Coming up on this episode of the Doctor’s pharmacy.
Dr. Mark Hyman:
Just because you know the name of the disease, it doesn’t mean what’s wrong with you. What might cause ADD in one kid might be different than another kid. And we have to look for the cause, or often it’s multiple causes. Welcome to Doctor’s Pharmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. That’s pharmacy for the f, a place for conversations that matter. And if you know anybody with ADD or you’ve had ADD or you’re wondering how in the world it’s become such a problem and why one in 10 kids have ADD and Ritalin is sort of, and it’s category of drugs, of stimulants is sort of the drug of choice for kids these days. You’re going to like this podcast because it’s part of a health bite series, which is little small bites of information that can help you live better lives by taking small steps to make big changes over time.
So let’s talk about ADD. Why is this such an epidemic? People say to me all the time, Hey, my kid’s been diagnosed with ADD. The doctors want to put ’em on Ritalin. Is there anything else we can do without medication? I have news for you. ADD is not a Ritalin deficiency. It’s attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity disorder, ADH, adhd, AD, D, whatever it is when you call it. It’s basically kids who are camp focused or wired and or distracted and can’t function. And we’re seeing these drugs just increasingly used for these kids as a treatment for something that has a cause that we can actually fix a cause or causes. I would say one in 10 kids in America is on stimulant medications. That’s nuts. When I was a little kid, there was that one troublemaker in the class. That was it. And now it’s really a global epidemic.
We’ve seen a 300% increase in the use of ADD medications from 1993 to 2000 even more now. So when did ADD become just part of being a child? Right? And by the way, this is stuff that has permitted not just lower education elementary school, but high school colleges. Kids are using it for studying. It’s become like a recreational drug. So back in the day it wasn’t a thing. Now it is. So today we’re going to talk about the causes of ADHD or ADD, why it’s so prevalent and what are my top strategies that I’ve used to address it and some really remarkable transformations I’ve seen by addressing these root causes. I’m going to share a case today that is going to blow your mind and actually was a stimulus for me writing my book in, I think it was 2009. It was published, the UltraMind Solution, how to Fix Your Broken Brain by Fixing Your Body First, because I realized that all of our concepts, our notions, our beliefs about brain function, about attention disorders, mood disorders, neurodegenerative disorders, was completely wrong.
We were focusing on the brain instead of the body. And the whole view of functional medicine is that we are an ecosystem. We’re one integrated biological network and everything affects everything including the brain. And so let’s talk about how we begin to kind of start to think about this. And I really focused on not the diseases themselves in the book, I focused on the underlying systems in the body, but go arrive and give rise to dysfunction, right? Functional medicine is about understanding how your body functions and how your brain functions. And there’s these fundamental biological networks that we address, and I’m just going to briefly mention them. I’m instead of saying, oh, I’m going to have a chapter on ADD or a chapter on Alzheimer’s or a chapter on Parkinson’s or a chapter on depression or a chapter on anxiety, I actually talk about what is underneath all of them, which is disturbances in our biological system, in our network, in our ecosystem.
So what are the things that tend to go wrong? Well, our gut right is a huge factor in our biome, inflammation in our immune system, the balance of neurotransmitters and hormones, our communication system, our detoxification system, how we make energy in our mitochondria, and also our nervous system. So there’s so many aspects that we have to figure out that are out of balance in any one patient. And I always say just because the name of the disease, it doesn’t mean what’s wrong with you. So what might cause ADD in one kid might be different than another kid, and we have to look for the cause or often it’s multiple causes. So I began to kind of explore what’s really going on with our brains. Why are we seeing this epidemic of mood disorders, depression, anxiety, bipolar disease, ADD, and also neurodegenerative diseases. We’re not going to talk about that today.
