Here in the UK, Dr Robin Pauc is making a splash with his new book and his claim for cures for ADHD, dyslexia and most other developmental problems. His book, Is That my Child?, has received coverage in the Daily Mail and on GMTV. Dr Pauc belives that all the ‘conditions’ can be dramatically improved if the child is put on a junk-free healthy diet high in Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and follows a pattern of tailor-made exercises to stimulate the brain.
This is hardly a breakthrough. Fish oils with Omega 3 & 6 have been recommended for sometime, cutting out junk food will make anyone feel and perform better, and right type of exercise will stimulate the cerebellum.
At one level Dr Pauc is promoting the right approach to developmental problems. I’ve not read the book but I doubt there is anything in it I would disagree with. The problem is that he is making claims he cannot justify. Where are the peer-reviewed results of his double blind trials of his treatment? They simply don’t exist.
More worrying is that Dr Pauc is not a medical doctor or neurologist. He is a chiropractor. Ben Goldacre on Bad Science has a good piece on Dr Pauc qualifications in When in doubt, call yourself a doctor.
On January 2, 2006 an explosion in Sago Mine left thirteen miners trapped. In the 41 hours before rescuers could reach them, twelve had died of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. The thirteenth, Randal McCloy Jr., was left comatose and in a critical condition. His chances of any sort of recovery where slim as CO prevents oxygen being carried to the brain, resulting in permanent damage.
Mr McCloy had other ideas and just four months after the accident, he has left hospital and is on the way to a full recovery. Doctors are amazed at this and point to a number of factors that have helped including the speed at which he received treatment once rescued, his age (26) and his high level of fitness. However two aspects of his treatment require special note.
He received Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) an omega-3 essential fatty acid used a treatment to speed up recovery from brain damage but is also sold as a treatment for ADHD and dyslexia. He also received hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), a standard treatment for CO poisoning that has been promoted as an effective therapy for autism. Myomancy has covered this before (Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Autism) where I wrote:
“There is no evidence it works with autistic childern and some proponents of HBOT promote a long list of conditions that HBOT can treat. I’ve found that a good rule of thumb is the longer the list of problems a treatment claims to help the less likely it actually helps. However it seems at least logical that increasing the supply of oxygen to the brain could stimulate neural growth and repair.”
No doubt promoters of omega-3 fish oils and HBOT will jump on Randal McCloy’s incredible recovery as support for the healing powers of their products but the simple fact is that Randal is a fit young man who received the best treatment possible from a large team of dedicated medical specialists. The only thing we should take from this story is that the brain can recover and grow if people are willing to make the effort.
Two excellent articles on Science News about the effect of exercise and diet on the brain.
“They studied two groups of healthy mice housed individually in cages that were identical except for one detail: One group of mice had running wheels.
‘The mice just love [the wheel]. They run on it as soon as you put it in their cages,’ says Van Praag. ‘If you let them run as much as they want, they run all night long.’
Over the next several weeks, the researchers kept track as the runners voluntarily racked up an average of 4 to 5 kilometers on their wheels every night. The scientists then tested whether the groups differed in how quickly each mouse solved a popular learning test known as the Morris water maze.
Although both groups of mice swam at about the same speed, Gage and his colleagues noticed that the runners learned the location of a platform hidden under the maze’s opaque water significantly sooner than their less-fit counterparts did“.
This is important for the young and the old. In the young, good diet and plenty of exercise keeps the brain growing and may help lessen the symptoms of dyslexia and ADHD. In the old it has important implications for preventing and slowing down degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
Buff and Brainy, Eat Smart.
Tonight (Thursday 6th October) at 9pm BBC 2’s Horizon program will be investigating the role of Omega 3 in the brain and the claims made by supplement manufacturers. “On TV: Could Fish Make My Child Smart? There now seems no end to the claims made about the benefits of Omega 3. Horizon attempts to unravel the legitimacy of each of these claims“.
