ADHD and the Gut
Attention Deficit Disorder with or without Hyperactivity is not a psychiatric condition! Yet our country’s medical professionals often find the need to prescribe psychotropic drugs and the CDC has noted a 22% increase in the diagnosis of ADHD between 2003 and 2007 with approximately 10% of children between ages of 4 and 17 being the key diagnosed crowd. This equates to roughly 4 million children. But are we missing the key component to this ambiguous and frustrating condition that more of our country’s children are displaying?
In my years of teaching I watched children struggle to interact with one another, to complete work and to understand even the most basic concepts. What would seem like simple information or requests would leave some of the children with very bewildered looks on their faces and many would struggle with impulse control. Parents labeled their children with Attention Deficit Disorder in compliance with their doctors’ diagnoses and medication was prescribed.
Medicating is the fastest way to ensure compliance and proper behavior in schools. What a disgusting sentence that turned out to be! I would delete it, but in all seriousness this is the mentality of the school system. So the children are prescribed Ritalin, which is a drug that can slow growth, is habit forming and shouldn’t be taken if a person is agitated. Ritalin can also impair thinking and reactions. Yes, you read that correctly! The very behaviors that we seek to “fix” with drugs like this one can actually make the situation worse. Case in point, the side effects of Ritalin include:
- -new or worsening symptoms such as mood swings, aggression, hostility, or changes in personality or behavior;
- -panic, delusion, extreme fear, hallucinations, unusual behavior, motor tics (muscle twitches);
- -chest pain, fast or slow heart rate, pounding heartbeats or fluttering in your chest, feeling like you might pass out;
- -numbness, pain, cold feeling, or skin color changes (pale, red, or blue appearance) in your fingers or toes;
- -sudden numbness or weakness (especially on one side of the body), sudden severe headache, slurred speech, problems with vision or balance;
- -easy bruising, purple spots on your skin;
- -fever, sore throat, and headache with a severe blistering, peeling, and red skin rash; or
- -dangerously high blood pressure (severe headache, blurred vision, buzzing in your ears, anxiety, confusion, chest pain, shortness of breath, uneven heartbeats, seizure).
- -feeling nervous or irritable, sleep problems (insomnia);
- -loss of appetite, weight loss;
- -headache, dizziness, drowsiness; or
- -stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, upset stomach
(taken from http://www.drugs.com/ritalin.html)
But what if we looked at ADD/ADHD from a different perspective? After looking at that long list of potential side effects, let’s take a moment to look at another possible answer. Instead of focusing on the misguided behaviors of children who struggle to maintain focus let’s wade through brain fog and poor impulse control. The small intestine of the gastrointestinal tract communicates with the brain very intimately. Yes, that’s right! Even though there may be up to 3 feet of physical space separating the two organs they are always in constant communication and do so much faster than texting or Facebook could ever process. The chemical balance between the gut and the brain is not only critical, but incredibly delicate. For proper gut-brain communication the tight junctions of the gut lining must remain closed and the proper ratio of bacteria must be present. Both of these can be severely damaged through the consumption of processed and packaged foods.
Children today aren’t served real food. Most children think fruit comes on loops or strips with cartoon characters on the front of the package. The foods that we eat and serve our children can have either a positive effect or a detrimental one. In the case of ADHD/ADD the food-gut-brain interaction is a powerful one.
Glyphosate, the active component of RoundUp, has been tied to damage to the microbiome of the gut. Glyphosate is the most commonly used herbicide in the United States. As of 2007, 180-185 million pounds of the herbicide was sprayed on the agriculture consumed by most of this country’s children. To supposedly help increase product yield some of the crops are genetically modified to be resistant to the high levels of glyphosate sprayed annually. Theses genetically modified organisms were not tested prior to their release in to the food supply and little to nothing is known as to what their effects are. However, anecdotally we are seeing the results of consumption in our children’s and our own health. Sadly, ADHD/ADD is only one of the conditions we see on the rise.
As children consume processed and packaged foods, over time their guts become permeable and the communication between the brain and gut is interrupted. This interruption inhibits focus and impulse control and with each further assault the condition can worsen.
Key nutrients are not properly absorbed within a leaky gut and as time goes on, the key hormones that regulate hunger and satiety are also damaged. Children today do not consume enough Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular DHA, which helps with brain functioning. Leptin, ghrelin, glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP1) and insulin stem from the gut and communicate with the brain. As these peptides are inhibited – as with Leptin — or overproduced – as with ghrelin – the child’s body becomes an unregulated and confused mess that begs for nutrients. Instead of nutrient-dense foods, the children are given more anti-nutrient food products instead and the vicious cycle continues and worsens.
The gut must be healed! If our children are to ever learn to focus and achieve their full potentials we, as parents and caregivers, must teach them and their families how to eat again. An organic plant-based diet with lean meats, nuts, seeds and berries can help begin the process of reversing the barrage that these children are facing and get them back on track without the use of pharmaceuticals. For further gut healing and guidance please contact your local Naturopathic Doctor or Nutritionist. We owe this to our nation’s children.
For further reading:
Gómez-Pinilla, F. (2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(7), 568-578.
Samsel, A., & Seneff, S. (2013). Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases. Entropy, 15(4), 1416-1463.