ADHD, Not a Ritalin Deficiency
In one of my classes we were discussing the use of Ritalin medication as a performance enhancer in sports. You know a medication is widely prescribed when its use in high school and college sports becomes debatable. According to an article on CNN Health, 6% of the school aged population in the United Stateshas been diagnosed with ADHD and 90% of those students have been prescribed Ritalin (http://articles.cnn.com/1999-09-01/health/9909_01_adhd.overdiagnosis_1_adhd-ritalin-attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder?_s=PM:HEALTH). As far as I can see in the literature, ADHD is not a Ritalin deficiency. Instead of getting to the root causes of this disorder, medications are prescribed in increasing numbers each year, making pharmaceutical companies rich and altering the neurochemistry of our children.
According to Novartis Pharmaceutical, the mechanisms of action of Ritalin in man are not fully understood. It is a mild central nervous system stimulant that presumably activates the areas of the brain to produce a stimulant like effect (much like cocaine). So what the pharmaceutical company is saying is that this drug does something to your brain, but we are not entirely sure what, but let us prescribe it in great number to our children and see if it helps. This is some scary stuff. There are other ways to treat ADHD without the potential long term side effects of a drug such as Ritalin.
For one, nutrient deficiencies are relevant in the ADHD group. According to the research, patients with ADHD tend to be deficient in minerals, B vitamins, Omega 3 fatty acids, Omega 6 fatty acids, flavenoids, and phospholipid phosphatidylserine (PS) (Kidd, 2000). Glucose metabolism issues have strong ties to ADHD as well.
Langseth and Dowd in 1978 showed that 74% of children with hyperactivity disorders displayed improper glucose tolerance in response to a sucrose meal (Langseth and Dowd, 1978). Other studies have shown that people with ADHD have reductions in both global and regional glucose metabolism when compared with healthy individuals (Zametkin, 1990). This could be caused from the pancreas over creating insulin in response to high sugar meals. Insulin has been shown to have effects on dopamine, our neurotransmitter responsible for our memory and focus.
In fact, Ritalin blocks the reuptake of dopamine receptors allowing for an increase in the amount of the neurotransmitter around the synapse of the neuron. This works very similar to the class of anti-depressants known as SSRIs including their ability to deplete dopamine over time, making use of the medication more and more necessary. Much like in the case of SSRIs, there are natural treatments to increase the levels of dopamine.
For one, we need to control insulin levels. Eating a high sugar diet can lead to an overproduction of insulin, and leave the glucose necessary for brain function stored as fat instead of used as fuel. The amino acid L-tyrosine is the precursor for dopamine. Eating a diet rich in animal products and if necessary extra L-tyrosine as a supplement can help give the brain the tools to build more dopamine. Nutrients such as iron, zinc, omega 3 fats, and the B vitamins are also important to help turn that tyrosine into dopamine and excess insulin can actually sweep up the amino acids before they get to the brain. This means sticking to a nutrient dense diet rich in amino acids, and low in sugar. Sound familiar?
Zametkin, Alan (1990). Cerebral glucose metabolism in adults with hyperactivity of childhood onset. New EnglandJournal of Medicine.
Langseth and Dowd (1978). Glucose intolerance and hyperkinesis. Food and Cosmetics Toxicology.
Kidd, Parris (1990). ADHD in children: Rationale for its integrative management. Alternative Medicine Review.