By Dr. Mercola
Millions of US children are taking powerful mind-altering drugs, often before they're even old enough to attend school.
Oftentimes the side effects are far worse than the conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for which they're prescribed, and rival illegal street drugs in terms of their dangerous risks to health.
In children, the long-term effects are often largely unknown, while in the short term, we've seen shocking increases in violent and aggressive acts committed by teens taking one or more psychotropic drugs.
With the problem getting increasingly worse instead of better, now is a perfect time to view Gary Null's excellent documentary, The Drugging of Our Children.
The number of prescriptions for psychotropic drugs for children more than doubled between 1995 and 2000; the documentary details the devastating consequences of this excessive medicating of our children, with a focus on children who have been diagnosed with ADHD.
Most Children Diagnosed with ADHD Are Given Drugs Even Though Misdiagnosis Is Common
As the documentary points out, many of you reading this probably don't remember any kids in your class at school who were taking mind-altering drugs. And that's likely because the vast majority were not.
In contrast, one in 10 US children is now claimed to have ADHD, which is a 22 percent increase since 2003.1 About two-thirds of the children diagnosed with ADHD are on some form of prescription medication, which is unfortunate not only because there are far better (and safer) treatment options but also because many are misdiagnosed.
ADHD seems to have become more or less the catchall designation for children who do not "behave well" -- and one study determined that about 20 percent of children have likely been misdiagnosed.2 That's nearly 1 million children in the US alone.
The study found that many of the youngest children in any given grade level are perceived as exhibiting "symptoms" of ADHD, such as fidgeting and an inability to concentrate, simply because they're younger and being compared to their older, more mature classmates.
The documentary, too, points out that an ADHD diagnosis is often made, in part, on the highly subjective observations of teachers or guardians, based on signs nearly every child will display at some point (fidgeting, easily distracted, difficulty waiting his or her turn, and so on), and with little regard for other factors that could be aggravating a child's behavior, such as diet or home environment.
The outcome is, sadly, typically the same: another child placed on powerful drugs, of which parents are often completely unaware of the extreme side effects they carry.
We're Talking Hard-Core 'Class 2' Narcotics
Drugs prescribed for ADHD are not "mild" by any means. These are hard-core, "class 2" narcotics, regulated by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a controlled substance because they can lead to dependence. The majority of kids diagnosed with ADHD will be prescribed these potentially dangerous drugs, the most common being Ritalin.
By definition, Ritalin stimulates your central nervous system and may certainly interfere with the delicate and complex workings of your brain and personality. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA),3 side effects include:
Sudden death in people who have heart problems or heart defects Stroke and heart attack Increased blood pressure New or worse behavior and thought problems New or worse bipolar illness New or worse aggressive behavior or hostility New psychotic symptoms (such as hearing voices, believing things that are not true, are suspicious) New manic symptoms Increased heart rate Slowing of growth (height and weight) in children Seizures Eyesight changes or blurred vision
There are reports of children committing suicide while taking the drug, and the long-term effects are unknown. Researchers have also revealed that Ritalin appears to delay puberty, an effect that was previously unknown, raising questions about what other effects may have yet to be uncovered. Another common ADHD drug is Adderall, which contains amphetamine (aka "speed") and dextroamphetamine, and is used to reduce impulsiveness and hyperactivity in patients with ADHD. Like Ritalin, Adderall can cause potentially life-threatening side effects. Among them:
Aggressive behavior or hostility Bipolar illness Worse behavior or thought problems Psychotic symptoms (hearing voices, believing things that are not true) or manic symptoms Sudden death in patients who have heart problems or heart defects Stroke or heart attack Increased blood pressure and heart rate Seizures and eyesight changes Slowing of growth in children
Kids Turned Into 'Lifetime Paying Patients'
As Drugging of Our Children reveals, there is big money to be made in prescribing medications to kids – especially when those medications are intended to be taken for life, as many psychotropic drugs are. What happens to kids once they become medicated at a very young age, during some of his or her key formative years?
Do these children grow up never knowing who they really are? What passions they may have had if not under the drug's influence? And will they be able to quit when they are older, or will they be turned into life-long addicts? The answers to these questions are unknown.
Further, a prescription for one medication has a tendency to snowball into more prescriptions. If a child isn't responding to a medication, for instance, or is displaying side effects from the drug, additional mind-altering drugs like antidepressants (which are linked to suicide in kids and teens), sleeping pills or anxiety medications may be prescribed.
The Diagnosis of Mental Illness in Kids Is Often Subjective
Remember, what makes this all the more appalling is that the diagnosis of mental illness in children is far from an exact science. Modern psychiatry has expanded its reach to the point that even the most normal of emotions and mental states now fall under one labeled "disorder" or another. They have been able to cleverly redefine mental illness with the use of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This book is created by members of the American Psychiatric Association.
