Yes, it’s true – the number of prescriptions for stimulant medication has been rising in recent years. One study found that along with these rising rates, payments to the doctors who treat kids with ADHD increased. Some forms of payments come in the form of frequent, low-amount dollar payments but often in the form of foods and beverages.
In this study, it was noted that pediatricians, psychiatrists, and family physicians got most of the payments from the pharmaceutical companies marketing the drugs. And prescription stimulant use doubled in the 10 year span from 2006 to 2016, which was the highest expenditure for kids. This increase in stimulant prescriptions matches the increase in kids getting the ADHD diagnosis or label. What’s sad is that much of these prescription drugs are then sold on the streets.
It is suggested by the study that the marketing efforts from the pharmaceutical companies may be the largest contributing factor to these rises. Between 2013 and 2018, more than $20 million went to doctors who prescribed such stimulant medication. Another study found a correlation between doctors who get free meals prescribe the brand-name drugs more that big pharma is promoting. (Isn’t that the point of marketing?!)
To review a bit, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder, or, ADHD, is also sometimes called ADD (short for Attention Deficit Disorder, an earlier designation). The authors of the diagnostic manual which professionals use to diagnose says it “is characterized by a pattern of behavior, present in multiple settings (e.g., school and home), that can result in performance issues in social, educational, or work settings.” Their behavioral symptoms are either inattentive or hyperactive or a combination of both. Those who are likely to get this diagnosis usually fail “to pay close attention to details, [have] difficulty organizing tasks and activities, [do] excessive talking, fidgeting, or [have] an inability to remain seated in appropriate situations.”
If you or someone suspects your child “has” ADHD, some signs to look for may be your child starting their schoolwork or chores at home, but they may lose focus and get easily distracted. So, they often don’t finish what they start. Perhaps your child’s teachers are telling you your child is having trouble paying attention to their lessons or can’t stay organized or follow instructions. Another sign might be that if you speak directly to your child, you notice that his/her mind seems to be somewhere else. Also, your child may lose their school materials, they may often misplace their glasses, keys, wallet or purse, and their cell phone.
Many children leave their seats and move around the classroom a great deal. You need to wonder if your child is even capable of staying still for an extended period of time. This would be something excessive, because we know that children are full of energy and impulsive and that’s not necessarily ADHD! If your child can’t play quietly or participate in social activities, this is another possible sign. Your child may also be completing other people’s sentences or cannot wait in line easily.
Remember – if your child has many of these symptoms/behaviors, it may still mean they do not have behavior that rises to the diagnostic level of ADHD, even any of the three subtypes. So, it’s important to have your child evaluated by a competent professional. And also remember that many cases are diagnosed when symptoms can be corrected by diet and supplements.
To review the medications and their side effects, there are multiple medications that are typically given to kids and teens who have a diagnosis of ADHD. A few examples include:
Jornay PM – a stimulant medication prescribed for kids aged 6 and over. It is a federally controlled substance because it has methylphenidate (sold under the name Ritalin) and is considered addictive. Some serious side effects include sudden death in people who have heart issues, stroke, and heart attack (in adults), increase in blood pressure, and it can cause new or worse behavior and thought problems.
Ritalin – methylphenidate is a first-line stimulant medication and often used with kids and teens for ADHD although it is a controlled substance. Side effects can include trouble sleeping (narcolepsy), decreases in appetite which may result in weight loss, anxiety, dry mouth, nausea, stomach pain, irritability, lethargy, dizziness, heart palpitations, blurred vision, and dry eyes.
Adderall – is another controlled substance prescribed to kids and teens for ADHD diagnoses. It is a stimulant (amphetamine, or an “upper”, containing dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate and amphetamine sulfate). This can also cause sudden death with people who have heart problems, stroke, and heart attacks (in adults), increased blood pressure and heart rate. It can also cause new or worse behavior and thoughts. Children and teens may also experience psychotic symptoms, such as hearing voices, believing things not true, other manic symptoms, and suspicion. Fingers and toes may feel numb or painful and may change color.
So, in addition to all these physiological side effects, they can also cause even worse behavioral and mood changes…buyer beware!
To review more holistic approaches to handling ADHD, changing a child’s or teen’s diet can be very challenging! We all know that. However, if your child has a diagnosis of ADHD or you suspect she/he could easily be diagnosed, but you don’t want to go the prescription medication route, it’s worth it to try changing what your child eats.
Start slowly. Introduce new foods perhaps cooked in novel ways (like veggies we all love to hate), so it actually tastes good! Your brain “eats” one fourth of the calories that we ingest. So, a poor diet equates to a poorly functioning brain. A more ideal diet for those with ADHD or its symptoms has lower carbohydrates, and more proteins and fats. Proteins are involved in making neurotransmitters, so they directly impact moods.
An ideal plate may have about 65% plant-based foods (lower starch veggies and salads, lower sugar fruits like berries), 25% high quality protein, and 10% healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, and seeds. However, this may vary depending on your child’s individual needs.
Find out which foods your kids may be sensitive to - there are numerous, lower-cost ways to test for these. Also, take foods containing refined wheat (and other grains) way down or out of their diet, and try to reduce/eliminate all sugar. There are very palatable and healthy sugar substitutes (not aspartame, etc.). There are many recipes free of charge that help you make nearly every dish you and your child love using healthier ingredients, including pizza! Yes, there's even a healthy version of pepperoni. Almond flour makes a fine substitute for wheat, by the way. Try to stop eating foods which are more than "minimally processed" - highly processed foods like vegetable oil do not create healthy kids. Watch out for chemical food additives and genetically modified ingredients.
As far as supplementation goes, some helpful choices may be fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids, the B vitamins, vitamin D, probiotics, magnesium, zinc, and iron. Although there are very few, if your child is on medication, you will want to check for possible contra-indications. For optimal results, please work with a competent health care provider!
Now some people do not respond well enough to lifestyle changes, and it may be the case that a combination of low-dose medication coupled with such holistic changes may produce the best results in your kids and teens. Working with competent health care professionals can assist you in finding out the best way to help your kids and teens (and thus, you, the parent), and give everybody involved a better quality of life.
And, as always, please have a happy, holistically healthy day!
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