Stephen_Faraone_PhD_ADHD_in_Adults

ADHD itself is associated with sleep difficulties, independent of ADHD medications. Thus, it is very important that sleep quality is assessed prior to treatment so that the changes due to treatment can be correctly inferred.

(Editor’s Note: See our Ask the ADHD Experts session on ADHD and Sleep.)

In clinical trials of stimulant ADHD medications, insomnia is typically noted a side effect of the medications. But most of these studies have used subjective patient or parent reports of sleep quality. A new meta analysis, reviews 9 studies of a total of 246 patients enrolled in randomized controlled trials of a stimulant medication.

Ask_the_ADHD_Experts_-_Prescribing_MedicationsTo be included, studies must have had an objective measure of sleep quality, either polysomnography or actigraphy. The analysis showed that stimulant medications led to a) a longer time to get to sleep; b) worse sleep efficiency and c) a shorter duration of sleep. Some of these sleep measures worsened with an increasing number of doses and a shorter time on medication.

Given the adverse effects that lack of sleep can have on cognition and behavior, these data provide further impetus for clinicians, parents and patients to monitor the effects of stimulant ADHD medication on sleep and to take appropriate action (e.g., dose reduction, change of medication) as warranted.

REFERENCES

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2009 Sep;48(9):894-908. doi: 10.1097/CHI.0b013e3181ac09c9.
Sleep in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: meta-analysis of subjective and objective studies.
Cortese S1, Faraone SV, Konofal E, Lecendreux M.

Pediatrics. 2015 Dec;136(6):1144-53. doi: 10.1542/peds.2015-1708.
Stimulant Medications and Sleep for Youth With ADHD: A Meta-analysis.
Kidwell KM1, Van Dyk TR2, Lundahl A2, Nelson TD2.

http://medicalwritingtraining.com/Professor Larry Seidman is world renowned for his neuropsychology and neuroimaging research. In addition to all of his creative science, he has found the time to create what he calls “Neuropsychologically Informed Strategic Psychotherapy (NISP) in Teenagers and Adults with ADHD.” Let’s start with what NISP is not. NISP is not cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). CBT emphasizes teaching patients to identify thinking patterns that lead to problem behaviors. NISP describes how the interpersonal interaction we call psychotherapy can help patients increase self-regulation and self-control. NISP treatments vary in duration from brief psycho-educational interventions of one to five sessions to much longer term therapies of indefinite duration. The duration of therapy is tailored to the needs and goals of the individual. The methods of NISP can be adaptively applied into well-known therapy modalities such as CBT and family therapy. By creating a solid therapeutic alliance, NISP improves adherence to medications and addresses ADHD’s psychiatric comorbidities and functional disabilities. NISP is “neuropsychologically informed” because it follows a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment of strengths and weaknesses. This leaves the therapist with an understanding of the patient’s personal experience of ADHD, the meaning of the disorder, how it affects self-esteem, and how cognitive deficits limit the ability to self-regulate and adapt to changing circumstances. Attending to the patient’s strengths is a key feature of Prof. Seidman’s method. ADHD is a disorder and it usually has serious consequences. But ADHD people also have strong points in their character and their neuropsychological skills. These sometimes get lost in assessments of ADHD but, as Dr. Seidman indicates, by addressing strengths, patient outcomes can be improved. A NISP assessment also seeks to learn about the psychological themes that underlie each patient’s story. He gives the all too common example of the patients who view themselves as failed children who have not tried hard enough to succeed. A frank discussion of neuropsychological test results can be the first step to helping patients reconceptualize their past and move on to an adaptive path of self-understanding and self-regulation.

Prof. Seidman’s approach seems sensible and promising. As he recognizes, it has not yet, however, been subject to the rigorous tests of evidenced-based medicine (my blog on EBM: http://tinyurl.com/ne4t7op). So I would not recommend using it as a replacement for an evidenced-based treatment. That said, if you are a psychotherapist who treats ADHD people, read Prof. Seidman’s paper. It will give you useful insights that will help your patients.

 
REFERENCES
Seidman, L. J. (2014). Neuropsychologically Informed Strategic Psychotherapy in Teenagers and Adults with ADHD. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23, 843-852. (In: Faraone, S. V. & Antshel, K. M. (2014). ADHD: Non-Pharmacologic Interventions. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23, xiii-xiv.)

