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One of the largest growth areas in medicine, especially in the U.S., is the "problem" child. Among the medical euphemisms are: hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder (ADD), minimal brain damage, hyperkinesis, minimal cerebral disfunction, and -- collectively -- attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Children diagnosed with ADHD are assumed to have a brain disfunction or disease. Some are so unruly that they can completely disrupt a class. Others cannot sit still, cannot concentrate, have a difficult time settling down to eat, sleep or read, cannot adapt to new situations, overreact to new stimuli, have inappropriate reactions in social stituations, or have unpredictable or impulsive (sometimes destructive) behavior. However, some children simply need more suitable learning environments; they do not perform well in mass-production assembly line schools. Or, they are just being "kids."
Up to 80 % or 90% of ADHD-diagnosed children are boys. A number of parents and clinicians wonder if boyhood is being pathologized, if ordinary boyhood traits are treated as abnormal or deviant. There are incentives for labeling boys who previously would have been considered simply overly active, eccentric, dreamy, or in need of attention or discipline. Schools receive a $420 federal bounty for each student labeled "disabled." Teachers, dealing with declines in disciplinary standards, often view a disability diagnosis as the most effective way of "treating" students who in any way disrupt the class. i
Diagnostic criteria for ADHD refer to children "whose disorder is persistent, maladaptive, and associated with management and educational problems." On the checklist are: inattention, loses things, easily distracted, pays little attention to details, makes careless mistakes, short attention span, forgetful in daily activities, hyperactivity, impulsivity, fidgets, squirms in seat, talks excessively, blurts out answers before questions are completed, wants to run things, non-compliance, is "sassy", has poor organizational skills, dreaminess, tantrums, inappropriate behavior. Thus, the ADHD umbrella describes children with a wide range of traits and severity, "everything from a lack of focus to bouncing off the walls." Some children have a serious problem whereas others have little or no aberration.
The medical/drug industry treatment for ADHD is drugs, usually Ritalin. This is a "speed-type" drug, but, given to a child before puberty, it has a tranquilizing effect. By overwhelming the central nervous system, it "cuts down the motors, making it difficult for the child to move and to communicate." Even adults with ADHD will "improve" after treatment with stimulant medication. But they "display no accompanying changes in brain activity." The drug fixes absolutely nothing. ii
Stimulants (Dexedrine, Cyclert, Ritalin) or antidepressants (Tofranil, Norpramin, Elavil) are prescribed for ADHD. Like all drugs, they have side (unwanted) effects, and there are as yet no long term studies to determine permanent harm.
The drug industry has popularized Ritalin in order to increase its sales and profits. The drug appears to help some people pay attention and function better. However, according to Richard Bromfield, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School: "Ritalin use seems to depend largely on parents' and teachers' ability to tolerate children's behavior" without approaching underlying problems or comprehending possible side effects. It is frequently viewed as a "magic bullet," making children not "responsible" for their behavior since the medication controls it. From 1990 to 1995 Ritalin prescriptions increased almost six fold iii
Over 70% of pediatricians in the U.S. now use Ritalin as a diagnostic tool for ADHD, resulting in "misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment." Because there is a response to a stimulant does not mean an individual has ADHD. "Most normal people will have improved attention and concentration with a stimulant".
During 1996 an estimated 1.5 to 2.6 million U.S. children between ages 5 and 18 were taking Ritalin. That's 3% to 5% of the entire school-age population, about one child in every classroom. In some schools up to 50% are on Ritalin. Further, the ADHD diagnosis and Ritalin treatment are not as prevalent in other countries -- this is an American phenomenon pushed by the drug industry's drive for increased profits. iv
Ritalin has the same Class II narcotic rating as cocaine, opium, and morphine. It is not effective for 30% of users. For those it "ostensibly helps," it is only a "temporary fix." Withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Once the drug wears off, "rebound" may occur: symptoms return and may be more severe. Among listed adverse reactions (which can continue for years) are:
Heart palpitations, blood pressure changes, cardiac arrhythmias, growth suppression, seizures, visual disturbances, Tourette's syndrome (tics, spasms, barking sounds, screaming obscenities), paranoid and persecutory delusions, tendency to harm self or others, toxic psychosis, depression, insomnia, nervousness, skin rash, loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness, headaches, abdominal pain, and lowered white blood cell counts. v
If a drug is used to control behavior or concentration, is the person being healed? No! Absolutely not! Examining some of the real causes would present the possibility of real and permanent solutions.
