Anybody who has a child in school has probably heard about ADD or ADHD. What’s more, if their child has been diagnosed with either of these two disorders they have more than likely heard about Ritalin. Love it or hate it, Ritalin has been shown to have a remarkable, positive effect on children who suffer with Attention Deficit Disorder or extreme hyperactivity but the question is, at what cost?
Ritalin is the easy-to-say name for a prescription drug that is known as methylphenidate. In simple terms, the drug is a central nervous system stimulant. The effects of Ritalin are similar to caffeine (but a lot more potent). Ritalin is the most common treatment for kids who are diagnosed with ADD (attention deficit disorder) or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
At one stage parents readily accepted the so-called -wonder’ drug, though few were certain as to what long term effects the drug would have and if Ritalin was indeed safe. Today parents are a lot more curious and over the last few years, the -wonder’ drug for ADD or ADHD is now surrounded in controversy and many parents are looking for healthy and natural alternatives to treat their children.
The facts about Ritalin
Every year Ritalin is prescribed to millions of children. The number one reason why doctors favour the drug is because it works. It takes less than thirty minutes to work and so the results are seen almost instantly. Once the tablet has been consumed, parents, teachers and caregivers note positive changes in the previously hyper, irritated and energetic child who was, before Ritalin, unable to concentrate, sit still or -be good’. The effects usually last for up to four hours and this means a child who has taken Ritalin in the morning will be able to go through a school day without causing disruptions to other learners and above all, Ritalin will allow a child to sit down, focus and take in the lesson being taught. Wonder cure?
It may certainly seem that this fast-acting, four-hour control tablet is, without a doubt, the miracle cure for troubled kids who were (before Ritalin) unable to make it through a school day without irritating teachers, classmates, etc. But, there is a flipside and even low dosages of Ritalin can have both long-term and short-term side effects for the child.
Short-Term Side Effects (low dosage)
Ritalin research has shown that low doses of Ritalin have been found to lower heart rate and increase blood pressure, and even more concerning are the other side effects of low-dose Ritalin which include:
- Decreased appetite;
- Weight loss or failure to gain weight;
- The inability to fall asleep or insomnia;
- Increased hyperactivity when the drug wears off.
In cases where the Ritalin dosage is higher than 20mg, the side effects include:
- Nervousness or anxiety;
- Heart palpitations;
- Shakiness or dizziness;
Long-term side effects
The concern is that until, very recently, the medical community were putting the cause of the above short-term side effects squarely at the foot of ADD or ADHD. In reality they were blaming the disorder for insomnia, anxiety, headaches, stunted growth etc. In later years, Ritalin was shown to be the cause for all symptoms. What’s more disconcerting is that there are no definite results for what long-term side effects Ritalin may have, but what is known is frightening. Concerns have been voiced that long-term use of Ritalin may lead to drug dependence, paranoia, schizophrenia and behavioural sensitisation. Psychotic symptoms which may occur in the use of methylphenidate (or Ritalin) can include hearing voices, visual hallucinations, and the urge to do harm to oneself, coupled with severe anxiety, euphoria, paranoid delusions, confusion, and an increased level of aggression and irritability.
In light of the fact that the long-term effects of Ritalin use on children are not known, handing Ritalin out to any child who has been labelled as having ADD or ADHD may seem to be very irresponsible. Medical specialists who are against the use of Ritalin are accusing doctors who prescribe the -wonder cure’ of treating children as guinea pigs. There are no case studies on the long-term effects on the long term use of Ritalin, and this means that our kids are now being used to gather information and be the guinea pigs to see if Ritalin does have any negative side effects.
Alternatives to Ritalin
The good news is that Ritalin is not the only way to successfully manage and treat ADD or ADHD. In fact there are many safe treatments for the disorders and many of these treatments involve no drugs whatsoever, but rely on behaviour and diet modifications.
A number of studies and research that has been done on ADD and ADHD have found that a change in diet is an effective method of controlling these behavioural disorders. Diets which are rich in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids have shown to have excellent results. Foods which are high in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids include eggs, beans, meats and cheeses. Fish, like tuna and salmon, as well as nuts are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Protein and Omega-3 fatty acids helps to promote the production of dopamine and norepinephrine (a stress hormone), both of which help to reduce the severity of the symptoms of ADD and ADHD.
The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Industry found that there was a definite link between food additives, like dyes, and hyperactive behaviour. If sweets, drinks and foods containing dyes and artificial colorants are eliminated from the child’s diet, it has been shown to significantly reduce the intensity of the symptoms which are associated with ADD and ADHD. A number of experts are also discovering that sufferers are sensitive to additives, such as sugars and caffeine and as such, both should be removed from the child’s diet (or the intake reduced).
Lifestyle or Environment Change
Modifying the child’s environment or lifestyle can also be successful in controlling the effects of ADD and ADHD. Creating a stable and predictable environment will decrease the stimuli experienced by the child. Parents should try to set up a routine for children for instance; a set bed time and a set time to wake up.