by Chris D. Meletis, ND
If your kids or grandkids suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you know how exhausting and emotionally challenging it is to deal with their behavior. Or perhaps you’re wondering if your child or grandchild really has ADHD or if they’re just being a normal kid. In fact, if you’re the grandparents, you may be the first ones to recognize that something isn’t right with your grandkids, as parents see their kids every day and may be blinded to the symptoms.
These days, if there is a problem with your child’s or grandchild’s attention skills, there’s a better chance he or she will be diagnosed with ADHD. The number of American children diagnosed with ADHD has risen 66 percent in 10 years (from 2000 to 2010). The reason for this increase is likely due to the increased awareness of ADHD, which means more doctors recognize symptoms and diagnose the disorder.1
Is It ADHD?
The symptoms of ADHD include inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. And although every child demonstrates this type of behavior from time to time, a diagnosis of ADHD is made when these symptoms are inappropriate for the child’s age. Sometimes, the disorder is referred to as ADD, because it only involves attention problems and not hyperactivity.
Adults with ADHD may experience restlessness instead of hyperactivity. In addition, adults with ADHD are often plagued by problems with interpersonal relationships and employment.
The Many Faces of ADHD
There are three different types of ADHD:
- Combined ADHD (the most common type), which involves all of the symptoms.
- Inattentive ADHD (also known as ADD), which is marked by impaired attention and concentration.
- Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD, which is marked by hyperactivity without inattentiveness.
Scientists also recently discovered that ADHD is really an entire family of disorders. They came to this conclusion after conducting a study where not all study participants with ADHD consistently showed the same strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, they found that ADHD patients can be subcategorized depending on their weaknesses and relative strengths, showing that there are unique subgroups among all children with ADHD.2
Possible Causes of ADHD
In exploring what causes ADHD, some researchers have looked at abnormalities within the brain itself. In a study published in 2011, one group of researchers showed that children with ADHD have nearly 50 percent less of the acetylcholine receptor, which functions as a receptor protein for the signal substance acetylcholine, important for attention and learning.3
Other researchers have narrowed down the brain abnormalities in ADHD children to a specific area of the brain known as the cerebral cortex, the folded gray tissue that makes up the outermost portion of the brain, covering the brain’s inner structures.
During childhood, two aspects of the cerebral cortex—cortical thickness and cortical surface area—mature as part of the normal developmental process. But in children diagnosed with ADHD, this thickening process is delayed. Children without ADHD attained 50 percent peak area in the right prefrontal cortex at a mean age of 12.7 years, but the ADHD children didn’t reach this peak until 14.6 years of age.4
Two Surprising Links
There’s also the possibility that certain factors trigger this slow brain development and the onset of ADHD. One of these factors may be anesthesia. Mayo Clinic researchers showed in a study published in February 2012 that when a child is exposed to anesthesia multiple times at a young age, it’s associated with higher rates of ADHD. Children exposed to two or more anesthetics before age three had more than double the incidence of ADHD than children with no exposure.5
Another factor that may be associated with the development of ADHD is dirty electricity, a high-powered EMF (electromagnetic field) constantly released by electrical wiring and electrical devices on contaminated circuits. When filters that neutralize the dirty electricity (Graham/Stetzer filters) were installed in schools, both staff and students reported improved health and more energy. In one school, student behavior associated with ADD/ADHD improved.6
You can find out more about Graham-Stetzer filters at www.dirtyelectricity.ca.
The Verdict on Vaccines
Vaccines may be another potential cause of ADHD, but this is especially controversial. Generation Rescue conducted a survey on this topic and released the results in 2007. The survey compared 9,000 vaccinated and unvaccinated boys aged 4 to 17 in nine counties in Oregon and California. The survey found vaccinated boys were 2.5 times (155 percent) more likely to have neurological disorders compared to the unvaccinated boys. Vaccinated boys were 224 percent more likely to have ADHD, and 61 percent more likely to have autism.
The link between ADHD, autism and vaccines was even greater in older vaccinated boys (aged 11 to 17). In this age group, vaccinated boys were 158 percent more likely to have a neurological disorder, 317 percent more likely to have ADHD and 112 percent more likely to have autism.7
A U.S. study was consistent with the results of the Generation Rescue survey. The study screened for associations between various neurodevelopmental and renal disorders and infant thimerosal exposure in vaccines. The preliminary results suggested a possible link between the level of ethylmercury exposure in the first few months of life and neurodevelopmental problems such as attention-deficit disorder and language/speech delays.8
Another study conducted in Britain did not support the findings of the U.S. study, and found no connection between ADHD and vaccines. However, the researchers stated, “It should be noted, however, that the exposure in the United Kingdom by four months of age was similar to the United States by the same age; however, in the United States, exposure increased further from four to seven months. If the increased risk in the U.S. study were attributable only to the additional thimerosal exposure after four months of age, then it is possible that our study may not have been able to detect the risks found in the U.S. study.”9
Does Diet Cause ADHD?
