This week, on A Different Perspective, Dr. Mitch Sutton fills in for Dr. Flynn and covers ADHD and what causes it, coming from The Wellness Way perspective. He also goes into what kind of testing we can do and some solutions for improving symptoms – even to the point that ADHD is no longer an issue. It’s all about removing the triggers so that the body can heal itself.
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Dr. Mitch begins by introducing the topic of ADD/ADHD, specifically in dealing with kids. ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is an outdated term. Now, doctors are categorizing these symptoms into ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).
The main question is, “What do we do about it?”
- Where does it come from?
- How do we approach it?
- What are the different sides? (Fireman vs. Carpenter)
In this ADP episode, we’re going to go step-by-step over where ADHD comes from and how to test the body appropriately, so we understand the physiology behind it.
What is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder?
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According to the Mayo Clinic, ADHD is a chronic condition that includes a combination of symptoms, including difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. It can affect anyone:
The symptoms begin in childhood and may continue into adulthood. Some people have fewer symptoms as they age, and they can range from mild to severe.
- Disorganization and problems prioritizing
- Poor time management skills
- Problems focusing on a task
- Trouble multitasking
- Excessive activity or restlessness
- Poor planning
- Low frustration tolerance
- Frequent mood swings
- Problems following through and completing tasks
- Hot temper
- Trouble coping with stress
When you look at these symptoms, you have to wonder, what is it really? Your body is designed for “normal.” So, what’s creating some of these activities?
When you go through the Mayo Clinic and you see diagnosing criteria and treatment options, this is where people get stuck. Parents hear about all the medications they could put their kids on for ADHD, and they don’t want to do that.
Now, it’s easy to look up the side effects of these medications online. Parents do some research and then question what is being done to help their kids get better.
So, going back to diagnosis, the list above is just a list of symptoms. There is no marker that tells you, “This is what you have.” If we’re talking about diabetes, there’s a test for hemoglobin A1C. If it reaches a certain point, you have diabetes.
With ADHD, there’s no hard test that tells you for sure what’s going on. The doctor will just rule out other causes of symptoms, gather information, and go through some questionnaires.
Doctors will just fit you into a category because they don’t know exactly what’s going on. When you look at the Fireman-Carpenter Principle, they are testing for a fire – an emergency. Their treatment options will reflect that.
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The standard of treatment for ADHD is medication. We’ve all been trained to go to the doctor and get medication for whatever issue we’re dealing with. We’re not trained to ask how we’re going to get off the medication or what we should do to rebuild and repair the body. We’re not trained to ask about a plan going forward.
When you look at these medications, you’ll notice a lot of them are stimulants. Now, your body deals in “black and white”:
- Things are either good for the body or bad for the body
- For the brain and nervous system, there are excitatory and things that are inhibitory
- For the hormonal system, hormones send signals, which either build up tissue or break down tissue
- With the immune system, there are inflammatory and anti-inflammatory
Everything in the body is either normal or abnormal. There’s no in-between.
When we talk about a stimulant, it gives the brain so much response that it has no choice but to shut down. A seizure is a good example of this. So much excitement, so many signals are being sent to the brain that it has no choice but to shut down. That’s what these stimulant medications do.
Long-term use of these and other medications can be devastating to the body. They can destroy adrenal activity, normal neurotransmitter connections, hormone production, and your normal physiology in general. Did the Mayo Clinic overview ever mention testing these things? No.
There’s an imbalance that’s creating inflammation and sending out a signal, and the body has no choice but to respond. The fireman wants to stop the signal, but why don’t we just figure out what’s creating it?
It’s Getting Worse
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Statistically speaking, things are getting worse. Dr. Mitch shows a chart of the increase in diagnoses from 1997 through 2016.
It’s not just that there’s more awareness. We’re not just getting better at identifying or diagnosing it. We’re talking percentages. It is getting worse in each age range over time.
Looking at it from A Different Perspective, we look at whether the overall quality of health has gone down over this same time. What has changed about the nutrition, lifestyle, environment, medications, chemicals, and physical stress we’re exposed to? Has it gone up as we’ve gotten older? Yes.
All of this impacts our ability to stay balanced when it comes to neurotransmitter activity.
What are Neurotransmitters?
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Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers – brain hormones. According to an article published in StatPearls in the National Library of Medicine,
Neurotransmitters are endogenous chemicals that allow neurons to communicate with each other throughout the body. They enable the brain to provide a variety of functions, through the process of chemical synaptic transmission.
