Last month I wrote to you concerning some shocking developments concerning Ritalin, the drug most commonly prescribed for ADHD (“A Patchwork Orange” 5/16/02). Because I received so many responses from concerned parents and grandparents asking for more information about the natural alternatives to Ritalin, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to call in an expert opinion. So I asked HSI Panelist Dr. Allan Spreen, M.D., to give us some information on ways to treat hyperactive children without medication. In his book “Nutritionally Incorrect,” Dr. Spreen devotes an entire chapter to children’s behavioral concerns, and as you’ll see, he has some strong opinions on the subject of kids who just act like normal kids.
ADHDWhat to do?
Ah, Ritalin – the universal answer to hyperactivity (or rather Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder- ADHD- you haven’t arrived unless your medical concern is described by capital letters). I remember when an upset attorney came into my office and wanted me to help her with a campaign to make it illegal to use Ritalin or similar drugs in children. I mean, after all, Ritalin is an amphetamineit’s SPEED, for God’s sake!
As much as I sympathized with her crusade I had to decline. I’ve had truly hyperactive kids in my office, and oh, man, I can’t believe more parents haven’t been guilty of child abuse with these kids (personally I’d consider killing ’emyou have no idea if you haven’t experienced a real one). These demons can systematically dismantle an office (home, classroom, ’89 Ford, whatever) in mere minutes, and destroy any remnant of patience you might have even faster. Putting them on Ritalin by parents who don’t know of options can do amazing things: save a marriage, promote improved concentration, make life livable again, keep me out of jail for murder.
But there are two really big rubs here. The biggest is that of options. Don’t think for a second that there aren’t any, including completely non-toxic ones (Ritalin is anything but non-toxic, and its long-term effects can be devastating – again, it’s an amphetamine) . The other rub is defining a hyperactive kid. Now, almost everyone’s hyperactive (or at least schools and conventional docs are telling us so), and a huge proportion of kids are on drugs (medication rather) because of it.
That wouldn’t be because schools get more money from their respective states by having increased numbers of ‘hyperactive’ students now, would it? Or maybe it’s just easier to ‘medicate’ any active troublemaker for more peace in the classroom.
Whatever the reason, ultimately medication is not the answer. First of all, even truly hyperactive kids are not suffering from a Ritalin deficiency- something else is going on. But more important for their future is that kids that respond to amphetamines at a young age tend to respond to other drugs later.
Parents: Options do exist
It’s amazing how many hyperactive children are chemically sensitive. If it’s not all of them, it’s a really high percentage, in my opinion (and I’ve treated more than a few). The trick is finding out what the sensitivity is, and that can take patience and a fair amount of Sherlock Holmes-type digging. There are, however, places to start, and most of them are right at home and cost zero to evaluate.
Food allergies are chemical sensitivities, and they must be ruled out first. This starts by cutting out the historic offenders – milk (or other dairy), wheat, corn, soy, peanut, and adding to the list anything (ANYTHING) that the child craves (or just insists on eating everyday). Carpet fumes, molds or fungi, insecticides, lawn treatments, fabric softeners/detergents, and a bunch of other evildoers may need to be examined, but foods are first. Bear in mind also that sugar is a chemical. It’s purified and concentrated to a point w-a-a-a-y beyond what our bodies were genetically designed to comfortably handle, and blood sugar swings resulting from its use can absolutely have an impact on behavior. Obviously, this must be eliminated, too.
Now, no one’s saying this is going to be easy but cut these items out, completely, for seven days. If a thimble-full gets into the kid’s mouth the seven day period starts over (bad news: in the case of dairy it’s 21 days). If the kid gets worse after 2-3 days then you’re on the right track (read that again). Yep, withdrawal can happen, from anything, and it’s irritating to the victim (and it may help to realize the kid is really a victim). Once you discover that your kid is hyper because he’s been constantly tortured by some irritant that wasn’t of his own choosing, and not because he’s a just a rotten kid, the game gets easier (not easyjust easier).
While testing the foods, go through the pantry and dump anything with artificial colors, flavors or additives. If we just emptied your kitchen you’re probably on the right track. This is no joke, and must be taken very seriously if you want a normal household without prescription medications all over the place. Get more information on such possibilities by acquiring any of the books written by the masters of handling hyperactivity (yep, they exist): Doris Rapp, MD, Ben Feingold, MD, Billy Crook, MD, and Lendon Smith, MD. Parents, you must get educated if you’re going to beat this without drugs, and I’m here to tell you it can be done. The preceding list is a group of experts, so seek out their books and get cracking (better you than your kid!).
Improvement can be absolutely amazing, and then maddening to discover that so much control was available from within the refrigerator. Keep your eyes open. Unfortunately, ‘the eye’ for picking up on these changes is usually the momdad seems to often be a bit slower here. You’ll know you’re on the right track when mom comes home and immediately shocks dad by possessing the prescient knowledge that dad allowed the child a banned food. It’s the ‘but honey how’d you know?-I only gave him one!’ syndrome. Once dad recognizes that a kid peeling ceiling tiles with his teeth is abnormal behavior, things tend to improve rather quickly.
Supplements follow up diet changes
Besides tracking down offending foods, odors, and other chemicals, there are supplements that can make a great difference (but locating the allergies must not be ignored). Vitamin C, in high doses, is a great detoxifier, as is alpha lipoic acid. I use both, but only in conjunction with a good basic multi-vitamin/mineral regimen. (The basics have been put down in my beginner’s guide, Nutritionally Incorrect: Why the Modern Diet is Dangerous & How to Defend Yourself, so there’s my self-serving promo.)
Most ADHD kids have deficient diets, and essential fatty acids (important for proper nerve formation and conduction) are often undersupplied. Fish oil supplements, along with extra vitamin E to assist in its metabolism, can be very helpful.
Sometimes, magnesium (in doses not high enough to loosen stools) can be a big calmer in the mineral department, and certain amino acid-type supplements like GABA and L-tryptophan can be amazingly effective. However, get educated by starting at the beginning and don’t quit until you have the answer.
We’ve just scratched the surface, and there’s a lot more out there that you may not have (will not have) heard from your conventional doc or school nurse. Whatever you do, do not give up, and NEVER ASSUME THAT DRUGS ARE THE ONLY ANSWER.