In 1973, Benjamin Feingold, M.D., a pediatric allergist, told doctors attending an American Medical Association meeting that food additives caused 40% to 50% of the hyperactivity he had seen in his practice. Many children improved dramatically when they stopped eating foods containing artificial flavors, colorings, and preservatives. Other behavior problems and learning disabilities also improved.
A series of studies during the late 1970s seemed to discount Feingold's program. But many were performed by the Nutrition Foundation, an organization funded by makers of products such as C & H Sugar, Coca-Cola, Fruit Loops, and other foods loaded with refined sugars and artificial additives. In 1980, an analysis of these studies disclosed that the doses of additives used were much too small to produce noticeable effects. When the amounts were raised to levels equivalent to children's typical eating habits, the link between hyperactivity and food additives was confirmed. About 85% of the hyperactive children reacted to synthetic food additives.
Subsequent studies have also shown that some children consistently benefit from the Feingold diet. One found 79% of hyperactive children improved by eliminating suspect foods, and worsened when the foods were reintroduced. Refined sugars, artificial flavorings and colorings produced the most significant adverse effects.
Another study involved over one million children in 803 New York public schools. Gradually over a span of three years, all artificial colors and flavors and the preservatives BHA and BHT were eliminated; refined sugars were reduced. A standard achievement test was used before, during, and after the three years. Once the diet was introduced, the dramatic advancements in test results "were the largest such gains ever measured in any comparable period of time in any metropolitan school district in the country." Academic prowess increased 15.7%.
Studies reported in 1994 concluded that food additives were related to ADHD. One group of researchers stated that artificial colors and other additives may play a significant causative role in the majority of ADHD children. A 13-member panel of experts (National Institutes of Health) stressed that a diet which eliminates certain preservatives and other food additives should be the initial treatment used for childhood hyperactivity. vi
Recent studies seem to indicate that there is no connection between hyperactivity and behavior problems and refined sugars. Yet parents of children participating in these studies still insist their children act wild, misbehave, lose concentration abilities, or otherwise change their behavior when given foods containing refined sugars. The researchers admit that sugar can make children "appear jittery" for a "short period of time" and that large amounts of sugar can increase adrenaline levels. Adrenaline (epinephrine) is an adrenal hormone that stimulates the sympathetic nervous system.
A pertinent question about these studies is: WHO paid for the research? The food industry paid for many of the studies that found no fault with sugar, whereas the food industry did not finance or have any input in studies that found sugars do cause problems. Also, many flaws have been noted in the no-link studies which were paid for by the food industry. As Mark Wolraich, M.D., Vanderbilt Medical Center, commented: "In my mind, sugar can affect almost any area of the body, one being its effect on the brain, causing behavior and learning problems." Some children react within a few minutes, some within an hour, and others six to eight hours afterward.