That’s another podcast. But Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, it’s just an epidemic of broken brains. And I did a whole documentary series on this a number of years ago. My book, the UltraMind Solutions, really mapped this out, and I think it’s still a bit ahead of its time. I was talking about the microbiome in the brain 15 plus years ago, and nobody was really talking about that. So everything we do affects the brain. What we eat, if we’re eating inflammatory foods, how we think, how much we exercise environmental toxins, our gut flora, there’s systemic disorders that affect the brain. So obviously there’s a mind body connection, right? When we have this stressful thought we feel in our bodies, but there’s also a body mind connection. It’s mind, body, body, mind. It’s the same network. So we have to understand how both things work, right? Our body mind and our mind body.
And it’s one really integrated system. So when you look at ADD and ADHD, it’s basically described as a set of symptoms. The way we diagnose in medicine is based on basically I think a very outdated model, which is describe the symptoms. And if somebody fits those symptoms, they have the disease, we say, oh, you have trouble focusing or paying attention. You’re inattentive, you’re hyperactive. I know what’s wrong with you. You have ADHD. No, that’s just the name of the disease. It’s not the cause of the disease. And so we describe every disease including particularly mental diseases, mental disorders, through this lens of describing symptoms, not causes. Functional medicine is about causes. So what are the causes? Well, I’m going to take you through a case because I think it’ll be a very interesting way to think about this story. And this is a case that really blew my mind.
The mother brought in her kid to see me who was 12 years old, and then two months later brought him back and the transformation was remarkable. But she brought his homework, and we’re going to put it in the show notes. So you can actually see graphically changes in brain function in just two months with a kid who had severe brain disorder. He had a broken brain and he could not write legibly to save his life. It was like chicken scratch or a three-year-old writing versus a 12 year old. And then within two months, his handwriting totally normalized. And the question is, what happened? So I’m going to take you through what happened. I’m going to explain you a story, and I’m going to actually help you understand how we need to start approaching these disorders in a very different way. So basically one day this woman walks in my office, a professional woman businesswoman with her 12 year old son who had multiple psychological and physical diagnoses who were seen by many doctors, seven different doctors.
He had a psychiatrist, he had a GI doctor, he had an allergist, he had a pulmonologist. I mean, the list goes on. So nobody was talking to each other and they were all treating different things. So he was diagnosed with ADD, and no one seemed to sort of say, how does this one kid have all these problems? Is it just bad luck or are they connected? And so functional medicine is about looking for the patterns in the connections that give rise to the clues about the cause. So basically he was diagnosed with ADD when he was a little kid. He couldn’t focus in school. He was zoned out. He was disruptive. I mean, he was kicked out of kindergarten. I mean, he was kicked out of kindergarten. He had terrible writing. We call it dysgraphia. He was pretty good math, but basically was a disaster behaviorally, academically, socially was just not thriving.
And physically he had all these issues, right? He had asthma, he had environmental allergies, he had sinus problems. He had postnasal drip, he had sore throats, he got skin issues, eczema, nausea, stomach aches, diarrhea, headaches, anal itching, which we’ll get to why that is. He had canker sores, which are immune things, right? All his immune inflammation, muscle aches, muscle cramps. He was hypersensitive to loud noises to smells. He was sneezing a lot. He had hives, itchy skin bumps, frequent infections. He couldn’t sleep well. He had trouble breathing when he slept. He had anxiety. He was fearful all the time, and he had tons of sugar cravings. Now, that is a long list of problems. My joke is I take care of patients and I’m a holistic doctor because I take care of people with a holistic problems. And he had a whole list of problems.
And nobody says, how are all these connected? They’re all inflammation. And what we now know is that ADD, autism, depression, dementia, Parkinson’s disease are inflammatory diseases of the brain, even schizophrenia, bipolar disease, all these are inflammatory brain disorders. So doctors who are treating and all these specialists are treating all the symptoms with seven different medications from five different doctors. Ritalin for ADD, allergy medicine, inhalers for his asthma, acid blocking medicine for his stomach, painkillers for his headaches. I mean, it’s quite a drug cocktail for a 12 year old kid. And he didn’t really get that much relief anyway on any of his symptoms. And no one said, how is this connected? Right? How is this connected and why is this kid suffering from all this? And so really this is just how medicine is. We see specialists after specialists, we get pill after pill, we get a pill for every ill, and it was just kind of a mess.
