The explosive increase in the number of prescriptions being written for drugs to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has alarmed some doctors, who have warned of the, sometimes lethal, side effects of such drugs in children and teens.
These and other doctors have also questioned whether the number of prescriptions being written for ADHD drugs is the result of a huge increase in the number of cases, misdiagnosis, a marketing push by the drug companies, or perhaps a combination of all those things. This rise in ADHD diagnoses is happening throughout the Western world.
Figures published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the scale and staggering cost of the ADHD problem. As of 2006, 4.5 million US children between the ages of five and 17 had been diagnosed with ADHD. The CDC figures show that 7.8 percent of school-age children were reported to have ADHD and that it was more common among boys (9.5 percent) than girls (5.9 percent). The CDC has estimated that the cost of ADHD in the US is between $36 and $52 billion per year. Per family, that translates to an annual cost of between $12,000 and $18,000 for each child who has ADHD.
During the 1990s, the rate of psychostimulant drugs prescribed to treat ADHD increased by 700 percent, reported a 2003 paper published in The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. The best known of these psychostimulants is Ritalin (methylphenidate). Ritalin is a mild central nervous system stimulant that affects chemicals in the brain and nerves that contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control.
Dangers of ADHD Medications, and a Safer Option
There are serious risks involved in the prescription of drugs to treat ADHD. A study published in the June 2009 edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry reported that children who had been prescribed drugs such as Ritalin were seven times more likely to die suddenly and for no apparent reason. Ordinarily, this would be more than enough to have a drug or category of drugs classed as too dangerous, and banned. However, lawmakers, regulators, and the media have been strangely silent.
What other options do parents and their doctors have? For those who want a safe natural option that has been shown in published clinical trials to be effective for the treatment of ADHD, there are omega-3 fatty acids.
Doctors who had speculated about a possible relationship between a decline in fish consumption in the West and a corresponding increase in disorders such as ADHD prompted research in the field, which showed that children who had behavioral problems that could be classed as ADHD were indeed deficient in omega-3. (Lipids from cold-water fish are a major source of omega 3 in the diet.)
Studies published in the journal Physiology & Behavior and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that boys who had ADHD also had symptoms of essential fatty acid deficiency, such as constant thirst, dry skin and hair, brittle nails, frequent urination and scaly growths on the skin called hyperfollicular keratoses. Other studies have reported high levels of inflammatory agents and low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood of children who had been diagnosed to have ADHD.
A pilot study published in the Nutrition Journal tested what would happen if the omega-3 levels in the blood of children who had ADHD were increased to the same level as typical Japanese children, among whom ADHD was extremely rare. The subjects consumed two tablespoons per day of fish oil concentrate, which was supplied by the Inflammation Research Foundation. What the research team found was a significant positive correlation between the progressive level of change in the omega-3 in the blood of the subjects during the trial period and the severity of their ADHD.
The treatment option increasingly favored by progressive-thinking doctors who do not wish to prescribe drugs such as Ritalin for their ADHD patients is to eliminate trans fats and processed foods from young patients’ diets and to give children who exhibit symptoms of ADHD large doses of omega-3 fatty acids every day.
The Best Sources of Omega 3
The most concentrated sources of omega 3 are supplements derived from marine animals. Evening primrose oil and flaxseed oil are two vegetarian options, but they are not as potent as fish oil capsules and liquid. The most potent form of omega 3 is derived from the oil of the green-lipped mussel of New Zealand. In the US, this is marketed under the name Lyprinol. Medical researchers at a number of international universities have conducted numerous studies on Lyprinol, and found it to be 200 times more potent than Max-EPA; 350 times more potent than evening primrose oil; 350 times more potent than salmon oil; and 400 times more potent than flax seed oil. Tests also showed that Lyprinol had no adverse effects on people with shellfish allergies.
If a child has symptoms of ADHD and the parent is worried about giving him or her Ritalin, it would make sense to give the child a well-studied marine oil supplement that will replenish the child’s omega 3. With no ill side effects and a number of health benefits, omega 3 nutritional support to address ADHD is definitely worth a try.
Carl D.Thompson has spent most of his 34-year career as a journalist writing about health and medical matters. He has a particular interest in low-risk natural alternatives to synthetic drugs.
His new book is Inflammation: What Drug Companies Do not Want You to Know, which is available as a free e-book at www.urgenthealthnews.com.