by Barry Smeltzer The top diagnosed condition for children in the U.S. is now attention- deficit, hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). More than 5.1 million U.S. children now have this diagnosis, 13 percent of all children in America. About 4 percent of adults also have ADHD, according to studies.
The psychiatric diagnostic criteria for ADHD focuses on outward symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, which can affect their daily lives and schooling. But an ADHD diagnosis can be the result of medical conditions that either cause or exacerbate symptoms that are classified as ADHD. A study published in the Current Psychiatry Report in 2011, for example, states, “Proposed ADHD environmental risk factors include prenatal substance exposures, heavy metal and chemical exposures, nutritional factors, and lifestyle/psychosocial factors.” In other words, symptoms that result in an ADHD diagnosis may be pointing to a completely different medical condition.
Four medical conditions that can cause symptoms identical to ADHD include:
1. Malnutrition – Many adults and children are not getting the nutrition they need from the foods they eat. Many of them who fall into this category are labeled with a “high metabolism,” wear slim-sized clothes and either lose weight or are slow to gain weight. Eating the “right” foods may mean nothing if nutrients are not being absorbed or utilized by the body. Artificial coloring (Red #40, Blue lake #7, etc.) flavorings, preservatives, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), enriched flours and chemical processing (high fructose corn syrup, MSG) are also robbing the nutritional value in our food. Couple that with the common American diet of high sugars/fats, low fiber/vitamins/minerals and it creates a state of chronic nutritional deficiencies.
2. Chronic infections – Viral, bacterial, parasitic infections that reside with the GI tract, sinuses, or anywhere in the body can cause inflammation in the brain if not identified or adequately treated. If your child is prone to getting sick or catching the viruses going around, having your child thoroughly examined for a chronic infection is important.
3. Allergies – Chronic allergies can create a state of high histamine release, causing a chronic inflammatory state and autoimmunity. Whether the cause is food, environmental and/or chemical irritants or sensitivities, ongoing allergy symptoms need to be addressed at the root cause level. Over-the-counter medications that treat symptoms leave the root-cause in place.
4. Oxidative Stress – Oxidative stress is the presence of free radicals inside our cells that cause inflammation, malfunctioning processes, and even cell death. Oxidative stress is worsened with chronic heavy metal (lead, mercury, aluminum, etc.), chemical (BPA, PCB, phthalates, organophosphates, etc.) exposures and chronic vitamin/ mineral deficiencies.
A comprehensive evaluation is the first place to start. When someone comes into our office with an ADHD diagnosis or exhibiting ADHD symptoms, we begin with a thorough evaluation. This includes a complete history and physical exam, lab testing (including urine and stool),allergy testing, and heavy metal/ chemical burden testing to identify the root cause of those symptoms.
Treatment options Once the underlying medical conditions have been identified, treatment options can be customized for each individual based upon the specific needs and deficiencies identified. Many times improvements can be made without the use of psychotropic or stimulant drugs, which commonly are used to treat ADHD. Treatment options available to treat underlying issues can include diet adjustment, supplementation, addressing allergies and sensitivities, and cleaning up the environment in and around the home.
By digging deeper, addressing the body as a whole, and identifying the specific underlying medical conditions, the symptoms classified as ADHD can be improved and can even fade into memory as overall health continues to improve. A thorough evaluation of symptoms by a trained medical professional is key, which is why that’s the best place to start.
Barry Smeltzer MPAS, PA-C is the owner of Healing Provisions, a family-friendly holistic medical clinic serving the greater San Antonio area. He specializes in biomedical and environmental medicine interventions to assist in healing the body. For more information about Smeltzer and his practice, visit www.healingprovisions.net or call 830-446-2314.