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- The Facts:
The fact that ADHD is diagnosed strictly on behavioural characteristics and not brain imaging or other science means that many who have this label don’t formally have a neurodevelopmental disorder.
- Reflect On:
Why is medication the only resort to combating the symptoms of ADHD? Why are other interventions, like meditation, dietary changes, a change in lifestyle/environment never really discussed or emphasized?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly known as ADHD, has become an epidemic. According to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviours (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active.
They go on to state that it’s normal for children to have trouble focusing and behaving at one time or another. “However, children with ADHD do not just grow out of these behaviours. The symptoms continue, can be severe, and can cause difficulty at school, at home, or with friends.”
The CDC claims that children with ADHD might daydream a lot, forget or lose things a lot, squirm or fidget, talk too much, have a hard time resisting temptation, have trouble taking turns, and make carless mistakes or take unnecessary risks. But are these really symptoms of a serious “neurodevelopmental disorder?”
Is This Science-Based?
It’s not as if children are taken into the lab and have their brains scanned to determine if serious brain abnormalities exist. ADHD is diagnosed purely off of behaviour, and there may be something very wrong with diagnosing someone with neurological abnormalities simply baed on observation, instead of actual science. Who is to say that the behaviours listed above are not those of a normal child, or even a normal adult, especially within a school or work environment that does not seem to be foster a human being’s natural state? Perhaps the person or child in question doesn’t actually have neurodevelopmental problems, but is simply responding appropriately to the environmental that they find themselves in?
There is hardly any evidence suggesting that there is a neurological problem, as is often expressed by the medical industry. There are studies, however, that do show differences. For example, one of the largest imaging studies of ADHD to date recently identified differences in five regions of the brain, with the greatest differences seen in children rather than adults.
It’s important to note here the the brain of a child is still developing, and that the structure is not permanent and continues to develop until early adulthood. More than 3,000 people diagnosed with ADHD had an MRI compared to controls, to measure the volume and the size of seven regions of the brain that were thought to be linked to ADHD–the pallidum, thalamus, caudate nucleus, putamen, nucleus accumbens, amygdala, and hippocampus. The study found that overall brain volume and five of the regional volumes were smaller in people with ADHD — the caudate nucleus, putamen, nucleus accumbens, amygdala and hippocampus.
“These differences are very small — in the range of a few percent — so the unprecedented size of our study was crucial to help identify these. Similar differences in brain volume are also seen in other psychiatric disorders, especially major depressive disorders.”–Dr Martine Hoogman, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.(source)
Smaller brain regions do not equate to a neurodevelopmental disorder or a lack of brain functioning though. This is simply an assumption. As with depression, where 6 decades of research that serotonin (or norepinephrine, or dopamine) deficiency is the cause of depression and anxiety, scientific credibility has not been achieved. This is well known. A New England Journal of Medicine review on major depression stated:
” … numerous studies of norepinephrine and serotonin metabolites in plasma, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid as well as postmortem studies of the brains of patients with depression, have yet to identify the purported deficiency reliably.”
Despite this fact, drugs are being prescribed that alter brain chemistry based on the prevailing unsubstantiated ‘theories’ regarding several ‘mental disorders.’ Here is an eye opening quote regarding the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:
“[DSM-V] is a wholesale imperial medicalization of normality that will trivialize mental disorder and lead to a deluge of unneeded medication treatment – a bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry but at a huge cost to the new false positive patients caught in the excessively wide DSM-V net.”–Allen Frances, DSMIV Taskforce Chair (source)
Financial Ties With Big Pharma
Speaking of the DSM, American psychologist Lisa Cosgrove and researchers have investigated financial ties between the DSM panel members and the pharmaceutical industry. She published her research in the journal Plos One. The study found that, of the 170 DSM members who sat on panels of ‘mood disorders,’ ‘schizophrenia’ and other psychotic disorders, most of them had financial ties to drug companies. The connections were especially strong in those diagnostic areas where drugs are the first line of treatment for mental disorders:
The revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), scheduled for publication in May 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), has created a firestorm of controversy because of questions about undue industry influence. Some have questioned whether the inclusion of new disorders (e.g., Attenuated Psychotic Risk Syndrome) and widening of the boundaries of current disorders (e.g., Adjustment Disorder Related to Bereavement) reflects corporate interests. These concerns have been raised because the nomenclature, criteria, and standardization of psychiatric disorders codified in the DSM have a large public impact in a diverse set of areas ranging from insurance claims to jurisprudence. Moreover, through its relationship to the International Classification of Diseases, the system used for classification by many countries around the world, the DSM has a global reach.
Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Carlat has said:
“And where there is a scientific vacuum, drug companies are happy to insert a marketing message and call it science. As a result, psychiatry has become a proving ground for outrageous manipulations of science in the service of profit.”