Guess what? You can test neurotransmitters. You can see where they are. Now, technically, you can’t see what’s going on in the central nervous system, but you can see what’s going on in the periphery. You can also find out how well your body is eliminating some of the byproducts, and that’s how you can tell how well your body is functioning.
Some of these neurotransmitters include:
- GABA – Inhibitory
- Glycine – Inhibitory
- Dopamine – Essential for normal brain function
- Epinephrine – Adrenal hormone
- Norepinephrine – Adrenal hormone
- Serotonin – Boosts your mood
- Glutamate – Very Excitatory
You can test all of these and see how your body is functioning. Then it’s all about learning what’s creating the stimulus or what’s not creating it.
What’s Behind Chronic Diseases?
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When you talk about chronic disease, there are only two issues creating it and throwing us out of balance – out of homeostasis: 1) What is that inflammatory trigger, and 2) Do we just have a deficiency?
#1 What is that inflammatory trigger?
Is your body being constantly stimulated? Is it constantly being beaten up? How much of that damage is physically creating disruption and dysfunction inside that tissue?
#2 Do we just have a deficiency?
On the other side of the spectrum: Do we just have a deficiency? Is your body not able to perform a normal function because we don’t have the resources for it to go that way?
Which uses more gas, a car going 100 miles an hour or a car going 50 miles an hour? A car going 100 miles an hour is going to use more gas because you’re pushing it more. You’re using more energy to go faster.
Your body is the same way: If your body is inflamed or under stress, and you’re pushing it more, you need to give it the “fuel” or resources it needs to function normally. You need to make sure it doesn’t run out of gas.
It’s the same thing that happens when you’re dealing with inflammation. The inflammation causes an increased physiological response, where you’re using up resources. If we don’t replenish the resources, we end up in a lot more trouble.
Where on that spectrum do we fall? Where in that line of chronic inflammation or disease do we fall? Disease is not a problem of age; it’s how long that inflammation has been there and what’s triggering it.
Why Not Test?
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Why don’t we just test, to see where some of these issues come from? Before we start labeling kids and putting them in special groups at school, why not just test to see what’s behind these behaviors? Then we can know how to appropriately address them.
Stimulants can lead the body to be too excitatory, creating a lot of neurotoxicity. Too much stimulation to the brain can lead to neuron (brain cell) death. So, too much stimulation creates brain inflammation and damage and ultimately, brain aging. That’s where we get a lot of these neurodegenerative issues from.
So, a neurotransmitter test is a urine test. This is how you test whether the body is eliminating these things properly. There are two categories we test for: 1) Inhibitory Neurotransmitters and 2) Excitatory Neurotransmitters.
You can see these and their levels on your test results:
Then there are the excitatory neurotransmitters.
So, when you test and you see these results, you understand that there needs to be a balance. But when you look at the lab, that may not be the place. An ADHD patient may have low inhibitory neurotransmitters and high levels of excitatory neurotransmitters. That’s the case for this patient.
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Dr. Mitch talks a little more about this neurotransmitter lab result of a little boy he’s working with who has ADHD. In his case, the body is super deficient. He’s not creating the normal building blocks, so he’s not giving his body what it needs for normal function.
If we don’t have the building blocks, we can’t produce the resources needed. Without adequate resources, you’re going to be deficient in some of these chemical messengers. That’s where you’re going to get imbalances.
Those imbalances lead to symptoms that get diagnosed as ADHD: mood swings, trouble focusing, inattention, mind wandering, etc. But we have to look at what is the actual problem behind the symptoms, rather than just throwing things and seeing what sticks to the wall. That’s where testing comes in!
The current medical system just gives out stimulants or antidepressants, or other brain-altering medications that shut down that system. Then parents see their child change. It takes away who they are because you’re chemically inducing the way their brain is supposed to function.
So, what do we do?
Dr. Mitch then brings up a test of another child who is a patient of his. In this case, inhibitory neurotransmitters were too high… which can also be stimulatory, if they are super high. His serotonin levels were at 712, while a normal range is between 137 and 215.
The child had been put on an SSRI (Selective Serotonin-Reuptake Inhibitor), which was dumping more serotonin into the system… making the child worse. So, Dr. Mitch advised the parents to take the results to their M.D. and show them that this medication was making the child worse.
It goes back to looking at those stimulants and finding out what’s irritating the body. If neurotransmitters are super high, is there something that’s creating that response? One hundred percent, there is. We just have to find out what they are, and it’s different for each person. It could be food, infections, heavy metal, toxicities, or even the stress response.
