Child Disorders: A Deeper Perspective of ADD/ADHD

If you look at the research, currently the cause of ADHD is “unknown.” Many articles you will read overly express that it is a chemical imbalance and that it is NOT caused by “bad” parenting. I don’t believe it is caused by “bad” parenting either as the cause goes much deeper than that. I believe these sources stress this point mainly because they want to promote drug therapies and because we Americans never want to believe any of our bad experiences are ever our fault. That’s natural! What parent really wants to think they may have played a role in creating this problem in their child? Pointing fingers and placing blame sure isn’t going to help the issue. So if ADHD/ADD is a chemical imbalance, then the question is, “What causes the imbalance?” I hardly think the cause is unknown. Dr. Hugh Riordan once said, “Once you know it is impossible to not know, you are changed forever.” We know the cause; we just choose to ignore it because it is easier than making changes. I am a victim of this myself. So what is the cause? There is not one cause of course, but I will say most of the contributing factors do revolve around the issue of modern life and technology and how our society has created an environment where children cannot thrive. Why have we done this?

The conclusion of many research trials points to the child’s environment as being a contributing cause to the ADHD symptoms. I completely agree with this. Genetics may make one more susceptible, but it’s the “toxic” environment that leads to the chemical imbalance and behavioral problems in children. The problem that we Americans have is not quite understanding what a toxic environment is because “toxic” has become the norm. So unless we start thinking more deeply and take a step back to look at the big picture, this epidemic will continue (along with the current epidemic of cancer and autoimmunity). This isn’t an article of blame or rant but rather one to spark some thinking amongst us all, so hopefully “we the people” who have let this world become toxic will also begin to make the changes toward health, even if it’s one individual at a time.

I had an epiphany about four years ago one afternoon while I was home folding laundry. My four month old son, Lincoln, was playing in an exersaucer that I had bought to both contain and entertain him. I thought the exersaucer was pretty cool with all the buttons, noise makers, and flashing lights. I remember, so clearly, sitting there listening to it talk and all the noise it was making. As time passed, I recall becoming so agitated by it; it was loud, annoying and far from being peaceful. I couldn’t focus or concentrate on anything while that toy was making noise. At that moment a light bulb went off in my head. If that toy is bothering me, how is my poor son handling that chaos? If it is a stress to me, it has to be a stress to his little body. I thought to myself, he just came from my womb, a very peaceful environment, and now I’m surrounding him with toys that produce unnatural flashing lights, bright colors, multiple languages and loud music. That toy went from “cool” to “corrupt” very quickly. After that day I went out and bought the old fashioned tinker toys for my little Linc. No more obnoxious, stress producing toys for my son.

These new computerized, fancy toys are marketed as if they will help with brain development and make our kids smarter than Einstein, but they are actually hindering their development by creating stress responses in the body, very similar to the one I was experiencing. Hands and feet are enough entertainment for babies.

While these toys can be helpful to parents, I think too often we begin to rely on modern technology and we use it out of balance. Unfortunately, for many children, these toys become babysitters. And while yes, the parent lets that happen, it’s our society and our culture that puts so many demands on the parent, and the parent just cannot do “it all.”

During these early years of brain development, I believe that nature is not flawed when it comes to the growth of the brain. Of course there are random mistakes nature will make, but they will never be an epidemic—only human influence will cause these. The following are some potential causes of ADHD, and when reversed or avoided they have been shown to decrease the symptoms of the disorder. As you read through them, think about how our society has created this epidemic in our children, not directly but through a domino effect of events. “It takes a village to raise a child,” according to an old African proverb. If this is true, then that means our village is responsible for the health of our children; if our children are sick, then the health of the village needs to be examined.

Dietary Interventions

First of all, there is the issue of breast-feeding. Numerous studies reveal “partial protection” against the development of ADHD if breast-fed. There is no ONE cause of ADHD; the cause is a combination of factors thru an accumulation of events. So if ANY protection is shown through research, then I would most certainly put a lot of weight on that finding. Let’s all encourage the natural act of breast-feeding and not be so squeamish about it.

Nutrient deficiencies have been documented to be a factor for ADHD, especially calcium and magnesium. Please note that it is very difficult for our bodies to absorb calcium from homogenized milk, and most kids do not eat the other high calcium / magnesium foods such as almonds, avocados, kale, spinach, and bean sprouts. Did you know a half a cup of almonds or a cup of cooked turnip greens has as much calcium and is a more bioavailable form than milk? There are plenty of other deficiencies experienced by children due to lack of nutrient intake as well as depletion. Our bodies use up nutrients during stress, which is increased due to our toxic environment.

Toxic Environmental Chemicals

Our babies’ poor livers are in overdrive detoxing all of the chemicals that they are exposed to in our daily environments. These exposures begin in the hospital, especially in babies born by C-section whose first contact with our world is sterile gloves and whom do not receive all the great “probiotics” from the birthing canal. Babies are placed to rest in cute pajamas and on top of mattresses that are coated in flame retardants—all known to be carcinogenic. In 2004, I was unable to purchase a crib mattress without these chemicals unless ordered from outside of the United States. Thankfully, that has changed. I still don’t feel that the benefits outweigh the potential dangers with those chemicals—maybe this is a factor in “crib death” as well. Environmental chemicals cause oxidative damage in our nervous system. Combine that with nutritional deficiency and it’s a disaster waiting to happen. I understand we cannot remove all toxic chemicals from our daily lives. I certainly don’t want anyone to become overly obsessive, because obsession and addiction will cause their own damages within the body. However, you can start removing the toxins over which you have control.