Questioning The System
Dr. Marcia Angell, a physician and longtime Editor-in-Chief of the New England Medical Journal (NEMJ), also considered one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals in the world, said the following:
It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine. (source)
Here is another great quote:
“The medical profession is being bought by the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of the practice of medicine, but also in terms of teaching and research. The academic institutions of this country are allowing themselves to be the paid agents of the pharmaceutical industry. I think it’s disgraceful.”–Arnold Seymour Relman (1923-2014), Harvard professor of medicine and former Editor-in-Chief of The New England Medical Journal (source)
A very interesting and uncharacteristic article in the New York times titled The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder raised awareness about this issue in 2013. The article discusses efforts to expose the manufacturing of a “profit driven machine into which our children are being fed.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the diagnosis had been made in 15 percent of high school-age children, and that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990.
Behind that growth has been drug company marketing that has stretched the image of classic A.D.H.D. to include relatively normal behavior like carelessness and impatience, and has often overstated the pills’ benefits.
According to Kelly Brogan, MD, psychiatrist:
Psychiatric studies funded by pharma are 4x more likely to be published if they are positive, and only 18% of psychiatrists disclose their conflicts of interests when they publish data.
Psychiatry is particularly susceptible to industry corruption because of the highly subjective, non-biological, impressionistic nature of diagnostic criteria. With our “governing body” the American Psychiatric Association heavily funded by pharmaceutical companies, the temptation is all too great to open the diagnostic umbrella to encompass behavioral criteria like “makes careless mistakes” or “often has difficulty waiting his or her turn.”
Looking At ADHD Differently
What about other aspects of ‘ADHD’ that are never really emphasized? Recent work in cognitive neuroscience shows that people with an ADHD diagnosis and creative thinkers have difficulty suppressing brain activity that comes from the “Imagination Network.” This suggests people with ADHD might have differences in parts of the brain that actually makes them ‘superior’ in many ways, but it’s information that pharmaceutical companies can’t make a profit off of.
Currently, there are no school assessments to evaluate creativity and imagination. The fact remains, people who show characteristics of ADHD are more likely to reach higher levels of creative thought and achievement compared to those who don’t show these characteristics.
“By automatically treating ADHD characteristics as a disability– as we so often do in an educational context– we are unnecessarily letting too many competent and creative kids fall through the cracks.”–Scott Barry Kaufman, Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. (source)
Scrutinizing ADHD Treatment
A longitudinal NIMH study, the only one of its kind, demonstrated that after an initial decrease in ADHD symptoms, at three years, there was deterioration in the medicated group, and by six, worse attentional and behavioral symptoms than unmedicated controls, and increased functional impairment. Despite claims that stimulant side effects are “generally mild,” data accumulated by psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin has demonstrated quite the opposite. He cites studies that demonstrate concerning risks for:
- Motor and vocal tics
- Addiction, withdrawal and rebound
- Growth suppression
- Adverse cardiovascular effects
- Mania, suicidality, psychosis
A study by Nasrallah et al in which more than 50% of young adults treated with ADHD medication experienced PET-confirmed brain atrophy, concluding “cortical atrophy may be a long-term adverse effect of this treatment.” In rhesus monkeys, Wagner et al demonstrated long-term changes to dopamine levels and receptor density, related to compensatory changes the brain undergoes in the setting of chronic intoxication. Subjects abstinent from stimulants for three years were found to have persistent dopamine-related brain changes on PET scans, related to Parkinsonian pathology.
That being said, many people have reported success with medications, but could this be placebo?
Dr. Kelly Brogan sees pharmaceutical intervention for symptoms of ADHD as very harmful for a child’s development:
When we interfere with behavior and brain growth, when we force children to conform to our needs as busy, distracted, and often chronically ill adults, we may be fundamentally compromising their expression of self, as Breggin cites Greenough et al.
Spontaneous or self-generated activities–play, mastery, exploration, novelty seeking, curiosity, and zestful socialization-are central to the growth and development of animals and humans and necessary for the full elaboration of CNS synaptic connections. (source)
She looks at other ways to treat these symptoms, and feels the first line of defense is dietary solutions.
Some studies have, indeed, emerged that show a link between a gluten/casein free diet and improvement in autistic symptoms, and some parents have already seen the benefits of implementing this research.
The Mayo Clinic claims that certain food preservatives and colourings could increase hyperactive behaviour in some children. It would be best to avoid these, regardless of whether they are linked to ADHD or not.
It has also been suggested that EEG biofeedback (electroencephalographic) could help. It’s a type of neurotherapy that measures brainwaves. You can read more about that here.
In 2003, a study published in the journal Adolescence looked at how regular massages for 20 minutes twice a week could improve behaviour in the classroom. This is interesting because studies have also suggested that tai chi and yoga may also help improve ADHD symptoms. According to the studies, children with ADHD that practiced tai chi became less anxious or hyperactive. (source)
Other safe interventions are out there, you just have to look for them.
I hope this article provides insight for people as well as parents who are considering using medications if their child is labeled as having ‘ADHD’. This article is not meant ignore symptoms of ADHD, but the idea of administering drugs so someone can better fit into a regimented environment should be questioned.
A challenge to convention like this can often be vilified, and that’s ok. We are going through a period of time where it’s best to keep an open mind, as new information is emerging in various areas that challenge our long-held belief systems.
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