Autism and Mercury, Food and Drink

The US FDA sets the limits of tuna’s mercury content to 1000 parts per billion (ppb). However Defenders of Wildlife have just release a large document showing that tuna’s mercury content from some countries is at 1500 (ppb).

According to the document Is Our Tuna “Family-Safe”? Mercury in America’s Favorite Fish [ PDF ] tins of fish from Ecuador, Mexico and Costa Rica had dangerously high mercury concentrations. It is worrying as people are being encouraged to eat more fish because of the benefits of omega 3. The whole tuna / mercury problem makes having a safe but effective omega 3 diet hard.

This study does not appeared to have peer-review and the document is more like a glossy sales brochure than a scientific study so please read with a suitably sized pinch of salt.

For more information on the tuna / mercury health risks, see The Omega 3 Diet.

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Dyslexia, Dyslexia Treatment, Food and Drink

Omega 3 fatty acids are seen as a natural remedy for ADHD and dyslexia but can you get your Omega 3 and Omega 6 through a normal diet?

There are plenty of Omega 3 and Omega 6 supplements on the market, costing about £20 ($30) for a month’s supply. Not everyone can afford this so I’m going to attempt to identify what and how much you need to eat to get them naturally. As a basis I’m going to set as my target the same amount of omega 3 and 6 as the EyeQ supplements. These were used in a large scale trial in Durham, UK, that had significant results. In this trial children received 558 mg of EPA and 174 mg DHA (omega 3 oils) and 60 mg of LA (omega 6). [For more on the difference between EPA, DHA and LA see ALA to DHA: The Fish Oil Alphabet].

Getting Your LA

LA is Linoleic Acid, named after the Greek for the plant Flax, more commonly known as Linseed. Its name is not a coincidence because LA is prevalent in most vegetable oils. To get 60 mg of LA in your diet you would need to eat any of the following:

Food Grams Required LA grams per 100 grams of food
Butter 6.3 0.95
Walnuts 0.15 39.29
Chedder Cheese 19.3 0.31
Fruit Yogurt 20 0.03

As you can see it is very easy to get LA into your diet. In fact the problem is that we have too much LA in our diet generally because LA interferes with our ability to process omega 3 fatty acids. A ratio of 2:1 omega 6 to omega 3 is recommend by some experts. Studies have shown that the average western diet can have between a 10:1 and a 18:1 ratios. The foods identified above also contain omega 3 ALA but have a relatively low, 4:1 or less, ratio.

There Is Something Fishy About EPA

EPA is an omega 3 fatty acid. The body can convert it from Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA, the omega 3 equivalent of LA) but the process has only a 5% – 10% efficiency, so at least 5.58 grams of ALA are need generate 558 milligrams of EPA. To get that much ALA you would need to eat about 10 kg of spinach a day, a feat best left to Popeye.

To avoid a diet fit only for a rabbit, we need to get our EPAs direct from our food:

Food Grams Required EPA grams per 100 grams of food
Tuna 1000 0.06
Mackerel 78 0.71
Crab 118 0.47
Beef 5580 0.01

As you can see fish are the most practical way of getting your EPA with obvious advantages over eating 5.58 kg of beef or 10 kg of spinach a day. However there is a problem with heavy metals in fish. There is a certain irony that the food stuffs we most need to develop our brains are the ones most likely to be full of brain destroying heavy metals. Mackerel contains about 55 parts per billion (ppb) of mercury and tuna 118 ppb. The US FDA sets a safety level of 1000 ppb so a can of tuna is safe. A problem arises because mercury can accumulate in the body so a regular diet of tuna or mackerel may lead to dangerously high levels of mercury. The FDA guidance is no more than 2 meals of tuna a week for pregnant women and children.

End of the Line for DHA

The end result of our bodies processing of ALA is DHA and it is between 2% to 5% efficient. So 100 milligrams of ALA become 2 to 5 milligrams of DHA. Like EPA, DHA is common in fish:

Food Grams Required DHA grams per 100 grams of food
Tuna 64 0.27
Mackerel 15 1.10
Crab 60 0.45
Beef 0

Making a Meal Of It

Getting the balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in your diet without poisoning yourself with heavy metals is very difficult. It must also be noted that the amounts and ratios of omega 3 and 6 used by the Durham trial are educated guesses. Research on the best combinations has been very limited.