Over on the Christen Broadcast Network (CBN) they are running an article called Stop Medicating Your ADHD Child. Its not the attack on the dangers of ADHD medication that I expected but looks at the diet as the cause and solution to ADHD. The advice is simple. Stop eating sugery, processed food and eat fresh fruit and vegetables.
One of the doctors quoted in the CBN piece is Dr Russell Blaylock. I found this transcript of an interview he did about the damage done by aspartame (NutraSweet) on the brain. Its an informative and in depth about how the brain can be effected by what we eat. He touches on ADHD and says “we have a multitude of research papers that have been done and studies that have been done that shows these exitotoxins [sic] have a profound damaging effect on the development of the brains of newborns. Even when these children are exposed to it after birth, they have severe changes in their brain and many of these things are not reversible“. An interview well worth reading.
News.Com.Au is reporting the results of a study on fish oil and ADHD that found that children taking the oil for just 15 weeks demonstrated better behaviour. The full study has not been published yet so the results have to be taken with a pinch of salt.
A few weeks ago I posted on a study that suggested a blood test may predict autism. This related to glutathione, a chemical in the body that is vital for detoxing the body of heavy metals. Mercury is a heavy metal so this is an important step forward in the mercury / autism debate.
You can find an in-depth and comprehensive article entitled Overloaded? New Science, new insights about mercury and autism in susceptible children over on the Environmental Working Group web site. Their site also has a tuna calculator that tells you how much tuna you eat a week without risk of heavy metal poisoning. It has extra advice for young child and women planning to have children. There is also a whole section on mercury in seafood.
An Israeli study, Childhood obesity and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A newly described comorbidity in obese hospitalized children, found that over half of a sample of obese children had ADHD. Of which, half of these had not been diagnosed previously. This unusually large correlation has several possible explanation. It may be that excessive eating is a psychological response to the stresses of being ADHD. The effects of ADHD make the child unhappy so to cheer themselves up they eat something. This could form a viscous circle where the twin effect of ADHD and weight problems, both of which can set children apart from other children, leads to further eating as a mood enhancer. A second possibility is simple lack of control. When the child has an opportunity to eat, especially sweets and pop (soda), they react impulsively and eat.
A third possibility is that cause of the obesity and ADHD are same, i.e. their diet. To be obese in childhood requires a huge calorie intake, the sort provide by pop (soda) drinks. (See: Soda, Obesity Research Signals Need for Kids’ Low-Sugar Drink Alternatives). These drinks are high in calories leading to weight gain but the stimulation or energy the child gains from the calories can lead to problems concentrating. In addition to all the sugar there is the caffeine and various artificial additives, so it is not hard to imagine a link between junk food and ADHD.
In addition to these possible explanations social class needs to be considered. Obesity is strongly linked to lower income families and these families may be more likely to have children with ADHD. The role of parenting cannot be ignore either. A parent who allows their child to eat whatever and whenever they like may have a parenting style that encourages the lack of control and attention characteristic of ADHD.
See Parenting and ADHD.
Further coverage and comments from the researchers on WNEP.com.
The Local Education Authority in Durham, UK have been conducting a series of trials on fatty acid (Omega-3 and Omega-6) with children in their schools. The latest trial using with 120 secondary school pupils is reported on by BBC News: “after three months, the group using the fatty acid made ‘highly significant improvements’ in 12 out of 13 behavioural scales, including three diagnostic ADHD features – inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Short term memory also significantly improved” .
Its worth noting that these results have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. However Durham have a dedicated website to this and other trials they have run and you can register to be sent details when the results are published.
A study in France has identified a link between iron deficiency and ADHD. Fifty three children with ADHD were tested at the Child and Adolescent Psychopathology Department in the European Pediatric Hospital, Paris, and 84% of them had abnormal iron levels compared to only 18% in a control group. There appeared to be a link between the severity of iron deficiency and the severity of the ADHD symptoms. The study suggests that iron supplements may be useful in treating ADHD.
Paper published in Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine and covered on Ivanhoe.com.