So most psychiatrists are trained about the brain or really the mind. They don’t really learn much about the brain. They think basically their job is from the neck up. And it’s all emotional, psychological, but we often misappropriate psychological or psychiatric diagnoses to physical things. If you have mercury poisoning, it can cause depression. If you have huge amounts of inflammation from an altered microbiome, you can have ADD. So you need to figure out what the root causes and not just be slapping on different drugs for different diseases. So it’s important to understand what the physical things are, but not to get stopped there and not to just say, let’s treat each one separately, see how they’re connected. So the medications he was on were kind of nuts and they weren’t helping much, but he’s not alone. Most kids on tons of medications, from allergy medication to antidepressants to stimulants.
And we’re seeing kids with mental, behavioral, emotional problems like Clayton had. And they’re now getting drugs like antipsychotic medications they give to schizophrenics like risperidol or anti-seizure medications, trileptal or antidepressants, like I said, like Prozac or all the stimulants like Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall, or Vyvanse. Now, when we dug below the surface with Clayton, we found all sorts of stuff. Now in functional medicine, I don’t actually treat disease. I don’t really care that much about the name of your disease, but I care about what is going on in the systems in your body that is out of balance and how do I figure that out? And one of the basic categories of things that matter, it’s our lifestyle and our nutritional exercise, sleep relationships. It’s various factors that cause us to get out of balance. Toxins, allergens, microbes, poor diet, stress, all these things wash over these systems and create a balance.
So my job is a detective to figure out where this particular child’s imbalances were and fix them and see what happens. I just kind of put things back in balance, like tuning up a car and then you kind of hope crush fingers. And usually it works. Sometimes you kind of get stuck or there’s something else you missed, but it’s actually quite effective. So first step was nutrition. I mean, Clayton, which was his name, had the worst diet. All he ate was junk food, processed food. I don’t think he ever saw vegetables life. And it’s typical of a lot of these kids who were on the spectrum of autism or ADD. They typically have very finicky dietary habits. They typically eat tons of carbs. They love gluten and dairy, but he wasn’t just eating whole wheat bread and sheep cheese. He was eating junk food, trans fats, food coloring, additives, tons of sugar.
And all these things have been associated with ADD. Now, when we looked at his lab testing, we found some really interesting things, and I think most people do not dig below the surface to look at labs. And we did a deep dive. We found he had omega fat deficiency, EPA and DHA, which are incredibly important for brain function. 60% of your brain is DHA, and if you have low levels, it’s associated with AD, D as well as eczema, immune deficiency. A lot of the things that he had, we looked at his vitamin levels. We saw low levels of amino acids like tryptophan. We saw metabolic pathways that were indicating he had a deficiency of B six, which is important for making serotonin and from tryptophan and helping his mood, right? His mood was unstable. He had sleep issues. And so that B six was a big factor, and it’s often with kids with AD, d or autism.
And we see also vitamin A deficiency, which is important for immunity. And the omega deficiency in vitamin A deficiency led to little things like bumps on its backs. We call these hyperkeratosis Polaris. So I could touch his skin. I could see little bumpy things that was because of these nutritional deficiencies. He was low in vitamin D, he was low in vitamin E and betacarotene because he vegetables. So it is a diet very high in junk food, which is nutrient poor and very low in nutrient dense food. He had low levels of zinc. And zinc we know is important for immune function. It regulates hundreds of enzymes. It’s important for getting rid of heavy metals. It’s important for a, D, d and autism. And it was really consistent with his symptoms of frequent infections of eczema, allergies, hyperactivity. Those had low magnesium, magnesium deficiencies really common.