Stephen Faraone, PhD, ADHD in AdultsMany ADHD myths have been manufactured over the years.  Facts that are clear and compelling to most scientists and doctors have been distorted or discarded from popular media discussions of the disorder.   Sometimes, the popular media seems motivated by the maxim “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”  That’s fine for storytellers, but it is not acceptable for serious and useful discussions about ADHD.

ADHD Myths are easy to find.  These myths have confused patients and parents and undermined the ability  of professionals to appropriately treat the disorder.   When patients or parents get the idea that the diagnosis of ADHD is a subjective invention of doctors, or that ADHD medications cause drug abuse, that makes it less likely they will seek treatment and will increase their chances of having adverse outcomes.

Fortunately, as John Adams famously said of the Boston Massacre, “Facts are stubborn things.”  And science is a stubborn enterprise; it does not tolerate shoddy research or opinions not supported by fact.   ADHD scientists have addressed many of the myths about the disorder in the International Consensus Statement on ADHD, a published summary of scientific facts about ADHD endorsed by a of 75 international ADHD scientists in 2002.  The statement describes evidence for the validity of ADHD, the existence of genetic and neurobiologic causes for the disorder and the range and severity of impairments caused by the disorder.

Download The Consensus Statement

The Statement makes several key points:

  • The U.S. Surgeon General, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recognize ADHD as a valid disorder.
  • ADHD involves a serious deficiency in a set of psychological abilities and that these deficiencies pose serious harm to most individuals possessing the disorder.
  • Many studies show that the psychological deficits in people with ADHD are associated with abnormalities in several specific brain regions.
  • The genetic contribution to ADHD is routinely found to be among the highest for any psychiatric disorders.
  • ADHD is not a benign disorder. For those it afflicts, it can cause devastating problems.
  • Hundreds of studies have shown the effectiveness of ADHD medications and multiple therapies.

The facts about ADHD will prevail if you take the time to learn about them.   This can be difficult when faced with a media blitz of information and misinformation about the disorder.  In future blogs, I’ll separate the ADHD facts from the fiction by addressing several popular myths about ADHD.

Editor’s note:  Our Ask the ADHD Experts sessions are designed specifically for experts to present updates and the latest unbiased research information on ADHD and related disorders.  Ask your questions.  Get them answered.  Subscribe and learn.

http://medicalwritingtraining.com/As a researcher who has devoted most of the past three decades to studying ADHD, I am surprised (and somewhat embarrassed) to see how little research has focused on how ADHD affects the romantic side of life. There are over 25,000 articles about ADHD listed on www.pubmed.gov, but only a few have provided data about love, sex and ADHD. Bruner and colleagues studied ADHD symptoms and romantic relationship quality in 189 college students. Those students who had high levels of both hyperactivity-impulsivity and inattentiveness reported that the quality of their romantic relationships was relatively low compared with students who had low levels of ADHD symptoms. Another study of 497 college students found that ADHD symptoms predicted a greater use of maladaptive coping strategies in romantic relationships and less romantic satisfaction. A study of young adults compared conflict resolution and problem-solving in romantic couples. It found that ADHD symptoms were associated with greater negativity and less positivity during a conflict resolution task and that higher symptoms predicted less relational satisfaction. But this was not true of the ADHD member of the couple only had inattentive symptoms, which suggests that the severity of ADHD symptoms might drive relationship problems. Unlike the studies of adults, the romantic relationships of adolescents with and without ADHD did not differ on levels of aggression or relationship quality, although only one study addressed this issue.

What about sex? The study of adolescents found that, irrespective of gender, adolescents with ADHD had nearly double the number of lifetime sexual partners. That finding is consistent with Barkley’s follow-up study of ADHD children. He and his colleagues found that ADHD predicted early sexual activity and early parenthood. Similar findings were reported by Flory and colleagues in retrospective study of young adults. Childhood ADHD predicted earlier initiation of sexual activity and intercourse, more sexual partners, more casual sex, and more partner pregnancies. When my colleagues and I studied 1001 adults in the community, we found that adults with ADHD endorsed less stability in their love relationships, felt less able to provide emotional support to their loved ones, experienced more sexual dysfunction and had higher divorce rates.

The research literature about love, sex and ADHD is small, but it is consistent.

