Degenerative Diseases

Attention Deficit Disorder: Effective Alternatives To Worrisome Drugs

My Personal Research Into ADD

I had Attention Deficit Disorder as a child, and got into a lot of trouble, but fortunately, in the middle of high school, I became interested in natural medicine. This enabled me to turn my life around and I was accepted into medical school research laboratories right out of high school. My son also had very severe Attention Deficit Disorder. He was antisocial, entirely illiterate, unable to read at all and was developing some features of autism as well. At that point I decided to commit my life to ADD research in order to help my son.

Three years later, he is now a normal boy, and you would never guess he has Attention Deficit Disorder. He is in Grade V but reading at a Grade XII level, writing computer programs, and he is an accomplished athlete. I am very happy to say that the program that we have developed at the Oceanside Research Centre works and has made a huge difference in my life personally. We are cooperating with researchers all around the world, and we have seen many children with this disorder become bright, healthy, well-adjusted kids.

Characteristics Of ADD

Easy Distractibility: characterizes this condition more than anything else. This affects your ability to maintain attention to tasks and be productive. You have great ideas and inspirations and all kinds of projects that you never quite get around to doing.

Inattentiveness And Hyperfocussing: People with ADD have an inability to concentrate and to really focus their energies on a task and complete it. Strangely enough, people with ADD often have a strange phenomenon we call hyperfocussing where you completely forget about your surroundings when you are doing something you enjoy, and you focus so intensively that you may go into a kind of trance state.

In these short bursts of hyperfocussing, you are not distractible and can often get a tremendous amount of work done. I have met many adults who use this feature to their advantage. When they find something they are interested in, they make this their vocation and become very productive. It can be the difference between success and failure in your life.

Forgetfulness: can be present to the point where it is really an impairment. I used to be at the very best, the absent-minded professor, and at the very worst, a complete scatterbrain who couldn’t remember anything.

Disorganization: People with this condition often live their lives in a whirlwind and everything around them is disorganized. This is something you can overcome with wonderful tools like computers and electronic organizers that can allow you to create structure and organization externally.

Confused Or Jumbled Thinking: Many people with ADD really can’t stay on one train of thought. They feel like they have ten TV stations on all at once and they don’t know which one to focus on. Their thoughts can bounce around in their mind all the time and make it very difficult to have peace of mind. Some people are so affected by this that they can’t carry on a conversation without bouncing from one topic to another and tend to ramble on without any rhyme or reason.

Procrastination: People often take on way too many responsibilities and end up not being able to complete any of them because they keep putting things off until they are in big trouble. They spend too much time on the things that don’t really matter and put off the things that really do matter.

Difficulty Planning Ahead: Because they lack the ability to maintain structure and organization in their mind, they naturally will tend to be impulsive and do things at the last minute. Some people can only work well and stay focussed when they are in a life or death emergency situation, but it adds a lot of stress to your life when you always have these deadlines hanging over your head and never get them completed.

Impulsive Behaviour Or Rushing To Judgement: This problem becomes increasingly serious over time. About three-quarters of the people in jail have Attention Deficit Disorder. If you ask them why they are in jail, it usually started with various impulsive decisions that lead to more and more serious actions that were often carried out impulsively.

A Need For High Stimulation: People with ADD often end up using drugs, or become involved in dangerous sports, business ventures or other dangerous behaviours because they never have a sense of focus or serenity unless they are on the edge of danger all the time. They need that rush of adrenaline to feel like their mind is really working properly.

Addictions: There is evidence that people with ADD have a high tendency towards addictions, and will often medicate themselves with drugs or other addictive behaviours to try to get that elusive sense of satisfaction in their mind.

Financial Disasters: Disorganization, impulsive behaviour and the need for high stimulation can lead to financial disasters. They get involved in risky businesses or go out on spending sprees.

Hyperactivity: Many people with ADD are hyperactive, but not everyone. A lot of people with ADHD are rather docile people, maybe even lethargic. They may just be fidgety, or overly talkative. According to Harvard Medical School, 51% of people with ADD have other serious disorders like CONDUCT DISORDER, ANXIETY DISORDER or DEPRESSION These can be very serious problems that can end up becoming more serious than the Attention Deficit Disorder.