And it led to headaches, anxiety, insomnia, muscle cramps, spasms, aches, hypersensitivity to loud noises. All these are signs of magnesium deficiency. And we do testing. And I recently started a co-founded a company called Function Health to help people get access to their own labs and to be able to look at some of these deep nutritional testing as well as metabolic testing. And many things we’re going to talk about with Clayton, things that are often missed by a traditional doctor or not checked, when was the last time your doctor checked your Omega three level or vitamin A or magnesium or vitamin D. These are all part of our standard function health panels, and I think it’s really important for you to think about it. So go check out function health.com. You can sign up for the wait list, and it gives you really great guidance on how to optimize your health using personalized recommendations.
So the next thing we looked at besides nutrition, was his immune system. He has so many inflammatory things, right? He had infections, he had asthma, he had sore throats, he had allergies, he had all these inflammatory things. So it was like flashing red light, inflammation, inflammation, inflammation is at the root of so many problems including brain diseases. So we looked at the factors that cause actually inflammation such as food allergies, environmental allergies, molds, toxins, chronic low-grade infections, maybe He had a whole bunch of these things. We found some testing. We looked at food sensory testing, and he had a lot of foods. He was reacting about 18 different foods including dairy, peanuts, yeast, citrus foods, gluten, especially gluten. And he had gluten antibodies, which again are not checked by most doctors, but actually were elevated. And so we found he really was sensitive to gluten.
So gluten basically is a huge factor for these kids, often with AD, D or autism. It triggers this low grade chronic inflammation in the brain and immune response and makes leaky gut worse, causes canker sores. So when he had canker sore, that was clued in that he might have a gluten issue, it can be celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. And he had elevated anti glidden antibodies, which was basically an autoimmune reaction to the proteins found in gluten and that are found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats. So massive inflammation. And we knew we had gluten issues. We knew we had food sensitivities and some other things that were causing it. And he also had tons of gut symptoms. So we looked at his digestive system, nausea, diarrhea, stomach aches, anal itching. He had a sensitive stomach. He led lots of antibiotics for sore throats.
And he had then yeast overgrowth because of all the antibiotics and abnormal gut flora. We looked at his stool test. He had leaky gut, which basically creates the damage in the gut that allows food, proteins and bacteria to leak in. And his immune system was just so pissed off, and it wasn’t just affecting his asthma and allergies, it was also affecting his brain. The next thing we looked at were toxins, because we take a look at nutrition, we take a look at gut, we took at immune issues, we look at the causes. And so we started to look at whether or not he had any environmental toxins, which we know can cause ADD and even autism and heavy metals were an issue for him. He had high levels of lead and mercury, and he had similar pelvic exposure to other kids, but they’re often not looked at and not treated.
They might check up blood lead level. They don’t ever look at a challenge test. And genetically nutritionally, he couldn’t really detoxify these. And we know mercury and lead are associated with GI symptoms, autoimmune issues, cognitive problems. That lead has been actually very well linked to AD, D and behavioral cognitive problems. And there’s no doubt about the date on this. You don’t have to believe me. Just go to PubMed and put LEAD and ADHD, and you’ll come up with plenty of scientific papers to explain how this actually is all working. So basically maybe the world is polluted, right? We have so many cement factories, coal burning factories, all of which spew out lead mercury. It goes into the soil, kids are playing in the dirt, or maybe there’s toys made from China or code with lead paint, or maybe the people have leaded paint in their house or eating from lead covered glasses, or I mean crystal glasses or fancy plates.
But basically he was exposed to all these dangers of the industrial revolution. And he also had a little bit of mold in his house and he had food additives that we can’t measure those things, but I’m sure they were causing a problem. So basically his problem wasn’t riddle in deficiency or bad parenting. The cause was in his diet. It was environmental toxins. It was in his microbiome. And so we basically constructed a very simple treatment. So we think, oh my God, there’s so many things. He is got 25 different diseases, right? Well, what do you do? So it was quite simple. We basically looked at the causes. So we basically looked at the nutritional deficiencies, the toxic environmental toxin. He was exposed to the food sensitivities, all the processed food. We got rid of the gluten, all the yeast overgrow. And we found out what sort of was causing him to be out of balance, right?