 
REFERENCES
Bruner, M. R., A. D. Kuryluk, et al. (2014). “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptom Levels and Romantic Relationship Quality in College Students.” J Am Coll Health: 1-11.
Biederman, J., S. V. Faraone, et al. (2006). “Functional impairments in adults with self-reports of diagnosed ADHD: A controlled study of 1001 adults in the community.” J Clin Psychiatry 67(4): 524-540.
Canu, W. H., L. S. Tabor, et al. (2014). “Young Adult Romantic Couples’ Conflict Resolution and Satisfaction Varies with Partner’s Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Type.” J Marital Fam Ther 40(4): 509-524.
Rokeach, A. and J. Wiener (2014). “The Romantic Relationships of Adolescents With ADHD.” J Atten Disord.
Barkley, R. A., M. Fischer, et al. (2006). “Young adult outcome of hyperactive children: adaptive functioning in major life activities.” J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 45(2): 192-202.
Flory, K., B. S. Molina, et al. (2006). “Childhood ADHD predicts risky sexual behavior in young adulthood.” J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol 35(4): 571-577.
Overbey, G. A., W. E. Snell, Jr., et al. (2011). “Subclinical ADHD, stress, and coping in romantic relationships of university students.” J Atten Disord 15(1): 67-78.

http://medicalwritingtraining.com/It sounds like science fiction, but scientists have been testing computerized methods to train the brains of ADHD people with the goal of reducing both ADHD symptoms and cognitive deficits such as difficulties with memory or attention. Two main approaches have been used: cognitive training and neurofeedback.

Cognitive training methods ask patients to practice tasks aimed at teaching specific skills such as retaining information in memory or inhibiting impulsive responses. Currently, results from ADHD brain studies suggests that the ADHD brain is not very different from the non-ADHD brain, but that ADHD leads to small differences in the structure, organization and functioning of the brain. The idea behind cognitive training is that the brain can be reorganized to accomplish tasks through a structured learning process. Cognitive retraining helps people who have suffered brain damage, so was logical to think it might help the types of brain differences seen in ADHD people. Several software packages have been created to deliver cognitive training sessions to ADHD people. You can read more about these methods here: Sonuga-Barke, E., D. Brandeis, et al. (2014). “Computer-based cognitive training for ADHD: a review of current evidence.” Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23(4): 807-824.

Neurofeedback was applied to ADHD after it had been observed, in many studies, that people with ADHD have unusual brain waves as measured by the electroencephalogram (EEG). We believe that these unusual brain waves are caused by the different way that the ADHD brain processes information. Because these differences lead to problems with memory, attention, inhibiting responses and other areas of cognition and behavior, it was believed that normalizing the brain waves might reduce ADHD symptoms. In a neurofeedback session, patients sit with a computer that reads their brain waves via wires connected to their head. The patient is asked to do a task on the computer that is known to produce a specific type of brain wave. The computer gives feedback via sound or a visual on the computer screen that tells the patient how ‘normal’ their brain waves are. By modifying their behavior, patients learn to change their brain waves. The method is called neurofeedback because it gives patients direct feedback about how their brains are processing information.

Both cognitive training and neurofeedback have been extensively studied. If you’ve been reading my blogs about ADHD, you know that I play by the rules of evidenced based medicine. My view is that the only way to be sure that a treatment ‘works’ is to see what researchers have published in scientific journals. The highest level of evidence is a meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. For my lay readers, that means that many rigorous studies have been conducted and summarized with a sophisticated mathematical method. Although both cognitive training and neurofeedback are rational methods based on good science, meta-analyses suggest that they are not helpful for reducing ADHD symptoms. They may be helpful for specific problems such as problems with memory, but more work is needed to be certain if that is true.

The future may bring better news about these methods if they are modified and become more effective. You can learn more about non-pharmacologic treatments for ADHD from a book I recently edited: Faraone, S. V. & Antshel, K. M. (2014). ADHD: Non-Pharmacologic Interventions. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23, xiii-xiv.

Stephen_Faraone_PhD_ADHD_in_AdultsIt sounds like science fiction, but scientists have been testing computerized methods to train the brains of ADHD people with the goal of reducing both ADHD symptoms and cognitive deficits such as difficulties with memory or attention.   Two main approaches have been used: cognitive training and neurofeedback.  This of course is in addition to, not a replacement for, ADHD medications.

