Published On: Tue, Sep 27th, 2016

ADHD and Brain Inflammation: Quench the Fire

A recent article in the Neuroscience Letters highlights a very troubling finding pertaining to methylphenidate, better known as Ritalin, Concerta, Daytrana, Methylin, or Aptensio. Long-term consequences of this drug are unknown but this animal study raises the serious questions about the safety of its use. Read on to learn more about what neurological hazards may result and, more importantly, nutritional options to cope with the brain inflammation linked with ADHD. 

[Jump to: Nutritional Options]

ADHD Medications Cause Neurological Inflammation

Ritalin, or methylphenidate, is the drug of choice for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is the go-to medicine to treat ADHD, often given and used without second thought. The April 2016 study in Neuroscience Letters investigated the effects of methylphenidate treatment in rats for 21 days. Researchers were trying to evaluate what the long-term consequences of the medication were on the brain.

Different doses were used for the five groups of animals treated and evaluated. At the end of the study, several measurements were taken. The hippocampus, memory center of the brain, cortisol, and oxidative stress markers, antioxidants, and inflammatory levels were analyzed. What they found was that the brains of these animals were quite stressed by the methylphenidate drug. No matter what dose was given, there were increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Social and motor behaviors were affected and noticeably decreased.

All doses of the medications caused high levels of lipid peroxidation, a breakdown in the cell membranes, literally punching holes in the protective membrane that surrounds cells. Mitochondria, the energy producing organelles inside cells, were stressed because major antioxidants for the mitochondria and nerve cells were depleted and high levels of inflammatory markers like TNF-a and IL-1beta were found. In the 21 days that the rats were treated with Ritalin, nerve cells changed in quality and shape within vital brain structures. The authors concluded that “chronic treatment with high doses of methylphenidate (Ritalin) can cause oxidative stress, neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration in the hippocampus of the adult rats.”

While this is an animal study which consisted of three weeks of high dose ADHD drug treatment, it hopefully raises serious questions about use of this drug in humans, especially children who are often on it for several years. Research has shown us that small doses of chemicals like secondhand smoke or Roundup/glyphosate can cause serious concerns even from small repetitive doses years later. What risk occurs with long-term Ritalin use? Although research has yet to evaluate long-term use of this drug in humans, including children, stimulating an already stressed and less resilient brain with Ritalin seems to be like playing Russian roulette with the neurodegeneration card.

Scientists and the medical field have known about this for the last few years. They have a treatment plan in place for stopping the oxidative stress of high dose Ritalin with another extremely powerful medication, Topamax. This anti-seizure medication, Topamax, works by inhibiting or deadening the nerves so they cannot excessively fire. It’s mechanism of action is not specifically known, but it is thought to affect GABA pathways in the brain. Managing GABA levels naturally is more user-friendly. This is one area to focus on with natural ADHD management and medical treatment.

Environmental Factors Leading to ADHD

Last week’s article, Feed the Brain: Fundamentals for ADHD focused on nutrients often deficient in those with ADHD. This is the basic place to start with ADHD. Nutritional deficiencies are just one environmental factor that relate to a breakdown of focus, brain energy, memory, behavior. ADHD is actually a complex disorder influenced by several environmental challenges. High levels of inflammation or oxidative stress, challenged mitochondria function, insufficient glutathione, heavy metal toxicity, trauma, environmental toxins, methylation defects, and major digestive tract and gut flora challenges are known causes of ADHD. Genes do play a role, but what is happening with these environmental factors can essentially turn the gene risk on or off.

Two Key Factors

There are two especially hot topics of research in ADHD and environmental factors or non-genetic research. One major focus is on the relationship between the gut flora and the brain. Another major focus pertains to the level of inflammation within the brain and how it affects brain mitochondria and antioxidant status. These concerns can influence each other. This information is absolutely critical for anyone trying to get the brain healthy in the face of ADHD.