Ultimately the advice is the same as all nutritional advice. Eat a varied diet with lots of fresh vegetables, fruit and nuts. Have sensible sized portions of fish two or three time a week and avoid fatty, processed foods.

Previously on Myomancy:
ALA to DHA: The Fish Oil Alphabet
ADHD and Omega Fish Oils

The LCP Solution
What can high-omega-3 foods do for you?
Vegetarian Society: Omega 3 Fats
The Essential Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty acids in Food [ PDF ]
Mercury and Fatty Acids in Canned Tuna, Salmon, and Mackerel [ PDF ]
Alpha-linolenic acid in the prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease [ PDF ]
What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish

ADD / ADHD, Autism, Dyscalculia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Food and Drink

Omega 3 and Omega 6 fish oils are believed to provide benefits for a wide range of problems including dyslexia, ADHD and autism. However the many different types of fish oils and seed oils it can get confusing.

Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) and Linoleic Acid (LA)

ALA and LA are the fatty acids generally referred to as Omega 3 and Omega 6. They are found in some seeds and dark leafy vegetables. They are an essential part our diets (and sometimes called essential fatty acids) because we have to get them from an external source as the body cannot create or store them in the body. In scientific literature linoleic acid is referred to as 8:2(n-6) and alpha-linolenic acid as 18:3(n-3)

Stearidonic Acid (SA) and Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA)

After the linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid enter the body they are converted into SA and GLA. Evening primrose oil naturally contains GLA and GLA is often seen as the best form to take omega-6 fatty acids which is why evening primrose oil is often used in dietary supplements.

Eicosatetraenoic Acid (ETA) and Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid (DGLA)

Next the body converts SA into ETA and GLA into DGLA . Then its a short, biological step to …

Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Arachidonic Acid (AA)

These two fatty acids are critical for the human body. AA plays a role in more than twenty different signalling paths that control a bewildering array of bodily functions, but especially those functions involving inflammation and the central nervous system. EPA softens the inflammatory effects of AA and low dietary intake of EPA is associated with a variety of inflammation-related diseases.

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA)

The final step in the chain is DHA and DPA. These are the actual substances used in the body and have been linked to mental health problems such as ADHD and depression and also physical problems like heart disease.

Though the body can convert ALA to DHA and LA to DPA, a lot of these fatty acids can be found directly in food. For example oily fish is high in EPA. It is not clear whether it is better to take the ALA or LA and let the body convert it or start as far down the chain as possible with EPA or AA. Arguments can be made for both approaches.

Previously on Myomancy:
ADHD and Omega Fish Oils
The Incredible Brain: A Miner Recovered
Fish Oils Calm ADHD Children?
Omega-3 & 6 Link to Mental and Physical Health Problems

The LCP Solution

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Medication, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Food and Drink

Omega 3 and Omega 6 have been touted as the natural remedy for ADHD but what is the actual research evidence?

Research into Omega 3 & 6 (also known as Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids or Essential Fatty Acids) and hyperactivity started in the early eighties and really took off in the nineties. A 1995 study found that 54 hyperactive children had significantly lower amounts of fatty acids in their blood stream. A similar study in 2004 found that adults with ADD / ADHD also have lower levels of fatty acids

Once the idea that people with ADHD had lower levels of fatty acids, the next step was to provide supplements and see if behavior changes. One of the very earliest studies in 1987 used evening primrose oil but found that children only improved in two out of the 42 criteria they were assessing the children with. They concluded that gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), the active ingredient of evening primrose oil, was ineffective.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is what Omega 3 (Alpha-Linolenic Acid or ALA) is converted to in the body. A 2001 study using 63 children with ADHD found no difference in behaviour or academic performance after four months of taking 345 mg daily. This is backed by a 2004 Japanese study that used foods supplemented with DHA. They found no improvement in hyperactivity, impulsivity, aggression, visual perception or visual-motor integration.

In 2003, a team from Purdue University in Indiana, USA tested the effects of a daily dose of 480 mg DHA, 80 mg eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), 40 mg arachidonic acid (AA) and 96 mg GLA for four months. Results were mixed and no clear benefit was observed though the results were interesting and suggested further research was needed.

