Natural Alternatives to Ritalin and Adderall – ADHD affects an estimated 5.8 million young school-age children ages 3-17, and an unknown number of adults according to research from 2015. The percentage of boys diagnosed is more than double that of girls. The newest research shows that 43% in the US are now diagnosed with ADHD as of 2015. When researchers looked specifically at teenagers, they found the diagnoses had risen 52 percent since 2003.
Why are Ritalin and Adderall Used?
Ritalin is methylphenidate hydrochloride, a central nervous system stimulant that blocks dopamine and norepinephrine reuptake, increasing their levels in the brain and body. It carries the same side effects as Adderall, which I am going to go more in depth on.
Adderall is similar to methamphetamine (meth), missing a methyl group and being less potent. Amphetamines are listed as Schedule II Drugs under the Controlled Substance Act23, and because Adderall contains amphetamines, Adderall is considered to be a Schedule II Drug and deemed highly likely to be abused.
Stimulants such as dextroamphetamine (which is one of the active ingredients in Adderall and Adderall XR) are thought to block the reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine into the presynaptic neuron and increase the release of these monoamines into the extraneuronal space. In other words, it keeps norepinephrine and dopamine levels high, increasing concentration and stamina. These stimulants also increase blood pressure, heart rate, constricts blood vessels, increases blood sugar levels, and opens up the pathways of the respiratory system. Cocaine and methamphetamine also target these neurotransmitters.
“Study drugs” are one of the most abused drugs in high school and college whether or not ADHD is diagnosed, and approved for children over the age of 3. It was orginally introduced as a weight reduction drug for adults called Obetrol. Obetrol was taken off the market, but later became reborn as Adderall. In 2005, Canada banned Adderall based on the Shire Report that revealed 20 deaths from Adderall, all of whom did not overdose, misuse or abuse. Fourteen of those deaths were children.
Unique Genetics and Biochemistry Could Determine Bad Reactions to Amphetamines
According to the FDA, “although the enzymes involved in amphetamine metabolism have not been clearly defined, CYP2D6 is known to be involved with formation of 4-hydroxy-amphetamine. Since CYP2D6 is genetically polymorphic, population variations in amphetamine metabolism are a possibility. Amphetamine is known to inhibit monoamine oxidase (MAO), whereas the ability of amphetamine and its metabolites to inhibit various P450 isozymes and other enzymes has not been adequately elucidated.”
What this means is that – depending your genetic testing report – certain variants of CYP2D6, MAO-A and COMT could determine if you could have a very bad reaction to this class of drugs. Of course rarely are people tested first. The side effects of Adderall are respiratory problems, heart arrhythmia, psychotic episodes, toxic shock, increased aggression, and even death.
The FDA claims that Adderall should not be used during or within 14 days following the administration of monoamine oxidase inhibitors. A homozygous MAO-A enzyme found in a genetic report is working at a dramatically reduced rate, emulating an MAO-A inhibitor. The FDA states that “a variety of neurological toxic effects and malignant hyperpyrexia can occur, sometimes with fatal results” from MAO-A inhibitors. COMT breaks down dopamine, and a homozygous or heterozygous COMT could therefore be problematic like MAO-A due the slow breakdown of dopamine and adrenaline.
Genetic testing would be prudent before prescribing these drugs because many as 30% of individuals with ADHD are estimated to either have secondary side-effects or are not responsive to stimulant medication.
The Alternative to Ritalin and Adderall: The ADD and ADHD Supplement Program
In order for the neurotransmitters to function well, DHA, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin C must all be present in sufficient amounts. Low levels of copper, iron, zinc, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids have been reported in children with ADHD.
This is a major finding and understanding of the potential etiology of ADD and ADHD. If children, teenagers or adults are deficient in these, then dopamine would not be produced at adequate levels for focus and concentration (especially if genetics dictate higher needs). The foods highest in these nutrients include liver, fish, fish eggs, red meat and freshly picked fruits and vegetables picked in magnesium rich soil.
Consumption of fish and liver in particular have dropped dramatically in the last two generations, and are major sources of DHA, zinc, copper and iron. Freshly picked plants which are high in vitamin C, but vanishes quickly post-harvest. Magnesium has been reduced in soil and drinking water.
Vitamin A helps mobilize iron from its storage sites, so a deficiency of vitamin A limits the body’s ability to use stored iron. This results in an “apparent” iron deficiency because hemoglobin levels are low even though the body can maintain normal amounts of stored iron.
Vitamin A has been indicated in memory and learning, and researchers at Berkeley discovered that when memory cells are treated with vitamin A as retinoic acid (a metabolite of retinol, the form in cod liver oil, not multivitamins), vitamin A “turns on” specialized receptors on neurons, causing them to explode with new dendrites—spiny branches that receive information from other nerve cells.
Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil contains 3,000-5,000 IU of vitamin A, 400-500 IU vitamin D, 510mg EPA and 700mg of DHA. It is the most superior form of all of these, being the only company to use this ancient process to keep it in the raw and absorbable form.
One study showed that following a long period of vitamin C deficiency, depressed levels of both dopamine and norepinephrine were reported. Vitamin C deficiency in guinea pigs is associated with significant increases (∼25%) in dopamine levels and similar relative decreases in norepinephrine, presumably because normal amounts of dopamine could not be metabolized into norepinephrine.
In the animals with the most severe vitamin C deficiency, neurotransmitter levels never normalized. However, with only slightly higher brain vitamin C levels, dopamine and norepinephrine contents slowly returned to control levels.
What this means is that bringing vitamin C levels to normal could perform an action similar to Adderall by producing and maintaining proper dopamine and norepinephrine levels. Instead of spiking the neurotransmitters by blocking a natural process, you are producing and maintaining it as the body was designed to do.
Magnesium deficiency is typified by a number of reductions in cognitive ability and processes, and in particular a reduced attention span along with increased instances of aggression, fatigue and lack of concentration. Other common symptoms of magnesium deficiency include becoming easily irritated, nervousness, fatigue and mood swings. Magnesium deficiency has been found in 72% of children with ADHD, and 95% in an other study. Magnesium deficiency may be more common in males than females and plays a very important role in testosterone and estrogen metabolism, relaxation and stamina.
A 2010 study found that serum zinc levels have been found to be significantly lower in ADHD children compared to controls in several controlled studies around the world, including Poland, Turkey, Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom, despite the fact that the diet of these countries are very different. Approximately 66% of those with ADHD were found to be deficient in zinc and 23% in copper.
Robust correlation has also been found between serum zinc and attention ratings, but not hyperactivity. Another study found that zinc supplementation improved specific cognitive abilities, thereby positively influencing the academic performance of schoolchildren, even those without marginal zinc deficiency.
There is now evidence to suggest that ADHD may be associated with low zinc and iron. Several authors have also found an association between low serum ferritin and ADHD. It is also of interest that vitamin C is needed for iron retention. This finding is of considerable interest given the fact that iron and zinc, as well as copper, are essential cofactors in the production of dopamine and norepinephrine.
2. Hersey, Jane. Food Additives, Attention and Behavior. Well Being Journal, Sept/Oct 2011.
3. McCann D, Barret A, Cooper A, et al. Food additives and hyperactive behavior in a 3-year-old and 8/9 year old children in the community; a randomized, double-blinded, placebo controlled trial. Lancet. Nov 2007; 370 (9598): 1560-7.