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How Can a 4000% Increase in Bipolar Disorder Be Possible?

bipolar disorder rateThe number of American children diagnosed with bipolar disorder increased 40-fold over the past decade. But now many psychiatrists are backing away from the diagnosis.

Many are worried that thousands of children may have been mistakenly diagnosed with the disorder. Overzealous doctors, quirks in the health insurance system and aggressive marketing by drug companies all contributed to the explosion of bipolar diagnoses.

According to the Star Tribune:

"The profession's about-face could help the next generation of troubled children, but it also raises questions about the harm done to children who shouldn't have received either the diagnosis or the potent drugs used to treat it."

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Articles like these make it very clear to me that the frighteningly "routine" practice of prescribing potent antipsychotic drugs to children is, in the majority of cases, an ill-conceived scam originating with the drug industry. In this case, a backlash against the diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children may be one of the best things that could happen.

Now, it does seem like the incidence of very real emotional- and/or mental problems are increasing in children.

However, the so-called 'solution' offered is likely doing double harm. Not only are these troubled children not receiving appropriate and effective treatment, but the drug therapies prescribed are further compounding their health issues.

The Astounding Rise of Bipolar Diagnosis in Children

This is why statistics can be so important: The fact that the number of American children diagnosed with bipolar disorder has increased by 4,000 percent in a mere 10 year span (1994-2003) leads you to quickly realize that something must be askew…

The possibility of such a radical increase being medically valid is close to nil. Another telltale sign that Big Pharma is behind much of this growth is the fact that four times as many children covered by Medicaid receive antipsychotic drugs, compared to children whose parents have private health insurance. One of the reasons for this is because it can be difficult to find a psychiatrist that accepts Medicaid. As a result, many of these children get the medication from a pediatrician or family doctor, who may or may not be fully qualified to make a proper psychiatric evaluation. All they're going by is what they've been told by pharmaceutical reps.

The cost of "medicating away children's problems" goes far beyond dollars and cents, although that price tag is staggering in and of itself. For example, according to the Star Tribune, the cost of treating children with antipsychotic drugs exceeds $6 million annually in the state of Minnesota alone! 

New Label for Troubled Youngsters is Being Defined

It has now become quite apparent that the diagnosis of bipolar disorder is heavily misused, and that many children are being mislabeled—and subsequently drugged without meeting the criteria for the diagnosis. As mentioned in the featured article, this rise in erroneous diagnoses is being blamed on a combination of:

  • Overzealous doctors
  • Desperate parents
  • The insurance system (a doctor or hospital cannot bill without a diagnostic code, which requires a diagnosis of some form of established disease or disorder)
  • Aggressive (and sometimes illegal) marketing by drug companies

These factors conspired to create what Dr. Stephen Setterberg, a child psychiatrist with Maple Grove-based PrairieCare calls: a "diagnostic fad."  Unfortunately, this is a "fad" that has the capacity to destroy lives.

A primary difficulty here is the fact that most psychiatric diagnoses are entirely subjective, based on a set of behavioral symptoms. However, the bipolar profile found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was written for adults, not children. Symptoms of (adult) bipolar include long bouts of depression and mania, delusions and self-aggrandizement, hypersexuality and other risky behaviors that impact their work and social lives.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 7 percent of all children seen at psychiatric facilities fit the bipolar disorder criteria (much of which originated from Dr. Biederman at Harvard, whose influence on this 'epidemic' I'll discuss in a moment).

The backlash against the over-diagnosing of bipolar disorder has now led the psychiatric profession to reconsider the diagnostic criteria. According to the Star Tribune, a new diagnosis will soon be 'field-tested' that may replace bipolar in many cases. The new diagnosis, called Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, would apply to "grade-school children who suffer frequent outbursts in more than one location and remain irritable between outbursts."

However, unless they also change the way they're treating these children, the label change won't do much good.

I firmly believe we will not get a handle on these mental health problems until we make a concerted effort to make drug therapies the LAST resort, instead of the go-to solution. This will require an open-mindedness that is rare today. And it will require a drastic change of lifestyle in most cases.