In Oxford, UK, Dr Ricardso conducted a pilot study in 2002. He found that cognitive problems and general behavior problems fell significantly during the trial. He expanded the research to a large scale trial in 2005. This study was widely reported in the news and followed 117 children from 12 schools in Durham, UK. These children had been diagnosed with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) rather than ADHD. DCD is a motor control problem and overlap with ADHD, dyslexia and autistic spectrum disorders. The study used omega-3 fatty acids containing 558mg of EPA and 174mg DHA and omega-6 fatty acids containing 60mg of linolenic acid (LA). Also included was 9.6mg of Vitamin E. The results showed significant improvements in reading, spelling and behavior but did not identify any effect on motor skills.

The studies are the only research done on Omegea fish oils and ADHD. Most research on the fish oils has focused on dyslexia and general health benefits.

It is clear from the results of these trials that taking omega 3 and omega 6 fish oils is not an instant cure for ADD / ADHD. Though as one research noted, the effectiveness of omega fish oil in trials is about 60% that of Ritalin and not one side effect has been reported. Whether fish oils are going to be beneficial for a particular person is unclear. Those who are co-morbid with dyslexia or are generally having reading problems probably will benefit.

It is also important to note that the ideal dose or mix of omega fish oils has not been identified. A mix of 4 to1 omega 3 to omega 6 plus a supplement of vitamin E has been suggested as effective by some of the research.

A month’s supply of ‘Eye Q’ capsules, as used in the Durham trial, will cost about £20 ($30). Most trials have been conducted over three to four months but some benefits were noted after just one month. If you can afford the supplements and are prepared to take them every day (something that people with ADHD might find hard) then they are worth trying but don’t expect miracles.

Continue Reading

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Medication, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Food and Drink

Can caffeine be used as a natural alternative to ADHD medication?

The active part of caffeine is methylxanthine is a mild stimulant that activates noradrenaline neurons and seems to affect the local release of dopamine, a key neurotransmitter. Dopamine plays a part in motor control and a low dopamine level is believed to be the cause of Parkinson’s disease which effect patients ability to control their movement. Another notable effect of caffeine is that it reduces the blood flow in the brain. This is similar to the effect of ADHD medications, such as Ritalin, that are stimulants, effect dopamine levels and cerebral blood flow. The cognitive effects of caffeine are also similar to ADD / ADHD medication. It makes users better a rapidly processing information and paying attention.

Studies on non-ADHD school children and caffeine are mixed. A 1987 study on Kindergarden children found no noticeable effect where as a 1994 on prepubertal children found that it did improve attention and manual dexterity. On children with ADD / ADHD the results are bit more promising. A 1973 pilot study used two cups of coffee a day as an alternative for medications and the results were promising. In 1981 caffeine was used as an alternative and as a supplement to medication. It found that caffeine in low dosage had the same effect as 10 mg of methylphenidate.

The health risks for long-term caffeine used are better understood that those of Ritalin. Mild levels of caffeine consumption, up to 400 mg for an adult male, 300 mg for a adult female and 2.5 mg per kilo for a child, is considered safe. There is evidence of a dependence on caffeine for heavy users with symptoms such as headaches when withdrawing from it. Very large amounts of caffeine can induce heart attacks and is associated with hand tremors.

For guidance, in a cup of coffee (5 US fluid ounces) there is 85 mg of caffeine for ground coffee, 60 mg for instant and 3 mg for decaffeinated. In the same sized cup of tea there is 30 mg. Cola’s have 18 mg per 6 US fluid ounce serving. A can of Red Bull contains 80 mg. As a comparison, many of the studies reference in this article used 250 mg of caffeine, the equivalent to 3 cups of fresh coffee.

It is likely that trying to replace large doses of ADHD medication with similar large doses of caffeine is likely to produce undesirable side effects. As a replacement for moderate doses of ADD / ADHD medication, caffeine may have some value. Caffeine’s effect does seem to be dependent on the user (a feature of ADHD medication as well) so your mileage may vary. Be aware that there is also large amounts of hidden caffeine in soft drinks, sweets and cold medicines so it is worth monitoring your current caffeine intake.

