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Debate Club: ADHD – To Medicate or Caffeinate?


Prescribed ADHD Medications Help Children

by Cheryl Maguire

At first I was skeptical. Could prescribed medication really help children diagnosed with ADHD? I became convinced after several years of working as a counselor. I witnessed children dramatically improve their ability to function well both in school and social situations after taking medication.

The case of John* is an excellent illustrative example. He wanted to discontinue using Adderall at the start of 5th grade. He had been taking Adderall for three years and thought it was no longer necessary. Often when kids are doing well they think they don’t need medication anymore. In these instances, it can be helpful to take a medication holiday – stop the medication for an agreed upon time frame to see if it’s still necessary.

The first month without Adderall John thought he was doing fine, but his mid-term progress report said otherwise. He was earning a D in math and Cs in the other subjects. His parents wanted him to go back on the medication to see if there was an improvement.

After taking Adderall for a week, John’s mother checked in with his teachers who reported a dramatic improvement in both the quality of his schoolwork and his ability to focus/pay attention during class. They said he was a totally different kid. He stopped fidgeting and was able to focus for extended periods of time. And his responses to questions were thoughtful and correct.

John continued to take the medication for the reminder of the school year and received an A in math class. He got As and Bs in his other classes, which resulted in making the honor roll. He proudly displayed his certificate in his room.

I worked with many children who experienced similar positive effects from taking medication to help their ADHD.

Improved grades in school

Most schools require sitting still and paying attention for about six hours, which is particularly challenging for kids with ADHD. The National Resource Center on ADHD states that prescribed medication can help attention span, impulsivity, and focus, especially in structured environments. All of these improved behaviors can lead to better grades in school.

A study conducted at the National Institute of Mental Health found students who took medication for ADHD did better in math and reading compared to students with ADHD who did not take medication.

Improved social skills

Children with ADHD often have difficulty making friends because they may not pay attention to social cues. Their impulsive behaviors can also be annoying or hurtful to their peers. Sometimes their impulsivity can lead to aggression.

NIMH sponsored study – the Multimodal Treatment of ADHD (MTA) found children who took medication showed more improved social skills and peer relations than children in the in the non-medicated comparison group after 14 months.

Research studies have also examined how ADHD medication can be beneficial in sports settings. A study done at the University of Kentucky found children who took medication for ADHD performed better during baseball games.

One child I worked with thought other kids were making fun of him. When I investigated this situation I found the children actually wanted to be friends with him. He was misreading the other children’s social cues which caused him to feel both angry and left out. After helping this child develop social skills he was able to form friendships.

When children take medication it can help them to both focus on social cues and decrease the impulsivity which could result in better social interaction and an easier time developing friendships.

Improved self-esteem

Children with ADHD frequently have poor self-esteem due to the difficulties they experience in school and social situations. By taking medication a child can improve both their social skills and school performance, which could, in turn, improve their self-esteem. 

Medication isn’t magic

Medication isn’t a magic pill. I like the analogy that medication is similar to using a shovel. A person can dig a hole with their hands, but if they use a shovel it will be easier. The shovel is not going to magically dig the hole, the person still needs to physically use the shovel to dig it. Medication can be a tool that helps make it easier for children with ADHD to focus and be less impulsive, but the student still has to complete their schoolwork.

Medication can have side effects and is not helpful for everyone. There are other ways to treat ADHD such as counseling, behavioral management, and alternative treatments such as acupuncture. Often a combination of counseling and medication can be most effective. Ultimately the child and parents have to make an informed decision about which method will work best for them.

*name has been changed for privacy

Caffeinated Kids Have Reduced ADHD Symptoms With Fewer Toxic Side Effects

by Kristen Polito

It’s recently been reported that diet quality and mood are positively correlated. Moreover, one’s emotional compass, mental health, and cognition are actively conducted by what we choose to eat and drink.