To determine if sugar causes trouble, pediatric allergist Doris J. Rapp, M.D., advises having a child write his/her name or read and notice the child's activity level and behavior before and again after eating 6 or 8 teaspoons of sugar. There should be no other food eaten at that time, and it is important that no sugar in any form be eaten for at least four days prior to this challenge. Watch the child carefully for at least the next hour. Does the writing or reading ability change? Does the child become hyperactive, nasty or distracted? "This certainly strongly suggests that sugar is probably the problem.vii
Though parents and physicians report "healthy" children are prone to behavioral changes and learning defects after eating refined sugars, "the outcomes of research studies have been complex and discrepant." One obstacle was an assumption that there would be an immunologic response or a change in blood sugar concentrations. This has not been the case. Then in 1995, it was found that epinephrine and neurological responses were much more exaggerated in children eating white sugar (sucrose) than in adults. Behaviors such as excitement, shakiness, nervousness, anxiety, and inability to concentrate (confirmed by EEGs) were produced. The amount of sugar consumed (about that in two 12-ounce cans of Coca-Cola) induced "hormonal, symptomatic, and neurophysiologic changes in healthy children." Foods containing refined sugars did markedly raise blood glucose levels in hyperactive children. Subsequent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) tendencies were common. Blood sugar fluctuations (unusual rise and fall action) can contribute to behavior and/or learning troubles. viii
Foods high in refined sugars also tend to be high in artificial flavors, synthetic dyes, flavor enhancers, preservatives, other additives, altered fats, and refined flours. Thus "testing a child just with sugar might not reveal a significant effect if that child's symptoms result from the combination of other ingredients along with the sugar.
When refined, sugar becomes devitalized, demineralized, and depleted of nutritive qualities. Refined sugar is highly addictive, at least as addictive as tobacco. Not only failing to supply nutrients, it robs the body of what nutrients it has and disrupts the body's biochemistry. Among the plethora of detrimental consequences are that sugar ("our nation's unnatural disaster"): causes hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, crankiness, fatigue, depression, learning problems, drowsiness; upsets minerals in the body, interferes with calcium and magnesium absorption, increases fasting glucose levels and insulin, can cause hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia and/or decreased glucose tolerance, disrupts neurotransmitter levels (e.g. serotonin, affecting mood and behavior), can raise epinephrine levels, can interfere with protein absorption, causes food allergies, and lowers the function of enzymes.
Between 1970 and 1994, the average American's intake of refined sugars went from about 120 pounds to 149 pounds per year. The common forms of refined sugars are now estimated to constitute over 25% of the average American diet! Refined sugars have various names such as: sucrose, invert sugar (form of fructose from corn starch), corn sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, corn solids, maltose, dextrose, glucose, sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol, mannitol, caramel, dextrin, polydextrose, maltodextrin, etc. Brown sugar is nothing more than white sugar with a little molasses added just to color it in order to add to its sales appeal. "Raw sugar" and turbinado sugar are simply coarsely refined white sugars. "Fruit juice concentrate" may mean fruit stripped of all nutrients, flavors, and colors to leave only refined fructose. ix
Consumption of artificial sweeteners went from 5 pounds per person per year in 1970 to 25 pounds in 1991, and continues to climb. The most popular (54% of the population uses it) is aspartame under the trade names NutraSweet, Equal, and Crystal Light.
Aspartame (l-aspartyl-L-phenylalanine methyl ester) is composed of methanol (10%), aspartic acid (40%), and phenylalanine (50%). Though stable in dry form, when placed in liquid (as when ingested), it can break down into its component parts -- methanol (wood alcohol), aspartate, and phenylalanine. Methanol is a cumulative toxin, not only because of its long half life in humans (estimated over 35 hours), but also due to the additive effect of its damage as observed in test animals. One ounce is fatal in humans.
Heat speeds up the breakdown of this compound; body heat is more than sufficient to cause this breakdown. Each element can cause adverse reactions in people. Methanol further breaks down into formaldehyde (a neurotoxin - also used as an embalming fluid to preserve bodies) and formic acid (attacks the optic nerve and causes blindness). Classified as a narcotic, methanol is "a human poison by ingestion." It kills all living things. The single (non-food form) amino acids in aspartame may serve as excitotoxins, leading to endocrine gland disorders or learning disorders (ADD, autism, dyslexia), or emotional disorders (violent episodes, schizophrenia, paranoia). The amino acids can alter catecholamine (norepinephrine, epinephrine) neurotransmissions, prevent the rise in serotonin (causing mood or behavior changes), and disrupt GABA (gamma amino butyric acid, an inhibitory or calming neurotransmitter) actions.