Unfortunately, the diagnosis of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder will likely be classified as an "affective" disorder, meaning it has a biological origin, and as such it will inevitably "require" a drug treatment. It's highly unfortunate, but conventional medicine still struggles with the idea that your body is capable of self-healing and proper function given the right environment (proper nutrition, exercise, and limited exposure to toxins)…

The Dangerous Side Effects of Antipsychotic Drugs

The drugs given to children diagnosed with bipolar disorder are typically:

  • Lithium
  • Anticonvulsants (e.g., Depakote or other valproate products)
  • Atypical neuroleptics (e.g., risperidone, olanzapine, ziprasidone, aripiprazole, quetiapine)

Even though atypical neuroleptics are approved only for adults, the rate of children treated with atypicals is growing dramatically faster than the rate for adults. I don't even advocate giving children cough syrup, Tylenol or antibiotics, as these alone can be harmful. But when you're talking about powerful psychotropic, mind-altering drugs, you're entering an entirely different ballgame.

Aside from the immediate risk of death, another serious and widespread problem caused by these drugs is excessive weight gain and metabolic problems like diabetes. The effect varies by drug, but children typically gain TWICE as much weight in the first six months on these drugs as they should through normal growth, adding an average of two to three inches to their waistline. A lot of this is abdominal fat, which also increases their risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Some experts claim that the weight gain and metabolic problems caused by the drugs make it difficult to conclude that the medications actually improve children's lives in the long run.

Side Effects Often Lead to Polypharmacy, and Compounded Health Risks

While some experts believe the benefits of antipsychotics outweigh the health risks for those who truly are bipolar, they can wreck the lives of those who receive them unnecessarily.

Additionally, the practice of prescribing two or more drugs in combination has increased as well. Children may receive different drugs to treat a panoply of physical-, mental- and behavioral symptoms. Oftentimes drugs are added with the emergence of each new symptom—symptoms that are misconstrued as signs of a worsening or additional problem. However, many of these may actually be side effects of the drug itself.

Dr. Carrie Borchardt, a child psychiatrist with Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota states in the featured article:

"A substantial number of those kids, if you take them off the problem medication, those symptoms go away… and then they don't have bipolar, they just had a medication-induced problem."

The Undue Influence of Drug Companies on the Rise of Psychiatric Diagnoses

Dr. Joseph Biederman of Harvard Medical School is a world-renowned child psychiatrist whose work has helped fuel the explosion of antipsychotic drug use in children. Between 2000 and 2007, he earned at least $1.6 million in consulting fees from drug makers. However, he did not report a large portion of this income to university officials.

Biederman and other researchers may have violated federal and university research rules designed to police potential conflicts of interest. His consulting arrangements with drug makers were also controversial because of his advocacy of unapproved uses of psychiatric medicines in children. But it may be even worse than that. According to the Star Tribune,

"Documents produced in state lawsuits against drug companies suggested that he promised a positive study -- before doing research -- to Johnson & Johnson regarding the use of its antipsychotic, Risperdal, in preschool kids." [Emphasis mine]

In the past decade, Dr. Biederman and his colleagues promoted aggressive diagnosis and drug treatment of childhood bipolar disorder, maintaining that it was underdiagnosed in children and is treatable with drugs. I'd say they succeeded in their mission, considering there's been a 40-fold increase in bipolar diagnosis. But Dr. Biederman's questionable ethics only strengthens my suspicion that this increase in diagnosis stems more from greed than any real increase in childhood bipolar disorder.

Drugs are Not the Answer to Children's Behavioral Problems

I realize that many parents decide to put their children on a psychotropic drug because they believe it will help them and that they have no other choice. In no way do I underestimate the challenges that many parents go through, or the torment that so many troubled children suffer. However, even the experts can't agree on the proper way to diagnose children with bipolar and other mental disorders, which means the chances of your child being misdiagnosed and subsequently harmed by these potent drugs are high.

Unfortunately, the issue is further complicated by the fact that there can also be extreme pressure to give your kids prescription drugs. In some instances parents have even been accused of child abuse when they resist drugging their kids, and parents who try to resist this insanity in their own homes can even have their children taken away...