Caffeine is one such consumable with a direct connection to the brain – specifically to mental clarity, alertness, and (usually) energy. Caffeine molecules bind to the adenosine receptors in brain cells and block adenosine from making us feel sleepy. Adrenaline is released instead, pumping us up. When this happens, the dopamine in our brain works more efficiently, helping us to feel good.    

According to a 2005 study of rats with hyperactivity, impulsivity, poor attention, and deficits in learning and memory, a significant improvement was reported in test results when caffeine was administered to the rats beforehand.

Accordingly, moderate caffeine intake (< six cups/day) has been associated with fewer depressive symptoms, fewer cognitive failures, and lower risk of suicide.

Benefits include increased alertness, attention, and cognitive function and elevated mood.

However, caffeine consumption is somewhat controversial because of the so-called increased risk of hypertension with regular consumption.

For many people, too much caffeine can have a negative emotional effect: it can contribute to feeling anxious, jittery or irritable. Depending of your caffeine threshold, it can even cause tremors, irritability, impulsivity, and insomnia.   

However, new research says a moderate amount of caffeine can do the opposite for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Instead of making them more active and stimulated, it actually has a “calm-down” effect, and encourages sleep.

Some adults with ADHD have found that drinking coffee could help them feel more focused, calm, and stay on task. They are now using a cup of coffee as mild treatment for their negative symptoms  such as hyperactivity, restlessness, and flight of ideas. 

Because sensitivity to caffeine varies among people based on a number of things, dosing has to be adjusted on an as-needed basis. ADHD, like any other spectrum disorder, has varying degrees of intensity, so there is not “one size fits all” treatment plan for every patient. 

Interestingly, the body processes caffeine differently based on gender, and women naturally metabolize it more quickly. Because of this, males would require doses more frequently than females. Anecdotal evidence advocates for individuals who suffer from ADHD to take it upon themselves and self-medicate even their children. While it may seem controversial for mom to hand her seven-year-old an iced java, it’s not so far fetched. 

The effectiveness of coffee in calming ADHD children has become a popular discussion topic on various web sites and forums. Again, it’s a lot of anecdotal evidence, and less comprehensive medical research, but my opinion is that Big Pharma likes to keep it that way. 

My stance isn’t for leaving ADHD diagnoses unmedicated or untreated.  I am pro-treatment management and I support looking for alternative drugs such as medical marijuana and coffee.  

For parents who say they don’t want to administer drugs or chemicals to their child for their ADHD symptoms, a cup of coffee brewed from organically grown coffee beans might be the more attractive alternative. Here’s why:

Ubiquity

Caffeine has been the world’s “drug of choice” since the dawn of time. Chocolate, tea, coffee, Red Bull, soda, protein bars, fancy waters – caffeine is everywhere and in everything!

Affordability

Caffeine, in the form of homemade coffee, is (relatively) cheap!  I buy the bottom-shelf brand and the cost amounts to about 25 cents per cup, so 1/4 cup is a little over six cents, 30 days a month is less than $2. If the child needs it twice a day, then double the cost to $4. If the family has food stamps, coffee is covered by the food stamp card allowance.    

As far as insurance goes, that’s not really an option for everyone. I’m 100 percent uninsured.  Everything is out-of-pocket. Many families have fallen through the cracks in our healthcare system. With a cup of joe, there are no insurance claims forms to fill out, no drug-discount cards to search for at the bottom of your bag – just what fits into the family’s monthly grocery budget.  

Coffee is a mild alternative

ADHD medications are heavy stimulants, often with potential side effects such as reduced appetite, weight loss, and dependency. Caffeine is actually a milder alternative. Children with ADHD are usually given drugs like Ritalin and Strattera that increase dopamine levels in the body. Higher levels tend to calm and help overactive minds focus.

Coffee can also increase dopamine without the risks associated with prescriptions. The only side effect coffee has may be a headache from withdrawal. If you decide to go the coffee route, you should also avoid sweetening coffee with sugar because real sugar aggravates the symptoms of ADHD. A fantastic alternative is stevia as it is natural, yet not metabolized by the body, therefore it will not spike blood sugar levels.