All these things can be stimulatory to the body.
An Elimination Problem
Is the body eliminating things appropriately? So, is it an inflammatory response that’s creating a signal? OR, is it just that there’s so much to eliminate and the “funnel” is plugged? Then these signals recirculate in the system.
That can go back to some of these genetic anomalies like MTHFR, which affects methylation and getting rid of things. If you have chronic inflammation and chronic stress, you especially need to support that system to get that stuff out of the body appropriately.
But all genetic abnormalities or mutations are a moot point if you get rid of the inflammation.
Now, there’s always going to be stress, but how well does your body respond to it?
It’s not a (physical) brain issue we’re dealing with. It’s a signal imbalance. We have to look at how well the liver is clearing and the other detoxification pathways. We also have to look at the physical triggers and what’s causing these issues in the first place.
All we’re asking is to test.
What Can Create Some of These Issues?
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Where do a lot of these neurotransmitters come from, and what creates some of these inflammatory responses? Dr. Mitch brings up a study on the Gut-Brain Connection when it comes to the gut.
The microbiome-gut-brain axis paradigm explains that alterations in the central nervous system and behavior may be secondary to functional changes in the gut in general and more specifically the enteric nervous system.
This is saying that there’s a signal that’s being sent, so there’s some sort of trigger. There’s some sort of inflammation or something going on in the gut. That’s sending a signal to the brain and creating dysfunction. Testing tells you where to start. Then you just work your way back from abnormal physiology to normal physiology.
Where Do Neurotransmitters Come From?
What are the building blocks? What are they made from? According to Neuroscience, 2nd edition,
Many peptides known to be hormones also act as neurotransmitters, and often these are co-released with small-molecule neurotransmitters. The biological activity of the peptide neurotransmitters depends on their amino acid sequence.
What are amino acids? Proteins. What are peptides? Proteins. These are the building blocks for the body; it’s how the body “builds stuff.” How do you break down proteins? How does your body break down foods to get the nutrients we need in the first place?
Two things break down or denature proteins:
- An acidic environment (stomach acidity)
That’s why you throw a piece of meat on the grill and cook it. It won’t go back to the raw state because you’ve denatured a protein. An acidic environment also breaks that down.
But what happens if your stomach isn’t as acidic?
How Stomach Acid Influences Protein Breakdown
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Dr. Mitch then does in-depth training on how the stomach ultimately determines your neurotransmitter levels due to its role in denaturing breaking down protein into its building blocks of peptides and amino acids.
The Gut-Brain Connection
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What you eat impacts your neurotransmitters. Dr. Mitch brings up a study on how binging on sugar releases dopamine.
Sugar and Dopamine
Dopamine is a super excitatory neurotransmitter. Too much sugar, whether it’s glucose, fructose, or sucrose, it’s very addicting to the body. Dopamine is your pleasure- or feel-good neurotransmitter. It makes you want more. It creates more stimulation in your body.
Ever notice how kids go crazy when they’ve had a lot of sugar? Yeah, that’s how it affects the body. Then there are added colors, chemicals, flavors, etc.
Glutamate is one of the most excitatory neurotransmitters in your body. We put it in food in the form of monosodium glutamate (MSG). Why do companies put MSG in food? Because companies know it’s going to light up your brain and tell you that you like it. It may taste terrible, but if your brain is sending a chemical messenger, it’s going to tell you that you want more of it. Then those excitatory neurotransmitters keep overstimulating your brain and destroying the brain cells over time.
ADHD From A Different Perspective: Rebuild The Body
At The Wellness Way, we look at ADHD from A Different Perspective – as carpenters. So, what are some of the ways we can rebuild the body?
These are all wonderful herbs – they are a food source of compounds that your body needs. Don’t use an herb or supplement like a fireman and just use it to treat symptoms. You have to look at what is causing the issue.
- Calms down the brain
- Modulates how histamine moves through the body.
- Calms down the system
- Rebuilds the mucosal lining of the gut – a normal protective barrier
So, what do we do? You have to get these things tested. Make sure to test your body and find out how those neurotransmitters are functioning. Ask: What’s creating the problems? Is there a deficiency? Is it an elimination problem? How is the body falling outside of balance, and what are you doing to move it back into balance?
Ask these questions. If your doctor doesn’t have the answers or isn’t willing to find out, it’s time to find someone who will work with you to get to the bottom of ADHD. It’s time for A Different Perspective.