Ritalin is widely used to treat ADHD, but nutritional options could work as well.
Story: Joy Stephenson-Laws
Do you consider yourself someone with a short attention span? If so, you might conclude you have ADHD, short for attention deﬁcit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD is a brain disorder “marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity–impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. ADHD is the most common mental disorder affecting children—an estimated 5 percent of children and 2.5 percent of adults have ADHD, the American Psychiatric Association states.
WHAT CAUSES ADHD?
The exact causes are unknown, but possible causes include genes, environmental factors (for example, if a woman smokes or drinks alcohol while pregnant), a diet high in sugar, or a traumatic brain injury. The three most common symptoms of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
HOW IS ADHD TREATED?
Ritalin often is prescribed to treat ADHD. It affects chemicals in the brain and nerves that contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control. The chemical name for Ritalin is methylphenidate, which belongs to a class of drugs known as stimulants. Cocaine also is a stimulant, but cocaine raises dopamine levels within seconds, making it highly addictive, while it takes an hour for Ritalin to increase dopamine levels. Other brand names of methylphenidate include Concerta, Methylin, and Metadate. In addition to being used in both children and adults to control ADHD symptoms, Ritalin also may be used to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. Like most medications, Ritalin has side effects. If used for a long time or in high doses, you may experience withdrawal symptoms with Ritalin such as depression, other mood changes, and even suicidal thoughts. So never abruptly stop taking Ritalin. Consult your doctor, who may reduce your dose gradually.
If you’re already prone to anxiety or agitation, or have an existing psychotic disorder, Ritalin may exacerbate these symptoms. If you are someone who has seizures, this medication may cause more seizures. Taking Ritalin also may have nutritional consequences.
According to several sources, including Psychology Today, Ritalin and other stimulant drugs may suppress the appetite, which in turn could decrease the intake of critical nutrients like minerals and vitamins. There also is evidence that “patients with ADHD may have reduced levels of vitamin D, zinc, ferritin (a marker of peripheral iron stores), and magnesium.
These nutrients have important roles in neurologic function, including involvement in neurotransmitter synthesis,” the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports.
MINERALS AND VITAMINS
Let’s take a closer look at these important nutrients and what they do for brain health:
VITAMIN D—“In addition to its regulation of calcium and phosphorous in the intestine and stimulation of bone cell mineralization, vitamin D is a neuroactive steroid that has been shown in both animal and human studies to be important for normal brain development,” the NIH reports. Low vitamin D levels also have been connected to higher rates of schizophrenia, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. You can increase your vitamin D levels by spending time in the sun, eating sardines and egg yolks as well as other vitamin D-fortified foods, and/or taking supplements.
ZINC—According to the NIH: “The exact mechanism of how zinc may contribute to symptoms of ADHD is not known.” However, “zinc is a cofactor for more than 300 enzymes and is involved in the pathway for the body’s production of prostaglandins and neurotransmitters. ” It appears zinc is a critical mineral for brain health. Lamb, pumpkin seeds, grass fed beef, oysters, chia seeds, mushrooms, chickpeas, spinach, and chicken are foods that contain zinc.
FERRITIN—This may be used to determine iron stores in the body, so we are essentially talking about the mineral iron. Studies have shown that children with ADHD tend to have low ferritin levels, which suggests that iron may be relevant in preventing or treating the symptoms of ADHD. Spinach, beef, chicken, figs are examples of iron-rich foods.
MAGNESIUM— “According to a study done in Poland, children with ADHD had lower levels of magnesium compared to healthy controls,” the NIH states. Like zinc, magnesium is involved in at least 300 enzymatic reactions. A variety of delicious and healthy foods are rich in magnesium. Leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains contain magnesium. Foods with fiber, like cherries, are also good sources of magnesium. Many cereals are fortified with this essential mineral.
COPPER—This is another mineral that may be out of balance in children with ADHD. “Copper is an essential factor for both development and function of the central nervous system,” according to one source. “Zinc-to-copper ratio is abnormally low in individuals with disorders associated with hyperactivity.”
HOW CAN YOU BE PROACTIVE?
It is important to avoid artificial food colors and flavors implicated in worsening ADHD symptoms. Omega-3 supplements such as fish oil may help nourish the brain and help memory and attention. Ensure you are nutritionally balanced by incorporating a variety of healthy foods in your diet to get critical nutrients. Most importantly, get a comprehensive nutrient test. This is
the only way to know where you stand nutritionally.
It is my belief that medications such as Ritalin play an important part in modern medicine to address various diseases. But whenever possible, it should be a last resort and not used unless absolutely necessary. If you or your child suffer from ADHD, first determine whether there are any glaring nutritional deficiencies and work with a competent healthcare professional to address these deficiencies. Taking strong medicine, like Ritalin, comes with certain downsides, and in the end, you have to figure out whether these consequences are worth it.
About the writer:
Joy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs (pH), a revolutionary health-care company that provides tools
needed to achieve optimal health. Her book, “Minerals—The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy,” is available wherever
books are sold.