More and More Teens Abusing ADD/ADHD Drugs

Prescription Drug AbuseMost parents believe that they have a very good idea of what to look out for when it comes to substance abuse.  Unexplained absences, regular visits to the ‘shady side’ of town and the development of undesirable friendships all feature high on the list of common warning signs. There is no doubt that it is important to pay attention to these obvious areas of concern. A recent study is showing, however, that parents will have to widen their gaze to include things as seemingly innocuous as the family medicine cabinet or the school gate. Continue reading “More and More Teens Abusing ADD/ADHD Drugs”

Understanding the Shifts in Human Nutrition – From Difficult to Super Easy (Part 3)

Farmers MarketLast week’s article focused on the fact that improvements in production methods and transport links mean that our food is sourced from all over the world.  This might seem like a good thing, on the one hand, because economies of scale mean that we are paying much less for globally produced foods.  It is perhaps not such good news when we look at the health implications of the globalisation of food. I pointed out that provenance is one of the most important concepts when we think about how healthy, or otherwise, our food is. Continue reading “Understanding the Shifts in Human Nutrition – From Difficult to Super Easy (Part 3)”

ADD/ADHD and Videogames – Is there a link? (Part 2)

Playing video gameLast week we began a discussion on a topic that some people would regard as fairly controversial: a possible link between ADD/ADHD diagnoses and video games. I pointed out that I would normally be reluctant to make strong claims about the existence such a link. This is slowly changing thanks to more and more research coming out showing a positive correlation between gaming and ADD/ADHD. Continue reading “ADD/ADHD and Videogames – Is there a link? (Part 2)”

Understanding the Shifts in Human Nutrition – From Difficult to Super Easy (Part 2)

Food ConvenienceLast week we had a look at the way in which our understanding of food shifted from a ‘resource acquired through hard work’ to an ‘easily acquired commodity’. I noted that it is very difficult to respond to this trend as cheap and easily available food is so ubiquitous. One, rather extreme, way of responding to this fact would be to move to the back of the beyond and recreate a kind of hunter gatherer existence! Those of us who are not quite ready to drop out of society will have to find other solutions however. Continue reading “Understanding the Shifts in Human Nutrition – From Difficult to Super Easy (Part 2)”

Is there a link between ADD/ADHD medication and lack of motivation?

Failure to LaunchHardly a week goes by without the publication of new research into ADD/ADHD. The fact that the scientific community is paying such close attention to the condition is, of course, to be welcomed. I have, and will continue, to profile such research on this site as it becomes available. What worries me, however, is how many research projects are pointing to other factors as the cause of ‘ADD Like’ symptoms. We have, for example, recently looked at studies pointing to factors as diverse as sleep deprivation and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) as causing symptoms that are often mistaken for ADD/ADHD. These studies are just the tip of the iceberg, which means that thousands of ADD/ADHD misdiagnoses are made each. Continue reading “Is there a link between ADD/ADHD medication and lack of motivation?”

Understanding the Shifts in Human Nutrition – From Difficult to Super Easy (Part 1)

Over the past few weeks we looked at some of the subtle, and not so subtle, changes that occurred in human nutrition over the past few decades. The purpose of this series is not to suggest that previous generations consisted of ‘food saints’ who always ate perfectly balanced meals. It is rather to show how we fundamentally changed our relationship with food, often with disastrous results. It is my belief that these shifts had a disproportionate impact on those struggling with the effects of ADD/ADHD. The reason for this belief is the extraordinary sensitivity of the ‘ADD/ADHD Brain’ to factors that hinder, even in minor ways, optimum brain function.
The shifts that we looked at over the past few weeks were: 1) Natural to Artificial 2) Scarce to Superabundant
With this week’s article we will begin to discuss a shift that is perhaps a bit more difficult to pin down than the two mentioned above but that are no less significant. I am referring to the historical perception that food almost always equalled hard work.
Most people, especially those responsible for getting meals to the table, would perhaps unreservedly welcome the fact that this is not always the case anymore. The fact that we do not have to spend days and months cultivating our own food, followed with hours behind the stove to prepare it, has undeniable benefits. Time previously spent in food preparation can now be used for leisure or work in other areas. I am, of course, not advocating a return to the time when the main meal of the day took, on average, four hours to prepare. I am merely asking you to consider what we as a society lost due to the fact that it is now possible to put the words ‘easy’ and ‘fast’ before so much of what we eat. Consider the following:
The cost of ease of access: Modern methods of cultivation and distribution means that we have left the link between cultivation (or hunting!) and consumption far behind. While there was nothing romantic about tilling the fields, previous generations were in no doubt about where their food came from. These days our food can just as easily come from the other side of the world as from a farm in your county (with the former perhaps more likely). Most of us do not spend any time thinking about this fact, aside perhaps from the occasional amused glance at a food label spelling out the name of some obscure third world country. Our forebears couldn’t help thinking about the origins of their food – especially since they had to gather, hunt or cultivate it themselves. Our foods often have much more ‘interesting’ stories but we can afford not to worry too much about where it came from. Or can we? Foods shipped from the other side of the world are a) often grown with the help of pesticides that are banned in North America and b) Preserved with chemicals that could have a marked negative effect on optimum brain function.
The cost of ease of preparation: We spend less and less time preparing for mealtimes. On one level this is perhaps not a bad thing as it frees up time for other activities. We need to realise however that the trend towards ‘food on the fly’ is not without consequences. We need to remember that: a) Faster methods are often much less healthy (think slow cooker vs. deep fryer!) b) ‘Ready meals’ can contain ridiculous amounts of salt and saturated fats c) In some cases ease of preparation is down to the addition of chemicals to aid the cooking process or to act as preservatives.
I think you will agree, after weighing up the cost, that easy does not necessarily translate into good! It is for this reason that I strongly believe that we have to recapture something of the old ways of thinking about food. It is, of course, a bit of a challenge to think about food as ‘difficult’ when you know full well that access and preparation is relatively uncomplicated. Next week’s article will focus on ways in which we can rebuild our lost ‘connection’ with food that will allow us to value it as a precious and life giving gift. I believe it is possible, as I will show, to do so without having to engage in the back breaking work and long hours in front of the stove that used to characterise food cultivation and preparation. See you next week!