Cognitive training methods ask patients to practice tasks aimed at teaching specific skills such as retaining information in memory or inhibiting impulsive responses.  Currently, results from ADHD brain studies suggests that the ADHD brain is not very different from the non-ADHD brain, but that ADHD leads to small differences in the structure, organization and functioning of the brain.  CBT_rubricThe idea behind cognitive training is that the brain can be reorganized to accomplish tasks through a structured learning process.  Cognitive retraining helps people who have suffered brain damage, so was logical to think it might help the types of brain differences seen in ADHD people.  Several software packages have been created  to deliver cognitive training sessions to ADHD people.  You can read more about these methods here: Sonuga-Barke, E., D. Brandeis, et al. (2014). “Computer-based cognitive training for ADHD: a review of current evidence.” Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23(4): 807-824.

Neurofeedback was applied to ADHD after it had been observed, in many studies, that people with ADHD have unusual brain waves as measured by the electroencephalogram (EEG).  We believe that these unusual brain waves are caused by the different way that the ADHD brain processes information. 

Because these differences lead to problems with memory, attention, inhibiting responses and other areas of cognition and behavior, it was believed that normalizing the brain waves might reduce ADHD symptoms.  In a neurofeedback session, patients sit with a computer that reads their brain waves via wires connected to their head.  The patient is asked to do a task on the computer that is known to produce a specific type of brain wave.   The computer gives feedback via sound or a visual on the computer screen that tells the patient how ‘normal’ their brain waves are.  By modifying their behavior, patients learn to change their brain waves.  The method is called neurofeedback because it gives patients direct feedback about how their brains are processing information.

Both cognitive training and neurofeedback have been extensively studied.  If you’ve been reading my blogs about ADHD, you know that I play by the rules of evidenced based medicine.  My view is that the only way to be sure that a treatment ‘works’ is to see what researchers have published in scientific journals.   The highest level of evidence is a meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials.   For my lay readers, that means that many rigorous studies have been conducted and summarized with a sophisticated mathematical method.   Although both cognitive training and neurofeedback are rational methods based on good science, meta-analyses suggest that they are not helpful for reducing ADHD symptoms.  They may be helpful for specific problems such as problems with memory, but more work is needed to be certain if that is true.

The future may bring better news about these methods if they are modified and become more effective.  You can learn more about non-pharmacologic treatments for ADHD from a book I recently edited: Faraone, S. V. & Antshel, K. M. (2014). ADHD: Non-Pharmacologic Interventions. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23, xiii-xiv.

As a reminder, adult ADHD tests can be administered easily and effectively to measure the effect of various approaches on ADHD symptoms in adults.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy treats Executive Dysfunction

 

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If you’ve been reading my blogs about ADHD, you know that I play by the rules of evidenced based medicine. My view is that the only way to be sure that a treatment ‘works’ is to see what researchers have published in scientific journals. The highest level of evidence is a meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. For my lay readers, that means that many rigorous studies have been conducted and summarized with a sophisticated mathematical method.

If you are interested in fish oil among ADHD alternative treatments, there is some good news. Many good studies have been published and these have been subjected to meta-analysis. To be more exact, we’re discussing omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which are found in many fish oils. Omega-3 PUFAs reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which is why they had been tested as treatments for ADHD. When these studies were meta-analyzed, it became clear that omega-3 PUFAs high in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) helped to reduce ADHD symptoms. For details see: Bloch, M. H. and J. Mulqueen (2014). “Nutritional supplements for the treatment of ADHD.” Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23(4): 883-897.

So, if omega-3 PUFAs help reduce ADHD symptoms, why are doctors still prescribing ADHD drugs? The reason is simple. Omega-3 supplements work, but not very well. On a scale of one to 10 where 10 is the best effect, drug therapy scores 9 to 10 but omega-3 therapy scores only 2. Some patients or parents of patients might want to try omega-3 therapy first in the hopes that it will work well for them. That is a possibility, but if that is your choice, you should not delay the more effective drug treatments for too long in the likely event that omega-3 therapy is not sufficient. What about combining ADHD drugs with omega-3 supplements? We don’t know. I hope that future research will see if combined therapy might reduce the amount of drug required for each patient.

Keep in mind that the treatment guidelines from professional organizations point to ADHD medications as the first line treatment for ADHD The only exception is for preschool children where medication is only the first line treatment for severe ADHD; the guidelines recommend that other preschoolers with ADHD be treated with non-pharmacologic treatments, when available.

