THERE’S NO DOUBT ABOUT it — the brain is truly connected to the rest of the body.
And for many of you, or your kids who have been diagnosed with behavioral disorders, the conventional treatments of drugs or psychotherapy completely misses this body-mind connection. This robs you of one of the MOST powerful techniques of fixing so-called “mental illnesses” — by the end of this article you’ll find out that your “mental illness” might not be so mental after all.
I’ll talk more about the science behind this idea in a future article. But for now I’d like to tell you about a little boy named Jayson and how I used a different approach to help him make a stunning recovery from ADHD, and surprisingly, at the same time, dramatically improve his handwriting.
(And I’ve got the handwriting samples to prove it, which you’ll see in just a second…)
Jayson’s story illustrates the concept of body and mind far better than anything I could tell you about neurotransmitters and biochemical pathways. I met Jayson when his mother brought him to my office.
Well, this 11-year old suffered many physical difficulties — asthma, eczema, allergies, sinus infections, stomachaches, headaches, and sleep problems. And Jayson was taking a laundry list of medications to treat these problems.
He took the antihistamine drug Zyrtec and Nasarel (a steroid inhaler that stunts growth in kids) for his allergies, an albuterol inhaler and the drug Xopenenx for his asthma, the stomach drug Tagamet, and Tylenol and Motrin for his aches and pains.
That’s quite a cocktail of medications for a little boy!
But the asthma, allergies, stomachaches, and headaches weren’t even his biggest problems. You see, Jayson had terrible attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He wasn’t alone.
Some 3 to 5 percent of kids [JC1] are now labeled with ADHD — kids who can’t pay attention, are impulsive and distractible, and can’t function in school or with friends. Worse, these kids are being treated with serious psychiatric medicines.
More than two million children now take stimulant medications like Ritalin, Concerta, Focalin, and Adderall. In fact, from 1987 to 1996, the use of these drugs increased by a whopping 400 percent! That’s not all. Kids are also being prescribed anti-psychotic medications like Ripserdal, anti-seizure medications like Trileptal, and antidepressants like Prozac.
But that isn’t the way I treat ADHD — and it’s not the way I treated Jayson. I believe we need to ask ourselves why we’re seeing such epidemic rates of ADHD.
Could it have anything to do with our children’s diet? Or nutritional deficiencies? Or toxins? Is there a different way to approach diagnosing and treating these kids that recognizes that the brain is affected by the body?
The answer is YES!
I believe there’s a new approach to ADHD — one that you may not have heard about.
By getting rid of the things that were keeping him out of balance (food allergies and yeast) and by giving his body the things it needed to function and thrive (good food, fish oil, zinc, magnesium, and healthy bacteria for the gut) Jayson was able to recover his health.
It’s a science-based, systematic approach that looks at the root of the problems and corrects them, rather than just masking the symptoms with drugs like Ritalin. That’s the approach I used to treat Jayson.
Unlike most doctors and psychiatrists, I didn’t want to know just about his behavioral problems or ADHD, but ALL of his symptoms. That’s because I recognize that not only can the mind affect the body, the body can influence the brain. I asked Jayson and his mom to tell me his story because I knew that hidden in his story would be clues to his poor health.
What did I learn?
They told me that Jayson had repeated kindergarten because of his ADHD and had taken Ritalin for many years.
Why did he stop?
The Ritalin suppressed his appetite, and he got too skinny. But when Jayson stopped taking Ritalin, he ate more, gorging himself on cookies, deli meats, pizza, donuts, and ice cream. He was bigger — but not better.
Off the Ritalin, he couldn’t focus, zoned out in school, was disruptive, couldn’t concentrate, and — at 11 years old — couldn’t write legibly! That’s right. Jayson had a condition called dysgraphia, which means that he had extremely bad handwriting. It’s a common problem in kids with ADHD, behavioral problems, or learning disabilities.
And that’s not all.
Jayson had a litany of other woes. He complained of frequent headaches, sneezing, sore throats, hives a few times a week, trouble breathing at night, stomachaches every morning, insomnia, canker sores, hypersensitivity to noises and smells, little bumps on the back of his arms, eczema, generally itchy skin, muscle cramps, and spasms.
As a toddler he had taken many antibiotics for ear infections and had been prone to diaper rash. All of these symptoms were being treated with medication, but he really didn’t feel much better.
But, remember, Jayson’s story has clues – what did they tell me?
Well, his headaches, insomnia, muscle spasms, cramps, and hypersensitivity to noise suggested magnesium deficiency. The canker sores suggested a food allergy or gluten intolerance. The hives, asthma symptoms, and sinus problems also suggested a food allergy or environmental allergy to dust, pollen, or mold.
The frequent use of antibiotics suggested yeast overgrowth in his gut. The eczema and itchy dry skin suggested allergies, and zinc and omega-3 fat deficiencies. And the bumps on his arms also suggested nutritional deficiencies, including those in omega-3 fats and vitamin A.
