No More Ritalin!
The Drug-Free Approach to ADHD
By Simone Gabbay, RNCP
Copyright © 2006
In elementary school, Seth Feldman had trouble paying attention and concentrating on his work. He was considered a slow learner. Doctors diagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and prescribed the psychiatric drug Ritalin, along with other mind-controlling medication. Seth's parents were told he would never learn to read and write.
The stimulant action of Ritalin kicked Seth's nervous system into overdrive, aggravating his attention-span problem and causing extreme hyperactivity. Seth's doctors discontinued the medication. His parents, sensing that their son might benefit from a different learning style and environment, pulled him out of the public school system and enrolled him in a private school that was better able to guide his learning. Today, at 28, Seth holds a double major BFA degree in Music and Literature and is working towards an MA at the University of Toronto . He has travelled the world and taught English to students in India.
Seth is fortunate to have narrowly escaped the Ritalin treadmill that is a daily reality for more than 200,000 Canadian children and millions worldwide. And their number is on the increase. Year after year, more children whose learning style and behavior do not conform to accepted norms, or who display mental, physical, or emotional traits that involve difficulties with information processing and retention, are diagnosed with ADD or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and prescribed addictive psychiatric drugs such as Ritalin.
Ritalin's long list of side effects includes sleep problems, headaches, abdominal pain, nervousness, irritability, suppression of growth, weight loss, and excessive sadness and crying. Many children receive additional medication to counteract these symptoms—a trend that is raising concerns about the unknown risks of multiple drug interaction in children.
Until the early 1980s, ADHD was unknown. Even today, some physicians and behavioral experts are convinced that ADHD does not exist—that it is a fraudulent label with an ulterior motive: to sell drugs. Dr. Fred Baughman Jr., a neurologist for over 35 years, calls ADHD an "invented, for-profit, fraud." He says that 25 years of research have failed to validate ADD/ADHD as a disease. John Breeding, author of The Wildest Colts Make the Best Horses, explains that unrealistic and unreasonable expectations regarding the way children learn, adjust, and conform are fueling the ADHD drug machine.
Whether we view ADHD as real or fictitious, we can surely agree that addictive psychiatric drugs are not the answer to behavioral or attention-span problems.
Sleep and behavior
Adults who don't get enough sleep are often cranky, irritable, and unable to focus. Their memory suffers and they make mistakes. Children are no different. In fact, children's still developing nervous systems are more vulnerable to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation. Yet an increasing body of research shows that many children, including babies and toddlers, don't sleep enough. Researchers have reported that sleep loss may lead to anxiety, depression, aggressive behavior, and decreased brain function—all symptoms associated with ADHD.
Making sleep a priority for our children will help them to be healthier, happier, and better focused.
Whole foods for brain power
What a child eats not only influences physical health, but mental, emotional, and cognitive function as well. Build your child's meals around fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and protein foods such as eggs, yogurt, fish, and poultry. Avoid refined, processed, and sugary foods, including baked goods made with white flour, which cause blood sugar levels to rise and fall quickly, typically resulting in hyperactivity followed by tiredness. Eliminate processed cheese, soda pop, hydrogenated fats, and artificial flavoring and coloring agents.
The essential fatty acids (EFAs) found in nuts and seeds, as well as in cold-pressed, unrefined vegetable and seed oils and in wild-caught cold-water fish such as salmon and mackerel, are important for proper brain and nervous system function. Recent research has linked EFA deficiencies to ADHD and other behavioral problems, including autism. If your child does not eat adequate quantities of EFA-rich foods, they may benefit from taking supplements, available in natural food stores.
Research reported in the December 2004 issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine suggests that many children labeled ADHD suffer from iron deficiency. Good sources of iron include red meat, fish, liver, eggs, legumes, and dried fruit such as raisins. Herbal iron supplements in liquid form are more readily assimilated than synthetic iron tablets.
We get what we give
When it comes to teaching our children, our actions speak louder than our words. We need to ask ourselves whether we model the behavior that we seek from them. If we want them to be attentive, considerate, and non-aggressive, do we interact with them that way? A study reported in the November/December 2005 issue of Child Development showed that children who are spanked when they misbehave are more likely to be anxious and aggressive than children who are not subjected to such punishment.
My husband and I have never considered disciplining our ten-year-old son, physically or otherwise. Nor have we found it necessary. We show him love and respect his feelings and opinions, and he reciprocates fully. When he—and we—felt overwhelmed by the enormous stress and competitiveness inherent in the public school system, we pulled him out, as Seth's parents did with their son years ago. Today, we are happy home-schoolers.
Not everyone's circumstances allow for such options, but if we treat our children with the same love and respect that we expect from them, they will mirror our behavior back to us.
We all want the best for our children—let's give them our best today!
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Simone Gabbay, RNCP, is a Toronto-based nutritionist, editor,
and the author of three books based on the Edgar Cayce readings.
This article first appeared in Spalife magazine in Spring 2006.
- True Nature and Great Misunderstandings: On How We Care for Our Children, by John Breeding, Ph.D., Virtualbookworm.com Publishing, 2002
- The LCP Solution, by B. Jacqueline Stordy, Ph.D., and Malcolm J. Nicholl, Ballantine, 2000
- Twelve Effective Ways to Help Your ADD/ADHD Child: Drug-Free Alternatives for Attention-Deficit Disorders, by Laura J. Stevens, Avery, 2000