Previously on Myomancy
Stim Nation: Forget Ritalin, Drink Coffee
ADHD and Obesity
ADD / ADHD Natural Remedies: Part 1
ADD / ADHD Natural Remedies: Part 2

ADD / ADHD Natural Remedies: Part 3

Effects of methylphenidate on regional brain glucose metabolism in humans: relationship to dopamine D2 receptors
The acute effect of methylphenidate on cerebral blood flow in boys with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
Caffeine and human cerebral blood flow: a positron emission tomography study.
The effects of caffeine on two computerized tests of attention and vigilance
Effects of caffeine on classroom behavior, sustained attention, and a memory task in preschool children.
Caffeine effects on learning, performance, and anxiety in normal school-age children.
Caffeine as a Substitute for Schedule II Stimulants in Hyperkinetic Children
query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=7028238&dopt=Abstract”>Responses to methylphenidate and varied doses of caffeine in children with attention deficit disorder.
Caffeine consumption.
Effects of caffeine on human health

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Medication, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Food and Drink

Part three of this look at natural remedies for ADD / ADHD is on Vaxa’sAttend. This is sold through a web site called No More ADD and is a classic long-copy advert. If the product is as good as the marketing then we won’t need Ritalin for much longer.

So what herbs are in Attend? Vaxa list the fifty or so ingredients and provides a hyperlink for an explanation of each one. Browsing through the list, I spot Hypothalamus. As this is part of the brain it strikes me as an unusual ingredient for a herbal remedy. The extra information on this ingredient says it is an animal product (but not which animal it comes from) and claims it is an appetite suppressant. Why you want an appetite suppressant, especially one from an unknown animal’s brain, in a herbal remedy for ADD / ADHD, I don’t know.

Of course, the actual ingredients do not matter much because this is a homeopathic remedy where each ingredient is diluted many hundred or thousands of times. In fact, according to science and common-sense, a homeopathic remedy is just water. Wikipedia sums it up best:

…homeopathy defies the laws of chemistry by claiming efficacy for high dilutions of substances, at times to a point where it is unlikely that even a molecule of the original ingredient is present.

There is no evidence that Vaxa’s Attend will work. There is no known scientific reason why it could work. Any improvements people get from this effect can be ascribed to the Placebo Effect, the regression fallacy and/or the Forer effect.

In these articles on natural remedies for ADD / ADHD, none of the three treatments have offered any evidence that they work. Listol does at least include ingredients that have a reasonable connection to ADD / ADHD. Neither Attend or Focus ADDult has any meaningful evidence to explain their ingredient list let alone their supposed benefits.

Previously on Myomancy: ADD / ADHD Natural Remedies: Part 1; ADD / ADHD Natural Remedies: Part 2; ADD / ADHD Diet and Nutrition

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Medication, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Food and Drink

Following on from Part 1 of ADD / ADHD Natural Remedies, the second most common non-medication, natural remedy for ADD / ADHD is Focus ADDult from Native Remedies.

This herbal remedy for ADD / ADHD is aimed specifically at adults and they claim it will:

  • Improve focus and ability to concentrate
  • Increase attention span
  • Boost memory functioning
  • Increase motivation and energy levels
  • Increase study skills
  • Boost immune functioning and protect against illness
  • Reduce distractibility

It does this through three herbal ingredients: Centella Asiatica (Asiatic Pennywort), Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) , Panax Ginseng.

Centrella Asiatica has been linked with increase blood flow and healing in wounds and also with cognitive improvements. However these studies are all animal related and nothing to do with ADD / ADHD. Whilst Rosemary tastes delicious with lamb there it nothing to indicate it can help with ADD / ADHD. There is some speculation that chemicals in Rosemary will inhibit acetylcholinesterase that play a part in memory but there is no direct evidence to support it.

Ginsing is more complicated because there has been a reasonable amount of research done on it. Starting in the 1940’s in Russia, Ginsing was taken by the Soviet olympic team and since the cold war ended, it has been studied in the West. However its effects, if any, appear subtle because some studies find significant reductions in stress and improvements in quality of life, but other studies find no benefit.

Looking at the herbs used in Focus ADDult it seems to me that they have included three herbs with only the remotest link to ADD / ADHD. I suspect their inclusion was far more to do with price and availability than scientific evidence of their effectiveness on ADHD.

Previously on Myomancy: ADD / ADHD Natural Remedies: Part 1; ADD / ADHD Natural Remedies: Part 3

Read about Focus ADDult on the Myomancy Treatment Database

Research: Effect of Centella asiatica on cognition and oxidative stress in an intracerebroventricular streptozotocin model of Alzheimer’s disease in rats; Double-blind study of a multivitamin complex supplemented with ginseng extract.

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Medication, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Food and Drink

If you search in Google for ‘ADHD Natural Medicine’ you find lots of mention of alternative medicine or herbal remedies for ADD / ADHD but no evidence that any these natural treatment works.

One of the top names in this field is Listol, made by Progressive Health . They make very specific claims about how Listol can help with the symptoms of ADD / ADHD.