Learning Disabilities: Found in about 50% of people with ADD. Many children face academic failure and are told that they are not living up to their potential. They have bursts of brilliance followed by poor performance and it’s very frustrating for teachers, parents and for the children as well. They often have very low self-esteem because they never quite live up to their true potential.

Troubled Relationships: Relationships often last an average of about 18 months; then they get bored and start wanting higher stimulation. They may have the same problems at work because they get bored and start performing poorly.

Physiology Behind ADD

People with Attention Deficit Disorder have a very unique physiology. Their brains work differently, their bodies are structured differently, and their immune systems are much more sensitive.

Executive Centers: Neurological research in the last few years using imaging techno-logies such as PET scans, SPEC scans, functional MRI scans and even better, electroencephalo-grams, show that regions deep inside the frontal lobes of the brain called the executive centres, do not function normally in individuals with ADD. Normally, this area of the brain consumes more oxygen than other areas, but the brain scan of someone with ADD shows that it’s fast asleep while the rest of the brain is awake. This condition defines ADD. These executive centres give you the ability to resist impulses and keep your mind in focus. Neurons in this area release the neurotransmitter dopamine.

The executive centres of the brain grow slowly in these children. A 14-year-old boy may have the development of a six-year-old in terms of his ability to sit still, to think things through, his moral reasoning and judgement, but have the impulses and desires of a 14-year-old. Even in maturity, these sections of the brain never really function normally. Frequently adults with ADD still behave like children and even feel like children until they are 30 or 40 years old or more because of this problem with executive centres.

Reward Or Pleasure Centre: Research shows that we all need a certain amount of stimulation from this area of the brain to experience a sense of satisfaction and serenity. When stimulated, neurons in this area release dopamine. In people with ADD, this centre is also sleeping a lot of the time, so it is difficult to experience a sense of pleasure or satisfaction. It takes a lot of energy to stimulate this area of the brain, so that is probably why people with ADD have a need for high stimulation. When the reward or pleasure centre is activated, very strong signals are sent by this area to the executive centre so it wakes up as well.

Consequently, when people with Attention Deficit Disorder do something they enjoy, the executive centre wakes up and they are actually able to focus and pay attention. It is very enjoyable to be in focus and these two centres can’t be separated. I believe very strongly that one of the keys to treating ADD naturally, or holistically, is to learn to turn on the pleasure centre without having to do something damaging. I learned to stimulate this area of the brain through meditation, prayer, and later, biofeedback, and now at will, I can get into a state of focus that I can maintain throughout my day, and don’t end up being distractible and scatter-brained.

Medications: For ADD like Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine) are stimulant drugs that stimulate the executive and reward centres, but they don’t address the underlying causes, and they have potential adverse side-effects. There are a number of ways to improve the function of these areas of the brain without having to resort to amphetamine-like drugs.

Working Memory: People with ADD also have problems with working memory, the kind of memory that gives you the ability to remember things in your immediate environment. It is why most people with this condition have difficulty reading because by the time they get to the end of the sentence they have already forgotten what is at the beginning of the sentence, so they have to read it again and again and again.

Physical Problems: There is an association between Attention Deficit Disorder and various physical problems. From early childhood or infancy, these children may have a high incidence of ear and respiratory infections – then later on allergies, headaches, abdominal pain and muscle pain. As they begin to mature, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia often accompany Attention Deficit Disorder. People with ADD can actually inherit a higher susceptibility to environmental toxins, substances that are toxic to the brain. They may not actually be as efficient at excreting the toxins that we are all exposed to. These people never really know what it is like to experience actual energy and wellness and they make family doctors’ lives very complicated because they don’t respond to drugs and conventional medical treatments very well.

Leaky Gut: We found in our research that 75% of children with ADD have a leaky gut or increased intestinal permeability. The small intestine is normally a leak proof barrier – it is supposed to admit only fully digested nutrients into your blood stream, but 75% of kids with Attention Deficit Disorder have damage to these intestinal cells. There are gaps between the intestinal cells, and large molecules (large undigested protein and metal toxins) can pass right through into the blood stream and put the immune system under a great deal of stress.