So now I had a road map of the root causes of Jayson’s problems — food allergies, nutritional deficiencies, and yeast problems. His test results confirmed most of my suspicions. He had allergies to dairy, gluten, citrus, and peanuts. His white blood cells showed he had a yeast problem.
He had many nutritional deficiencies – in zinc, magnesium, omega-3 fats, vitamin D, vitamins E and B6, and tryptophan. These nutrients are critical for healthy brain function as well as immune function. He had high levels of inflammatory saturated fats and high levels of trans fats from junk food.
He also had mild lead toxicity. Lead toxicity and environmental toxins were linked to ADHD in a large recent study.
Clearly, Jayson’s gut-immune-brain system was out of kilter.
But what do these things have to do with ADHD?
ALL of them can affect the brain!
And they show that ADHD isn’t caused by bad parenting — or a Ritalin deficiency!
So how should ADHD be treated?
Actually, the treatment I gave Jayson was ridiculously simple. Before even getting his tests back, I knew that he needed to be put on an elimination diet. That meant getting rid of the most common food allergens — dairy, gluten, eggs, and yeast. I also had him get off junk foods and sugar and eat real, whole food.
I treated his yeast problem with an antifungal medication for one month. I gave him a daily multivitamin, supplemental zinc, magnesium, and fish oil, as well as acidophilus to improve his gut and immune system.
By getting rid of the things that were keeping him out of balance (food allergies and yeast) and by giving his body the things it needed to function and thrive (good food, fish oil, zinc, magnesium, and healthy bacteria for the gut) Jayson was able to recover his health. Two months later, Jayson returned to my office a new and happy boy.
What had changed?
His hives, stomachaches, asthma, anal itching, headaches, and runny nose had all disappeared. He was sleeping at night. And he was off all his medications! Plus, he was doing much better in school, with only one episode of disruptive behavior in class.
I added a few more things to Jayson’s regimen — vitamins D and B6 and some 5-HTP (which is a building block for the amino acid tryptophan) – and he found himself for the first time in his life free from all his chronic symptoms and more importantly succeeding in school, socially and academically.
And remarkably, his writing went from illegible to perfect.
Take a look at the email that Jayson’s mom sent, highlighting the changes in his life:
“We had a 504 meeting at Jayson’s school this morning (where the teachers, school counselor, parents and principal all get together to review “the plan” for kids with special educational needs – in Jayson’s case prompted by the ADHD diagnosis).
This was the first time in his entire schooling history that everything seems to be going well. The input from his teachers was that he is “a different kid” than they saw in the first half of the year and that they’re amazed by the difference. The school nurse hasn’t seen him since March (and he used to be in her office several times a week).
The school psychologist said his social skills are very good, age appropriate, and that she sees no problems at all. She also noted that Jayson seems very proud of himself and his new health and that he’s taking good ownership of all the changes in his diet. He even seems to be shrugging it off when the other kids at school tell him he’s an “alien” because he doesn’t drink soda. This was just such a fantastic meeting and I wanted to pass along the good news and say Thank You!”
But these results aren’t unique to Jayson. These kinds of transformations are possible for so many people who suffer both physical and mental symptoms.
By dealing with the real issues instead of overmedicating our kids and ourselves, we can all find a way back to health through this new model of medicine that seeks the clues to the underlying problems and corrects them.
So if you have mood or behavioral problems, here are a few things than can make a big difference.
- Look at your diet. Consider cleaning it up and eating whole foods. Follow the first 4 weeks of the UltraMetabolism Prescription, which helps you get off stimulants, sedatives, and food allergens in your diet.
- Get an oil change. Eat wild salmon, sardines, and black cod and consider taking an fish oil supplement containing a total of at least 500 to 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA a day.
- Get your Bs. Take a good B-vitamin complex supplement with at least 800 mcg of folic acid, 25 mg of B6 and 500 to 1,000 mcg of B12 to help mood and brain function.
- And your D. Take 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day, which can help with depression and immunity.
- Get moving. Exercise vigorously for 30 minutes, 3 to 4 times a week. Studies show it is as effective as Prozac in treating depression.
- Supplement with magnesium. If you are tense, anxious, have insomnia or muscle cramps, are constipated, or have headaches, you could be deficient in magnesium. Take 400 to 600 mg day of magnesium glycinate or citrate.
Try taking these steps or use them with your children to see if health improves as Jayson’s did. You may find that your “mental illness” wasn’t so mental at all — and was really caused by nutritional issues!
Now I’d like to hear from you…
Have you noticed how your physical health can influence your mental health?
Have you found that what you eat or what you don’t affects your brain?
Do you think psychiatrists are diagnosing and treating ADHD in the best way? What do you think should change?
If you or your kids have experienced mental health issues, how have conventional treatments helped or not helped?
Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD