A doctor with more than 50 years of medical practice asserts that ADHD is an umbrella of symptoms, not a disease in itself. And he also declares that the treatment can be considerably worse than many of the underlying causes.
Back in the Seventies, I believed in ADHD. It seemed to explain the attention issues that affected so many children. But over the years I’ve come to realise that the symptoms actually had a whole range of underlying causes that were being ignored because of the knee-jerk diagnosis of ADHD. As I argue in my new book on the subject – which has generated a furious controversy in America, where I work as a behavioural neurologist – we’ve become stuck in a cycle of misdiagnosis of ADHD and over-prescription of stimulants such as Ritalin. Only by properly investigating, identifying and treating these causes can we help our patients.
In the case of the 13-year-old boy, I ordered a series of blood tests. These showed he had an iron deficiency: after school, while his mother was out at work, he binged on junk food that was high in sugar but low in iron.
Iron deficiency (anaemia) causes physical fatigue, poor attention and concentration, and memory problems. As soon as his iron intake improved, with iron pills and more fish, fruit, vegetables and nuts, his performance and behaviour improved hugely, too.
The ADHD diagnosis and the stimulants had masked the real problem, as is so often the case. In France, a study in 2004 found 84 per cent of children diagnosed with ADHD were iron deficient, compared with 18 per cent of ‘non-ADHD’ children. Yet time and time again, doctors miss the real problems – some serious, some easily correctable – by automatically reaching for the ADHD label.
In my book, I identify more than 20 causes of the symptoms that are called ADHD…. Many ADHD patients have other conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. These are said to ‘co-exist’ with ADHD, but in my view they’re the actual cause of the ‘ADHD’ symptoms. Treat them and you will treat the ADHD.
Failing to treat them and pumping the patient with stimulants instead only makes things worse. The side-effects of stimulants include reduced appetite (dangerous for children, who need a good diet), sleep disturbance (tiredness can exacerbate attention problems), anxiety, irritability, depressed moods, delayed puberty and, in adults, sexual problems (such as erectile dysfunction). And long-term use of stimulants makes people resistant to them, meaning they need higher and higher doses. The drugs can damage memory and concentration, and have even been linked to reduced life expectancy and suicide. Yet stimulants are being prescribed more and more frequently, creating a health time bomb and neglecting the real causes of the problems.
A seven-year-old girl was brought to me because she was disruptive in class, fidgeted and talked loudly. She had been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Adderall (similar to Ritalin), but it caused sleeping problems that made her more disruptive.
I had her eyesight tested and she was found to be significantly near-sighted: her disruptive behaviour in class stemmed from boredom, brought about by the fact she could not see the board properly. Once she was given glasses, her behaviour improved almost overnight. She no longer had ‘ADHD’ – or rather, she never had it in the first place. Similarly, many ‘distracted’ children who stare out of the window, are, in fact, suffering from eye strain and need glasses, not stimulants.
No one has ever believed that having little kids snort cocaine and smoke meth was a good idea. So how did anyone ever come to buy into the idiot concept that giving them speed was medically sound?
I always considered “ADHD” to be complete BS. One boy with a supposed case of it was magically cured and never had any trouble controlling his behavior around me after I picked him up by the throat and told him that if he ever kicked me again, I’d rip his balls off and feed them to him.