Are there any alternatives to putting children with ADHD on stimulant medications?

Latest ADHD Medication Concerns Renew Talks Of Alternatives To Try First

A new article in the journal Pediatrics highlighted new concerns with prescription stimulants for ADHD in a particular subset of children, but this is far from the first time ADHD medications have come under increased scrutiny. The internet is buzzing with the idea that parents and doctors should try other interventions before trying prescription stimulants to treat ADHD behaviors.

CCHR International, a mental health watchdog group, reports that there are confirming sources in medical literature to suggest that stimulants can be linked to paranoid delusions, paranoid psychosis, hypomanic and manic symptoms, hallucinations, withdrawal, aggressiveness, insomnia, and decreased REM sleep. Last year, Health Canada announced that several ADHD medications would need to be labelled with stronger warnings including increased risks of suicide after reports of suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts in association with the medications Concerta and Ritalin and even Adderall.

So, what alternatives are parents and doctors considering trying first, instead of rushing to medicate children for ADHD symptoms?

TIME Magazinefeatured a piece entitled, “6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Putting Your Kid on ADHD Medication” in light of the possible risks of adverse effects. That article suggests a more detailed look at the symptoms at hand, but what if the child really does have ADHD? Some children are going to require medication, research shows, but many cautious parents and doctors of children with ADHD are trying alternatives first.

Some parents are trying diet elimination strategies to see if they can eliminate some of the ADHD symptoms without medication. Bernard Weiss, professor emeritus of the Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said as early as a couple of years ago that artificial food dyes can trigger worsening symptoms of ADHD. He reported concerns that parents are not warned that artificial food dyes can trigger worsening ADHD symptoms, according to an earlier article published in Scientific American. Weiss even reported frustration that the FDA has not acted on research showing the connection between artificial dyes and hyperactivity, even though stimulant prescription risks have been a concern for years.

Other alternatives that parents of children with ADHD are trying include specialized therapy and extra physical activity.

The Atlantic featured an article about a study published in Pediatrics that found that children who got regular physical activity displayed enhanced cognitive performance and brain function. That article stated that University of Illinois professor Charles Hillman and his colleagues were able to demonstrate a causal link between physical activity and executive control.

“Physical activity is clearly a high, high-yield investment for all kids, but especially those attentive or hyperactive. This brand of research is still published and written about as though it were a novel finding, in part because exercise programs for kids remain underfunded and underprioritized in many school curricula, even though exercise is clearly integral to maximizing the utility of time spent in class.”

According to The Atlantic author, kids who participated in the exercise program were better able to resist distraction and maintain focus. They also showed better working memory and an easier time switching between tasks.

Another alternative to medicine that has shown promise is mindfulness exercises, according to Dr. Lidia Zylowska, a psychiatrist and founding member of the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), Dr. Susan Smalley, a professor of psychiatry and director of MARC, and colleagues at the University of California-Los Angeles. Clinicians and teachers are already teaching mindfulness exercises to people with ADHD, according to Psych Central. They say even a little mindfulness training can help people with ADHD self-regulate better.

“Mindfulness starts with attention, and that skill is applied to increase awareness of thoughts, emotions and behaviors. In this way mindfulness also leads to increased choice,” Dr. Zylowska said.

Other research that made waves this past year regarding ADHD is that, as an author with The Atlantic wrote, some children with ADHD might actually be suffering from a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), which is caused by maternal drinking during pregnancy. There is no known safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed by a pregnant woman, according to recent information currently be examined by the Department of Health in the United Kingdom, and around half of all people diagnosed with an FASD have ADHD.

[Image via Pixabay]

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