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 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.
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.
- 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.