Organic option

When considering our rising healthcare costs, its ubiquity, affordability, and ease of use are what make caffeine an intriguing option for an adult or child with ADHD. All of those factors make this consideration difficult to pass up.

Always exercise caution and learn as much as you can. This, while working concurrently with your healthcare provider, and gaining both insight and knowledge into your child’s ADHD, will serve your family well.

Please note that this post and the information herein is based on personal experience and anecdotal in nature. It is not intended to substitute for medical or mental health advice.

I am not a licensed therapist, psychologist, registered dietitian, nutritionist, or medical doctor. The views I express are mine alone, based on my own experiences, and should not be taken as medical or mental health advice. Please speak with a medical or mental health professional before making any changes to your diet, exercise, or daily routine.

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Just because new moms aren't hitting the gym doesn't mean they aren't doing one of the most demanding workouts of all: It takes about 20 calories to produce one ounce of milk. So, with babies who down ounces upon ounces each day, that means breastfeeding mothers can easily burn hundreds of calories almost literally in their sleep.

All that hard work can result in quite an appetite, which can have new moms reaching for whatever is most convenient. But convenience doesn't have to come at the cost of good nutrition, taste and lactation-boosting powers—as proven by the delicious Booby Boons Lactation Cookies from Stork and Dove.

"Nourishing your body is just as important now as it was when you were pregnant. Not only are you recovering from pregnancy and birth, you are making milk to sustain your baby—and all the thousands of other things you do for them every single day," says Diana Spalding, Motherly's Birth Expert, midwife and pediatric nurse. "You are working so hard, mama. You deserve to fuel your body with the best—and it doesn't hurt when the best also happens to be delicious."

Here's why these little cookies are such lactation powerhouses:

Oats

The natural goodness of oats does so much more than make for tasty cookies. Considered to be a top galactagogue—or a substance that helps boost milk supply—oats are rich in iron, fiber and protein. Because low iron can reduce milk supply, mixing a scoop of oats into lactation cookies is a tasty way to give your body the boost it may need.

Nutritional yeast

For generations, nutritional yeast has been a remedy suggests to mamas looking to boost their milk supply. And for good reason: With protein, phytoestrogen and B12 found in fortified versions, nutritional yeast can provide nutrients to stimulate milk supply—while also offering a boost of energy.

Flax meal

Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed is good for the brain health of mothers and babies. Not to mention that with a nice nutty taste and great protein profile, they make nice additions to lactation cookies by helping you stay full longer.

Chia seeds

When it comes to lactation cookies and promoting brain development, varied sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are so helpful—and chia seeds deliver there. Found in some of the Booby Boons Lactation Cookies, chia seeds also deliver protein, calcium and magnesium.

Probiotics

Few things can take a toll on milk supply like when you're under the weather. Booby Boons+ Lactation Cookies provide a probiotic boost, keeping your immune system up and digestive health in check for better production—and a healthier-feeling mama.

Bonus: A sense of relaxation and ease is clinically proven to aid in milk production.

Even better, the cookies are wheat-, soy- and preservative-free! So grab a cookie, take a moment for yourself and boost that supply. Grab your cookies HERE or at Target and other fine retailers.

This article was sponsored by Stork and Dove. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

[Editor's note: This story is a letter from a woman to her husband. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]

To my husband,

We met when I was 22. We started building a life together. We became each other's best friend, cheerleader, guidance counselor, and shelter from the storm. We laughed together, cried together, and stood up in front of all the people who matter to us and vowed to stay together until one of us dies.

We said the words without irony or hesitation, knowing that while we weren't perfect, the problems we could face in life would never be enough to break us.

And babe, I had no clue what our future held. But I knew I wanted to experience it only with you.

Then we got pregnant! And when our son was born, I marveled at the fact that we made a person. You and me. It honestly still blows my mind even five years later.

I'd heard women say things like, I fell in love with my husband all over again once I saw him as a daddy. I love watching you be a daddy, too—but just like becoming a mother has been transformative for me, becoming a father has been transformative for you, too. And it has taken us some time to get to know the new versions of ourselves.