You can learn more about non-pharmacologic treatments for ADHD from a book I recently edited: Faraone, S. V. & Antshel, K. M. (2014). ADHD: Non-Pharmacologic Interventions. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23, xiii-xiv.

http://medicalwritingtraining.com/Myth: ADHD medications “anesthetize” ADHD children.
The idea here is that the drug treatment of ADHD is no more than a chemical straightjacket intended to control a child’s behavior to be less bothersome to parents and teachers. After all, everyone knows that if you shoot up a person with tranquillizers they will calm down.
Fact: ADHD medications are neither anesthetics nor tranquillizers.
The truth of the matter is that most ADHD medications are stimulants. They don’t anesthetize the brain; they stimulate it. By speeding up the transmission of dopamine signals in the brain, ADHD medications improve brain functioning, which in turn leads to an increased ability to pay attention and to control behavior. The non-stimulant medications improve signaling by norepinephrine. They also improve the brains ability to process signals. They are not sedatives or anesthetics. When taking their medication, ADHD patients can focus and control their behavior to be more effective in school and work and in their relationships. They are not “drugged” into submission.

Myth: ADHD medications cause drug and alcohol abuse
We know from many long-term studies of ADHD children that when the reach adolescence and adults they are at high risk for alcohol and drug use disorders. Because of this fact, some media reports have implied that their drug use was caused by treatment of their ADHD with stimulant medications.
Fact: ADHD medications do not cause drug and alcohol abuse
It is true that some ADHD medications use the same chemicals that are found in street drugs such as amphetamine. But there is a very big difference between these medications and street drugs. When street drugs are injected or snorted, they can lead to addiction, but when they are taken in pill form as prescribed by a doctor, they do not cause addiction. In fact, when my colleagues and I examined the world literature on this topic we found that, rather than causing drug and alcohol abuse, stimulant medicine protected ADHD children from these problems later in life. One study from researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts General Hospital found that the drug treatment of ADHD reduced the risk for illicit drug use by 84 percent. These findings make intuitive sense. These medicines reduce the symptoms of the disorder that lead to illicit drug use. For example, an impulsive ADHD teenager who acts without thinking is much more likely to use drugs than an ADHD teen whose symptoms are controlled by medical drug treatment. After we published our study, other work appeared. Some of these studies did not agree that ADHD medications protected ADHD people from drug abuse but they did not find that they caused drug abuse.

Myth: Psychological or behavior therapies should be tried before medication.
Many people are cautious about taking medications and that caution is even stronger when parents consider treatment options for their children. Because medications can have side effects, shouldn’t people with ADHD try a talk therapy before taking medicine?
Fact: Treatment guidelines suggest that medication is the first line treatment.
The problem with trying talk or behavior therapy before medication is that medication works much better. For ADHD adults, one type of talk therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy) is recommended, but only when the patient is also taking medication. The Multimodal Treatment of ADHD (MTA) study examined this issue in ADHD children from several academic medical centers in the United States. That study found that treating ADHD with medication was better than treating it with behavior therapy. Importantly, behavior therapy plus medication was no more effective than medication alone. That is why treatment guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent recommend medicine as a first line treatment for ADHD, except for preschool children. It is true that ADHD medications have side effects, but these are usually mild and typically do not interfere with treatment. And don’t forget about the risks that a patient faces when they do not use medications for ADHD. These untreated patients are at risk for a worsening of ADHD symptoms and complications.

Myth: Brain abnormalities of ADHD patients are caused by psychiatric medications
A large scientific literature shows that ADHD people have subtle problems with the structure and function of their brains. Scientists believe that these problems are the cause of ADHD symptoms. Critics of ADHD claim that these brain problems are caused by the medications used to treat ADHD. Who is right?
Fact: Brain abnormalities are found in never medicated ADHD patients.
Alan Zametkin, a scientist at the US National Institute of Mental Health was the first to show brain abnormalities in ADHD patients who had never been treated for their ADHD. He found that some parts of the brains of ADHD patients were underactive. His findings could not be due to medication because the patients had never been medicated. Since his study, many other researchers have used neuroimaging to examine the brains of ADHD patients. This work confirmed Dr. Zametkin’s observation of abnormal brain findings in unmedicated patients. In fact, reviews of the brain imaging literature have concluded that the brain abnormalities seen in ADHD cannot be attributed to ADHD medications.
 