Allergies: A number of studies have shown that at least 65% of these children have food allergies or other adverse reactions to foods. If a child has an allergy to a particular grain, a few minutes after eating that grain he feels ill and his brain is in a fog.

Parasites: We have found that about half of children with ADD have intestinal parasites, compared to studies which show that about 5% of healthy children have intestinal parasites. We have found as many as five species of parasites in a single child – organisms like Blastocystis hominis, Giardia lamblia, Dientamoeba fragilis, Entamoeba coli, and Endolimax nana. All of these parasites inflame the immune system, which could potentially have effects on brain function.

Immune System Dysfunction: We also found evidence that 80% of children with ADD have immune system deficiencies particularly in the immunity around their gastrointestinal tracts. They have very low levels of an important antibody called Secretory IgA, which can cause a higher risk of food allergies, intestinal parasites and other abnormal organisms in the gut.

Genetics: At least three different genes have been identified that encode for a particular type of wiring of the brain. These are actually high performance genes that give people special gifts and talents. If you have ADD, you most likely inherited a certain wiring to your brain that makes your brain supersensitive, and in times past that might not have been a deficit; it might have allowed certain individuals to be quick thinking, brave and creative.

These people think in a completely different way from the rest of society, so they end up learning and discovering new things. If you can improve the actual function of the brain, then these gifts and talents will blossom like a flower. I have seen many cases of children who were virtually disabled to the point where they were almost institutionalized. Once you improve the health and the physiology of the brain, some of these kids turn out to be the most wonderful, creative, bright kids you will ever meet.

Neurotoxins In Our Environment

Water: There are neurotoxins in our water supply. Water all around the world is treated using aluminum sulfate, and if you have gastrointestinal problems (the so-called ‘leaky gut’ syndrome) you will absorb a significant amount of aluminum.

Soil: Our soils are becoming contaminated with heavy metals and organochlorine pesticides and may be a source of neurotoxins. A few years ago laws were passed to prohibit the dumping of sludge from our municipal sewage treatment plants into the oceans. Instead, they sold these materials called ‘biosolids’ to fertilizer companies and now they get dumped on our agricultural soils! The big problem is not that it is a bacteriological risk, but that it contains a certain amount of heavy metals like zinc, lead and mercury that accumulate in the soil over time. In the last 30 years, heavy metals have increased several hundred-fold in the soil and some of these metals are absorbed into our food crops.

Pesticides Are Neurotoxic: Research at Duke University has shown that pesticides, particularly organophosphates, are neurotoxins and can evoke neural developmental damage in children. They can actually interrupt brain cell development and cause very serious harm during the time of critical brain development. Of greatest concern are the organophosphate pesticides, and they have published a number of studies on the effects of organophosphates on the brains of children. These pesticides were developed out of the technology that gave us nerve poisons like tabin and sarin. Organophosphate pesticides are virtually these same nerve poisons watered down. They are used extensively because they are cheap and they are very deadly pesticides that kill the brains of bugs.

If you eat foods like apples, peaches, pears, strawberries and spinach you are guaranteed to get excessive levels of organophosphate pesticides. It is not unusual for an apple to have a level of methylparathion that is 200 times the known safe level. And these are actually legally allowed because the laws that govern pesticide levels are so archaic that they do not have up-to-date toxicology on chemicals which should be fully banned. The ideal alternative is to eat organically grown produce.

There have been some very disturbing trends in the pesticide industry. In the past, they used laboratory animals for testing until they found a level of pesticide that started to have adverse effects on the animal. Then they divided that by ten and added an additional ten-fold safety factor. In terms of the short-term safety, it is probably all right, but the effects of long-term exposure are unknown.

Unfortunately, today there is a trend towards using humans from foreign countries as test animals. They apply the ten-fold safety factor and they end up with a legal level of pesticides that is many, many times higher than what was previously allowed, even though that previous allowance was probably higher than what was safe. These studies are two weeks or so in length at the most. We don’t know what happens with long-term exposure.

Companies like Abbott Laboratories that make the bacillus bacteria pesticide that is commonly used in corn keep the other ingredients a trade secret. Many people believe that it contains agents like arsenic and mercury.

