ADHD Without Drugs?

My nephew, age 8, was just diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and his pediatrician recommended drug treatment. The problem seems to be that he doesn’t much like school and is restless (not disruptive!) in class. Drugs seem a bit drastic to me. Any recommendations?

– June 15, 2010

Yes. My advice is to read an impressive new publication on the subject, ADHD Without Drugs, by my colleague Sandy Newmark, M.D., a California-based pediatrician on the faculty of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. I wrote the foreword to the book because I think the information and prudent advice it contains can be an enormous help to the millions of parents and children who are confronting this diagnosis. Over the past 25 years, ADHD has become epidemic to the point where six to eight percent of all kids, and more than 10 percent of the boys, in the United States are labeled as having a serious neurodevelopmental disease. Worse, 2.5 million kids are taking psychostimulant medication, an approach that Dr. Newmark and I think is vastly overused.

The big mystery is why so many more children are affected now than in the past. Dr. Newmark believes that something has altered the neurological development of kids today resulting in more youngsters whose brains are “wired” differently than was the case a few decades ago. He blames the environmental toxins that are increasingly prevalent in our lives, poor nutrition and the amount of time kids spend watching TV, using computers and playing video games. All these electronic activities have the effect of shortening kids’ attention span. He notes that every study on the subject has shown that the more hours of television a child watches, the more likely he or she is to have ADHD.

If your nephew really has ADHD (Dr. Newmark lists a number of disorders, ranging from depression to iron deficiency to problems at school that parents may not recognize, which can be misdiagnosed as ADHD), it can often be treated successfully without drugs. He believes that one of the single biggest factors contributing to ADHD is the poor quality of the foods our kids eat – too many containing artificial colorings and other additives. Other possibilities include food allergies and sensitivities that can be identified via an elimination diet and deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids (Dr. Newmark and I both feel that every child with ADHD would benefit from taking a daily omega-3 fatty acid supplement). Deficiencies of the minerals iron, zinc and magnesium have also been linked to ADHD.

Dr. Newmark’s book is an invaluable source of information and sensible, tested advice for patients and families dealing with this increasingly common diagnosis. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

More information on treating ADHD.

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