Internist H.J. Roberts, M.D., cites case and research studies listing adverse reactions to Aspartame. Among them are: "profound intellectual deterioration," brain disorders, autism, headaches, dizziness, anxiety, irritability, aggravation, memory loss, drowsiness, personality changes, mood changes, hyperactivity, inability to store glucose in the brain, disruption of glucose metabolism, increase of insulin (lowering blood sugar), depression and much more. Both animal and human studies have shown that aspartame causes chemical changes in the brain. Other reactions may include mental confusion, seizures, personality changes, euphoria or mania, phobias, flights of ideas, increased motor activity, insomnia, panic attacks, violent outbursts, loss of vision, amnesia, suicidal thoughts, chronic fatigue, drowsiness, and other known and unknown (unreported) symptoms. Some test animals developed brain tumors. There is now an epidemic of multiple sclerosis and lupus attributed to aspartame.
Over 1,200 food products now contain aspartame. "It's difficult to avoid it unless you stick to fresh food." Good idea! x
John N. Ott, known for his painstakingly detailed research on light and its effects, found that natural, full-spectrum sunlight was beneficial whereas artificial lighting was detrimental to health. Other researchers have added to his data, making it clear that artificial lighting can affect behavior, mood, and concentration.
A study in Florida demonstrated a dramatic difference in children in classrooms using cool white fluorescent lighting versus full spectrum (more natural) fluorescent tubes. Under the cool white fluorescents, children displayed attention lapses, nervous fatigue, irritability, fidgeting, and hyperactive behavior. After installing the full-spectrum lights, a marked improvement was observed: the children settled down, paid more attention, were more interested in work, could concentrate better, were not as nervous, and overall classroom performance dramatically improved. Children with "confirmed learning disabilities" overcame many of their difficulties. Similar results were reported in experiments conducted at other schools.
Another study tested the harmful effects of radiation from television sets on hyperactive children. Many sets were giving off measurable amounts of X-radiation. Or sets were backed against a wall adjoining a child's room (the sets emitted radiation within "so-called safety" standards). Repairing or discarding defective sets, moving the sets abutting the children's rooms, as well as
restricting distance and time for sitting in front of the televisions created significant improvement in behavioral problems.
Computers emit significant amounts of radiation and electromagnetic fields have been shown to have adverse neurological (cognitive, mood, and behavior) effects. Most homes and schools have computers and children often sit in front of them for hours. xi
Documentation by researchers correlates the advent of immunizations with the emergence of hyperactivity, ADD, minimal brain damage, learning disabilities, and virtually all categories of childhood behavior disturbances. The vaccination reaction syndrome may include symptoms such as limited attention span, easy distractivity, failure to complete work within allotted time, obsessiveness, disruptive behavior, trouble reading and/or writing, motor impairments, poor eye-hand coordination, clumsiness, visual defects, sleep disturbances, appetite disorders, oculomotor incoordinations, hyperactivity, autism and more. xii
It is recognized that ADHD "often reflects a youngster's depression or anxiety," inability to deal with stress, mood swings, lack of mental acuity, or other difficulties related to neurological and psychological function. A ‘vitamin B complex deficiency syndrome' may be involved since it affects mental, emotional, and nervous performance.
Some years ago the monumental Elizabeth Bell study showed that a deficiency of the B vitamins and a high intake of refined sugars brings on or contributes to hyperactivity, depression, fatigue, inability to concentrate, violent outbursts of temper, and even violence. Recently it was established that vitamins such as B12, B6 (pyridoxine), and folate "may have differential effects on cognitive abilities," lower vitamin blood levels were associated with poor spatial copying skills, while higher vitamin blood levels were related to better memory performance. Deficiency of thiamin (B1) has been shown to impair mental function.