So yes, it can be quite complicated, and there are no hard and fast answers that will apply in every case.

However, I sincerely believe that what we're seeing in many of these "troublesome" children are the effects of inappropriate or deficient nutrition, combined with toxicity—the sources of which are countless today, from electromagnetic fields, to food additives and excessive vaccine exposures, just to name a few. I have treated many hundreds of children with varying levels of behavioral problems and disorders and have consistently seen them improve once the underlying toxicities and food changes were addressed.

So parents, I believe there is hope!

Correcting Behavioral Problems Without Drugs

Behavioral problems in children—including what might appear to be serious mental disorders—are very frequently related to improper diet, emotional upset and exposure to toxins. Most people fail to realize that your gut is quite literally your second brain, and actually has the ability to significantly influence your mind, mood and behavior. Therefore, it stands to reason that supporting gut health is incredibly important whenever you're trying to address any kind of mind- or mood disorder.

One of the best books I ever read on this subject is Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.  I recently interviewed her on this topic and would strongly recommend her book be required reading for anyone interested in this topic as I have never seen a better description of the problem, and more importantly, comprehensive strategies for correcting it.

Here are a few additional guidelines to help you address these underlying toxins in your child, without, or at least BEFORE, you resort to drugs:

  1. Severely limit or eliminate fructose from your child's diet as sugar/fructose has been linked to mental health problems such as depression and schizophrenia.
  2. Avoid giving your child ANY processed foods, especially those containing artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. This includes lunch meats and hot dogs, which are common food staples in many households.
  3. Replace soft drinks, fruit juices, and pasteurized milk with pure water. This is HUGE since high fructose corn syrup is the NUMBER ONE source of calories in children.
  4. Eliminating the sugars and processed foods are key but following close behind are to make sure your child is getting large regular doses of healthy bacteria, either with high quality fermented organic foods and/or high quality probiotic supplements.
  5. Give your child plenty of high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats like krill oil. Also, make sure to balance your child's intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, by simultaneously limiting their intake of vegetable oils.
  6. Include as many whole organic foods as possible in your child's diet, both to reduce chemical exposure and increase nutrient content of each meal.
  7. Also reduce or eliminate grains from your child's diet. Yes, even healthy organic whole grains can cause problems as they too break down into sugars.

    Additionally, whole wheat in particular contains high amounts of wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), which can have adverse effects on mental health due to its neurotoxic actions. Wheat also inhibits production of serotonin. Neurotransmitters like serotonin can be found not just in your brain, but the largest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression and aggression is actually found in your intestines, not your brain. Try eliminating them first for 1-2 weeks and see if you don't notice a radical and amazing improvement in your child's behavior.
  8. Avoid artificial sweeteners of all kinds.
  9. Make sure your child gets plenty of exercise and outdoor playtime.
  10. Get them out into the sun to help maintain optimal vitamin D levels. Scientists are now beginning to realize vitamin D is involved in maintaining the health of your brain, as they've recently discovered vitamin D receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and central nervous system. There's even evidence indicating vitamin D improves your brain's detoxification process. For children and pregnant women, getting enough vitamin D is especially crucial, as it may play a major role in protecting infants' brains from autism.

    If natural sun exposure is not feasible, for whatever reason, you can use either a safe tanning bed or an oral vitamin D3 supplement. For more details on how to safely optimize your and your child's vitamin D levels, please see this previous article.
  11. Give your child a way to address his or her emotions. Even children can benefit from the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which you or an EFT practitioner can teach them how to use.
  12. Prevent exposure to toxic metals and chemical by replacing personal care products, detergents and household cleaners with all natural varieties. Metals like aluminum, cadmium, lead and mercury are commonly found in thousands of different food products, household products, personal products and untold numbers of industrial products and chemicals. The presence of toxic metals in your child's body is highly significant for they are capable of causing serious health problems by interfering with normal biological functioning. The health effects range from minor physical ailments to chronic diseases, and altered mood and behavior.

+ Sources and References
  • Star Tribune June 23, 2011