Friday, May 02, 2008

ADHD News: Will the Brits Ban Green Tic Tacs?

If you've read much about hyperactive, impulsive, can't focus kids--those kids we call ADHD--you've probably run across information suggesting that artificial coloring and artificial flavors can cause this annoying behavior. Or at least make the behavior worse.

Behavior that gets in the way of learning. Gets in the way of positive social skills.

For some kids, simply making sure they don't eat anything with artificial color (not that such is an easy task), takes care of hyperactivity.

Now British Scientists are suggesting that at least one third of all kids diagnosed with ADHD really have an "allergy" to artificial colors and not ADHD. And they're putting pressure on the British Food Standards Agency to force manufacturers to stop using these chemicals.

Two groups of children showed changes in behavior when given the artificial coloring during controlled trials. The kids couldn't sit still and concentrate. Had problems reading and became loud and impulsive. (Don't know if enough kids took part in the trials to make the results statistically significant. And not sure how they came up with "one third.")

Jim Stevenson, a researcher at the University of Southampton, even suggests that banning artificial colors will also help reduce anti-social behavior in teens.

The British now have some 900 "foods" that contain artificial coloring, like green Tic Tacs. How many "foods" in the U.S.? Lots. Glad I don't have to count them! I'm not sure I'm even up to counting how many in my cupboard.

So read the labels. Check out what's in that "food" your kids are gobbling. What's in the "food" you're snacking on right this minute as you read this blog post!

Uh, oh. I just looked at the label on a lollipop I got at the bank. ( I refuse to bank at any institution that doesn't have bowls of lollipops on the counter.) Sure enough, found the dreaded words "artificially flavored" right there on the cellophane wrapper. Doesn't say "artificial color" but I'm sure it's not natural!


P.S. Interested in exactly how psychiatrists and psychologists make an ADHD diagnosis? Check out the DSM-IV Criteria for ADHD. (Scroll to the bottom of that page.)

Then ask yourself couldn't a child answer "yes" to six or more of the questions and have artificial color and flavor "allergies" instead of ADHD?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

ADHD or Lack of Vitamin D?

We've long known that kids need plenty of vitamin D for healthy bones. We urge parents to make sure kids get plenty of sunshine. We put vitamin D in milk. And my Mom went a step further: forcing me to swallow tablespoons of nasty cod liver oil.

Now scientists at Children's Hopsital and Research Center in Oakland California have discovered that a lack of vitamin D can cause brain dysfunction.

Turns out that vitamin D affects proteins in the brain directly involved in learning, memory, and motor control. There's also a suggestion, no proof yet, that lack of vitamin D is involved with controlling behavior.

So you can add vitamin D deficiency to the growing list of factors that look like ADHD but aren't. Get kids drinking enough vitamin D fortified milk, playing outdoors in the sunshine, and eating the few foods high in vitamin D (oily fish like salmon). Maybe those annoying ADHD behaviors will stop.

Fish oil capsules and vitamin D supplements are also recommended but that's up to a pediatrician, not a blogger.

African-American kids and their parents tend to lack more vitamin D than whites because darker skin absorbs absorbs fewer ultra-violent rays from the sun. So it's not racial profiling to ask if Black kids who show ADHD behaviors suffer nothing more than a lack of vitamin D. An easily corrected deficiency.

And, of course, those blond, fair-skinned kids can end up with brutal sunburns from too much sun--eventually leading to skin cancer.


P.S. Be sure to sign up for the free, weekly "ADHD Answers Now" TeleChat. Each week I'll look at a new ADHD topic. You can ask your question right there on the sign up page. I'll answer your question on the call.

On the next call, May 6, I'll be talking about how to raise Dopamine levels without drugs. (Most ADHDers have low dopamine levels. Stimulant drugs increase Dopamine.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

ADHD in 1955

First: I've got a big announcement! My new totally free weekly "ADHD Answers Now" telechat starts Tuesday night, April 29. The first one's called: "The Calm after the Storm," and I'll be giving you three quick, effective tricks for helping kids down--even helping you calm down.

So go sign up right now. You'll get handouts, web audio, and its FREE. But you do need to register since I can only take so many people on the call before the conference bridge line cuts us off.

I’ve been thinking about ADHD when I was a kid. How those of us “diagnosed” with the “disorder” as adults managed to get through school in the 1950s and early 60s? What did our families and teachers do right?

So back in the dark ages of my childhood, nobody had heard of ADHD? No stimulant drugs, no ADHD TeleChats, no ADHD forums or chat rooms, no support groups, no help for teachers or parents, no Brain Gym.

But, don’t let the experts fool you. ADHD did exist, I know cause I had it!

Impulsive, hyperactive kid who couldn’t focus. Poor coordination. A total dunce in arithmetic. Forget anything so advanced they called it “math.”

Here’s what parents and teachers did—and funny thing, it’s exactly what the ADHD books and the experts, and the “Managing ADHD” TeleChat are telling us to do today to help ADHD kids.

For starters the world moved more slowly and a lot less stimulation. So ADHD kids didn’t get quite as overwhelmed quite as quickly. We lived with boundaries, routines, and schedules. And at my house, the routine was pretty extreme!

We watched less TV. Ate less sugar and junk food. Took piano lessons. Had music and PE in school and fewer outside activities. Got more sleep. Weren’t allowed to skip breakfast EVER.