Symptoms of subclinical deficiencies of the vitamin B complex include: anxiety, nervousness, restlessness, irritability up to rage, instability, vague fears, mood swings, uneasiness up to panic, decreased or increased appetite, morbid thoughts, depression, forgetfulness, confusion, loss of ability to concentrate, difficulty in orderly thinking, impairment of memory, insomnia or sleep disturbances, flights of ideas, inability to handle stress, headache, weakness, fatigue, stupor or mania, hypoglycemia, lassitude, and more.
Members of the B complex all work together, so deficits of one coincides with deficits of others. This complex is vital to the proper function of the nervous system, also helps stabilize blood sugar, is needed for glycogen release for energy and for brain glucose utilization; is important to memory, mental acuity, emotional health, and motor behavior; participates in neurotransmitter synthesis and neurochemical balance; affects mood and particular behaviors; helps the brain's ability to reason, learn, and remember; is important for proper nerve transmission, assists in preventing nerve tissue damage, participates in methylation of choline, methionine, serine and others; plays roles in activities of norepinephrine, acetylcholine, histamine, and more; participates in a variety of pathways involved in metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. xiii
Grammar-school students with higher blood levels of vitamin C complex performed better on IQ tests than those with lower levels. Cognitive impairment has been associated with lower vitamin C intakes and plasma levels. Vitamin C complex (including its organic copper, tyrosinase) participates in reactions involving peptides active in the nervous system and is necessary to diverse enzymatic and neuromodulator roles. Lack of mental and/or physical stamina is classic with vitamin C complex deficiency. Data also point to involvement in motor activity and behaviors. It is associated with the precursor formation and release of the neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine; the metabolism, protection, and utilization of other nutrients (including B vitamins, A and E complexes, calcium, iron); and is important in all stressful conditions. Mental illness has been shown to benefit from this nutrient.
Vitamin E complex has been found to slow brain decline and data suggest it protects certain proteins in the brain. Nervous system disorders including brain damage and encephalomalacia (cerebral softening) are seen with Vitamin E deficiency. Vitamin E is essential in energy production, making it possible for muscles and nerves to function with less oxygen, thereby increasing their endurance and stamina. It assists blood sugar metabolism, supports the protective myelin sheath of nerve axons, and interacts with fatty acids and other nutrients in brain function and balance, having, for instance, tranquilizing effects. xiv
Children with ADHD may have altered fatty acid metabolism. Often there are significantly lower concentrations of key fatty acids in the plasma and red blood cell lipids. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) assist transmission of nerve impulses and are important for normal brain function. Deficits in cell membranes make it virtually impossible for the regulation of the passage of certain materials in and out of the cells, disrupting biochemical balance. Some fatty acids are essential for normal brain development and higher cognitive function. Deficiencies can cause excessive brain permeability and irritability. EFAs provide nourishment and energy to nerve and brain cells, also provide the substrate for B vitamins and coenzymes to produce compounds that regulate many essential functions, and are precursors for production of modulator prostaglandins. xv
According to Gerald Olarsch, N.D., hyperactivity, violent behavior, and learning disabilities can be related to a fundamental lack of minerals, often manifested in children who crave sugary and salty foods. For example, low iron levels impair judgment, reasoning ability and all aspects of left brain activity, including mathematical, scientific, spoken and written language skills. Iron is an essential component of many cellular functions, some specific to neurological activity. Deficiency symptoms can include apathy, reduced brain function, headache, loss of memory and learning ability; difficulty concentrating, tendency to hyperactivity, reduced attention span, and lower IQ.
Clinically low levels of blood plasma magnesium are associated with hyperexcitability and lack of attention in children. An estimated 80% to 90% of children now have some level of magnesium deficiency. This can cause anxious restlessness, fidgeting, psychomotor instability, and learning difficulties in children with normal IQs. Personality changes, noise sensitivity, disorientation, confusion, depression, tantrums, and irritability are common.
Behavior problems including ADHD have been connected with zinc deficits. Deficiency leads to both primary and secondary alterations in brain development and brain growth. Zinc plays a vital role in neurotransmission and modulation of postsynaptic membrane excitability as well as brain development and function, especially for abilities to learn and remember.
