A recent article in the New York Times featured a young woman who had been prescribed 10 different psychiatric drugs by the time she graduated from high school. She’s one of the millions of U.S. children who are now taking one or more drugs to manage an array of mental disorders.
In 4th grade, Renae Smith found herself struggling in school and was given Focalin, a prescription drug for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Still on her ADHD meds, she reported severe depression and anxiety as a freshman in high school and was prescribed the antidepressant Prozac. When the effects of Prozac dissipated over time, she was given an additional antidepressant, Effexor. Subsequent drugs were prescribed to stabilize mood, and more to dull the side effects of existing prescriptions. By the time she graduated from high school, she was taking 5 different mood-altering drugs and had been prescribed ten different psychiatric drugs in her young life
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that almost 10% of U.S. children ages 3-17 (about 6 million children) have been diagnosed with ADHD. About ¾ of them are receiving treatment, usually prescription drugs. More than 40% of the time, ADHD drugs initiate a path toward “polypharmacy” (taking many drugs).
At Beyond Health, we find the increasing prescription of psychiatric drugs to children shocking and very disturbing.
Prescription drugs don’t cure disease. Ms. Smith is a case in point. The underlying causes of her brain dysfunction, manifesting as ADHD in 4th grade, were never addressed and apparently began manifesting as anxiety and depression by 9th grade.
Prescription drugs help manage symptoms, and ALWAYS at some cost to overall health. These costs are called “side effects.” In the case of psychiatric drugs, negative side effects can be substantial and affect the rest of the child’s life.
Beyond Health’s philosophy of health and disease is built on the premises that
- Disease should be addressed by treating its cause(s).
- There are only two causes for disease—toxicity and nutritional deficiency;
- There are six pathways that lead either toward or away from disease: nutrition, toxins, physical (including exercise, sleep, etc.), mental (attitudes, belief systems, etc.), genetic and medical (use of our current medical system); and
- There is almost always an alternative to prescription drugs that will treat the symptoms of disease in a more natural and health-supporting way
Although our current medical system pays lip service to the idea of diet and lifestyle change as first-line treatment, too often doctors reflexively reach for their prescription pad. Psychotherapy is usually suggested, but diet and lifestyle changes are just as often ignored.
Yet we know, for example, that the brain is made mostly of fat (we are all fatheads!) and that the kinds of fats you eat make an enormous difference in how your brain functions and how you feel. Transfats, for example, found in many processed foods, are associated with a depressed mood, while omega-3 fats (found in fish, fish oil and flaxseed) and the fats found in olive oil are associated with a happier mood.
The importance of good fats to brain health was first reported in the 1970s. At that time, Prof. Michael Crawford, Director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at Imperial College in London, England, and a renowned authority in the field of fatty acids and their role in human brain development, made the prediction that unless drastic changes were made in the average diet, there was going to be an epidemic of brain and psychological problems due to eating the wrong fats. He predicted it would be as devastating to public health as the heart disease epidemic was back then. Many would argue that this epidemic has arrived.
The brain also needs essential vitamins and minerals to function properly. Years ago, a young man in his twenties was referred to Beyond Health. He’d been suffering from severe anxiety and depression since his early teens. After taking our Beyond Health Multi-Vitamin according to label directions for a few months, without making any other changes, he experienced complete remission of his depression and anxiety.
Now, neither our multi-vitamin for adults nor our equally effective Kids Mega Multi is a cure for anxiety and depression. Usually, many factors are involved and need to be addressed. But in this young man’s case, our multi apparently sufficiently addressed the nutrient deficiencies driving his mental health issues. (It probably helped that the vitamins and minerals in our multis are in highly bioavailable forms, with all the co-factors necessary for their absorption and utilization included, making it as easy as possible for an ill person to make full use of these nutrients.)
The best protocol for recovering brain health would be a healthy lifestyle including good diet, exercise, adequate sleep and avoiding neurotoxins (see footnote).
In 2006, Patrick Holford, a nutritionist with special expertise in nutrition and brain health, and founder of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in London, England, tried out such a protocol in a London primary school for students with special needs, including autism, ADHD, fragile X syndrome and cerebral palsy.
The children were given a daily multivitamin along with an essential fatty acid supplement; a nutritious, low-sugar, additive-free diet along with fresh fruit and water for snacks; and daily structured exercise designed to improve coordination for six months. In addition, workshops attended by both the children and their parents encouraged them to take on a healthier lifestyle.
Teachers and parents reported dramatic changes in the children, with less impulsivity and hyperactivity, better social skills and better behavior. The children had also become less anxious and shy. A psychologist who assessed the children reported: “Every measure of cognition and behavior has improved. Most significant was the reduction in symptoms of ADHD, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.”
Holford hoped that the British government would take note and fund improvements in the public schools, but he was ahead of his time. Studies continue to be done on the individual factors involved in brain health, confirming that they’re all pieces of the puzzle, but no project to our knowledge has combined them as Holford did to actually make substantial changes in people’s lives.
Meanwhile, millions of children unnecessarily suffer the ravages of psychiatric drugs.
- Richtel M. This teen was prescribed 10 psychiatric drugs. She’s not alone. New York Times, August 27, 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Health and Human Services. Data and statistics about ADHD. Last reviewed August 9, 2022.
- The many neurotoxins (substances that poison brain cells) in our environment and in processed foods include excitotoxins, which over-stimulate brain cells causing them to weaken and die, like MSG and aspartame (children’s brains are 4 times more sensitive to excitotoxins than adults); pesticides and many food preservatives, food colorings and other food additives (eat unprocessed and organic), stimulants (caffeine and nicotine), and heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, aluminum, etc). Refined carbohydrates, especially refined sugar, creating blood sugar spikes, are terribly toxic to brain cells, although complex carbohydrates from vegetables and whole grains are good fuel for the brain. Excessive stress is also toxic to the brain, as are allergic reactions
- Patrick Holford Newsletter, 2007.