2017 April 27 by Dr. Randy
Attention problems have become an apparent epidemic. Why are so many kids diagnosed with ADD and ADHD today? Why are so many kids routinely prescribed medication with potentially harmful side effects for these issues? The subject of attention is a huge field. I will try to summarize some of the main issues from the perspective of holistic pediatrics.
Causes of ADHD
There are many contributing causes to the epidemic of ADHD:
- Not the least of these is the expectation that children need to sit still for hours at a time at early ages doing repetitive academic tasks like worksheets. Many children will attempt to avoid these tasks by not paying attention.
- Another contributing factor implicated in the ADHD epidemic is the neurological damage caused by the onslaught of vaccines and toxic vaccine ingredients on the developing brains of small babies.
- Yet another contributing cause of ADHD is the typically deficient and harmful diet of many children that includes empty calories, high fructose corn syrup, and nutrient-deficient junk food.
- Children’s increasing exposure to television and other electronic screens may also be a factor in shorter attention spans and altered information processing. “It certainly has been shown that exposure to nature and increasing exercise foster creativity and healthy brain development.”1
Understand Your Child
Creating a learning environment that encourages a child’s strengths and talents will help to place their attention style into perspective. If parents develop an understanding of their child’s attention style and their unique personality, then they are in a better position to understand how that child will flourish.
There are several ways to understand and describe children’s learning styles:
A good place to start is temperament. Several temperament characteristics have significance for attention. One of these is the level of activity of an individual child. Some children are more active than others. This typical activity level can be described with an analog scale from low activity to high activity children. High activity characteristics can result in restlessness and fidgetiness in the classroom that teachers see as disruptive behavior.
Persistence is another category that contributes to attention. The child who is persistent, stubborn, and obstinate will tend to have better focus skills and stay on task longer. By contrast, children who are not very persistent will tend to get distracted more easily.
Finally understanding a child’s behavioral style throws light on attention. The hunter/ farmer analogy is relevant here. Some children are natural hunters. They learn best by roaming around, exploring, and discovering things on their own. These kids will appear more restless and impatient. Other children are more like farmers – patient, observant, and passive. They are able to delay gratification and learn by watching. Books by Thom Hartmann and Mel Levine describe the variation of children’s attention styles and can provide parents with a healthy perspective on ADHD.
Chinese medicine has described children as one of five typical types. An excellent book that describes this typology and its application to attention problems is Fire Child, Water Child by developmental pediatrician Stephen Cowan.
Advantages of ADHD
Attention is a tricky business. Let’s consider one example. A child who is restless, distracted, and impulsive in the classroom is often seen as problematic or pathological. When you take this same child onto the basketball court or soccer field his quick reflexes, impulsive reactions, and excellent scanning abilities provide the skills he needs for flexibility and quick responsiveness that bring approbation from coaches and fans.
Some of our most successful athletes, innovators, and entrepreneurs have unconventional attention functions.
Holistic Treatment of Attention Problems
Some children do need help to focus and attend to tasks. Several natural supplements can help brain function. For example,
- an Omega 3 fat supplement will make anyone’s brain function better by creating flexible cell membranes that allow nerves to communicate more efficiently.
- Phosphatidylserine will often help children who tend to be restless.
- And DMAE helps spacey, inattentive kids with focus control.
- Many other supplements can assist specific neurotransmitter function, and homeopathic medicines can address individual attention and behavioral symptoms as well.
Seeking the care of a holistic pediatric practitioner can provide solutions in the form of an individualized treatment plan for a child struggling with attention issues. An excellent book that describes natural supplements for attention problems is Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies by Kenneth Bock. This holistic approach can also uncover the hidden connections between neurotransmitter balance, nutritional status, food sensitivities, digestive function, and attention in our children.
2014 August 13 by Dr. Randy
Taking drugs during pregnancy is never a very good idea, even those drugs that are generally considered safe. More natural and holistic approaches offer a safer route to treating problems that arise during pregnancy.
Several studies have shown problems associated with taking Tylenol (acetaminophen) during pregnancy. A recent study confirmed that taking this hormone disrupting drug during pregnancy is associated with behavior problems in children. This study examined behavior problems in a group of 64,000 children. More than half of the mothers reported using acetaminophen during their pregnancies. When mothers reported use of acetaminophen during pregnancy, their children at 7 years of age had an increased incidence of reported or diagnosed ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and prescriptions of ADHD medication compared to the control group. In addition, increased frequency of acetaminophen during pregnancy was associated with a higher risk of ADHD symptoms in children (Liew, 2014).
This confirms another study of 48,000 children that showed a higher risk of ADHD behavior in children exposed to acetaminophen during their mother’s pregnancies compared to their siblings. Children exposed to long-term use of acetaminophen during their gestation had poorer motor development and more problems with communication, and activity level. Even children exposed to only short term use (1-27 days) had poorer motor skills (Branlistuen, 2013).
There are safe and effective holistic alternatives for most of the symptoms of pregnancy including headaches, viral and bacterial illnesses, pain and inflammation. Seek out a holistic practitioner who can help maintain a healthy pregnancy and treat symptoms that occur with supplements and medicines that have no side effects.
Brandlistuen RE1, Ystrom E, Nulman I, Koren G, Nordeng H. Prenatal paracetamol exposure and child neurodevelopment: a sibling-controlled cohort study. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2013 Dec;42(6):1702-13. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyt183. Epub 2013 Oct 24.
Liew Z1, Ritz B2, Rebordosa C3, Lee PC4, Olsen J5. Acetaminophen use during pregnancy, behavioral problems, and hyperkinetic disorders. JAMA Pediatrics. 2014 Apr;168(4):313-20. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.4914.