Iodine deficiency leads to a dramatic impairment in brain development when it occurs during pregnancy, especially when associated with alterations in neurotransmitter metabolism.
Selenium also plays a critical role in brain development and functioning. Poor selenium status may alter neurotransmitter metabolism.
Chromium helps regulate glucose (blood sugar) levels; deficiency can result in reduced peripheral tissue sensitivity to glucose. "Nerve disorders" may benefit from supplementation.
A lack of sufficient copper can result in central nervous system impairment due to reduced energy metabolism or alterations in neurotransmitter concentrations.
Moderate calcium deficiency can lead to excessive irritability or hypersensitivity of nerves, insomnia, nervousness, dizziness, and mental aberrations. Calcium is integral in nerve transmission. Several neurotransmitters are affected by this mineral, influencing mood, learning, and memory capacities as well as behavior.
Potassium is important to nerve transmission, so lowered levels can cause central nervous system changes, nervous disorders, and impairment of glucose metabolism.
Sodium deficiency (food sources, not refined salt) may contribute to poor memory and concentration, apathy, short attention span, and low blood sugar.
Notably, the developing nervous system of a young child is vulnerable to a shortage of protein both before and after birth. Sources of total, bioavailable protein are essential, including breast milk and other unheated, unaltered quality proteins. xvi
Excessive phosphate intake has been associated with hyperactivity, unruly or aggressive behavior, and symptoms of minimal brain damage. Phosphate consumption has greatly increased during the past few decades. Processed foods (processed and canned meats, processed cheeses, instant soups and puddings, various toppings and seasonings, etc.), many bakery products, colas and other soft drinks are all high in phosphates.
Aluminum or lead toxicity can result in learning disorders, hyperactivity, poor memory and concentration, aggressive or antisocial behavior, symptoms of minimal brain damage or dysfunction, reading problems, slower reflexes, poor eye-hand coordination, and irritability.
Subacute mercury poisoning may cause irritability, moodiness, nervousness, depression, lack of motivation, insomnia, fatigue, headache, loss of memory, numbness of lips, hands, and feet.
Researchers of childhood malnutrition have usually focused on the first two years of life when the brain grows to almost 80% of its adult size. It was thought that the most lasting damage was inflicted during this period. But new studies show that "under nutrition" during any period of childhood can affect intellectual development. xvii
ADHD may have any number of causes, over most of which there is considerable control. Diet can be changed, poisons and synthetic chemicals can be eliminated and whole, natural foods substituted along with food-concentrate supplements which deal with specific needs. Since many victims of ADHD crave and prefer refined sugars and other processed foods, much effort and patience will be required to change the diet from non-foods to real foods.
Visitors to Grand Canyon National Park delight in feeding deer the standard human "junk foods" such as candy, Cheetos, Fritos, cupcakes, hot dogs, burgers, fries, and pizza. In 1995 park rangers had to kill dozens of deer because they were made sick by becoming "hooked" on junk food. This unnatural diet created "extremely poor health." The animals lost their ability to digest vegetation and were starving to death. Once they got refined sugar and other processed, chemicalized non-foods in their diet instead of their natural foods they developed addictions, sacrificing needed real foods with all their nutrients, health, and life. Could there be a moral to this story? xviii
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xvii M. Werbach, Nutritional Influences on Mental Illness, Tarzana: Third Line, 1991, pp.65-74; Kirschmann, Nutrition Almanac, pp.100-125; Garrison & Somer, Nutrition Desk Reference, p.79; L. Herbert, JAMA, V.275, N.5, 1996, pp.363-369; Nutrition Wk, V.XXVI, N.7, 16 Feb 1996, p.1.
xviii Health News & Review, Spring 1995, p.6.
Originally published as an issue of Nutrition News and Views, reproduced with permission by the author, Judith A. DeCava, CNC, LNC.