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Attention Deficit Disorder

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Natural Treatment Versus Medical treatment

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and its related cousin, Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder (ADHD)  are conditions which consist of a persistent pattern of abnormally high levels of activity, impulsivity, and/or inattention that is more frequently displayed and more severe than is typically observed in children at the same age of development.  This diagnosis is usually made during the elementary school years due to the child’s excessive locomotor activity, poor attention and/or impulsive behavior.  Unfortunately this diagnosis is usually initially made by female primary grade school teachers and is nearly always treated with the use of prescription drugs.

The primary drug for this disorder is Ritalin®, usually prescribed generically as methylphenidate in a 20 mg dose.  In the same way  conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type II diabetes and even heart disease are always treated with immediate drug intervention when diet and exercise are more successful, ADHD also receives immediate drug treatment, which is most cases is totally unnecessary.

Since 1990 the use of Ritalin® has increased almost 800% in North America. At the present time there are almost 750,000 children in Canada on this drug and more than 80% of them are young boys. There are two main reasons for this disgraceful use of drug therapy for our young children; in the first place, it is simply that we live in a culture of quick fixes and it is easier to simply put the child on a drug, rather than find the root cause of the problem. Secondly, at the present time the majority of elementary school teachers in the province of Ontario are female and most of them will not accept the fact that little boys behave differently from little girls. Boys will not sit at attention with their hands folded and be attentive at all times.  Most of our male teachers are near retirement age and by the year 2009, less than 20% of our elementary teachers will be males.

The fact is that there is no known diagnostic test for ADD or ADHD. It is simply a matter of opinion. When social workers actively treat children with ADHD using cognitive therapy, they usually find that about 25% of them have a learning disability and that is the reason for their poor behavior. Children of divorced parents are usually misdiagnosed and put on drugs. In fact 90% of prescriptions for ADHD are unnecessary, but the powerful pharmaceutical companies make sure we use their drugs whether we need them or not.

In Europe, the only country that even has a small amount of Ritalin use is Britain and in most European countries this is not a diagnosed or treated disorder. In fact in Sweden, doctors are not even allowed to prescribe Ritalin or any other mind-altering drugs for pre-adolescent school children. However, in many countries in Europe, at the primary level, boys and girls are educated separately in boy’s schools and girl schools and young pre-adololescent boys react much more positively to male teachers.

Recently, a woman I know was told that her little boy in grade two could not come to school anymore unless he was on some sort of medication to control his hyperactive behavior. This woman did some research and by checking with the local school board found that the principal of this public school was notorious for forcing parents to put their children on drugs. The child’s mother was actually a well educated attorney that worked as a crown attorney for the Province of Ontario. When her attempts to reason with the principal failed, she charged that principal with the offence of “practicing medicine without a license” The principal was arrested, handcuffed and brought down to the local police station.  Soon after a compromise was reached in which the school board fired the principal and this woman’s child was allowed to go to school without the aid of any drugs.  The problem is that most of us do not have this type of influence or power and so most mothers are at the mercy of the school system.

With all the bad publicity about Ritalin®, drug manufacturers have been telling doctors to prescribe anti-depressants for ADHD. Ritalin is actually a central nervous system stimulant. It is highly addicting and is related to the amphetamine family. In fact most children who continue to take this drug through high school simply become addicted because it is their form of “speed”. They sell their tablets in the schoolyard where they are crushed and inhaled for an instant high. And in many cases, the parents of these children find these drugs can be handy around the house. You will not be home from work till after five and your husband has invited his boss for dinner. There is no way you can carry this off until you remember your little boy’s magic speed pills. They also seem to suppress your appetite and before you know it, you too are hooked on this drug.

The new drug for little boys is Strattera® (atomoxetine) a derivative of Prozac® (fluoxetine). These drugs are known as SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and originally there were severe warnings that they were NEVER to be prescribed to children because their brains were still developing.  The effect of these drugs is the same as sending your child to school after he has consumed two alcoholic drinks. There are no inhibitions, he is totally relaxed, he sits and pays attention and he is feeling no pain. When I had my pharmacy, there was a little boy who was being bullied and tormented by other children and he refused to go to school. After taking 10mg of fluoxetine (Prozac®) for two weeks, he was happy to go to school and everything seemed great. Soon after that he kicked the principle in the leg and tried to set the school on fire. This little child had absolutely no inhibitions.

Antidepressant use in children 18 and younger tripled between 1987 and 1996. It doubled again by 2000, but then leveled off as concerns arose about a possible increase in the risk of suicide in kids on antidepressants.  There is now a black box warning for physicians because of the unusually high suicide rate among teenagers who take these dugs.

Another reason for not using drugs on young children is because they have been shown to interfere with brain development. The old theory was that by the age of twelve the brain was now fully developed and adult dose of drugs could be used. Years later, with the use of magnetic imaging of brains and high tech machinery, we know that brains may not be developed fully until almost 25 years of age.  We also know that serotonin is not just a hormone in the brain that can make us feel good, but it is also involved in our natural growth patterns.  In January 2003 the FDA (Food and Drug Administration of the USA) reported that children who took Prozac for 19 weeks had grown, on the average, almost half an inch less and gained two fewer pounds than those who received a placebo pill.

Like all prescription drugs, their positive effects can be very dramatic and a poorly behaved child who was impossible to teach could take on a whole new persona with the use of drugs like Ritalin or Strattera. For many over-worked mothers who are at the end of their rope with their children, these drugs offer the only solution. The danger lies in the years ahead and how these drugs will affect the development of their child’s brains and how they will react to drug withdrawal. Will these children always need a drug for their entire adult life and what will be the long term side-effects of these drugs?

I feel that a large portion of the hyperactivity can be attributed to diet. Breakfast, the most important meal of the day is usually the combination of sugary cereals and sugary fruit drinks that have little or no fruit.  Cereal is their main source of iron and vitamin A and the fruit drinks account for about 14% of their daily Vitamin C requirement. The top sources of energy, fat and protein are milk, yeast bread; cakes/cookies/quick breads doughnuts, beef and cheese. Between their sugary carbohydrate lunches and after school snacks, these kids are always living on either sugar highs or sugar lows and boys are much more affected.

Our young children are missing two things we had from our parents. For most of us our mothers stayed home and prepared fresh meals and secondly gave us the care and attention that only a mother can give. In today’s economy, it is almost impossible for one parent to provide the necessities of life and many children become casualties of this lifestyle. Most of you remember having to take Cod Liver Oil because our mother’s knew the importance of fish oil. I truly believe that this is one of the principal missing ingredients in the daily health of our children. Most children do not like to eat fish but you must find a way to give them a good fish oil supplement. It is the most important nutrient in brain development and it must contain high levels of EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid). Combine this with more protein in the morning such as scrambled eggs and real fruits instead of fruit juices. Use 12 grain bread or flax bread instead of the horrible white bread or bagels which are instantly converted to pure sugar in their bodies. An extra 20 minutes in the morning might mean the difference between good and bad behavior in school.

Recent statistics show that the majority of university students are female. The class of first year medical students at McMaster University is 80% female. If this pattern continues, the majority of our professions will be female. The problem with this scenario is that women are still the only sex than can give birth and this causes major difficult choices between career and family.  Until the primary school system changes and male and female teachers are equally represented, it is up to you, the parents of these little boys. Talk to them, be understanding, make sure they eat well and try as hard as you can to keep them off drugs. After all, how can we tell our children that drugs are bad for them when we give them drugs to go to school?

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