Nutritional Deficit Disorder
An increasing number of kids are diagnosed with learning and behavior disorders. But rather than labeling these kids with ADHD, or the list of other “D” disorders, I focus on the impacts of nutrition and lifestyle choices, referring instead to it as a nutritional deficit disorder (NDD). Each year, the FDA is approving a record number of new drugs, many of which are for cancer treatment, rare diseases and hematology. Prescription drugs, however, are not limited to those medical uses. Children are increasingly being prescribed antipsychotic and antidepressants as young as 2 years old!
In 2014, 20,000 antipsychotic prescriptions were written for children 2 and younger, which is a 50% increase from 2013, and there were 83,000 prescriptions written for the antidepressant Prozac. Additionally, at least 10,000 children in that same age group were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on the how we feed our kids, rather than focusing on what pills we can give our kids? Since nutritional deficit disorder has the same behavior and learning implications of ADHD, I work with parents on understanding how they can naturally help their children before resorting to prescription pills.
The Pills and Skills Model of Health
My treatment for nutritional deficit disorder does not focus on what “magic pill” I can prescribe to help with the increasing number of learning, behavior and health issues that are ailing our kids (and adults alike). Instead I focus on what I call the pills and skills model to health – it’s not about what someone can take, rather what someone can do. Lifestyle and nutrition choices have a major impact on brain development and a child’s ability to perform in school.
– Dr. Sears, “The NDD Book: How Nutrition Deficit Disorder Affects Your Child’s Learning, Behavior, and Health, and What You Can Do About It – Without Drugs”
Pills can cause a problem that I dub “the hole.” Here’s how kids get into the hole. A child is prescribed a perk-up pill, such as an antidepressant. “I think he’s better,” parents report. So the doctor leaves the child on the pill. After a few months on the pill, the brain habituates to, or gets used to, the pill, and the effect wears off. Or the brain gets used to the pill producing an antidepressant effect, so the brain decreases its own production of happy hormones, a drug effect called down regulation. The wise doctor tries to take the patient off the pill. The child gets worse. Here’s the hole. Does the child get worse off the pill because he needs the pill, or is the getting worse really a withdrawal effect from the pill? There is often no way to tell.
The doctor is in the hole, and so are the parents and the child. So the child goes back on the pill – and stays on it for years – or the dose is increased, or more pills are added to counteract the unpleasant side effects of the first pill. The only way for everyone to get out of the hole is to do what is called a washout, which means taking the child off all pills for at least six weeks to see which symptoms are caused by the problem and which are caused by the pills. During a washout, the child may experience unpleasant withdrawal effects, such as anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and mood swings. It hurts to get out of the hole, but a washout is often the only way to tell whether or not a child still needs the medicines. It’s best not to get into the hole in the first place!
Does your child have nutritional deficit disorder (NDD)?
The term nutritional deficit disorder (NDD) is something I use in my practice when parents express behavioral and learning issues with their children. Here are the main signs I look for when diagnosing a child with NDD:
- frequent mood swings
- unrelenting temper tantrums
- restless sleep
- poor attention span
- impulsive outbursts
- labeled with a “D”: ADD, ADHD, BPD, OCD, etc.
- behavior problems at school, home, and day care
- learning difficulties
- frequent infections
- dry, flaky, bumpy skin
- intestinal problems: refulx, abdominal discomforts, constipation, diarrhea
- vision problems
- frequent allergies
- dry, brittle hair
- brittle, thin nails
- very pale skin, especially on the earlobes
The First Step: Understanding
In understanding NDD, it’s important to analyze lifestyle and nutrition choices first. I noticed early in my practice working with families that kids who were raised with real food rather than junk food suffered less from the “D’s.” While there are many studies that support the axiom “you are what you eat,” those are found in journals like the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which don’t get read and appreciated by parents (or even by many doctors!).
Optimal growth and development occur when a growing body is in biochemical balance. In fact, a good definition of health itself could be “the state in which biochemical balance exists in the body,” a concept that has been appreciated in Eastern medicine for centuries. One reason we have so many “D’s” in our schools is that we have so many little bodies that are out of biochemical balance. This is not a result of the lack of care from parents, rather it’s that many parents just don’t know the facts. They are not convinced that fake food harms and real food helps growing brains and bodies.
Once you nourish your body with whole, fresh, natural, real foods and you start implementing this pure way of eating with your family, you’ll notice many positive side effects. For your kids, you can expect that their learning and behavior will change for the better. Why not try that before turning to prescription drugs?
- The NDD Book: How Nutrition Deficit Disorder Affects Your Child’s Learning, Behavior, and Health, and What You Can Do About It – Without Drugs, William Sears, MD