First are the chemicals in our food. There are thousands of food additives used in foods we eat. Try to at least avoid the top 14 I mention in my lecture, “The Danger of Food Additives.” (Watch it from our archived lectures on our website or on our Youtube channel.) Also eat organic when available and affordable to avoid possible pesticides, animal growth hormones or antibiotics.

Next, take a look around your environment; notice all the unnecessary chemicals we bring into the home. Again, don’t blame yourself after the fact, as blame is never helpful. Instead, choose to open your mind and realize you are a product of our society as well. Choose to make changes; the small changes will trickle down and create real lasting change and improvements in our world. A few common household items that are toxic are: Lysol, bleach, other synthetic cleaning products, air fresheners, hair spray, candles, volatile organic compounds (VOCs—found in paint), glues from new carpet, synthetic construction furniture (emit formaldehyde and other fumes), mold, perfume, pesticides, and perfluorinated chemicals (chemical used in microwave popcorn bags to keep oil from seeping through the bag. I advise to pop corn on the stove in a pot with butter or coconut oil. Kids LOVE to watch it pop and the best part—it’s CHEAP!).

Be mindful of what you put on your (and your children’s) skin. My 8-year-old said she is forced to use hand sanitizer at school. Hand sanitizer is wonderful when soap and water are not available. It’s great when I was changing a dirty diaper and had NO access to soap and water, but it is important for schools to teach kids to wash their hands. Hand sanitizer is toxic with repeated usage. Our skin is the largest organ in the body—many people forget this. The skin acts as protection, thermoregulation, immune surveillance, and plays a huge role in the body’s excretory system that keeps the stability of the body’s internal environment. The last thing we want to do is put chemicals on our skin, clog the excretory glands and prevent proper detoxification in the body. So avoiding chemicals in skin care products or avoiding skin care products all together would be a beneficial change to our overall health and may decrease the symptoms of ADHD. My patients sometimes don’t believe me when I say I don’t use any skin care products on a daily basis, except mineral powder. The key to good skin health is to address issues of the skin from the inside out, as well as cleaning up the environment. Start by avoiding the parabens, dyes, isopropyl alcohol, proplylene glycol (active component in antifreeze—an aside: this is also in many items in the grocery store, especially the sweets and foods marketed to “diabetics”), mineral oil (petroleum), DEA/MEA/TEA, and fragrances in skin care products. Also note the products marketed as “fragrance free” are even more toxic—you will see laundry detergent, baby wipes, etc. that are fragrance free. This may be overwhelming, but please rest assured that these are easily avoidable. In fact, you can make your own products and save a lot of money—this goes for the home care products as well.

More Time in Nature

Babies and children, as well as adults, need to be in nature. Kids need to play outside and sometimes even take their shoes off and run through the grass.

Encourage your child to play outdoors as much as possible. Yes of course it is fun, but it is not just the psychological benefits that help the nervous system but rather the exposure to the Earth’s electromagnetic waves that are very healing.

A big culprit in keeping our kids indoors… TV. We know that time spent in front of the TV at a young age increases the risk of ADHD in children. But, is it the time in front of the TV or the actual content and the visual tactics used in the children’s television programs? For instance, Sesame Street uses rapid scene changes to capture the attention of the child. This can have deleterious effects on brain chemistry. The overstimulation can throw off the balance of the body’s catecholamine system, the same system responsible for communication between nerves —the dopamine and norepinephrine of which you may have heard. The sad part is that a lot of research went into developing these programs for kids to capture their attention and keep it. The problem with these very skillful tactics is that chronic exposure makes the real world become slow and boring in comparison. We are training our kids’ brains to expect that level of input in real life, and when it doesn’t happen, the child becomes easily bored and inattentive. Combined with other toxicities and lack of nutrition, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. I can’t believe I sat my child in front of the “Baby Einstein” movies when she was a baby, but I didn’t know then what I know now. You see, I am a victim of this as well.

Emotional Wellness

No one has a perfect childhood, and even in “good” families, children may need help and direction with proper coping and healing skills. If parents are still dealing with their own baggage and emotional hang-ups (as most of us are), the child may benefit from an outsider helping him/her learn how to properly communicate emotional pain. In the best of families I often see a lack of emotional support for a number of reasons. Even a one-time event can create an intense emotional blockage that can live within them and later manifest as other disorders. This is crucial to the child’s future neurological health, especially in preventing the ADHD symptoms from progressing further into anxiety and panic disorders.

The purpose of this article is to stimulate your mind and get you thinking. There are countless books and articles that discuss the treatment of ADHD without drugs and go into much more detail than I have in this article. I don’t want to talk negatively about drug therapy, because in all honesty, the drugs do help with some of the symptoms. However, placing our kids on drugs will not fix the problem. In fact, the problem will still be there. If we do not treat the underlying causes, we are doing not only the child a disservice but the rest of our community and the world as a whole. Start with small changes and stick with them. It takes time to see an impact, but the results will be worth it.