Recent research about the amount of pesticides in our food supply are available on the internet through the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C, at www.ewg.org. Their research is based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s intensive sampling program has been going on over the last five years and they peeled or washed fruits and vegetables as a consumer normally would do. In certain cases you can peel off the pesticide residue. If you peel an apple you reduce the methylparathion by about 75%. But sometimes you can’t because it is right inside the flesh of the fruits or vegetables. You can’t wash it away in spinach, strawberries, grapes, potatoes, and green beans.

  • Highest Pesticide Levels in apples, spinach, peaches, pears, strawberries, grapes (Chile), potatoes, red raspberries, celery, green beans.
  • Lowest Pesticide Levels in corn, cauliflower, sweet peas, asparagus, broccoli, pineapple, onions, bananas, watermelon, cherries (Chile).

(Compiled from USDA and FDA pesticide residue data 1992-1997.)

Smoking: Last year an Australian study revealed that 25% of all children with behavioral disorders were exposed to smoking in pregnancy (a neurotoxin).

Lead: Dr. Herbert Needleman at the University of Pittsburgh found a higher prevalence of Attention Deficit Disorder, aggression and delinquency among children with increased lead exposure (Neurotoxicology 1993;14:161-6). The primary sources of lead are old flaking paint containing lead, contaminated soils, and drinking water tainted by lead-soldered pipes. You can get your water tested for lead at any local laboratory. It is not very expensive.

Fish: Neurotoxic exposure also comes from fish. Fresh water and large predatory fish are a very reliable source of neurotoxins, particularly PCB’s and mercury. Dr. J.L. Jacobson from Wayne State University demonstrated that children whose mothers reported eating two to three servings of fish a month from Lake Michigan during their pregnancies were more likely to have children with symptoms of ADHD with cognitive and behavioural problems (N Eng J Med 1996;335:11:738-89).

Chemicals: Household chemicals, cleaners and lawn chemicals may contain sources of neurotoxins, especially if our children are around these chemicals.

The Workplace: Can be a very serious source of toxins and anyone who has ADHD should avoid occupations like bodywork or welding, or any job where they handle toxic chemicals.

Toxic Herbicides And Pesticides: Are used far too liberally around schools.

Mercury From Dental Amalgams: A very serious issue. The World Health Organization tells us that the majority of the population is exposed to mercury through dental amalgam fillings which ranges from 3 to 17 micrograms. The WHO says about 4 to 4.5 mcg. a day is safe for the average person.

Ritalin: Pharmaceutical drugs are said to be effective with about 75% of children. However, we don’t know the long-term future consequences of prescribed doses in terms of higher risk of degenerative disorders of the brain or cardiovascular disease. We know for certain that if these drugs are abused, they ferociously damage the brain and cardiovascular system.

There has been one CAT scan study by the chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Ohio which found that 20% of men in their twenties who had been on Ritalin as children, had cerebral atrophy, or shrinkage of the brain, which is an effect you get a decade or two prior to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. H. Nasrallah, who conducted this study back in the 1980’s, concluded that we have to suspect that the stimulant medication was the cause of this cerebral atrophy (Psychiatry Res 1986; 17(3):241-6). Today there are strong factors which indicate that these drugs may lead to a more rapid aging process in the brain.

A Holistic Treatment

Nutrition And Supplements: Reduce or eliminate junk foods and replace them with healthier foods and lots of dietary fiber. Improve the overall nutritional density of the diet, using whole foods rich in all of the nutrients that the brain requires. Identify and eliminate allergic or intolerant foods and remove them from the diet. Give nutrients to help repair the leaky gut. Get rid of intestinal parasites and food allergies. You may have to use digestive enzymes or other substances to help digestive processes get back to normal again. Reinoculate the gut with normal bacterial flora. Probiotic supplementation (the friendly bacterial flora) actually repopulates the human intestinal tract.

Improve the immune system by using various nutrients.

There are critical building blocks that build brain cells during fetal development and in early childhood, especially essential fatty acids. At the nerve endings you will find very high amounts of an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA that you find in fish oils, and about 80% of kids with Attention Deficit Disorder have low levels of DHA. Adequate protein is required for the neurotransmitters to keep the brain running normally. Iron supplementation improves cognition and behaviour.

