What is ADHD?
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Children diagnosed with ADHD often display impulsive behaviors that are interruptive and inappropriate for the setting (e.g. the classroom.) Boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD as girls. The average age of diagnosis is around 7 years. (1)
It is estimated that ADHD affects 1 in every 20 people under the age of 18. Of this population, approximately two-thirds continue to experience ADHD symptoms into adulthood. Adult ADHD is characterized by difficulties remembering information, following directions, concentrating, organizing tasks, and planning.
The ADHD Controversy
Few conditions are as provocative as ADHD. For as long as the condition has been around, there have been countless debates surrounding the existence or non-existence of ADHD. Professionals also discuss the complications of ADHD medication, and whether the disorder is over-diagnosed.
While ADHD is highly contentious, most medical experts accept that enough evidence exists to treat it as a valid condition. For example, all three of the largest, most prestigious U.S. medical bodies – the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Institutes of Health – recognize ADHD as a true disorder. (2)
Researchers point to the differences in the brain scans of ADHD and non-ADHD people, the length of time since symptoms were first uncovered (over 110 years ago), and the tangible differences brought about by treatments as sufficient proof.
Indeed, while sufficient evidence may show the reality of ADHD, plenty of other sources point to a diagnosis that is both pervasive and disturbing. Let’s talk more about the recent trends in ADHD numbers.
ADHD Numbers Swell
“Production of the medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder … has skyrocketed in recent decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention … says that ADHD diagnoses … increased by about 41 percent between 2003 and 2011.” – Colleen M. Story, Ana Gotter, Rena Goldman: “6 Natural Remedies for ADHD” (source)
Medical statisticians cite the upper-limit of ADHD diagnosis at a maximum 5 percent of school-aged children. In some U.S. communities – where by far the most ADHD patients reside – up to 33 percent of children are diagnosed with the condition. In some states, over 11 percent of the school-age population is diagnosed with ADHD – more than doubling the number of plausible cases. (3) Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of ADHD diagnoses rose an astonishing 41 percent in just eight years (2003-2011). (4)
Also contributing to the rising numbers of ADHD patients – and ADHD medications – is the fact that there has been a dramatic shift in the market segmentation of ADHD drugs. Whereas in prior years children were the dominant demographic because of their age, adults are now the majority of the population taking prescription stimulants. In other words, adults are the fastest growing segment of the ADHD medication market.
What could possibly explain such a dramatic shift? Some critics point to the pharmaceutical industry and their aggressive marketing and profit-seeking schemes. For example, Shire Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturers of popular ADHD drugs Adderall and Adderall XR, reported over 15 billion USD in operating revenue for the year 2017. (5)
The Dangers of ADHD Drugs
“It takes about 40 minutes to kick in, and you can feel it. I start to sweat. My heart accelerates very rapidly.” – Introduction to the Netflix documentary “Take Your Pills.”
On May 1, 1971, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) became the law of the land in the United States. The law created five classifications (or ‘Schedules’) in which each prescription drug was to be placed, depending on the drug’s potential for abuse. (6)
Amphetamine, a powerful nervous system stimulant, is labeled as a Schedule II drug in the U.S. (a Schedule I in Canada). Schedule II drugs are those that display high potential for abuse while carrying the possibility of severe physical or psychological dependence (Vicodin and OxyContin are also in this category.) Amphetamine is simply a longer name for speed, a major component of the street drugs cocaine and methamphetamine. It is also the primary ingredient in Adderall and other ADHD medications.
The effects of amphetamine use can be classified into three categories: immediate, coming down, and long-term. (7)
– a sense of wellbeing
– high levels of confidence
– feelings of motivation
– faster reaction times
– anxiety and nervousness
– increased heart rate
– stomach cramps
– irregular heartbeat
Immediate effects (higher doses/overdose):
– blurred vision
– irregular breathing
– feelings of anxiety, nervousness, and irritability
– extreme exhaustion
– mood swings
– anxiety disorders (e.g., panic attacks)
– feeling out of breath
– dental problems such as cracked teeth
– compromised immune system
– high blood pressure
– higher risk of stroke
– risk of kidney failure
– psychological problems
– propensity for violence
How to Beat ADHD Without Medication
Given the nasty short- and long-term dangers of ADHD medications, it may be worthwhile to consider other, more natural alternatives. Here are eight ways to overcome ADHD without the use of prescription meds.
Abstain from certain colorings and preservatives
Per the Mayo Clinic, some food colorings and preservatives are thought to increase hyperactivity by some researchers. In the European Union (EU), foods that contain certain food color additives must include the statement that the product “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
Colorings and preservatives that may increase ADHD-like symptoms include:
– D&C Yellow No. 10 (quinoline yellow): Found in juices, haddock, and sorbets
– FD&C Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine): Cereal, granola bars, pickles, and yogurt
– FD&C Yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow): Breadcrumbs, candy, cereal, icing, and soft drinks