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ADHD Medication On The Rise

Publication date: 15 August 2013

This week the BBC reported that ADHD medications have risen by 50% over the last five years in England. What's behind this rise? The BBC article doesn't go into this question, except to point out the risk of abuse by people (students in particular are mentioned) who want to improve their concentration and focus (in other words, these medications are being used as "smart drugs").

I wonder to what extent people use smart drugs to go from normal mental function to enhanced (super-normal) function. There are significant risks and side effects with these drugs, and I guess university students are intelligent enough to realise this. Personally I think it's much more likely they feel they have a problem with concentration. I don't have any data to back up my opinion but I do see more and more people coming to my practice complaining of "brain fog". These people haven't been diagnosed with ADHD but they do struggle with:

  • poor concentration and focus
  • holding things in mind (short term memory)
  • procrastination and lack of motivation.

What causes these problems? Drugs such as ritalin (methylphenidate) appear to work by enhancing a dopamine pathway in the brain's prefrontal cortex (PFC) enhancing PFC arousal and thus improving so-called "executive function". Some of the therapies I use when working with brain fog (such as HEG neurofeedback) also aim to enhance PFC activation. But even if the dopamine pathway is implicated, it is only as the proximal cause (or mediator) - we then have to ask what caused dopamine problems? We have to dig a little deeper.

My reading and training suggest we have to look at things like:

  • Low level but chronic stress which activates the body's stress responses in a way they weren't designed for (e.g. leading to chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol).
  • ¬†Poor gastrointestinal health and integrity - often caused by poor diet and by stress.
  • Weakened detoxification leading to build-up of e.g mercury and other heavy metals, and often precipitated by poor gut health.

These are the sorts of things that Nutritional therapy targets. For brain fog, much better to address lifestyle issues and underlying body systems that are out of balance, than use drugs which can boost performance but don't address causes and in the long term create more problems.

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