Magnesium: Alone has been shown to calm hyperactive kids. Low zinc has been shown, in isolation, to be a factor in Attention Deficit Disorder and is probably a very important nutrient. A multivitamin with B vitamins will improve behaviour and school performance. Phytochemicals are important in helping to optimize brain performance in kids. Kids with ADHD often are deficient in phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables, bioflavonoids like grape seed extract, pycnogenol and gingko biloba. Use lots of pure water. Even a small amount of dehydration can contribute to poor brain function and bad behaviour.

Herbal Medicines – AD-FX: We have found that potent extracts of ginseng, particularly American ginseng and gingko biloba have real potential to replace amphetamines and other prescribed drugs used for ADD. We have worked with researchers at the University of Alberta who brought a product to the market called AD-FX (a combination of a very potent American ginseng extract combined with an extract of gingko biloba). Before it actually came on the market, we used it in a research project where we studied 37 children with Attention Deficit Disorder averaging 10 years of age. When they were given AD-FX, 90% of symptoms like oppositional behaviour and cognitive problems improved significantly. In some children, the effects were virtually miraculous, even though they had not responded to orthodox medications.

Note: There is no such thing as organic ginseng. Any ginseng needs to be tested for heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides because the Asian ginsengs are commonly contaminated, especially with fungicides. The American ginseng preparations we use (AD-FX and Cold-FX) are tested.

Research Using AD-FX In Vitro: The most exciting thing about the American ginseng extract in AD-FX is what it does to brain cells. Damaged brain cells kept alive in a nutritional growth medium for a couple of weeks initially look just like little blobs; they don’t look like brain cells at all. When you add American ginseng from AD-FX to them, they start to differentiate into regular brain cells and some start to sprout long connections (axons). Rather than gradually degrading the brain like the amphetamines do, the herbal medicines in AD-FX have anti-oxidant effects and even nerve growth stimulation effects, so they may help to develop these underdeveloped regions of the brain over time. AD-FX is manufactured by a company called Herb Tech, which is a University of Alberta company.

Dosage: Children should take four AD-FX capsules per day on an empty stomach, and that works in 90% of cases. In adults and adolescents, AD-FX alone is not always enough. About three more gingko capsules (totalling about 300 mg. per day) and hypericum or St. John’s Wort often works very, very well.This combination in adolescents and adults often works better than Ritalin without any side effects at all.

Cold-FX: is an oligosaccharide preparation discovered by the University of Alberta. It is obtained from the root of the American ginseng plant. It is marketed as a cold product for respiratory infections like colds and influenza, but it can be used for any kind of immune problems. Research at the University of Alberta has demonstrated that Cold-FX is actually 20 times more potent an immune stimulant than Echinacea. When you combine it with a probiotic, it actually helps to eradicate nasty species in the gut by strengthening the immune system.

Detoxify: accumulated neurotoxins, We use various methods of detoxification including saunas, sometimes chelating medications, and sometimes nutrient-oriented approaches.

Exercise: Every child with ADHD needs to be involved in regular vigorous exercise. Research has shown that exercise improves brain function and mood. It even improves executive centre function.

Biofeedback And Spiritual: People need to learn to focus, and biofeedback, particularly neurofeedback (also called EEG biofeedback) can be extremely helpful. Prayer and meditation every day is most important.

I really believe that every person with ADD can be helped and that ADD can eventually become a great advantage and ally to anyone who has it.

Dr. Michael Lyon

Dr. Lyon is director of research and education at the Oceanside Functional Medicine Research Institute on Vancouver Island. He has served for four years as an Olympic Team physician and head of a National Sport Science Committee for Sport Canada. His current research is directed toward developing new, non-pharmacological strategies for the treatment of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and heart disease. The program is outlined in Dr. Lyon's book, Healing the Hyperactive Brain, which is used as a textbook for naturopathic and nutritional schools and is taught to physicians and health care practitioners all around the world, but it is also intended for people without medical training or scientific background. Dr. Lyon's major concerns with current treatments for ADHD relate to the side effects from amphetamines, which include personality deviations and toxicity, especially toxicity from long term use.

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