Are Drugs Really The Way To Go For ADHD?

Neurologist & New York Times Bestselling Author By David Perlmutter, M.D.
Neurologist & New York Times Bestselling Author
Dr. Perlmutter is a Board-Certified Neurologist, four-time New York Times bestselling author, and fellow at the American College of Nutrition.

According to recent data from the CDC, 11% of school-age children in the United States have received a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. This means that 6.4 million American kids have been labeled with this medical diagnosis.

And when you’ve been given a diagnosis in America, of almost any kind, you can bet that there’s a pharmaceutical solution offered up as a standard reactionary medical response.

And so it is with ADHD: about two-thirds of these children (about 4.3 million kids in this country) receive powerful mind-altering stimulant medications. And they're doing so with medically and parentally sanctioned stimulants to treat a medical condition, the diagnosis of which has increased 41% in just the last decade.

First, let’s just embrace the number of children this represents. It’s about the same as the entire population of Kentucky. Again that’s the number of our children who are currently taking powerful prescription medications, the long-term consequences of which have never been scientifically studied.

And second, does it at all seem reasonable that 41% more children have developed a medical problem over the past decade? Or could it simply be that ADHD is being more readily diagnosed?

In fact, one of the reasons more children have received the ADHD label stems from the recent inclusion of children as young as four years of age as qualifying for not only the diagnosis, but for stimulant treatment as well, as published in a recent issue of the journal Pediatrics, and promoted by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

And what is so telling is the fact that the study used to justify the use of methylphenidate (Ritalin®), a powerful stimulant medication, in treating preschoolers involved a grand total of 114 children. In the study, only 21% of those treated with the drug achieved significant improvement while 13% of the group receiving a placebo had a similar response.

My purpose in this missive is not to suggest that some kids do or don’t have ADHD or that some kids might not actually be served well to take a medication. As a practicing neurologist dealing with this issue, it's clear that a small percentage of children will in fact do better in terms of socialization and academic performance when they are appropriately medicated.

But the notion that we should accept the idea that medications should be given to more than 4 million American children should be challenged on scientific, medical, and compassionate grounds.

Here’s the checklist of what I believe should happen before children get drugged:

  • 1. Check for gluten sensitivity, which has been associated with attention issues. Going gluten-free can absolutely lead to remarkable changes in a child’s behavior.

    2. Add a supplement containing the omega-3 fatty acid DHA.

    3. Add a wide spectrum probiotic.

    4. Increase dietary fat while substantially reducing sugar and carbs. Healthful sources for brain friendly fats include olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, wild fish, and avocado.

    5. Ensure your child is getting adequate exercise, at least 45minutes to a full hour each day.

    6. Check vitamin D status and consider supplementing to bring the vitamin D blood level to the middle of the “normal range.”

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