The French Secret to Healing ADHD Without Medication

Adapted from Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD

Outside of the Amen Clinics, stimulant medications are the mainstream treatment for children and adults with ADHD. In fact, the U.S. is the #1 prescriber of stimulant medications, representing 80 – 85% of the world’s consumption!

Through years of treating children and adults with ADHD, we know that stimulant medications are helpful for some, yet can also make some people with ADHD symptoms much worse. This is no secret in the medical community; so why are stimulant medications are so prevalent in the U.S.? A couple of comparisons between the U.S. and France may help shed some light on the subject. Note to reader: this blog is an adaptation of the March 2012 blog, Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD, by Dr. Marilyn Wedge, Family Therapist and author of Pills are not for Preschoolers: A Drug-Free Approach for Troubled Kids and Suffer the Children: The Case Against Labeling and Medicating and an Effective Alternative.

Is It Really ADHD, Or Something Else?

In the United States, conventional psychiatry views ADHD as a simple biological-neurological disorder with biological causes.

  • Diagnosis is made using DSM criteria (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
  • DSM uses a checklist of symptoms and behaviors only – then classifies within a narrow definition.
  • Social circumstances, emotional traumas and food allergies may be dismissed as “chemical imbalances”.
  • American doctors largely ignore dietary factors.
  • ADHD is commonly treated with psycho-stimulant medication alone, or in combination with behavior modification therapy (with low success rates).
  • In a 5-7 minute office visit it is hard to assess all the factors.

In France
, child psychiatrists view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes.

  • Diagnosis is explored using CFTMEA criteria (Classification Française des Troubles Mentaux de L’Enfant et de L’Adolescent).
  • CFTMEA first looks at underlying social issues that may be causing ADHD behaviors and symptoms.
  • Doctors help patients identify, understand and work through psychological disruption that may surface as ADHD symptoms.
  • Dietary factors are explored and addressed by doctors.
  • Using a holistic approach to treating ADHD, the French dramatically reduce the amount of psycho-stimulant medications given to children.

Cultural Differences

Cultural differences such as parenting style should be included in this comparison as well. According to experts:

  • French parents have a more stringent philosophy on discipline and are more likely to provide firm structure while enforcing clear limits.
  • American parents no longer set limits and allow children to control them instead of the other way around.

Some people would like to believe that ADHD is “just an excuse for bad behavior” and that restoring “old-fashioned values” will eradicate over-diagnosis. Those beliefs are myths – ADHD is real. We can see it in the brain! “Bad parents” do not cause ADHD, nor can parents be expected to fix their child’s ADHD without help from professionals.

Dietary Factors

Mealtime habits and dietary factors provide yet another point of comparison between the U.S. and France. In the last thirty years, both the quality of food and mealtime habits has changed dramatically in the U.S. These days, junk foods and fast foods are frequently consumed. Families have fallen away from eating together and meals are often eaten while on-the-go. Children’s diets, even at school, are high in simple carbohydrates (sugar, white bread, white-flour food products), poor in protein and healthy fat and positively deficient in vegetables. If a person is vulnerable to ADHD, a high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet typically makes their symptoms worse.

In the United States:

  • Children are allowed to snack throughout the day instead of waiting to eat with parents – processed snack foods are high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, gluten, dairy, synthetic flavors and synthetic colors.
  • Separate “kids menus” are expected and encouraged – children do not eat the same foods as their parents. Mac and Cheese, chicken fingers and PBJ sandwiches are not brain healthy!
  • Doctors do not make practice of addressing nutrient deficiency or food sensitivities during the diagnostic and treatment process.
  • Parents and doctors are less aware of how foods affect the brain – then rely on medications to suppress symptoms.

In France:

  • Children do not snack all day and must wait to eat with their parents – this encourages better self-control and greater nutrient-density in foods they eat.
  • There are no “kids menus” in France – children eat what their parents eat.
  • French doctors consider diet as a reason for behavior changes.
  • Dietary interventions that explore and remove culprit foods are part of treatment – thus reducing medication use.

Consideration of dietary factors is a critical area where U.S. doctors have fallen short when diagnosing and treating ADHD. Through research, we have found that:

  • People who eat high carbohydrate and high sugar diets are more impulsive.
  • Foods such as gluten, dairy and sugar cause inflammation, which decreases blood flow to the brain.
  • Eating more lean protein and good-quality fats generally reduces impulsivity by stabilizing the blood sugar and supporting the pre-frontal cortex.
  • Multiple studies have shown that frequent consumption of synthetic colors may worsen irritability, hyperactivity and disturb sleep in children.
  • In a study from Europe, 70% of ADD children showed greater than a 50% reduction of symptoms on an elimination diet. This clearly shows that food intake can make ADD/ADHD symptoms better or worse.