We worked together—mostly on the same team—and have shared so many beautiful lessons and experiences together. Everything is new when you're a first-time parent! And this new dynamic of three definitely threw us for a loop—I wasn't used to sharing your attention with someone else, and I wasn't used to sharing my attention with someone other than you.

It took a few years to hit our stride. I think maybe we never had big things to disagree on before we became parents. It threw me off to be anything but harmonious with you. But just like we said we would on that gorgeous September wedding day, we found our way back. We stayed on each other's team.

And then I got pregnant again.

We were planning a huge life change already— moving across the country to start anew, restart your business and make a new future. I didn't have an easy pregnancy this time. And generally, for many reasons, life seemed harder than ever.

Our daughter was born and it didn't take long for postpartum depression to steal me away, for far longer than I should have allowed it to. I was scared to get the help I needed and I let it get the best of me. I'm truly sorry for that. I'm mostly sorry that I sometimes let it get the best of us.

It's easy to love a partner when it's just the two of you. Our priorities were never tested then—you were at the top of my to-do list, and I was at the top of yours. But—funny thing—this whole parenting thing seemed to make life a little more complex. And when your kids are little, and completely dependent upon you, there are many days when there just isn't much left over for anything or anyone else.

Babe, we're in it right now. Really in it. These are the parenting trenches. The baby years. These years can make or break us. And can I be so bold as to say: I think they're making us.

They're making us learn how to communicate better. How to find common ground when we disagree about real stuff, like the ways we want to raise our children. We're invested in not only the outcome but the short term effect. We're a team.

They're making us think about the future. Not just the fun stuff, but the difficult stuff like estate planning, life insurance, and college funds for the kids. They're making us challenge ourselves to provide our children with comfort and opportunities. We've always worked hard but the stakes have never been this high.

You know I'm the optimist, the dreamer, while you consider yourself the realist—but I think we can agree on this: going through some of the tough stuff with you by my side has shown me that we are stronger than the tough stuff. We can get through it. We can get through anything. As long as we hold on to each other.

Motherhood transformed me. Fatherhood transformed you. And having kids completely transformed our marriage. We'll never be who we were on our wedding day again.

Time marches forward—only forward. I miss the carefree version of "us", but I love this version even more. Because we know what we're made of now, and in so many ways we didn't before.

I'm sure that in our lifetime, many more obstacles will arise that will transform our marriage. But I've never been more confident that whatever may be, we'll find a way through it—together.

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Baking Christmas cookies together is a family tradition for many, but the Centers for Disease Control is warning parents that if your recipe contains raw flour or raw eggs, you really shouldn't sneak a bite before it is cooked, and neither should your kids.

The CDC is warning people not to eat raw cookie dough, cake mix or bread as we head into prime baking season.

The agency acknowledges the appeal of a spoonful of chocolate chip goodness but asks that we "steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick."

Salmonella from raw eggs is, of course, a concern, and so is the raw flour. According to the CDC, flour needs to be cooked in order to kill germs like E.Coli. That's why the CDC is asking parents to "say no to raw dough," not just for eating but even for playing with.

"Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too," the CDC posted on its website.

On the Food and Drug Administration's website, that agency advises that "even though there are websites devoted to 'flour crafts,' don't give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with." Health Canada also states that raw flour should not be used in children's play-dough.

The warnings follow a 2016 E.coli outbreak linked to contaminated raw flour. Dozens of people got sick that year, and a post-outbreak report notes that "state investigators identified three ill children who had been exposed to raw flour at restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and Texas. Restaurant staff had given them raw dough to play with while they waited for their food to be served."

The CDC worries that with flour's long shelf life, products recalled during the 2016 outbreak may still be in people's pantries (although the CDC notes that any raw flour—recalled or otherwise—should not be consumed).

If your kids do have flour-based play dough, don't worry.

Some parents are still choosing to use flour-based craft dough to make Christmas ornaments or other crafts this holiday season and are reducing the risks by A) making sure the kids aren't eating their art, and B) thoroughly washing little hands, work surfaces, and utensils when the dough play is over.

