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.
I was reading recently that ADHD falls within specific learning difficulties and is therefore a neurological problem. Whilst I don’t doubt that diet will help/hinder (having watched my own sister go through phases of high and low sugar consumption and the effect on her behaviour), having dyslexia like specific learning difficulties myself (which is affected far more by stress then my diet, from experimentation) I do worry that an article like this does make paleo sound like a cure rather than a help.
I want to be clear – stuff that helps conditions are good, but they are rarely miracles. If people change a child or adult’s diet to address an issue like ADHD then I think it’s important to be realistic about the level of change that will result. Aside from anything if the changes are better than pitched then the concept is sold, if it’s not as great as sold then you might lose them from something that will help improve their overall health.
Diet has had no affect on my depression or learning difficulties but that doesn’t stop me from being paleo.
kevin cann says
Thanks for the response. Sometimes diet is not enough and sometimes medication is necessary. There is testing that can be done that can help identify what neurochemicals may be defficient and then proper support can be given. Sometimes diet alone cannot alleviate defficiencies.
I would be VERY interested in that neurochemical testing. Any leads on where/how I get that done?
He never replied because he is writing crap.
Thank you for the informative article. Out of curiosity, does this analysis include ADD, as well? My niece was recently diagnosed with ADD and is now on a prescription. It certainly has made a difference, as she went from Ds and Cs to Bs and As and is now much more attentive to her studies (she can actually come home now and tell her parents what was discussed in class and what the homework is).
Thank you for the info!
kevin cann says
It does. Most of these medications work on the neurotransmitters and there are other ways to deal with it that may not have long potential side effects.
In addition, petroleum-based synthetic food additives are a huge ADHD trigger. FD&C coloring, flavoring, BHA BHT TBHQ preservatives should be avoided. A whole foods Paleo diet just happens to do that. A subset of ADHD patients are also salycilate sensitive and should avoid certain foods. See Feingold.org for more about that.
kamrul hasan says
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Hello Robb Wolf,
I’m 25 years old and I’m from Germany. I made my high-school-diploma with bad notes, became a nurse, now I’m studiing Biologie. My concentration ist really bad. I always had mood stanges. I’m going to study sports as well. I need the exercise. I’m eating Paleo for a year now. My life stanged and physically I imrpoved, but I have the diagnosis ADD and the nutrition doesn’t help me and I really have a balanced diet. So I take Ritalin and it stabilizes me a lot.
What do you think about that? I think, although I’m really convinced about this way of living, and I never would stange anymore, but Paleo-Nutrition ist not the solution for everything, or every disease, sadly.
(sigh…) My son is 10 years old, has been raised on an organic, whole food diet… Paleo for the last 4+ years… but we recently sought (yes, sought) an ADD diagnosis and will be starting meds next week =( He is in his school’s highly capable program and is a “dream” student behavior-wise, but there have been many, many subtleties over the years that have always had me on edge and suspicious of Aspergers or ADD (3 cousins have Aspergers and 2 aunts are ADD) and they are becoming more challenging and affecting my sweet, positive boy in a negative way. Through this, I suspect that I am also ADD and scheduled an appointment for myself. It is all so very hard as I truly believe in food, sleep and exercise being so very important. I have followed a very strict AIP diet for my Hashimoto’s thyroid disease but still need meds… I’m working very hard on accepting this for him as well. But I hate it…
Yeah, and cancer is not a radiation deficiency. Smart.
You’re an idiot.
Amphetamine and Methylphenidate both have a very robust and clear efficacy for treating ADHD.
“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. ”
Methylphenidate is primarily a norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor. It does this by competitively binding to the transporters that move dopamine and norepinephrine from the synaptic cleft back into the cell for further processing/storage.
” 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. ”
This is just plain wrong.
Your comment ‘reuptake of dopamine receptors’ is just plain wrong and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the biochemical and neurophysiological understandings of these drugs and thus you cannot understand why they are used to treat ADHD.
This also leads me to believe you don’t understand what ADHD is.
If you did, you would perhaps understand that there are other pretty good reasons why the nutritional status of an ADHD sufferer is often less than optimal.
“Much like in the case of SSRIs, there are natural treatments to increase the levels of dopamine.”
Yeah, eat a well balanced diet. Except that demonstrably doesn’t do a great deal to treat ADHD in the majority of cases, not on it’s own. However when combined with medication, exercise and environmental and behavioural modifications a balanced diet can aid in the treatment of ADHD.
Unfortunately, articles like the poorly researched one you have written only serve to cause confusion and spread misinformation about ADHD, leading people to try ineffective treatments causing further suffering to the ADHD sufferer.
Such an accurate response. Exactly what I was thinking!
Robb, I appreciate your education on the Paleo Diet! I have read some negative reactions to your thoughts on diet and ADHD. From experience, my son was diagnosed with ADHD in second grade. I dragged my feet about medication until the third grade. I still wasn’t happy about giving him these harsh drugs. So, I cleaned out our pantry. My son always reacted to red and blue dyes in a hyper way! I started bringing in organic foods, avoiding a lot of processed. I eat a Paleo Diet and although he does not 100%, he reaps the benefit of what my kitchen has to offer. My son is now turning 16, he is on the lowest dose of ADHD medication due to a better diet. So, I too believe diet can correct a lot of medical problems… I’m hoping in the future, he does follow the Paleo Diet 100% because I believe he won’t take the medication at all! Honestly, I wish someone like yourself would have been able to see my son a long time ago. I kept asking doctors in Upstate New York, “What about diet? Can that help him?” No was always the answer… I didn’t believe them…
I have an ADHD and bipolar dx, took medication for both for awhile but wasn’t satisfied with the results. What has helped? High EPA/DHA fish oil, salmon and sardines, probiotics, going gluten free and eating pastured meat for a start (I oscillated between vegetarianism and veganism for ten years before these diagnoses. I don’t see this as a mere coincidence.)
My second step was to eat primarily Paleo. This also helped. But what really made a radical difference as far as the ADHD goes was eating as described in phase one of Always Hungry by David Ludwig. I am not overweight but I had a friend who was trying it and I was curious.
In phase one your diet is 50% healthy fats, 25% protein, and 25% carbs. Three servings of carbs are allowed a day and they are comprised of non tropical fruit or legumes (obviously you could choose to stick with Paleo and omit the legumes). My brain feels sharp and clear when I eat like this. I finished a New York times crossword puzzle for the first time in my life within a few days of starting phase one!
I haven’t been continuously eating like this and I definitely notice a difference whether I do or don’t. I think it’s taken awhile for me to come around to the conviction that this way of eating is essential for me. It makes a huge difference.