In recent years we have seen a dramatic increase in cases of children and even adults identified or labeled as ADD or ADHD. What exactly is this condition, and why the mysterious rise in the number of cases? These were the questions I began to ask a few years ago when I noticed that an unusually high percentage of children were taking Ritalin, the drug most often prescribed by physicians for this baffling disorder that appears to have claimed approximately 20% of the population. Current figures note that an estimated 3.5 million children in the United States take Ritalin for ADD/ADHD. As the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD has become more popular, more adults are now taking Ritalin as well. As Dr. William Crook has so shrewdly observed, “Can we really believe that millions of American children and adults suffer from a Ritalin deficiency?”

A person with ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder has difficulty focusing and concentrating on a given task, is easily distracted by external stimuli, and generally has a short attention span. When this person also acts impulsively, fidgets or squirms, can’t sit still, is exceedingly loud, disruptive or prone to angry outbursts, then that person receives the label of ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. Children are most often identified as ADD/ADHD in school by their teachers who recommend to parents that they have their child tested for this disorder. This frequently results in the child being given Ritalin or some other medication to help the child stay focused and calm. If the facts concerning Ritalin and other like drugs were widely known, more parents and teachers might question just how much help these children were receiving by taking these medications.

Though Ritalin is the most commonly prescribed drug for ADD/ADHD, other medications such as Cylert and Dexedrine are sometimes recommended for this condition. These drugs are psychostimulants or amphetamines that interact with the neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) dopamine and norepinephrine. These drugs are not without serious side effects which is why the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency lists Ritalin as a Schedule II drug in the same category as narcotics morphine and opium. Known on the streets as “poor man’s opium”, Ritalin is referred to as “speed”, and has the highest potential for abuse than any other prescription drug. The International Narcotics Control Board is apparently concerned about the use of Ritalin in the United States for ADD/ADHD where Ritalin is prescribed ten times more than in any other country. According to an article in USA Weekend, October 27-29, 1995, in a decade Ritalin production has increased ninefold.

Studies have shown that as ADD/ADHD children enter teenage years and young adulthood, more of them develop alcohol and drug addictions than other children, and a higher percentage of ADD/ADHD children turn to criminal behavior than those without this condition. In some states, the question, “Are you on Ritalin?” has been added to routine police reports.

The Physician’s Desk Reference states that “sufficient data on the safety and efficacy of long term use of Ritalin in children is not yet available.” Side effects of Ritalin are numerous: nervousness, decreased appetite, insomnia, stomachaches, headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, skin rashes, abdominal pain, weight loss, visual problems, changes in heart rate and rhythm, changes in blood pressure, generalized ill feeling, depression, restricted creativity, crying easily, lowered seizure threshold, stunted growth, and psychic dependence. Since Ritalin alters brain chemistry, prolonged use could produce changes in the production of neurotransmitters. In essence, Ritalin “works” by speeding up the system until it shuts down. Perhaps the apparent “calmness and obedience” of children on Ritalin observed by teachers and parents is actually the robotic-like state resulting from an over-stimulated mind/body attempting to cope with the unnatural surge of adrenaline continually stressing the system. This would account for Ritalin’s rebound effect at the end of the day when the child may become emotionally drained, depressed and physically exhausted. Sometimes anti-depressants such as Prozac (an equally dangerous drug) are given to counteract the side effects of Ritalin.

Long-term studies show no positive effect of Ritalin on long-range academic achievement. In fact, Ritalin and other drugs of this type can impair thinking abilities and make it harder to succeed in school. These medicated children also receive the conflicting message, “Say no to drugs, but be sure to take your behavior-controlling, consciousness-altering drug before you go to school.” If this trend continues, one might question what the future of our world would be like with so many of the population raised on mind-altering drugs.

Fortunately, there are logical causes for this condition known as ADD/ADHD, and easily accessible natural solutions. Like any imbalance, when approached holistically, we can see that insufficient nutrition and a build-up of toxins are key factors in the development of ADD/ADHD. A diet of processed, devitalized foods lacking enzymes, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential monosaccharides deprives children of the vital nutrients essential for cell growth, production of neurotransmitters, and every metabolic function in the body. In children, 50% of all nutrients go to the brain, compared to 20% in adults.

Refined sugar is particularly significant in that it stresses the adrenals and pancreas which regulates insulin production. This creates a yo-yo effect of adrenaline rushes and let down responses, leading to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Many of the symptoms of ADD/ADHD are symptoms of hypoglycemia. Refined sugar also depletes the body of B vitamins and calcium which are essential to a healthy nervous system and the production of key neurotransmitters such as seratonin. Seratonin enables us to stay calm and relaxed, and is important for restful sleep.

Food additives such as artificial colors, flavors and preservatives have the capacity to adversely affect every system in the body. The nervous system is the most deeply affected by these chemicals, frequently producing behavioral disturbances and learning disabilities. Even some foods can promote ADD/ADHD, particularly those that are difficult for humans to digest, thereby flooding the body with toxic waste. Dairy products, refined flours, sodas, hydrogenated oils, pork and red meat create toxic by-products, causing the body to create mucus in an attempt to expel this waste through the lungs and sinuses.

Immunizations and antibiotics have been implicated as primary factors in ADD/ADHD as they so drastically upset the natural balance of the body. Antibiotics destroy vital beneficial bacteria that live in the intestinal system. Without these good bacteria to keep the harmful bacteria, parasites, and yeasts at bay, the intestinal wall can become perforated allowing undigested food particles to leak out into the bloodstream causing allergies, food sensitivities, and a weak immune system. Respiratory congestion, ear infections and most digestive problems are caused by this condition. Many children with ADD/ADHD have received an unusually high amount of antibiotics. A study reported in 1987 found that 69% of children receiving medication for hyperactivity had a history of greater that 10 ear infections for which they had taken antibiotics.

Environmental toxins, including all synthetic chemicals, pesticides, chlorinated and fluoridated water, electro-magnetic radiation, and numerous poisonous chemicals encountered every day deeply affect the endocrine and immune system. Many of these synthetic chemicals mimic hormones and other neurotransmitters, and bind to the receptor sites of nerve cells in the brain and elsewhere in the body. The effects of these substances can damage the nervous system and affect normal brain development, causing a wide variety of physical, psychological and behavioral problems.

Toxic environments in schools, known as ” sick school syndrome” have been linked to ADD/ADHD symptoms. In one study, first graders in classrooms lit by cool white fluorescent bulbs had 50% more dental cavities and more behavioral problems than children in classrooms with sunlight or full spectrum bulbs. Children that are forced to remain inside at their desks for most of the day are deprived of oxygen-rich fresh air and the physical movement needed for blood oxygenation and optimum brain development. Though the brain constitutes only 1/50th of the body’s weight, it uses 1/5th of the body’s oxygen supply.

In addition to these physical restrictions, our educational system typically places more emphasis on left-brain development of the intellect through rote memorization, with little focus on right-brain processes such as creativity and intuition. It is no wonder our children are bored, frustrated, uninspired and rebellious in school.

For those who are interested in specific natural therapies that can be used to bring balance to individuals with ADD or ADHD, we have put together an information booklet ($5.95 plus shipping) that includes dietary guidelines, nutritional and herbal supplements, vibrational therapies, environmental purification technologies, resource books and holistically oriented support groups. As more people become aware of the true nature of ADD and ADHD, we can dispel the myths regarding this condition and create a healthy future for our children.