REFERENCES
Wilens, T., Faraone, S. V., Biederman, J. & Gunawardene, S. (2003). Does Stimulant Therapy of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Beget Later Substance Abuse? A Meta-Analytic Review of the Literature. Pediatrics 111, 179-185.

Humphreys, K. L., Eng, T. & Lee, S. S. (2013). Stimulant Medication and Substance Use Outcomes: A Meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry, 1-9.

Chang, Z., Lichtenstein, P., Halldner, L., D’Onofrio, B., Serlachius, E., Fazel, S., Langstrom, N. & Larsson, H. (2014). Stimulant ADHD medication and risk for substance abuse. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 55, 878-85.

Nakao, T., Radua, J., Rubia, K. & Mataix-Cols, D. (2011 ). Gray matter volume abnormalities in ADHD: voxel-based meta-analysis exploring the effects of age and stimulant medication. Am J Psychiatry 168, 1154-63.

Rubia, K., Alegria, A. A., Cubillo, A. I., Smith, A. B., Brammer, M. J. & Radua, J. (2014). Effects of stimulants on brain function in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Biol Psychiatry 76, 616-28.

Spencer, T. J., Brown, A., Seidman, L. J., Valera, E. M., Makris, N., Lomedico, A., Faraone, S. V. & Biederman, J. (2013). Effect of psychostimulants on brain structure and function in ADHD: a qualitative literature review of magnetic resonance imaging-based neuroimaging studies. J Clin Psychiatry 74, 902-17.

ADHD and Diet

http://medicalwritingtraining.com/If we are to believe what we read on the Internet, dieting can cure many of the ills faced by humans. Much of what is written is true. Changes in dieting can be good for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney stones to name just a few examples. But what about ADHD? Food elimination diets have been extensively studied for their ability to treat ADHD. They are based on the very reasonable idea that allergies or toxic reactions to foods can have effects on the brain and could lead to ADHD symptoms.

Although the idea is reasonable, it is not such an easy task to figure out what foods might cause allergic reactions that could lead to ADHD symptoms. Some proponents of elimination diets have proposed eliminating a single food, others include multiple foods and some go as far to allow only a few foods to be eaten so as to avoid all potential allergies. Most readers will wonder if such restrictive diets, even if they did work, are feasible. That is certainly a concern for very restrictive diets.

Perhaps the most well-known ADHD diet is the Feingold diet (named after its creator). This diet eliminates artificial food colorings and preservatives that have become so common in the western diet. Some have claimed that the increasing use of colorings and preservatives explains why the prevalence of ADHD is greater in Western countries and has been increasing over time. But those people have it wrong. The prevalence of ADHD is similar around the world and has not been increasing over time. That has been well documented but details must wait for another blog.

The Feingold and other elimination diets have been studied by meta-analysis. This means that someone analyzed several well controlled trials published by other people. Passing the test of meta-analysis is the strongest test of any treatment effect. When this test is applied to the best studies available, there is evidence that exclusion of food colorings helps reduce ADHD symptoms. But more restrictive diets are not effective. So removing artificial food colors seems like a good idea that will help reduce ADHD symptoms. But although such diets ‘work’, they don’t work very well. On a scale of one to 10 where 10 is the best effect, drug therapy scores 9 to 10 but eliminating food colorings scores only 3 or 4. Some patients or parents of patients might want to try this diet change first in the hopes that it will work well for them. That is a possibility, but if that is your choice, you should not delay the more effective drug treatments for too long in the likely event that eliminating food colorings is not sufficient. You can learn more about elimination diets from: Nigg, J. T. and K. Holton (2014). “Restriction and elimination diets in ADHD treatment.” Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23(4): 937-953.

Keep in mind that the treatment guidelines from professional organizations point to ADHD drugs as the first line treatment for ADHD. The only exception is for preschool children where medication is only the first line treatment for severe ADHD; the guidelines recommend that other preschoolers with ADHD be treated with non-pharmacologic treatments, when available. You can learn more about non-pharmacologic treatments for ADHD from a book I recently edited: Faraone, S. V. & Antshel, K. M. (2014). ADHD: Non-Pharmacologic Interventions. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23, xiii-xiv.
ADHD Foods ADHD diet
Feingold diet

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Are Nonpharmacologic Treatments for ADHD Useful?