So basically the body is a system of equilibrium, and either you have too much of something that’s causing you to be out of balance or not enough of something that’s causing you that you need to be in balance, right? He had all these deficiencies of nutritional stuff, but all these other things like yeast overgrowth and heavy metals and gluten, they were irritating the system. So we can’t just do one thing. And I think in medicine they go, well, let’s do one thing and see what happens. Well, we won’t know unless you do a randomized controlled trial with one intervention and one outcome. Well, that’s just bss because if you want to grow a plant, you don’t go, well, I’m just going to give it water, but no soil and sun and see what happens. Or I’m going to give it soil, but no water.
I’ll give it its sun, but no soil and water. It’s just the whole thing is an insane, backwards, antiquated framework for thinking about disease. And it’s why we are in this really powerful transformation in medicine right now and hasn’t quite caught up to the clinic in most cases, but it really is where we’re all going. So we have to get rid of the bad stuff, putting the good stuff. And then we had to find what was missing that he needed to thrive to restore normal functioning. He needed a bunch, a multivitamin, which had all those things he was deficient in. He needed omega three fats, B six, zinc, vitamin D. We needed to put back healthy gut bacteria, probiotics. He needed a little bit of amino acid support. We gave him five hydroxy tryptophan to help him sleep and for his anxiety. And the mother was great.
She was professional on it, got his diets straight. We cleaned up his diet, put him on whole foods, basically gave him a multivitamin. Fish on some of these supplements, gave him any fungal, cleared out his got given probiotics, and we basically kind of reset his system. And at two months, the mother brought him back and gotten off all the medications. I didn’t tell her to stop, but he was better. So she basically stopped all the different medications he was on, stopped the Ritalin, stopped the antihistamines, like Zyrtec antagonist stopped the bronchodilators for the inhalers, the steroid inhaler stopped. The Tylenol stopped the Abdul first headaches, and it was amazing. He was really normal. I was like, boom. And it doesn’t always happen like that. But for him, it was so powerful to see this 12 year old who’d struggled so much. He basically returned to a normal kid.
He’s attention improved. He wasn’t disruptive at home. His school, he wasn’t irritable or anxious. All of his symptoms were gone for the first time in his life. Asthma gone, hive’s gone, runny nose gone. Anal itching, which is from yeast by the way, goes away. Stomach aches going, nausea. You had diarrhea, headaches, which magnesium deficiency, muscle cramps tends to be a lot of noises all resolved. He could fall asleep at night, he could stay asleep. He was succeeding socially in school and academically. And it was kind of funny because he says, Dr. Hyman, I’m even able to resist a kids that are calling me a weirdo for not drinking soda. So I think he really got it, and he saw the changes himself, and he was very motivated because he saw how much better he felt. So some severe cases of ADD require medications, but for most kids, the simple dietary lifestyle changes can have huge differences and a profound impact without actually needing medication.
So what are the seven strategies that I use for ADD and for broken brains in general? One, eat a real food diet, right? Get rid of all the junk additive sugars, processed fats, trans fats, processed food, ultra processed food, and eat real whole food. Lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, really good fats. Fat’s important for the brain, adequate amounts of protein. Just eat food. And you know what that is? If you listen to me forever, I’ve written the vegan and diet food with heck I eat. There’s lots of information. The next is food sensitivities are often a big factor. There are little, not food allergies necessarily like peanut allergy, but basically things that cause inflammation in the body because of a damage to the gut. And gluten and dairy are the big ones, and partially digested dairy and wheat particles have been described to actually cause significant cognitive changes can be linked as schizophrenia to autism to ADD.
They produce morphine-like compounds called caines and gluteal morphines that interact with opioid receptors in the brain and basically make you stoned and out of it. We can find these in the urine of these patients in kids with autism, a, d, D, even people who are severely depressed. So I generally recommend a hundred percent elimination of gluten dairy for at least six weeks, sometimes 12 weeks to see what happens. But it’s really powerful when you just see the effect of these things. And there’s tests you can do to figure this out too. And we do nutritional deficiencies. You’ve got to address those. So we’ve got to address nutritional deficiencies, including magnesium, zinc, selenium, tryptophan for this kid, fattys, all these things played a role in his A, D, D. And so they all work synergistically. And I think really his program was not the same as the program for a next kid with ADD, because they’re all a little bit different.
