Attention Deficit Disorder, Hyperactivity and Behavioral Problems

A Biochemical Perspective

By Mark S. Thell

Learning disabilities, hyperactivity and the behavioral disorders that accompany them have become widespread in the last quarter century. At present, it is estimated that between 15-25% of all school children are affected.

There exists a biochemical connection between diet, blood sugar imbalance, allergies, alcohol and drug abuse, other ecological imbalances and noncompliant behavior.

Diets high in sugar and other refined carbohydrates can create nutrient deficiencies. Protein, fuel source and enzymes necessary for the thousands of reactions that take place every second, come from or are derived from what we eat.

The late Linus Pauling, PhD (who received the Nobel Prize twice) said, "The function of the brain is dependent on its composition and structure; that is the molecular environment of the mind."

In the American Handbook of Psychiatry, R. W, Gerard says, "no twisted thought, without a twisted molecule."

The brain is the first organ to show signs of nutrient deficiencies affecting emotional, perceptual and intellectual activity. Making dietary lifestyle changes is foundational in addressing any aberrations in body and brain functioning.

Dr. Allan Cott, Consultant to the University of Alabama School for Children with Severe Disorders and Behavior/Communication and Learning, and The Medical Director of the Churchill School for Children with Learning Disabilities remarks:

"(Metabolic correction) is not in itself the answer to the treatment of learning disabilities. It is an adjunct which I think has been far too long ignored - that there is some difficulty within the child's brain and in his body rather than entirely within the environment as we have been led to believe.

Of course, the most important food which I feel is a difficult one for children, particularly the hyperactive and the learning disabled to handle, is sugar. We were struck by the remarkable improvement in the hyperactivity in so many of the children we saw when we merely removed sugar and all foods with sugar from their diet."

Stephen J. Schoenthaler PhD., studied 276 incarcerated juveniles. He found that the incidence of anti-social behavior was lowered approximately 50% after nutritional revision (elimination of sugar from the diet). Dr. Schoenthaler found that juveniles arrested for violent crimes showed the greatest behavioral improvement - 77% reduction in incident reports. Those arrested for narcotic offenses came in second with a 44% reduction. Most remarkable was assaults reduced by 82%.

It is not uncommon for children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders to have imbalance in blood sugar regulation (hypoglycemia). Energy is what makes the body run and this is also true for the brain. The fuel used by brain cells is called glucose (blood sugar). For the brain to work properly, it needs a steady supply of glucose. The body manufactures glucose from carbohydrate foods.

Diets high in refined carbohydrates, such as sugar, white flour, sodas, candy, and junk food contribute to the hypoglycemia response by causing a rapid rise in glucose levels followed by a drop, starving the brain of proper fuel it needs for proper functioning. Since diets high in sugar, fast food, etc. are devoid of nutrition, the brain often doesn't receive the necessary nutrients to function properly.

The main functional units of the brain are neurons. These "electrical messengers" are responsible for behavior and other body functions. Not only are the complex carbohydrates important in providing fuel for the brain, but proteins play an important role in brain chemistry. Amino acids (the breakdown of proteins) are the precursors of the neurotransmitter activity.

Mental and mood changes can be detected by monitoring the activity of certain classes of brain chemicals. Many children and young adults who experience attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities, and hyperactivity may be reactive to foods and food additives. Any organ system can react to an offending food. When the brain is in reaction, it doesn't respond by breaking out in hives, like one whole skin reacts from strawberries, nor does it develop asthma like the person whose lungs are affected by airborne pollens, molds, grasses, etc.

However, when the brain becomes reactive, it manifests in behavioral aberrations that can include irritability, aggression, "impossible behavior" or depression. Some experience these as well as muscle aches, headaches, clumsiness, alternation periods of extreme fatigue and overactivity.

For decades, most alcohol/drug treatment programs have had two primary goals - teach clients abstinence from alcohol/drug abuse and help them learn to live a healthier lifestyle through the use of group therapy and self-help programs. However, the success rate of primarily psychotherapeutic approaches to recovery has been limited.

Many recovering people report that even in sobriety they continue to experience acute mood swings, depression and anxiety. Some dismiss their emotional discomfort as stress-related or as "not working" the program properly.

Recent research suggests that the low success rates of traditional treatment programs may be related to approaching addiction as a primarily psychological problem, while the physical/biochemical components of the disease are virtually ignored. In Jospeh D Beasley's book, Wrong Diagnosis, Wrong Treatment, he states that "In the last decade, evidence has surfaced which reveals alcoholism as a genetic/metabolic disorder more closely related to diabetes than to any behavior disorder"

Treatment failure rates remain high, because we still tend to treat alcoholism as a moral/behavioral disorder.

To better serve each individual, the focus should be on the "whole person" concept. This is done by treating biochemical, nutritional and environmental aspects of wellness as an adjunct to psychological and emotional counseling.

Mark S Thell (pronounced tell) is a certified nutritional consultant specializing in biochemical, nutritional and addictive issues.