You would think that diseases are put in this book after evaluating carefully executed scientific trials, but nothing could be further from the truth. Additions and changes to this manual are determined by votes by its members. This categorization is NOT based on science at all!
It is well documented that psychiatric drugs in general and atypical antipsychotics specifically, are misused across the board. Children as young as 18 months are now receiving antipsychotic drugs, despite the fact that the diseases they're designed to treat rarely develop before adolescence. So why are toddlers receiving these potent drugs? Sadly, one of the key reasons these drugs are used is because of their sedative effect. They're typically prescribed to control "disruptive" behavior – not to treat severe mental illness.
It's also come to light recently that the Harvard psychiatrists who invented the pediatric bipolar diagnosis were disciplined for conflicts of interest4 after it was revealed they'd all received millions of dollars in undeclared drug company monies.
Parents Jailed for Not Wanting Their Kids on Drugs?
Perhaps one of the most disturbing trends covered in the documentary are parents being treated like criminals, and in some cases sent to prison, for making a conscious decision to keep their kids off drugs.
While certain US states have already enacted legislation to protect against this very issue, and prevent schools and child protection officials from forcing parents to give their children drugs, it still happens more often than you might think. More and more, we're seeing courts siding with misguided government officials in closed family-court proceedings. Parents are increasingly cut out of the decision-making process about what's in their child's best interest with regard to their health.
And it's not only an issue in the US, either. Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) issued controversial draft guidelines last year that imply a child could be taken into protective custody if a parent refuses to give their child ADHD drugs. In the case of Australia's NHMRC, the committee's guidelines were already mired with controversy, as its original chairman, Daryl Effron, reportedly resigned because he was affiliated with drug companies that produce ADHD drugs!
Seek Effective Alternatives Before Resorting to Drugs
As a parent, you must be your child's advocate and fight against allowing the profit of powerful corporations to come before your children's health. If your child is suffering from an emotional or mental challenge, please seek help, but do so from someone who does not regard psychotropic drugs as a first line of defense. Please understand that 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.
Increasingly, scientific evidence shows that nourishing your gut flora with the beneficial bacteria found in traditionally fermented foods (or a probiotic supplement) is extremely important for proper brain function, and that includes psychological well-being and mood control. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride has successfully demonstrated the power and effectiveness of this theory. In her Cambridge, England clinic, she successfully treats children and adults with a wide range of conditions, including autism, ADD/ADHD, neurological disorders, psychiatric disorders, immune disorders, and digestive problems using the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Nutritional Program, which she developed.
Her GAPS theory – which is fully explained in her excellent book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome – is an elegant description of how such conditions can develop as a direct result of gastrointestinal toxicity. Another helpful tool is my three-part interview with renowned children's health expert, the late Dr. Lendon Smith, on Non-Drug Treatment of ADD/ADHD. Here are a few additional guidelines to help you address underlying toxins in your child, without, or at least BEFORE, you agree to any kind of drug therapy:
- 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.
- Avoid giving your child ANY processed foods, especially those containing artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. This includes lunchmeats and hot dogs, which are common food staples in many households.
- Replace soft drinks, fruit juices, and pasteurized milk with pure water. This is HUGE since high fructose corn syrup is a primary source of calories in children.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. See my nutrition plan for a comprehensive guide to healthful eating.
- Also reduce or eliminate grains from your child's diet, especially wheat. Beyond the fact that even healthy organic whole grains can cause problems as they too break down into sugars, gluten-containing grains have pharmacologically active peptides that can contribute to cognitive and behavioral issues in susceptible children.
Additionally, whole and even sprouted wheat contains physiologically significant amounts of wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), which can have adverse effects on mental health due to its neurotoxic actions. Wheat can also interfere with the production of serotonin, the largest concentration of which can, again, be found in your intestines, not your brain. Try eliminating all gluten-containing grains first for 1-2 weeks and see if you don't notice a significant improvement in your child's behavior.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners and colors of all kinds.
- Make sure your child gets plenty of exercise and outdoor playtime, remembering that midday sunlight provides the UVB wavelengths necessary to produce vitamin D3.
- 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 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.
- Give your child a way to address his or her emotion health. Even children can benefit from the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which you or an EFT practitioner can teach them to use.
- Be sure you are also providing positive praise to your child. Dr. Smith believed parents should be able to say nice things to their child twice as often as they give commands or ask questions. If you are shouting and scolding more than you are complimenting and rewarding your child, it could be contributing to psychiatric problems.
- Prevent exposure to toxic metals and chemicals 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. Also be aware of exposure to metals from vaccinations and dental fillings. The presence of toxic metals in your child's body is highly significant, as 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.