Other parents are choosing other types of craft clay over flour-based dough.


During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Two years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

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Twinkling lights are everywhere I look, and the magic of the holiday season is filling our house. The kids are growing more excited each day anticipating Santa's arrival and gifts are accumulating, ready to be wrapped in beautiful paper and bows.

Elf and The Grinch have been playing on repeat and the nativity scene has found a safe spot among our decorations. It's one of the busiest times of the year and it can be hard to catch your breath in the hustle and bustle of it all.

But then something stops you.

Maybe it's a pang in your heart or a memory of someone dearly missed. Maybe it's a familiar feeling of emptiness—of wanting this person to be a part of this magical, joy-filled time of year.

It's so easy to forget that many people are struck with sadness around the holidays and are longing for someone who's missing from their lives. We give and give to our families and friends and communities this time of year—food for dinners, and toys for less-fortunate children—but people don't always realize that another type of giving is needed.

The gift of comfort.

Because someone who is missing their mother, father, brother, sister, child, friend or spouse needs your connection and warmth. They need a reminder of their loved one is not forgotten, and maybe above all—just needs a hug.

Family traditions are wonderful and cherished, but they can also feel incomplete when someone is missing.

For me, I love the holidays, and watching my kids experience all the joys this season has to offer truly fills my heart. Yet, not a Christmas goes by that I don't think about what Kendrick (my first child lost at 2 months old) would have thought of this time of year.

Would he have loved hot cocoa like his sister and brothers? Would he have gotten into all the ornaments on the tree as a toddler? What toys would he have asked Santa for? What Christmas wishes would he have made for others?

I am left to wonder these things without answer. And even though I fully embrace this time of year and relish the holidays, I can't help but miss him.

I wanted to share my story as a reminder that even though your holiday cup may be filled with joy, someone you know may be wrestling with sadness. With all the merry and bright and cups of cheer, it's important to be mindful of this and to treat people with extra care. Reach out to someone you know who has lost someone, and let them know you're thinking of them. It won't go unnoticed.

Many of us have dealt with loss at some point in our lives, and we've learned to carry these special people in our hearts so that they are always with us. But missing someone never goes away. There are so many experiences in our lives we wish we could just snap our fingers and have them right by our sides—the holidays being one of those.

So as you check off your shopping lists, make your donations, trim your tree, or light your menorah—please don't forget to show care to those who may be hurting a little this holiday season.


They're certainly in a position where they could buy every item on their kids' Christmas lists, but Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher aren't planning on piling up the presents under the Christmas tree this year.

"So far, our tradition is no presents for the kids," Kunis said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. Mom to 4-year-old daughter, Wyatt, and 2-year-old son Dmitri, Kunis says she and Kutcher are determined to not raise entitled kids—and are learning from the mistakes of Christmases past.

“We've told our parents, 'We're begging you: If you have to give her something, pick one gift,'" Kunis said. “'Otherwise, we'd like to take a charitable donation, to the Children's Hospital or a pet... Whatever you want.' That's our new tradition."

The minimalist Christmas that Kunis and Kutcher embrace makes sense on a lot of levels: It teaches kids how to be more mindful consumers, removes the emphasis on material goods... And saves you from those chaotic trips to the mall.

Going without presents doesn't mean going without

Putting a halt on presents these upcoming holidays is one way to reinforce what the season is really about: Spending quality time together as families and cherishing what we already have. But "no presents" doesn't mean "no fun," either.

Some of our favorite non-material gift suggestions include:

  • Experiences
  • Lessons
  • College contributions
  • Coupon booklets
  • Piggy bank donations
  • Gifts for others

Or you could take a cue from Kunis and Kutcher without going all the way: Maybe you only focus on one or two quality gifts. Or pass on anything that will likely get discarded to the bottom of the toy box before next year's holidays.

Think of Christmas gifts for kids kind of like eggnog: A little goes a long way.

[Originally published October 11, 2017]

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