Listol is a natural supplement that may help children and adults with ADD/ADHD by removing toxins from the body while enhancing memory and learning.

And then go on to say:

Children with ADHD are deprived of certain nutrients which cause a malfunction in the metabolization of linoleic acids and affects the absorptions of essential fatty acids. Listol adds these nutrients back …

What scientific justification do they use for these claims? A well documented list of ingredients for Listol as it happens. It is a credit to Progressive Health that have not only listed Listol’s ‘all natural’ ingredients but have identified the specific research why that vitamin, mineral or herbal extract is included. Looking closely at the list, some of the studies date back to the 1970’s and quite a number of them are experiments on animals. One study, on Zinc and ADD / ADHD, that we covered in yesterday’s article on ADD / ADHD Diet and Nutrition , shows zinc works only slightly better than a placebo.

The crucial piece of scientific evidence for Listol is missing. A study where children are given Listol and the results recorded. It is impossible to say whether Listol works or not because its not been tested. This might explain the diclaimer

[Listol] is not intended to be used as a substitute for any medication. Rather, it should be part of a nutritional program that can be beneficial for your health.

Read about Listol on the Myomancy Treatment Database

Also on Myomancy: ADD / ADHD Natural Remedies Part 2; ADD / ADHD Natural Remedies Part 3; ADD / ADHD Diet and Nutrition

ADD / ADHD, Food and Drink

In those distant days of the 1970’s, when flares were fashionable for the first time, Dr Feingold stated that childrens’ diet caused ADHD. He identified artificial food coloring and flavourings as the cause of 75% of ADHD. Subsequent research has shown that only 2% of children responded to Feingold’s Diet.
This was the first of several attempts to link diet and nutrition to ADD / ADHD.

The obvious target in the hyperactive child’s diet is sugar. Clearly children can get over excited on a sugar rush but is this the same as ADD / ADHD? The research produced mixed results, some finding that sugar has no effect, some finding it calms children and some, by the sugar industry itself, finding that increased motor activity or reduced attention span following sugar consumption. Whatever the relationship between sugar and ADHD, it is not a simple, straightforward link between cause and effect. So dropping sugar out of the diet probably will not reduce hyperactivity but most children have too much sugar in their diet and many face weight problems so there are other health benefits to controlling sugar intake.

The next target is vitamin deficiencies and here the evidence is strong for a link between nutrition and ADD / ADHD. One study found that iron deficient children had motor functioning and memory problems, both common symptoms of ADHD. A shortage of zinc has also been collared as a suspected cause of ADD / ADHD. A double-blind study on zinc supplements found they worked better than a placebo at reducing hyperactivity and impulsiveness. However the response rate for the zinc was only 28.7% were as for the placebo, the fake treatment, the rate was 20%. Zinc worked but not that much better than the placebo.

One of the problems with looking at diet, nutrition and ADHD is that diet is strongly linked to your home situation. Well off, well educated parents feed their children better then poorer, less educated people. The question is, is it the better diet that prevents ADHD in the well off children or is it because they grow up in a caring and stimulating environment?

The best advice currently available is for children to eat a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables. This will certainly help prevent weight problems and improve the child’s overall physical and neurological development. If the diet helps treat ADD / ADHD then that’s a bonus.

Also on Myomancy: ADHD and Obesity

Research: Diet and Hyperkinesis. An Update; Diet as a Treatment for ADHD [ PDF ]; Poorer Behavioral and Developmental Outcome More Than 10 Years After Treatment for Iron Deficiency in Infancy

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Medication, Auditory, Autism, Balance & Coordination, Books, Commercial Dyslexia Centres & Treatments, Dore Achievement Centres, Dyscalculia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Food and Drink, Franchised Dyslexia Treatments, Games, Memory, Science, Visual, Web/Tech

I’m please to announce a major expansion of Myomancy.

On the Myomancy Treatment Database you will find a list of ninety different treatments available for ADHD, dyslexia and autism. These range from mainstream reading programs to fringe treatments such as NeuroCranial Restructuring. Visitors to the Treatment Database can comment on treatments they have tried so that other parents can find the right treatment for their child.

Everything is brand new so if you find anything that doesn’t work or any typos then please let me know by commenting here or emailing me.

And please tell your friends about it. If you have your own blog or are on any email lists or forums, please mention the treatment database. It can only help dyslexics and sufferers of ADHD if people know about it.