An exclusive three-part Interview with Lendon Smith, MD.
Lendon H. Smith earned his MD degree and began the practice of medicine almost 55 years ago and has fought for children's health and nutrition issues for over three decades. Dr. Smith was among the first to caution against sugar, white flour, and junk food known to contribute to sickness, hyperactivity, obesity, allergies, and many illnesses in children and adults.
He has authored or co-authored 15 books, dating back to 1969. He appeared on the Phil Donohue Show more than 20 times and The Tonight Show 62 times. He was awarded an Emmy for his "My Mom's Having a Baby" after-school special. Dr. Smith has had a truly illustrious career, going from US army medic to pediatrician to national bestselling author.
Optimal Wellness Center (OWC): You have been active on the issue of behavioral problems in childhood for many years. How did you first get involved with the issue of ADHD and related behavior disorders?
Lendon Smith, MD: My father was a pediatrician and he believed that behavior was more genetic than environmentally produced. I was going to be a psychiatrist from about age 15 on. I felt that if we straightened out one generation, every one, including their children, would be normal after that -- Freudian concept (wrong!).
In my fourth year in medical school I attended a lecture by a Portland pediatric neurologist. In the 1930s he was in charge of a home for "oddball" children. One of his clients was a wild and crazy girl. He told his nurse to give her a dose of bromide. She reached up and by mistake got hold of the benzedrine bottle. In about 30 minutes the girl was asleep.
The doctor said to the nurse, "That bromide works." The nurse said, "What did you say?"
Of course she had to fill out an accident report, but the two of them could not believe the therapeutic results. They repeated the maverick dose the next day and the girl calmed down again. The doctor wrote a paper about this and it was reported in one of the pediatric journals. He noted that most of the kids he was seeing for this same syndrome had had some sort of "hurt" to the nervous system at birth such as:
- Cord around the neck
- Second of twins
- Collapsed lungs
He felt it was a "hurt" to the part of the nervous system that had to do with self-control. He had no idea why a stimulant had this calming effect. We now know that it is because there is not enough norepinephrine in their limbic system, the part of the brain that is supposed to filter out unimportant stimuli.
This serendipitous result of an accident has now allowed the psychiatrists and pediatricians to prescribe this type of narcotic drug to 4,000,000 kids on any given school day, and even pushed some of them into psychosis and homicide.
I was one of those drug-pushing pediatricians for a couple of decades. Then it became clear to me that there was a pattern to the behavior of these children. Genetics is there, of course, and can result in "hurts" to the nervous system, but my patients were 80% boys. I found in examining them -- -- trying to find some common denominator that I could use as a diagnostic criterion -- -- that they were exquisitely ticklish.
They were unable to disregard unimportant stimuli.
That is why they have trouble in the classroom with 30 other kids burping, coughing, passing gas and dropping pencils. The teacher says, "Charlie, sit down and stop moving around." No wonder home schooling is becoming popular.
Blood tests were not helpful, but hair tests showed me that they were all low in calcium and especially magnesium. No wonder they craved chocolate. (There is more magnesium in chocolate than any other food on earth.)
I began to treat them with oral doses of 500 mg magnesium and 1000 mg calcium daily. It took three weeks, but 80% of them were able to get off Ritalin or dextroamphetamine, or whatever stimulant they were on. It did not work on all of them. As time went by, I had them take vitamin B6 if dream recall was poor and essential fatty acids if they had dry skin or a history of eczema. If they had ear infections as infants, they were taken off milk.
As time went on, I found it worked on adults if they had symptoms of ticklishness and inability to disregard unimportant stimuli. Apparently these people have some enzyme defect, genetic or nutritional, that prevented them from making norepinephrine, a stimulant, which we all now recognize is made to help the filtering device in the limbic system do its job.
It is too bad that psychiatrists have failed to recognize that if a stimulant acts as a calming agent, then they must shore up the flagging enzyme that is under-producing. This all fits with the damage that we have done to the top soil. It is washing and blowing away and with it, the magnesium. The psychiatrists have made ADD/ADHD a disease, like pneumonia.
It is actually a syndrome due to a defect in the screening device of the brain. I understand that since they had made it a disease they can be compensated for treating it. Another rule they have used: "If the Ritalin works, they need it." Sort of like a Ritalin deficiency.
They had another one: "Dyscalcula" if one is bad at math. They are good with words. For instance, they know that vegetarian is an Indian word meaning: "poor hunter."
OWC: Is ADD/ADHD a single disorder with a single cause or optimal treatment or is it more of a broad term to describe nearly all children with behavior problems?
Dr. Smith: I am glad you said "disorder," because as I mentioned previously, the condition is not a bona fide disease, but a collection of symptoms and signs that seems to get in the way of a child being educated. The teacher or school administrator is usually the one who suggests that the child see a doctor for the behavior problem (psychiatrist or pediatrician), whom they know will put the kid on Ritalin or a similar drug.
The doctor hears the story from the parents that her child (usually her son) will be thrown out of school unless something is done. She has tried isolation, spankings, standing in the corner, etc, but nothing seems to work. She also knows that a one-to-one situation would be effective.
The teacher may write down the symptoms noticed: restlessness, talkative, doesn't seem to listen, forgetful, short attention span, distractible, class clown, wants attention, may be a bully, as well as a few other related symptoms and signs.
The doctor knows what to do. Usually without even an exam, except a quick look in the eyes, and a listen to see if his heart is beating, the doctor reaches for his prescription pad and writes one out for Ritalin, 5 mg, #20 (or one of the newer drugs of the same type). "Try one or two in the morning after breakfast, and see what the teacher says. It may wreck his appetite, however."
The next day, the very first day of treatment, his attention span is better and he cannot eat his lunch. It works. It is a miracle. The doctor is called and thanked profusely. He assumes since it works that the boy needs it.
When I became familiar with nutrition, I found that if a stimulant drug had a calming effect like the above, it meant that the child did not have enough norepinephrine (a stimulant) in his limbic system, and that I could help with a good diet and some supplements which should shore up the enzymes in his brain that make that neurotransmitter.
If he had ever had ear infections, I stopped his dairy products, and added calcium 1,000 mg, usually at bedtime.
If he was ticklish, I added magnesium -- 500 mg is usually safe for child or adult.
If he was a "Jekyll and Hyde" type of person (severe mood swings), he had intermittent low blood sugar and he needed to nibble all day to keep his blood sugar up. Or at least eat some additional protein and less carbohydrates for better maintenance of blood sugar levels. No sugar or white-flour junk food.
If he could not remember his dreams, he needed vitamin B6 -- 50 mg is about right.
If he ever had eczema or dry scaly skin, he is to take the essential fatty acids.
- If he had dark circle under his eyes, he was eating something to which he is sensitive. Milk, wheat, corn, chocolate, eggs, citrus. Usually it is his favorite food.
I often ask these children what they like to eat. I often get a smart-alec answer, like, "rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, and broccoli." (The mother is sitting in her chair shaking her head.) People tend to eat the food to which they are sensitive. It is like the alcoholic who has low blood sugar. The child who loves milk is usually sensitive to it. They continue to drink dairy products, because somehow they need the calcium, but they are so sensitive to it, it does not get absorbed. Blood and hair tests will reveal the deficiencies.