The number of American children prescribed psychotropic drugs has more than doubled in the past 25 years, studies show.
Concerns about side effects and the potential for addiction raise this question: Are drugs too often the first –and wrong –option to treat children’s behavioral and emotional problems?
Dr. Ed Carlton, founder of the Carlton Neurofeedback Center (www.carltonneurofeedbackcenter.com) and author of the book The Answer, doesn’t like how drugs are routinely prescribed for kids with ADD, ADHD, anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder or other mental illnesses.
“In today’s society, if you have a mental illness, just turn on the TV and they will have a drug for it,” he says. “The first order of defense unfortunately is medication. This is a temporary solution, one that can be fraught with side effects.”
Dr. Carlton suggests three ways to help address these disorders without prescription drugs.
- Eat healthier. A healthy diet is one way to combat brain disorders. But the big challenge is re-training children to eat healthier. Kids and adults with ADD or ADHD tend to crave simple carbohydrates like candy or cookies.
“These kids typically burn calories at a higher rate,” he says. “Psychological stress causes their body to go into a fight-or-flight mode. It mobilizes the sugar out of the blood and puts it into the muscles, causing the blood sugar to drop.”
Protein-packed foods – “clean meats such as chicken or beef – are an excellent way to slow the brain processes down” he says. “If the brain works more calmly, the cravings for the carbohydrates can lessen,” Carlton says.
- More exercise. Exercise by itself will not eliminate these behavioral or emotional disorders, but it can help. Studies have shown that exercise helps kids combat behavioral disorders such as depression. The releasing of endorphins during physical activity improves mood and behavior. Additionally, children playing team sports or games can build confidence, and develop a sense of team and working with others.
But a child with ADHD or other disorders needs more than regular exercise to get healthier.
“If you want to burn this level of hyperactivity out on a regular basis, you’d have to work out until you’re so exhausted you can barely pick yourself off the floor,” Carlton says. “If it’s a case that’s bad enough where you can justify intervention with drugs, then exercise alone is simply not enough to alleviate the symptoms. It gets back to the brain itself not working properly.”
- Neurofeedback Training. This is a non-invasive approach that Dr. Carlton views as “fitness training for the brain.” It uses “operant conditioning,” a term that refers to the brain’s natural ability to learn from experience, which in turn can help it heal.
The process begins with a brain map, which locates the specific areas that need help to function more efficiently. Once these areas are identified, neurofeedback training can improve their function. The technology uses computers to monitor brain-wave patterns while you relax and watch a movie or video. The visual and audio inputs are varied, providing feedback based on the training goals from the brain map.
“The brain learns to function more efficiently with neurofeedback training,” he says. “It’s like learning to ride a bike. You learned how to keep it balanced with practice. Neurofeedback training can reduce, and in some cases, eliminate the symptoms of many brain-based disorders without the use of pharmaceuticals.”
Overall, Dr. Carlton stresses, there needs to be a mindset change on how kids with mental disorders are approached
“Training, not medications – that’s a key difference,” he said. “What are we teaching them by handing them drugs when they don’t feel well? You’re teaching them the answer to the problem is in that bottle.”
About Dr. Ed Carlton
Dr. Ed Carlton is founder of the Carlton Neurofeedback Center (www.carltonneurofeedbackcenter.com) and author of the book The Answer. “My first degree is engineering. Neurofeedback is a cross between medicine and engineering, using the best of both to provide relief for my patients. The Answer explains how neurofeedback stopped my bipolar symptoms, and how it can help others do the same.”