But the basic principles are the same, right? Eat a whole food diet, get rid of food sensitivities, address nutritional deficiencies, fix your gut. That’s another one. So fixing the gut is a huge powerful strategy for getting rid of many, many symptoms. Now, he did have a lot of gut symptoms, but even kids without gut symptoms often have imbalances in their gut flora and affects their cognitive function as well as their overall health. So he got relief from so much of his systems by helping reset his gut, get off the junk, gluten, dairy. So removed all the bad stuff, gave him probiotics, gave him any fungal, basically helped his gut restore. And it was incredible because we now know the microbiome is like everything from allergies and autoimmunity to depression, to autism, to OCD, to ADD, to dementia, to Parkinson’s. We know the gut plays a huge role.
So microbiome is key in fixing that, making sure your diet’s anti-inflammatory. It’s not just taking out the bad stuff, but it’s adding in the good stuff. And we know these diseases are brain inflammation diseases, and they have high levels of cytokines and systemic inflammation. They affect every part of the body, but these kids are really problematic. So you want a lot of colorful fruits and vegetables, lots of good fats, particularly omega fats and lots of really powerful nutrients. Also, you want to detoxify. If you have toxins in your household and your skincare products and your food and your body, you want to get rid of ’em. And the environmental working group has a great website, ewg.org, to actually learn about which things you can use in your household that are not toxic, which foods you can eat and so forth. So I encourage people to really reduce their toxic load.
And sometimes you actually need to put people on a chelation detoxification program, which I did with Clayton. So I encourage you to check out the graphic because the graphic of his handwriting, all this treatment was so profound, and it kind of was like a wake up call for me. I was like, holy crap. Yeah, this kid’s physical symptoms are better. Yeah, his mother’s saying he’s better in ADD and all that’s great, and maybe his numbers looked better, and we’d redid his test and his numbers looked better. But when she brought in his homework, which was illegible on day one, two months later, was perfect penmanship. It wasn’t like I sent him to handwriting at school. What happened was his brain was chaotic, this synchronous and kind of completely jumbled. And when we reset his brain, it was coherent and synchronized and functional. So that’s what we want, and we want that across the board for our health for kids.
Now, every kid, just remember every kid’s unique, whether you have anything on the spectrum, autism learning disorders, A-D-D-A-D-H-D, you have to find out what’s going on. And you need really a good functional medicine doctor who understands these diseases and how to actually function these, but you actually can get better. Now, just one note, getting off medications is tricky. So make sure you work with your provider. If you want to think about stopping medications, I would encourage you to stop if you don’t actually have someone you’re working with, or you can properly regulate the treatment and the doses and making sure you get off at the right time. But what’s really amazing is that the brain is so responsive to these things and it’s not that hard. And now thank God there’s people like Christopher Palmer who is from Harvard, who’s written a book called Brain Energy, really talking about how we can cure things even like schizophrenia, using a functional medicine dietary approach.
We have Nadu at Harvard, also looking at the microbiome and mood disorders, or scientists and doctors at Stanford in the metabolic psychiatry department looking at the role of metabolic health in the brain. So this is becoming now a thing that we have understood that it’s not going to be fixed by talk therapy or behavioral therapy. You have to deal with the underlying issues. And that’s it for understanding the real transformations we need. So I hope you enjoyed this little bit around ADDI think. I hope you’ve been able to pay attention and you don’t have ADDI would love you to subscribe wherever you get your podcast means a lot. Just hit the subscribe button, leave a comment, what have you used to help yourself or your child or someone, and what’s worked for you with ADD or any kind of mental disorder? We’d love to hear and we’ll see you next week on the Doctor’s Pharmacy.
Hi everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their find a practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner, and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.