And talk about exercise. I walked . . . and walked and walked everyday.

That’s when I wasn’t riding my bike or roller skating--a primitive form of roller blading requiring a skate key and done without so much as a knee pad or a helmet. (I still have a scar on my left knee from roller skating.)

For me with ADHD, I wouldn’t have made it through school without the boundaries, routines, schedules, music, walking, bike riding, and skating.

Although I never did get the math stuff. However, there’s hope now for math illiterates. A program called Cog Med. More about that in the next post.

Don’t get me wrong here. There’s plenty of stuff they botched up big time in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. But that’s another story which I don’t think I’ll bother telling.


P.S. And another reminder about the next TeleChat coming up soon: "They're Driving Me Crazy: How to Manage ADHD at Home and in School. Starts Thursday, May 1 to help you help these ADHD kids and keep your sanity.

Includes discussion of dozens of non-drug strategies from how to raise dopamine levels to Brain Breaks for classrooms, from TV tips to standing desks. Check out the whole list of topics covered at

ADHD Drugs: Do They Really Cause Heart Attacks?

Do ADHD stimulant drugs such as Ritalin cause heart attacks? Yes, they can--in a small number of children. Children who have a pre-existing heart condition.

Since 1999 thirty kids have died from sudden death attributed to stimulant drugs. And more have suffered heart-related problems. Again, all of these children had a pre-existing heart condition. The drugs didn't cause the heart condition!

As my readers know, I’m not crazy about giving drugs to kids for ADHD Lots of strategies help enormously with ADHD that don’t involve Ritalin. However, I don’t want to be part of the over-reaction and scare tactics running amok on the Web. Most children will not have a cardiovascular problem with ADHD stimulant drugs.

But the American Heart Association's doing the right thing! They're recommending that every child have an electrocardiogram (ECG) before a prescription for a stimulant drug is written. Some people--mainly bean counters--think this is extreme and way too expensive.

Total cost could be as high as $250 million--that's assuming 250 million kids have ECGs at the cost of about $100 per child. Hmm. Am I missing something here? A hundred bucks per kid sure doesn't sound all that expensive to me--given that it could save a child's life!

Keep in mind that a child can have a heart "problem" that your pediatrician isn't aware of. Exactly the reason the AHA's saying "get an ECG" first before taking an ADHD drug. And, yes, there's a strong possibility of a false positive since children's ECG's are hard to read. So have a second ECG, a second opinion, more cardiac screening. But don't skip this important evaluation.

In addition to an ECG, an ADHD cardiac checklist would also include

  • Patient and family history with attention to fainting, palpitations, dizziness, difficulty with exercise
  • Physical exam including blood pressure and a check for abnormal hearbeats.
  • Consultation with a pediatric cardiologist if necessary.

For me, that a drug requires an ECG first is enough to "just say no." I say do Brain Gym, Brain Breaks in the classroom (we'll have some of those in future posts), get dopamine-increasing foods on the table, establish routines and schedules and boundaries. Look into non-drug programs for ADHD like Tomatis, Dore, and Cog Med. Let drugs be the very last resort.


P.S. The next "They're Driving Me Crazy: How to Manage ADHD at Home and in School" telechat starts Thursday, May 1. Includes discussion of the non-drug strategies mentioned above and lots more. Check out all the topics covered at

Sunday, April 20, 2008

ADHD Trick: Left Up, Right Down, Leg Around, and Nod

Try this: Draw a triangle with one hand and two squares with the other hand while tracing a circle on the floor with one leg and nodding your head twice forward, then twice backwards. Switch hands and legs.

Helps you pay attention and organize tasks and desks. (Well, I don't know about desks. Mine is still a mess.)

On the other hand I don't quite have this exercise down. I get the two hands doing something different at the same time but somehow I can't get the leg part down without stopping one or both hands. And forget the nodding! Practice makes perfect they say. Maybe I'll be able to do it next week.

You're using a Zaltsman Exercise to improve your attention and organizational abilities. You'll find all ten of them toward the bottom of the article section at ADHDChildrenToday Of course there's more than ten once kids get the hang of it and start making up their own. Fun and challenging.

When Edward Hallowell, M.D. needed a personal trainer, he hired Simon Zaltsman, a world-class Russian athlete who moved to the U.S. as an adult.

Zaltsman showed Hallowell the exercises. Zaltsman said the exercises were commonly used in Russia to help improve athletic performance. The Russians have long known that mental acuity is linked to physical well-being. Hallowell discovered, difficult as the exercises may be at first, that they help with ADHD.

Ned Hallowell, by the way, is my favorite "how to manage ADHD" author and has ADHD himself. Says he still struggles with reading even though he graduated from Harvard and then went on to Tulane Medical School. I recommend his book Delivered from Distraction which he co-authored with John Ratey.

For kids, try the exercises with music, with colored markers, standing up at the white board. Out on the playground in soft sand.

You can always start with Brain Gym's Double Doodle. It's a similar concept but much easier. Using both hands simultaneously, draw a picture or design in which the left side is the mirror image of the right side.

Once you've mastered Double Doodle, you can progress to patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. Then you're really ready for Zaltsman.


P.S. Get lots more tips 'n tricks with a free subscription to ADHD NewsTips