Gut Flora Protects Against Brain Inflammation

The gut flora not only regulates intestinal function and gut health, but the gut flora talks to the brain and vice versa. This pathway is called the microbiota-gut-brain (MGB) axis. Researchers believe that a critical breakdown in this MGB axis especially in prenatal, infancy, and early childhood contributes to several disorders like ADHD and brain inflammation. Researchers were just starting to understand that gut flora influences brain development five years ago, but now we are now seeing the extent of this dual relationship.

Research published this month describes how lack of healthy gut flora contributes to poor brain repair. Scientists are finding disruptions in the gut flora brain axis alters key receptor sites in the brain for the chemical messenger NMDA which provides excitatory activity. BDNF function is altered and the neurotransmitter GABA is interrupted. This essentially means that the NMDA (excitatory), BNDF (repair compound), and GABA (inhibitory) are not functioning normally.

This creates a snowball effect on other compounds, leading to higher levels of oxidative stress while simultaneously affecting modulatory systems (quinolinic acid-kynurenine pathway) within the brain that manage glutamate (excitatory neurotransmitter). The end result is increasing levels of oxidative stress in the nerve tissue and to the delicate mitochondria that produce energy. All of the oxidative stress induced must be quenched by antioxidants.

Antioxidant depletion and mitochondrial damage occurs, which is the other hot topic of focus in ADHD. Protecting mitochondria, restoring antioxidants, reducing inflammation, and focusing on the gut microbiome need to be at the heart of protecting brain and quenching the burning fire of ADHD in children and adults. Children at risk and individuals in family planning stages must be aware that probiotics in birth and development help protect the brain from increased risks of ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Probiotics in Infancy

One recent study provided some astonishing outcomes regarding ADHD and Asperger syndrome comparing children treated with probiotics in early life and those who weren’t. The study, published in the Pediatric Research June 2015 issue, followed 75 infants from early infancy to age 13. One group of infants received Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG during the first six months of life. The other group received a placebo.

The gut flora was analyzed at three weeks of age, 3, 6, 12, 18, 24 months, and 13 years of age. At the end of the study, 17.1 percent of the children treated with the placebo were diagnosed with ADHD or Asperger syndrome. The children who were given the beneficial flora or probiotics in the study had zero diagnoses of either disorder. The authors’ concluded, “probiotic supplementation early in life may reduce the risk of neuropsychiatric disorder development later in childhood by mechanisms not limited to gut microbiota composition.”

Infants born via C-section versus natural vaginal birth appear to have a higher risk of ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. During the natural birth process, the child is exposed and inoculated with the mother’s vaginal and gut flora. When the child is born via Cesarean section, this natural inoculation fails to occur; this makes the first breastmilk colostrum even more crucial for immune system programming and gut bacteria. Researchers suggest that may affect only a small number of children with ADHD, but the reality is this has a huge impact for the life of the child if they are under-supported during this critical time in life. Probiotic support and breastfeeding may help restore the microbiome deficit incurred by the C-section.

While there are other numerous factors to be evaluated, just think of how many billions of dollars could be saved within the medical and education systems if all children were given probiotics in infancy rather than antibiotics. Scientists at the forefront of this information are calling this response to probiotics with numerous mental health and psychoneuroimmune disorders – “psychobiotics”. Psychobiotics is sure to become hot topic in the future.

Quenching the Fire, Feeding the Brain

In addition to the several nutrients found deficient in ADHD (zinc, iron, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin D, iodine and omega-3 fish oils), there are other nutrients to focus on for the brain inflammation and the gut-brain axis. Probiotics are at the forefront for the gut-brain axis health as is soluble fiber like arabinogalactan. Researchers have found that when fiber is lacking in the diet, the gut bacteria become stressed which negatively impact the gut-brain axis.

Arabinogalactan fiber is a special type of fiber that helps the production of short-chain fatty acids like butyrate. Butyrate is most noted for its role in colon health and cancer prevention, but research demonstrates that butyrate helps reduce depression and improve cognitive skills in the brain. The arabinogalactan helps the body produce the butyrate for the brain which helps reduce inflammation. Indeed, studies evaluating stress in early and later life that led to neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders, found that butyrate helped protect and preserve the hippocampus in the brain and BDNF. Arabinogalactan fiber mixes clear in water or juice. There is no taste to it and may be consumed by all ages.