There are several very effective ADHD medications, and treatment guidelines from professional organizations view these drugs as the first line of treatment for people with ADHD symptoms.  (The only exception is for preschool children where medication is only the first line treatment for severe ADHD; the guidelines recommend that other preschoolers with ADHD be treated with non-pharmacologic treatments, when available.)

Despite these guidelines, some parents and patients have been persuaded by the media or the Internet that ADHD drugs are dangerous and that non-drug alternatives are as good or even better. Parents and patients may also be influenced by media reports that doctors overprescribe ADHD drugs or that these drugs have serious side effects. Such reports typically simplify and/or exaggerate results from the scientific literature.  Thus, many patients and parents of ADHD children are seeking “natural remedies for ADHD.” 

What are these non-pharmacologic treatments and do they work?  

My upcoming series of blogs will discuss each of these treatments in detail.  Here I’ll give an overview of my evidenced-based taxonomy of nonpharmacologic treatments for ADHD described in more detail in a book I recently edited (Faraone, S. V. & Antshel, K. M. (2014). “ADHD: Non-Pharmacologic Interventions.” Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23, xiii-xiv.).  I use the term “evidenced-based” in the strict sense applied by the Oxford Center for Evidenced Based Medicine (OCEBM; http://www.cebm.net/). 

Most of the non-drug treatments for ADHD fall into three categories: behavioral, dietary, and neurocognitive.

Behavioral interventions include training parents to optimize methods of reward and punishment for their ADHD child, teaching ADHD children social skills and helping teachers apply principles of behavior management in their classrooms.  Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a method that teaches behavioral and cognitive skills to adolescent and adult ADHD patients.

Dietary interventions include special diets that exclude food colorings or eliminate foods believed to cause ADHD symptoms.  Other dietary interventions provide supplements such as iron, zinc or omega-3 fatty acids.

Neurocognitive interventions typically use a computer based learning setup to teach ADHD patients cognitive skills that will help reduce ADHD symptoms.

There are two metrics to consider when thinking about the evidence-base for these methods.  The first is the quality of the evidence.   For example, a study of 10 patients with no control group would be a low quality study, but a study of 100 patients randomized to either a treatment or control group would be of high quality, and the quality would be even higher if the people rating patient outcomes did not know who was in each group. 

The second metric is the magnitude of the treatment effect.  Does the treatment dramatically reduce ADHD symptoms or does it have only a small effect?  This metric is only available for high quality studies that compare people treated with the method and people treated with a ‘control’ method that is not expected to affect ADHD.

I used a statistical metric to quantify the magnitude of effect. Zero means no effect and larger numbers indicate better effects on treating ADHD symptoms.  For comparison, the effect of is about 0.9, which is derived from a very strong evidence base.     The effects of dietary treatments on symptoms of adult ADHD are smaller, about 0.4 to 0.5, but because the quality of the evidence is not strong, these results are not certain and the studies of food color exclusions apply primarily to children who have high intakes of such colorants.

In contrast to the dietary studies, the evidence base for behavioral treatments is excellent but the effects of these treatments of ADHD symptoms is very small, less than 0.1.    Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids also has a strong evidence base but the magnitude of effect is also small (0.1 to 0.2).    The neurocognitive treatments have modest effects on ADHD symptoms (0.2 to 0.4) but their evidence base is weak.

This review of non-drug treatments explains why ADHD drug treatments are usually used first.  Their evidence base is stronger and they are more effective in reducing ADHD symptoms.  There is, however, a role for some non-drug treatments. I’ll be discussing that in subsequent blog posts.

If you are health professional, you can learn more about screening, diagnosing and treating ADHD with the latest evidence-based medicine.  Earn FREE CME on Adult ADHD.

If you are a member of the public, you can download a FREE SCREENER and take it to your healthcare professional for a discussion.  If you provider does not know about ADHD, and many don’t, them please send him or her to ADHD in Adults.com

References :

Faraone, S. V. & Antshel, K. M. (2014). ADHD: Non-Pharmacologic Interventions. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23, xiii-xiv.

Faraone, S. V. & Antshel, K. M. (2014). Towards an evidence-based taxonomy of nonpharmacologic treatments for ADHD. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23, 965-72.