant drug that is in the same class as cocaine.
Please understand that just because these drugs are by prescription does NOT make them safer than their illegal “street drug” counterparts.
Methylphenidate behaves similarly to highly addictive drugs. Ritalin, for example, 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.
This is a particularly painful thought when you consider that, in all likelihood, nearly one million children are being drugged simply because they act their age! And even more children are likely receiving addictive drugs when what they really need is proper nutrition.
It’s also worth mentioning that, like antidepressants, some ADHD drugs have been linked to an increased probability of suicidal thoughts and behavior.
Strattera®, which contains atomoxetine hydrochloride, carries this warning. Hallucinations, increased aggressive behavior, heart attack and stroke are also possible side effects of ADHD drugs.
Ritalin Use in America is Out of Control
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
- Increased alertness
- Suppressed appetite
Research has also linked Ritalin with more severe health problems such as cancer.
Natural Ways to Relieve ADHD Symptoms
It is my sincere hope that people will begin to realize that drug therapy, if at all necessary, should be a very last resort, after all other options have been exhausted – especially when it comes to behavioral problems such as ADHD.
Before you consider drugs, please consider implementing the following strategies first, in addition to making sure that your child is assessed in an age-appropriate manner:
- 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.
- 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.