Understanding the Shifts in Human Nutrition – From Scarcity to Superabundance (Part 3)

In previous posts we began by discussing some of the ways in which we can respond to the superabundance of food in our society. Planning and executing a proper response is not only important for general health but also crucial for those dealing with the effects of ADD/ADHD. The reason for this is the fact that excessive amounts of food is almost certain to play havoc with your blood sugar levels and even with proper brain function. The first two responses that I have mapped out was a) Paying close attention to the signals that your body might be sending and b) Avoiding the ‘Temples of Superabundance’ (i.e. fast food outlets!)
This week I would like to briefly focus on the development of Food Mindfulness. This can be described, in this context, as the firm resolve to react to the superabundance around you by putting strategies in place to ensure that you do not overindulge. This kind of mindfulness is necessary because the superabundance around us means that food, and lots of it, is almost always present. It is therefore very easy to ‘eat on autopilot’.
We can keep from autopilot eating by constantly reminding ourselves that “If it is there we will eat it!” It seems that centuries of scarcity have conditioned us humans that if food is available we should make the most of it. Our default response to available food is therefore to eat as much as possible. The amazing extent to which this is true was proven by an ingenious experiment conducted by Cornell University in which moviegoers were served 14 day old popcorn (Many of them described the taste of the popcorn as ‘terrible’ afterwards!). The study found that rather than simply leaving the popcorn alone, the moviegoers ate significant amounts of it: In direct proportion to the amount that they were served! The fact is we will eat even unappetizing food if it is readily available and our consumption of it will be directly related to portion sizes. The problem is made worse by the fact that we are dealing with severe ‘portion inflation’ in our society. Today’s ‘small’ is very often yesterday’s ‘large’! Some possible responses to our built-in ‘If it is there we will eat it’ responses include the following:
Use smaller plates and containers: The popcorn experiment discussed above drove home a simple point. The larger the container in which food is served the more we will eat! A logical response to this would be to simply make use of smaller plates, cups, bowls etc.! This may seem like a rather simplistic way to attempt to manage your food intake but the ‘Bigger plate – bigger meal’ (and vice versa) rule have been proved again and again by research. If you are particularly serious about blood sugar management you can beat this rule by always eating from a side plate.  People may give you a few funny looks in restaurants if you transfer some of your food from the main plate to a smaller plate but in the health benefits will be worth it!
Don’t be swayed by portion sizes and ‘upgrade’ offers: I have already mentioned the huge (literally!) problem of ‘portion inflation’. You would be well advised to be aware of this as you make your food choices and of the fact that choosing a ‘small’ does not mean that you are depriving yourself but rather that you are making sensible food choices: Choices not dependant on other people inviting you to completely overindulge by the benchmarks that they have set. Don’t even get me started on ‘Supersize’ and other upgrade offers! Their only purpose is to make more money for food outlets. Nobody else receives any benefits from them (despite the insistence that you will be getting a ‘good deal’), especially since the long term use of such offers is quite likely to lead you into some pretty serious health issues.
Keep a food diary: One of the best ways of modifying your eating habits is to keep a detailed daily food diary. This technique is especially valuable for those dealing with the impact of ADD/ADHD as it can also help you to determine which foods seem to exacerbate the condition. Here’s how it works: Keep a little book with you and make a note of every single thing that you put into your mouth over a set period (I would recommend at least a month). This will help you to identify negative patterns and habits. It is also very effective in keeping you from overindulging. This may seem like a very tedious thing to do but studies have shown that food diaries have the ability to break even long term destructive habits.
Food superabundance is a daily fact of life, much of our present and future health will depend on how we respond to it. I used a very important word earlier on: Mindfulness. The goal is to get to the point where you make conscious food choices based on what you really need and not on what society tells you to consume.

