You’re can’t concentrate, you’ve got two dozens projects going at once, and you rarely finish your work on time.
Does this sound familiar?
Prescribing rates for children may level off, but annual increases will be evident for adults for a while, said one expert.
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If so, you may be among the growing number of adults who are being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and prescribed pills to manage the symptoms.
A 2012 report from Express Scripts found that the number of American adults and children who used ADHD medication rose 36 percent between 2008 and 2012. The greatest increase was among adults — namely, the number of women between 26 and 34 years old using ADHD medications went up 85 percent.
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It’s true, said Dr. Sanford Newmark, head of the Pediatric Integrative Neurodevelopmental Program at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine in San Francisco, California. Prescription medications have increased for children and adults, he told LifeZette.
But Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, a therapist based in Boca Raton, Florida, isn’t so sure. It’s hard to know if stimulant prescriptions are increasing or not, she said. The medical industry is better at diagnosing people with the disorder who would have otherwise fallen through the cracks, she believes.
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“This is, in part, due to the fact that there is scientific evidence that ADHD continues into adulthood — you don’t outgrow it. If it is [increasing], it could be that we are getting better at diagnosing ADHD, and there is a large body of scientific evidence showing stimulant medication is the most effective treatment for ADHD,” Sarkis told LifeZette.
The trend of using medication in children has “likely flatlined,” especially for boys, said Dr. Russell A. Barkley, a psychiatry professor at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, South Carolina. For girls, it could be increasing, as they had been more likely to go undiagnosed. Preschoolers, teens and adults are populations that are still far less identified and treated, so prescriptions for them are likely still on the rise.
“My sense of things is that prescribing rates for children are likely leveling off now, but annual increases in rates will still be evident for adults for awhile,” said Barkley.
While medications are often a first line of offense, the right foods can also make a difference in a person’s ability to focus — especially among children.
“Children with ADHD may gravitate toward unhealthy foods,” one psychiatrist said.
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“When it comes to diet, children with ADHD are no different than others — all children need a healthy, balanced diet. But children with ADHD have more difficulty controlling their impulses and may be more likely to gravitate toward unhealthy foods,” Dr. Jacob Messing, a psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, told LifeZette.
There aren’t specific foods that people with ADHD should or shouldn’t eat, though that can be the case with other conditions and diseases, Jane Hersey, national director of the Feingold Association of the United States, told LifeZette. There are, however, additives to avoid.
Hersey’s program has encouraged people to closely observe synthetic dyes, artificial colors, artificial flavors, and preservatives. The three preservatives that have been known to bother some people more than others, especially with ADHD, are butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ).
BHA and BHT are widely used as preservatives and often found in potato chips, butter, cereal, preserved meats, baked goods, even chewing gum. TBHQ, also used as a preservative, is found often in noodles, snack crackers, fast and frozen food, and skin care products.
Many children and adults with ADHD notice a significant difference when they cut out additives — but it’s not a replacement for medication, Hersey noted.
“If you see an improvement when you take away these chemicals, you know you’re on the right track,” she said, adding many additives have been linked to cancer, so it’s a good move for everyone to avoid them anyway.
VAYA Pharma, based in Baltimore, Maryland, is looking to help kids with ADHD through its Vayarin medical foods line. The research-based products show ADHD is linked to an imbalance of healthy fats (lipids) in the blood. The company said it’s a “nutritional management product” and not a drug; it takes 30 to 90 days to build up in a patient’s system.
“The benefit of our medical foods is that they can be taken alongside current treatment methods — like stimulants used for ADHD — or as standalone methods,” Rob Crim, CEO of VAYA Pharma, told LifeZette.
Early trials have shown Vayarin to be moderately effective, Messing said, but it works slowly and is costly. He pointed out that trials have struggled to retain participants throughout the duration of the studies.
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“The jury is still out for Vayarin,” Messing said. “Medications are the mainstay of treatment and there is a very real risk to untreated or undertreated ADHD.”
He said assisting children in making better meal choices is probably a better answer than loading their diet with alleged powerfoods.
“Equipped with a strong sense of self and practiced decision making, your child will be better able to make healthy eating selections away from home and resist negative influences,” said Messing.
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