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Focusing on ADHD

Many children suffer from ADD and ADHD. Their inability to focus can be a frustrating hardship for them, their parents, and their teachers. Like many common conditions there are multiple factors that need to be evaluated in order to find the source of the problem.

In most cases of ADD and ADHD, it is not caused by a Ritalin deficiency. Ritalin may improve the symptoms of the conditions, but when the drug is stopped the symptoms come back. This is not healing, but symptom management. Looking at the pharmacology of Ritalin, however, can help lead us to the source.

Ritalin is a stimulant. Giving a stimulant to hyperactive kids to calm them may seem counterintuitive, so why does it help? Have you ever gotten really tired while driving and had to do things to try to stay awake: fiddle with the radio, sing loud, bang on the steering wheel, eat, call a friend, drink coffee, etc. Essentially do things to keep your mind active in an effort to maintain focus. It is not much different for these kids.

In some cases the hyperactivity is their body’s way of compensating for a type of fatigue. It is an effort to generate the stimulation they are lacking, but it is not effective enough for them to maintain focus. What these kids are typically lacking is not Ritalin but adequate adrenal function.

The adrenal glands are our stress glands. When we are stressed, they secrete extra hormones to keep us going. A common finding in children with ADD and ADHD is their adrenal glands have been over taxed. The health of the mother prior to conception and through the pregnancy affects the child’s adrenal gland development. If her adrenals were fatigued, she will draw from the baby’s glands as they develop, causing the baby to be born with depleted adrenals. Physical and emotional stress since birth needs to be evaluated.  Eating sugars, starches, and juice can deplete the adrenals as well. Supporting the adrenals AND resolving the cause of the depletion are both essential parts of treatment.

Food is often a major factor in ADD and ADHD. There are the blood sugar spikes and crashes and adrenal depletion from sugars, juices, and starches (breads, pastas, cereals, potatoes, etc.).  Food sensitivities can cause hyperactivity. Food dyes, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners also cause hyperactivity.  A meta-analysis (a study evaluating the validity of existing research studies) published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (2004, Dec; 25 (6)) found artificial food colorings are a contributing factor in ADHD.  The British medical journal The Lancet published a study online in September 2007 that found artificial colors, preservatives, and other food additives increased hyperactivity. These are just two of many studies with the same conclusions. Simply removing these foods from the diet can have a dramatic effect.

There are many other factors that also need to be assessed. Each case is unique. Drugs like Ritalin may be a necessary part of treatment, but they are not the only option.

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