2013 May 2 by Dr. Randy
Treating ADHD symptoms
A study of the effect of DHA and vitamin supplements on aggressive and impulsive behaviors showed that DHA, but not the vitamins, had a positive effect.
The study group included 200 young men, with an average age of 20 years, with no history of antisocial behavior. They were given 672 mg of DHA per day for 12 weeks. Test subjects were administered several tests before and after the supplementation period that actively measure aggressive and impulsive responses. These tests were primarily games that evaluated the ability to suppress impulsive reactions or measure impatience or the degree of aggressive responses to a stressful animation.
Results of the study showed significant improvement in scores after the DHA supplementation period.
These findings confirm previous studies that evaluated impulsivity and aggressive responses when assessed by questionnaires. This is the first study that observed the effects directly during testing situations. It also confirms the assumption and observation that DHA supplements improve attention functions in children.
Aggression and impulsivity are common symptoms in children and adolescents with a range of disruptive or antisocial behaviors and diagnoses. Children with attention problems (ADHD), autistic spectrum disorders (ASD,) and oppositional behavior all may exhibit easy frustration, intolerance, aggressive outbursts, lack of self-control, and poor impulse control.
A holistic approach
DHA supplementation is a simple way to enhance brain function and alleviate these symptoms without resorting to dangerous pharmaceutical drugs. Stimulant medications such as Adderall, Focalin, and Concerta commonly used for these children often produce significant side effects including sleep disturbance, nervous tics, and appetite suppression. Other serotonin enhancing drugs such as Zoloft and Prozac used to treat these children have serious side effects including aggravation of violent impulses and suicidal behavior.
Other holistic methods to enhance attention functions and reduce aggressive behavior in children include fortifying serotonin with tryptophan or its analogue 5HTP, decreasing glutamate levels with the amino acid theanine, and using homeopathic medicines. Seek out a holistic pediatric specialist who can develop a safe management plan for ADHD, ASD and related problems in children.
Sara-Jayne Long, David Benton. A double-blind trial of the effect of docosahexaenoic acid and vitamin and mineral supplementation on aggression, impulsivity, and stress. Human Psychopharmacology. Article first published online: 29 APR 2013
2013 April 12 by Dr. Randy
A simple and very effective way to improve attention functions in children is to make sure they are getting daily exercise. Keep your kids moving and involved in physical activity programs.
Exercise increases the production of several neurotransmitters which are known to improve memory and attention, and decrease impulsivity. These include dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Exercise, especially sprinting, also increases Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein in the brain that improves the communication between nerves. For a detailed explanation about how exercise improves brain function, read Dr. John J Ratey’s book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.
Short bursts of exercise will increase these neurotransmitter levels in the hours following exercise, for example during the school day. This can result in more effective learning. But a prolonged exercise program will also raise these neurotransmitter levels over the long-term, providing a persistent benefit to attention functions.
Wigal SB, et al. Exercise: Applications to Childhood ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders 2013 17: 279.
2012 August 20 by Dr. Randy
The school year is about to begin for America’s children and drug prescribing will be back in full swing after the lull of summer vacation. Parents are being informed that their children will not be admitted to school without their required vaccinations. As parents rush to their pediatricians for completion of school forms, vaccine boosters come fast and furious. Whooping cough, measles, and hepatitis vaccines are now administered to schoolchildren in record numbers.
Parents are not informed that these vaccine boosters are not actually needed for school entry. Quite the opposite. Parents are pressured into giving vaccines even against their wishes. But in all states vaccine exemptions are readily available to parents. Nearly half have philosophical exemptions so that parents can merely submit a note stating that vaccines are contrary to their personal beliefs. In the remaining states parents can obtain a religious exemption, which can also be determined by a personal belief.
Vaccines are controversial for many reasons, not the least of which is the risk of serious adverse reactions. The association between vaccines and autism and ADHD has many parents worried about their children’s safety. But if the increasing number of required vaccines for children is causing an increase in learning disorders and attention problems parents can be assured that other drugs will be prescribed for these problems.
Prescriptions for ADHD have skyrocketed to record numbers. Children are expected to sit quietly and passively in classrooms regardless of their individual learning styles. If a child learns best through exploration and active participation, they may be seen as disruptive. Lack of conformity to the expected norms of behavior can land children in the pediatrician’s office for prescriptions to calm them down. These prescriptions for supposed ADHD behaviors attempt to manipulate brain chemistry and neurotransmitters, sometimes with disastrous results. Side effects of these medications may include insomnia, tics, sedation, and suicidal thoughts. And yet children are routinely medicated with antidepressants, amphetamine-like stimulants, and other ADHD drugs at the request of teachers and schools.
The Holistic Alternative
There are alternatives for parents to all of these drugs. If children have a resilient immune system, then they may not need vaccines to artificially stimulate antibody production. A whole foods diet and a few nutritional supplements will produce a healthy and vigorous immune system with the strength to resist and control infections. Herbal supplements like Astragalus, elderberry, and medicinal mushrooms all have the ability to activate and balance the immune system. Nutritional supplements such as whey protein, vitamin D, and probiotics also support and activate the immune system.
There are supplements also that can improve children’s attention functions and sharpen mental processes. The Omega three fats in fish oil promote healthy communication between nerves that results in efficient mental processing. Other supplements can safely develop more alertness and focus in children. Holistic pediatric specialists are well-trained in using these supplements. However, taking a different perspective on children’s behavior helps to keep a sense of balance when viewing these symptoms. For example, a child who is impulsive and easily distracted will flourish in an environment that encourages active learning. And of course these active, inquisitive, and restless children become the stars on the soccer field and basketball court. They become the innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders in their future careers. It’s a matter of perspective.
It is time that we re-evaluate the use of drugs to control symptoms in children when safer, more effective methods are available.