A study conducted by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention revealed that in 2011, 6.4 million children within the ages of 4-17 had been diagnosed with ADHD at some point in their lives. More often than not, doctors prescribe psychotropic drugs, such as Ritalin or Adderall, to combat the disease’s characteristics. Although these drugs may prove successful, they often come with some risky consequences. Now, more than ever, parents seek natural alternatives for ADHD treatment.
The New York Times published a piece by professor of psychology, L. Alan Sroufe, discussing drugs like Ritalin for ADHD. Sroufe explains that these drugs increase short term concentration, hence why college students find them so effective when studying for exams. However, no study recognizes any long-term benefits of ADHD medication on academic performance, relationships, or behavior issues.
Not only is Ritalin not effective for long-term use, negative side effects like stunting one’s growth and addiction risk should be considered. The DEA classifies Ritalin as a “Schedule II” drug, meaning a prescription drug with the highest possible potential for abuse.
Growing awareness of the efficacy and side effects of ADHD prescription drugs has led some doctors and parents focusing more on natural alternatives for treatment. Studies have found validity in the use of certain dietary supplements, and suggest that deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals may contribute to ADHD symptoms. In particular, magnesium, vitamin B6, and omega-3 fatty acids have been highlighted.
Some experts believe the effects of mild magnesium deficiency may be represented in children with ADHD. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include irritability, decreased attention span, and mental confusion. A study involving 75 magnesium-deficient children with ADHD showed an advancement in behavior for those taking magnesium, in comparison to those receiving the placebo. As with any supplement or diet plan, one should always talk to their doctor first in order to determine what is appropriate for them.
Another study concluded, high levels of B6 pyridoxine proved more effective than Ritalin in improving hyperactive behavior. Possibly, in part, because serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, the chemicals affected in children with ADHD, require sufficient levels of vitamin B6 in order for the body to produce them.
More research on natural alternatives for ADHD shows high hopes for Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3, found naturally in walnuts, flaxseed, and fish, represent “good fats” or polyunsaturated fats. These fatty acids play an integral role in normal brain function and in promoting the transmission of signals between neurons.
Studies have shown that children with ADHD have very low blood levels of Omega-3, specifically the component docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). As the major structural component of nerve cells, DHA must be present for the development of sensory, perceptual, cognitive, and motor neural systems. Research indicates, Omega-3 deficiencies correlate with behavioral issues such as, conduct disorder, hyperactivity, impulsivity, anxiety, temper-tantrums, sleeplessness, and learning problems.
A study by the University of Adelaide in Australia gave 130 children with ADHD, ages 7-12, 560 milligrams of Omega-3 via fish oil capsules daily. This resulted in dramatic improvements in behavior within three months. After seven months, the children were not as restless, showed progress in school, and had better concentration and attention span. After the study ended, improvements continued to be seen, proposing that the fish oils may have long-term effects as well.
When considering a child’s future, take into account that Ritalin may have some short-term advantages but proves useless for long-term treatment. Professor Sroufe protests that, “Putting children on drugs does nothing to change the conditions that derail their development in the first place...the large-scale medication of children feeds into a societal view that all of life’s problems can be solved with a pill.” Searching for a quick and easy solution to a much more complicated problem may set children up for failure.
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