ADD/ADHD Misdiagnosis: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder often mistaken for ADHD

I have often written about the huge problem of ADD/ADHD misdiagnosis. This problem makes me think of the old proverb that says: “If you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail!” Modern medicine have become so preoccupied with sticking the ADD label on kids that it is very often the first diagnosis that is reached for (This despite the fact that there is no objective standard with which to measure probable symptoms!). The upshot of this is that an ADD/ADHD diagnosis can often simply be down to what previous generations would have called ‘Ants in the pants’! At the other end of the spectrum it is, sadly, often the case that an ADD/ADHD diagnosis can prevent the discovery of more serious underlying conditions.
Recent studies have shown that symptoms associated with fetal overexposure to alcohol are often mistaken for ADD/ADHD.  Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a serious condition (or perhaps, more correctly, range of conditions) that afflict many children whose mothers used too much alcohol while they were still in utero. The impact that FASD can have on a child’s health and wellbeing can be nothing short of devastating and it is one of the reasons why alcohol is best avoided during pregnancy. Some of the most common effects of FASD include the following:
Stunted growth: Children with FASD tend to show up on the lower percentiles in terms of height and weight.
Skull and facial abnormalities: Some studies suggest a strong link between facial and cranial defects and alcohol overexposure.
Damage to the central nervous system: Perhaps the most serious impact of FASD is the havoc that it wreaks on the central nervous system. This can range from stunted brain growth to the development of serious neurological conditions (e.g. epilepsy and seizure disorders). This damage can also manifest itself in the  form of functional disabilities or development disorders. The most common among these are:
•    Problems with social/adaptive skills
•    Reduced memory capabilities
•    Lack of impulse control, attention, social perception and judgment
•    Sensory problems
•    Difficulty in mastering motor skills
It is obvious that this last list can very easily be mistaken for a description of what medical professionals are looking for when attempting to diagnose ADD/ADHD! This fact has serious consequences for those suffering from FASD. The abovementioned study, conducted by the University of Toronto in conjunction with the Hospital for Sick Children at Surrey Place Center, found that it is likely that many FASD children are not receiving appropriate help and care because of ADD/ADHD misdiagnoses.
The main area of concern that the study (which compared 33 children with FASD, 30 ADHD children and 34 children with no disorders) flagged up was the issue of social interaction. It is suggested that FASD children who are not correctly diagnosed early on are in grave danger of developing serious behavioral problems if the condition is not responded to correctly. One of the authors of the research report, Joanne Rovet, had the following to say about this: “In terms of social cognition and emotional processing, the core deficit in FASD appears to be in understanding and interpreting another’s mental states and emotions. These problems with social cognition and emotion processing may underlie the severe conduct problems seen in children with FASD.  It is imperative that these children receive assistance in social and emotional processing domains, specifically targeting interventions to deal with their unique deficits.”
This study shows, once again, how dangerous the current ‘trigger happy’ attitude to ADD/ADHD diagnosis can be. It also underlines that the problem of misdiagnosis can cut both ways. On the one hand it leads essentially healthy children into a system where they have to have to unnecessarily take dangerous drugs on a daily basis. It also keeps, on the other hand, children who need highly specialized care and treatment (as is the case with FASD) from receiving it because many physicians are almost conditioned not to look beyond the ADD/ADHD label.
If you suspect that FASD could be a factor in your child’s problems you should take heart. Many excellent interventions and treatment methods for the condition exist. It should therefore never be seen as a ‘life sentence’ to a low functioning and problem filled life. The most important thing is to simply get together the courage to take the first step. Many parents of FASD children hesitate to seek help, or to flag up maternal alcohol use during pregnancy as a possible factor, because of the social stigma that is sometimes attached to the condition. I want to urge you however to refuse to allow possible past mistakes to overshadow your child’s future. If you have the courage to seek it you will find that help is available and the condition can be successfully managed in most cases.
More information about the University of Toronto study can be found here.
More information about FASD, and about managing the condition, can be found here.