Studies show that a Western-type diet, loaded with junk food, sugar and processed food and deficient in fruits and vegetables may contribute to ADHD. One study published in July 2011 found that in 1,799 adolescents, a Western-style diet was associated with ADHD diagnosis, even after the researchers adjusted for known confounding factors. ADHD diagnosis wasn’t associated with the “healthy” dietary pattern.10
In another study published in April 2009, researchers found that an increase in junk food intake at age 4.5 years was associated with increased hyperactivity at age seven.11
Some research has found no association between sugar consumption and risk of ADHD, while other studies indicate there may be a connection. Scientists have found that excessive sugar intake may lead to alterations in dopamine—the neurotransmitter that plays a major role in the brain system responsible for reward-driven learning—which could contribute to ADHD symptoms.12
Other research suggests artificial food colors and food sensitivities may trigger the onset of ADHD. A subgroup of ADHD patients improved significantly when consuming a diet free of artificial food colors. These patients also developed ADHD symptoms when they were fed artificial food colors. Of the children who had suspected sensitivities, 65 to 89 percent reacted when challenged with at least 100 mg of artificial food colors.13
Some children in addition to being sensitive to artificial food colors react to common foods such as milk, chocolate, soy, eggs, wheat, corn and legumes, as well as salicylate-containing grapes, tomatoes and oranges.13 ADHD patients also are sensitive to more than one food item. I have noticed improvements in my ADHD patients when they eliminate any offending foods from their diets and only eat that food occasionally. A food allergy/sensitivity test kit can help you find out which foods your child may have trouble with.
Conventional treatment of ADHD using stimulant drugs does reduce symptoms of inattentiveness and hyperactivity. But the most commonly prescribed, amphetamine-like drugs—such as Ritalin® (methylphenidate)—come with serious side effects such as the potential for addiction, growth suppression and other complications.14-16
There’s a lot of evidence to indicate certain key nutrients and lifestyle changes can help with ADHD. In my clinical practice, I’ve found that a nutritional and lifestyle approach can yield excellent, side-effect-free results.
Children and adolescents with ADHD have been shown to have significantly lower plasma and blood concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and, in particular, lower levels of omega-3 PUFA.17 Consequently, including omega-3 fatty acids in a nutritionally oriented ADHD program is important.
In a study of seven to 12-year-old ADHD patients who were supplemented with EPA, DHA or safflower oil, increased levels of DHA were associated with improved word reading and lower parent ratings of oppositional behavior. Increased DHA was associated with improved word reading, improved spelling, an improved ability to divide attention as well as lower parent ratings of oppositional behavior, hyperactivity, restlessness and overall ADHD symptoms—effects that were especially evident in a subgroup of 17 children with learning difficulties.18
While omega-3s have not worked in every study when used alone, research indicates that they appear to work especially well in combination with magnesium and zinc. Researchers monitored 810 children (five to 12 years of age) who had ADHD and were given a supplement containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well as magnesium and zinc.
After 12 weeks of consuming the supplement, most subjects experienced a considerable reduction in symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity/impulsivity. In addition, the subjects consuming the supplement had fewer emotional problems at the end of the study compared to baseline and were able to fall asleep more easily. No serious adverse events occurred.19
Another Powerful Solution
In addition to making sure your child or grandchild is consuming a good omega-3 and multi-mineral supplement, encouraging them to exercise can also reduce ADHD symptoms. In a study published in March 2012, scientists randomly assigned 40 children with ADHD into exercise or control groups. Participants in the exercise group performed a moderate intensity aerobic exercise for 30 minutes, whereas the control group watched a running/exercise-related video. The researchers then assessed the children’s scores on neuropsychological tasks, the Stroop Test and the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST).
The Stroop test examines the response time of participants to name colors of negative emotional words. For example, depressed participants will be slower to say the color of depressing words rather than non-depressing words.
The Wisconsin Card Sorting Test evaluates the ability to display flexibility in the face of changing schedules of reinforcement. First, a number of stimulus cards are presented to the subject. The shapes on the cards are different in color, quantity and design. The subject matches the cards first by color, then by design and then by quantity.
The participant is given a stack of additional cards and asked to match each one to one of the stimulus cards, forming separate piles of cards for each. The participant isn’t told how to match the cards. However, he or she is told whether a particular match is right or wrong. During the course of the test, the matching rules are changed and the time taken for the participant to learn the new rules and the mistakes made during this learning process are analyzed to arrive at a score.
In the study of ADHD children, the results indicated that acute exercise improved performance in the Stroop Test. Additionally, ADHD children in the exercise group demonstrated improvement in specific WCST performances.20
Based on these results, researchers believe that exercise enhances attention resources and results in dopamine release.20
Hope for Hyperactive Kids
Although taking care of a child with ADHD is challenging, there are natural strategies you can use to improve their health. If you’re a parent or grandparent of an ADHD child, you can help by limiting the number of anesthetics children are exposed to at a young age, installing dirty electricity filters, talking to your pediatrician about vaccines and helping kids eat a healthy diet while avoiding high-fat, high-sugar meals and snacks. Making sure your kids or grandkids are getting enough omega-3 fatty acids and exercise are two other powerful strategies.
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