Bacopa monnieri has been shown to be an effective antioxidant in alleviating symptoms of ADHD in children and adults. Researchers showed that 250 mg per day of bacopa for six months reduced restlessness in 93 percent of children, improved self-control in 89 percent of children, and reduce ADHD symptoms in 85 percent of children. Bacopa monnieri is a traditional Ayurvedic herb used for centuries to help support memory and boost cognitive performance.

L-theanine is a natural amino acid known for its ability to help with stress management, anxiety, and sleep. Researchers demonstrated that 400 mg daily of L-theanine is safe and effective in supporting sleep in children diagnosed with ADHD. Sleep problems are a common problem that co-exist with ADHD. Children in this study were from 8-12 years of age. In addition, to L-theanine, we often use magnesium glycinate and calcium with taurine to naturally assist with sleep, stress management, outbursts, and helping with behavioral stability even in very young children.

Numerous nutrients help quench free radicals and protect mitochondria. Many of these also support mood, focus, and memory. These include blueberries and natural berry compounds in standardized extracts like fisetin, omega-3 oils DHA, B vitamins especially pantethine, acetyl-l-carnitine, R-alpha lipoic acid, PQQ, and coenzyme Q10. Cordyceps has been shown to help protect the brain from inflammation induced by excess glutamate and free radicals. Scientists suggest that cordyceps is a promising therapeutic agent for the prevention and treatment of neurological disorders associated with inflammation. Use nutrients to help support GABA production in order to buffer excess glutamate and the effects of neurotoxic stimulants, drugs or otherwise. Magnesium, taurine, l-theanine, and DHA help this aspect. 

The take away point is that ADHD is multi-faceted. Infancy exposure to healthy flora sets the stage for many things, but without it, brain-gut communication becomes troubled. Support the normal flora with soluble fiber like arabinogalactan for that protective brain-gut butyrate compound as fiber is terribly lacking in most diets today. Use enough antioxidants to quench the fire and protect the mitochondria, while ensuring quality sleep. Improvements in behavior and focus take time. Feed your brain and quench the fire to manage ADHD.

Nutritional Options

Fisetin – Fisetin is a natural flavonoid that offers high levels of nerve and brain protection. It is a powerful antioxidant that protects mitochondria and helps boost other core antioxidants like glutathione. We offer a standardized extract, Cognisetin, which has been awarded a patent for enhancing memory.

BacopaBacopa monniera is an herb used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic/Indian medicine. Research demonstrates its ability to help children with stress management, restlessness, and focus. It provides a natural calming effect while boosting focus, memory, and cognitive performance.

L-Theanine – This amino acid is derived from green tea. L-theanine is often used to help relieve stress and support relaxation without drowsiness. It has been shown to counteract the effects of stress hormones and excessive excitatory neurotransmitters. It is well known for its ability to promote deeper sleep.

DHA – This essential omega-3 oil plays many diverse roles in the body and brain. Nerve cells rely on this for structure, inflammation reduction, and neurotransmitter function. The brain depends on DHA to function. Today’s American Diet fails to provide this essential omega-3 oil in the amounts that our ancestors consumed.

Arabinogalactan Fiber – Arabinogalactan is a beneficial soluble fiber that helps feed gut bacteria. It helps promote beneficial short-chain fatty acids, like butyrate, which are known to help protect the colon, but also recently found to protect and support the gut-brain communication system. Butyrate has been found to help protect the brain, support mood, nerve repair, and memory.

Lactobacillus – Lactobacillus is a beneficial strain of bacteria required for gut, immune, and brain health. Antibiotics, stress, processed foods, Roundup/glyphosate exposure, C-section birth, lack of breastfeeding, and other factors disrupt the beneficial flora in the gut. Wellness Resources offers a probiotic combination that is hardy enough to resist breakdown by stomach acid allowing it to get into the colon.

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