The Amen Clinics Method – The Future of Healing ADHD In The U.S.

Based on all that we have discussed, it’s clear that mental health treatment needs a make-over in the U.S. The French secret to healing ADHD without medication is to treat the whole person, rather than treating symptoms alone.

At Amen Clinics, natural treatments have become much more common as a first line therapy.  We are definitely not opposed to medication, as there are many times when medication is appropriate and even lifesaving. However, we are opposed to the indiscriminant use of medication, which we are seeing even more commonly in the new patients who come to our clinics.

ADHD Diagnostics at the Amen Clinics:

  • Symptom Clusters using DSM Criteria
  • 4 Circles Assessments
  • SPECT Imaging and Lab Studies (a study we performed showed that SPECT scan results changed the diagnosis and/or treatment plan 78.9% of the time!) =  More targeted diagnosis and treatment plan with higher levels of success

The 4 Circles Approach:

We take into account the Bio/Psycho/Social/Spiritual health of our patients. Similar to the French, we believe in always thinking of people as whole beings, and never just as their symptoms.

Biological: How the physical body functions (body).

  • Treatments: Diet, exercise, supplements, meds and neurofeedback.

Psychological: Developmental issues and thought patterns (the mind).

  • Treatments: Learning about how to heal past hurts and thinking honestly and clearly.

Social: Social support and current life situation (connections).

  • Treatments: Managing stress and improving your relationships.

Spiritual: What life means (spirit).

  • Treatments: Getting in touch with a deep sense of meaning and purpose.

Amen Clinics Treatment Outcomes:

  • 75% of our patients experience significant improvement after 6 months.
  • 85% experience better quality of life after 6 months.

  • Donald Denton

    Vive la France!

  • Fouad M.

    I think it’s the french cheese :-))

  • antares

    Sounds logic….and in my opinion true. I have a boy with ADD and it was epic to get him better, nor MD nor teachers though he had ADD it was in part his and in part my fault! Finally I choose to treat him in a holistic way, behavioral treatment, diet, knowledge as he grow about his condition….never prescriptions. He is doing great now, is in his second year of architecture and doing just fine…..! Thank God!

  • Jackie Ryan Masek

    We Americans think we are so advanced in science, especially medicine. Yet we have taken the heart and soul out of it and replaced it with technology. It doesn’t work best that way, now does it? I applaud you, Dr. Amen, for all of your hard work and thank you for sharing your findings with the rest of us.

  • Deane Alban

    The French eat lots of healthy fats – eggs, butter, cheese, etc.

    • Julianne

      so much for the problems with dairy, eh?

      • QuoVadisAnima

        They generally don’t eat diets that kill off the microbes that help the gut digest dairy foods. The GAPS diet has helped a lot of people to be able to tolerate dairy again by rebuilding the “good” microbe populations in the gut.

  • Kristin Bennett

    Beautiful…they treat the whole person rather than the disease…we could learn so much!! Or should I say our DOCTORS could learn so much?

  • Lorrie Lauer

    I have always focused on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harmony in my life. I was in a roller coaster accident when I was 14 and suffered a severe brain trauma. Since learning from Dr. Amen, I have supplemented with 5 HTP which has helped me so very much. Thank you Dr. Amen.

    Also, I have significantly improved my diet with the help of Tana’s recipes. I love chocolate and gelato. I am so excited about this new recipe.

    I also was vegetarian for awhile and I do much better when eating healthy organic free-range protein.

    I love the French. ooh la la!

  • Mary Fraser

    Why don’t you discuss the part genetically modified foods (GMO”s) play in causing autism, ADD & ADHD? There was a peer reviewed study published in Jan. that shows that gut dysbiosis caused by GMO’s and glyphosate (RoundUp) use as a direct factor in today’s modern diseases including neurological disorders. Take a look at the Gut and Psychology diet (GAPS) as a potential cure. Eliminate the glyphosate and GMO’s from your diet and see the improvement for yourself. Please be aware that Roundup is sprayed on grain crops right before harvest to dry out the grains. So most grains are contaminated with glyphosate and GMO’s are designed to withstand large quantities of Roundup applications. The entire plant becomes toxic. Buy organic.
    We are poisoning our children. The autism rate used to be 1 in 10,000. Now its 1 in 50 and it affects boys 5 times more than girls. Become informed.

  • VMSansone

    Qui, Qui!

