Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is often a controversial topic and you may have many questions about the right line of treatment. Every case of ADHD is different, so parents shouldn’t be shamed for how they choose to help their children, but to make a such a decision, it’s important to know all the facts.
Jessica McCabe’s mother decided to put her on medication when Jessica was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 12. Today, she still lives with this disorder and feels grateful that her mom believed and supported her. Jessica has a YouTube channel called ‘How to ADHD’ where she creates videos with tips and insights on living with ADHD. The following video has been gaining significant attention as she addresses the controversy and explains how ADHD medications helped her overcome her struggle.
Although medications can help some people, like they helped Jessica, you may still wonder about the facts of this disorder and whether there’s another way to treat it or alleviate the symptoms.
The Research Behind ADHD
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a brain and behavioural disorder that usually affects young children and it continues into adolescence and adulthood. People who have ADHD find it hard to focus or pay attention and they are also hyperactive. More specifically, they may be clumsy, impulsive, emotionally unstable, have mood swings and outbursts, and find it difficult to finish or remember things. (5)
Jessica was among the 5 to 8 percent of all children and adolescents who have been diagnosed with ADHD, in the U.S. alone. Half of these children have been prescribed stimulants and other medications for it. (7)
Studies show that the brain of people who are diagnosed with ADHD exhibit some differences compared to people with no ADHD, especially concerning the function of areas of the brain that are responsible for impulse control and attention. These studies have determined those differences using MRI and PET scanning, CT imaging and other brain imaging techniques.
Research shows that this brain disorder is definitely real, but it also shows that genetics are not as important as diet and environment in determining the leading cause of ADHD. (5)
History And Conventional Treatment
In 1902, Sir George Still, an English pediatrician, was the first person to describe the symptoms of what we today call ADHD. ADHD became an official disorder called “Minimal Brain Dysfunction” in 1952. A few years later, Dr. Leon Eisenberg, a German child psychiatrist, created the first drug trials to test the effectiveness of stimulants for this disorder. (1)
The current treatment usually involves psychostimulant medications, which improve the release and function of dopamine and norepinephrine, two hormones that work as neurotransmitters in the brain and can relieve the symptoms. (7)
People who receive these medications can eventually get off of them, but doctors warn that timing and the type of medication is crucial. It’s easier to stop taking stimulants because they start working fast and exit the body quickly, so there are no withdrawal symptoms. Non-stimulants take longer to work and they build up in the bloodstream, so they may have bad side effects if you stop taking them suddenly. (2)
Like any other drug, these medications can have harmful side effects such as reduced appetite, sleep issues, anxiety, and irritability. Long-term side effects can also damage the brain and negatively affect behaviour. Some “safer” alternatives such as atomoxetine have been linked to suicidal thoughts in children and adolescents. (5)
The most popular prescribed drug is Ritalin, a stimulant that works by replenishing the brain with dopamine and norepinephrine. Although it can help patients who struggle with ADHD symptoms, Ritalin can have many unwanted side effects, including nervousness, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, weight loss, dizziness, nausea, and headaches. Prolonged use may also make this drug less effective and in rare cases it can cause addiction. (6)
The Holistic View Of ADHD
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Recently, the view that genetics have little to do with ADHD is becoming more accepted by healthcare practitioners. Dietary and environmental factors seem to play a significant role in causing and treating this disorder.
The main way genetics can play a role is when mothers unknowingly expose their unborn child to neurotoxins such as heavy metals, pesticides, alcohol, and other substances. If a mother has ADHD and so does her child, it may seem like a genetic connection, but it could actually be acquired. In the U. S., 2% of children under the age of 6 show symptoms of toxic lead poisoning that are similar to ADHD symptoms such as cognitive impairment, behavioural issues, and impulsivity. (5)
Diet may also be responsible for symptoms that could easily be mistaken for ADHD. A study shows that artificial food coloring and additives make children hyperactive. 153 children between the ages of 3 and 9 participated in the study and had drinks with sodium benzoate, artificial food coloring, and a placebo drink. The children were observed by teachers and parents and took a test that measured their attention span. The study concluded the artificial food coloring drink increased their hyperactivity. (4)
Nutrient deficiencies can also be responsible for many symptoms that are similar to ADHD. Deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, zinc, and iron along with food allergies may be confused with ADHD symptoms. (4)
How You Can Alleviate ADHD Symptoms
Eat Whole Foods
Completely eliminate processed and refined foods, especially foods that have additives such as sugar, trans fats, and artificial colors.
Eliminate Food Sensitivities
You or someone in your family might have a food allergy that you don’t know about. Remove common allergens such as dairy and gluten from your diet for 6 six weeks and track any changes that may occur during that time.
Detect Nutrient Deficiencies
If you’re worried about being low on nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, selenium, and others, it’s a good idea to take a nutrient deficiency test. The next step would be to visit a healthcare practitioner to help create a meal plan that addresses your needs.
Avoid Inflammatory Foods
Cytokine substances control inflammation in the body. When the body doesn’t regulate the levels of these substances, that can increase the body’s inflammatory response and affect your physical and mental health. (3) Avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners and load your diet with green leafy vegetables, fruits, and spices such as turmeric.
Add Antioxidants To Your Diet
Get rid of toxins such as heavy metals that have been shown to cause behavioral problems and brain impairment. Eat cilantro and chlorella, two known antioxidants that can help rid your body of heavy metals.
If you or your child exhibit symptoms of ADHD, consider taking a holistic approach as the first step. Look at the body as a whole and try to find potential root causes that may be responsible for these symptoms before you decide on medication. Of course, every situation is different, so you know better what the best decision for you and your family will be. As Jessica McCabe says, “If you decide not to take ADHD medication, don’t make those who do feel bad about it. If you do take it, don’t judge those who are looking for another way.”
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(1) ADHD Throughout the Years. (n.d.). In Center For Disease Control and Prevention.
(2) Edgar, J. (2016). ADHD Drug Holidays: Should Your Kid Take One?
(3) Elenkov, I. J., Iezzoni, D. G., Daly, A., Harris, A. G., & Chrousos, G. P. (2005) Cytokine Dysregulation, Inflammation and Well-Being. Neuroimmunomodulation, 12(5), 255-269.
(4) McCann, D., Barrett, A., Cooper, A., Crumpler, D., Dalen, L., Grimshaw, K., & Stevenson, J. (2007). Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet, 370(9598), 1560–1567.
(5) Murray, M. T. & Pizzorno, J. (2012). The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. (3rd ed.). London: Simon & Schuster.
(6) Ritalin. (n.d.). In WebMD.
(7) Scheffler, R. M., Hinshaw, S. P., Modrek, S., & Levine, P. (2007). The Global Market For ADHD Medications. Health Affairs, 26(2), 450-457.
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