  • Lorie Davis

    I am amazingly GOOD about diet, exercise and spiritual health. Nevertheless I still suffer terrible vagueness and mental confusion if I do not have regular medication with NON-stimulant Strattera for my ADHD. Unfortunately, it costs a fortune. I can hardly wait until their pattent runs out! I have to live a couple of months a year without it (My medicare runs out), and no amount of dietary, physical or spiritual perfection will get me back to 100% sharp. I am one grateful lady that appropriate pharmaceuticals exist!

    • Carol

      Lorie, I agree. Natural things are wonderful, but in the words of my very frustrated youngest son, “Give me my medication first, then you can give me all the natural things you want. Please!” We are a family of all natural, organic diet, raw foods, veggies galore, no processed foods, no sugar–the weird family– until our oldest son was diagnosed as being bipolar. Oh. No wonder all that didn’t work. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water people. Even with pharmaceuticals, we have to use our common sense: titrate up. You may have to have a few symptoms in order to stay healthy, but better that than a life–and your family’s lives– turned upside down.

      • Lorie Davis

        AMEN! (And Amon, too!)

  • Brenda Dean

    It must depend on the physician and or practice. We were required by our pediatrician to test for these things: (CAP-D testing, vision check, physical) BEFORE we could get a specialists referral & diagnosis for my son. He’s grown out of the hyperactivity part & does better when on a schedule. Our home is organic, & fruit is the sweetest thing we have in our kitchen. Absolutely NO sodas, or artificial sweeteners! We are the weird family on the block & our 3 kids don’t have a weight problem either… something rather unusual in our state (Tennessee). I get teased a lot about my food buying/eating habits, but our family will most likely live longer healthier lives 😀

  • Pat Sharp

    Too much of this article is just not true. Look at the NIMH studies. There are no connections to sugar, food additives, etc. causing ADHD symptoms. As a practicing pediatric psychologist I would say that at least 95 percent of the parents who attempted these diet modifications are disappointed with the results. Occasionally it seems to help, though it may also be related to other factors also. As for France, well, not to cause arguments, but they are one of the most unproductive countries in the world.

    • Carol

      I’m sorry, but I’m a mother of two ADHD boys who has seen the vast difference in behavior and physical symptoms (i.e. bed-wetting, rashes) resolved by removing food additives, sugar, and processed foods from the diet. I had friends and neighbors who were ‘unbelievers’ until they would see a reaction if my children got a hold of the wrong foods by accident. One of the most notable was my oldest son’s ‘allergy’ to corn. Within minutes of ingesting it, he would go into a hypomanic state that was beyond belief unless you witnessed it yourself–and many told us just that. Sugar had a similar reaction, but not as strong. Wheat caused bed-wetting–we pulled it, it stopped, added it, it started. Strawberries caused depression and withdrawal. I could go on, but we learned early on that the biochemicals that one puts into their bodies are significant because that is what we are made of and how we work. I always wondered, was it an allergy to the food or to the chemicals or molds that were on it. Take a look at the processing of sugar sometime and you tell me that putting those chemicals into your body wouldn’t be a reason for concern.

  • Pat Sharp

    The last message is labeled Pat Sharp. It isn’t from her. This is the owner of where I work. This written by Jon

  • marilyn wedge

    Your comments should reference Marilyn Wedge’s copyrighted article in Psychology Today Otherwise, you are plagerizing.

  • marilyn wedge
  • arun kumar

    After recognizing ADD disorder issues, many health care professionals are suggesting to take Natural Adderall alternative to over come this issues.

  • Leslie

    It is very upsetting to see judgements and inaccurate statements made related to ADHD. As a practicing child & family therapist for 17 years who was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult and has children with ADHD as well, I have seen the severe consequences of the shame and stigma that is placed on parents and children who suffer from this disorder. Certainly food, sugar, food dies and preservatives impact us (and I believe those with any type of neurodevelopmental disorder tend to have stronger reactions to these things), that doesn’t discount the real and scientifically neurodevelopmental disorder of ADHD! I see many children and parents in my practice who have received mixed information, often much of which is based on personal opinion rather then science – which has kept them from getting or providing the needed treatment for their child which has resulted in severe struggles and lead to depression, anxiety and further frustration for all. PLEASE present balanced and scientifically supported evidence rather then personal bias and opinions such as those written by Marilyn Wedge (which by the way is NOT based on ANY scientific evidence, but merely her critical and blame of parents). You perpetuate the problem by making such fictitious and inaccurate claims and continue the shame and stigma that is out there. Can you make your eye color change? No – you can’t, just like those with ADHD are unable to function and process information the same as those who don’t have it. STOP blaming parents!

  • rj

    Does France have vaccines and immunizations? And awful fluoridated water?

  • Simon Johansson

    Please sign this petition about organic NDT, a medication for Hypothyroidism.