Childhood Bipolar Disorder is being diagnosed with increasing frequency, and at younger and younger ages. On January 8, 2008 an episode of Frontline was aired on television highlighting this frightening trend, and the often devastating side effects of psychiatric medications. A large percentage of children diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, also meet criteria for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In fact one study found that nearly on quarter of all kids diagnosed ADHD, actually have Bipolar Disorder.
Childhood Bipolar Disorder often follows some of the same patterns as Bipolar adults. In children, symptoms may include grandiose beliefs, agitation and violent behavior, hyperactivity, anxiety, severe and frequent changes in mood, long, intense and sometimes violent tantrums, oppositional behavior, rages, and night terrors.
There is a severe lack of research on the effects of medications on children, and even the FDA admits that the data is simply not there. With some increases in funding for childhood drug studies, most of the data does not support any evidence of their effectiveness. Particularly concerning are some of the dangerous risks of anti-depressants in kids. In fact 4% of of kids SSRI anti-depressants become suicidal as a result of the drug. On the other hand, other kids may be suicidal without medication, and an anti-depressant may reduce their depressive symptoms. The issue is very complex, and parents are often left without any "safe" choices.
Parents of kids exhibiting symptoms of Childhood Bipolar Disorder are faced with the agonizing and exhausting challenge of managing their child's unstable behavior and mood swings. Out of shear desperation, and compassion for their kids suffering, they are often forced to turn to medications and doctor's advice to try to help their kids. Sometimes medications may be ineffective. Sometimes they may be partially helpful. And the fortunate one's have more benefits than negative side effects. I may sound very cynical and mistrustful of medications - especially for kids - but I do accept that sometimes they are needed, when no other options are available, or nothing else seems to help.
Psychotherapy is extremely important for any child, as well as their parents and family, for a diagnosis of depression or Childhood Bipolar Disorder. Therapy should be one of the first approaches to be used.
Research done by Childhood Bipolar Disorder expert Kiki Chang, MD at Stanford University, shows that in Bipolar children, the amygdala (part of the brain involved in emotion) is underdeveloped. He advocates for the use of psychiatric medication.
(It is interesting to note, that EFT Tapping is known to reduce the reactivity of the amygdala in response to the negative thoughts or triggers that would otherwise provoke negative emotion).
However, there is a severe conflict of interest in pharmaceutical companies providing the funding for drug studies as well as for the education of doctors in their "beneficial" use and standards of care.
Let me repeat that more clearly: Drug companies, with billions of dollars to be gained by a single marketing decision, are the main sponsors and funding source of drug studies for the very drugs that they want to sell and profit from. As if this weren't bad enough, they also give massive amounts of money to Medical Schools, to train doctors to use those very drugs. Even the continuing education that is mandatory for doctors to keep their MD license is widely offered by drug company representatives. They employ doctors (for large salaries and many perks) to advocate for their use by teaching seminars to their fellow MD's about the uses and benefits of their drugs. They provide all the research data, complete with power-point presentations, sandwiches and Starbucks coffee for any doctor who wants to gain some continuing education credits.
Drug company reps also routinely establish friendly relationships with doctors and regularly drop by with arm loads of free medication sample packs for the doc to give to their patients - as a free gift of course. And they also bring calendars, pens, notebooks, candy bars, muffins, smoothies and of course, Starbucks for the doctor and their office staff. It's not the doctor's fault. This is the culture that they are trained to accept, throughout their many years of education. Medications are the tools of their trade.
Dr. Chang calls this a "potential conflict of interest," but says, "without the drug company's funding, where would we be?" Quite a circular argument in my opinion. It is far too easy for drug companies, and the FDA to withhold information and manipulate outcomes of drug studies in favor of drug industry profits. A very high number of past FDA directors have gone on to earn millions of dollars working for drug companies. This is unconscionable, and should never be allowed.
Increasing brain studies are revealing structural changes that indicate psychiatric diagnoses such as Childhood Bipolar Disorder. The studies are often used to support the legitimacy of the diagnosis, and the necessity of medication treatment. What I can't fathom, is why no one is asking WHY there is an epidemic of neurological disorders like Childhood Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, Autism and others. Where are the research dollars for this? Certainly not coming from the drug companies!
Let's be absolutely clear: The research that will discover the true cause of Childhood Bipolar Disorder, or any other psychiatric illness, in kids or adults, will NEVER come from drug company funding.
Drug company dollars will never be spent to discover, for example, that maybe some of these illnesses could be prevented and treated with dietary changes. That would be far too simple. And it wouldn't make anyone rich.
What Are Our Kids Eating?
In the Frontline Episode I mentioned, they showed a family of a young boy - maybe 7 years old, with severe Childhood Bipolar Disorder. He sometimes had intense tantrums for half the day. His parents were obviously very stressed, as could be expected. What got my attention however, was the scene in the kitchen. They said he had an insatiable appetite. he just wanted to eat and eat, and never felt satisfied. What was he eating? Corn Dogs. And blue colored Gator Aid. The boy was asking for more corn dogs, which he apparently couldn't get enough of.
Let's look at the ingredients in a typical store bought corn dog:
CORNDOG BATTER: water, enriched flour (flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), enriched corn meal (corn meal, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, salt, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, cornstarch, sodium bicarbonate), honey solids (honey, high fructose corn syrup, wheat starch, corn syrup, soy flour, calcium stearate, soy lecithin), modified cornstarch, onion powder.
HOT DOG: mechanically separated turkey, water, corn syrup, salt, spices, dextrose, sodium phosphate, paprika, flavorings, sodium erythorbate, olearoesin of paprika, sodium nitrate.
CORN with water and sugar
Now, besides the fact that this food substance offers next to nothing in real nutritional value, there are a number of additives that are potentially harmful. For example, the ever present "corn syrup" that we seem to find in all of our packaged food is far more than meets the eye. For a detailed explanation see the Weston-Price Foundation. This product also contains several sources of gluten, which is one of the most common food allergies, and in kids who are sensitive to it, it can cause a number of behavioral and neurological problems including symptoms of Childhood Bipolar Disorder.
Another dangerous ingredient, hidden in many foods, and masked by the ambiguous and friendly looking word "Flavorings" or even "natural flavorings," is the chemical MSG (Monosodium Glutamate), whose only function is to make your taste buds taste more.
There is a long list of serious health issues associated with MSG. For any child with ADD, Autism, neurological disorder or Childhood Bipolar Disorder, I would strongly advise against consuming MSG.
Furthermore, "sodium nitrate" is a known cancer causing chemical. In a 7 year study done on 200,000 people, there was a 67% increase in pancreatic cancer (one of the most deadly cancers) in those that who ate the most processed meats (like hot dogs and sausages).
No disrespect intended towards the parents, who I'm sure are doing the best they know how, but a kid with Childhood Bipolar Disorder shouldn't be eating corn dogs at all - let alone in large quantities.
Until we start to view health from a holistic perspective, we are not going to figure out how to save ourselves. When we eat substances that are known to cause certain health problems, it is a huge mistake to think that it can't create other problems.
I hear people say, for example, that they don't need to eat organic vegetables because the pesticides they use on the plants only kill bugs, but not people! So, am I to accept that because studies haven't proven that certain pesticides make people sick, that I am safe eating them? Does it make sense to any rational person, that a chemical that kills insects, or disrupts their reproductive ability, doesn't work on people? Ok, so the bug is smaller than a person, so what kills the bug isn't enough to kill a person. There's a good argument. How many pesticide laced vegetables does it take to cause cancer in a human? Who wants to find out?
Some estimates say that 70% of all of the many thousands of environmental pollutants in our atmosphere, soil and food sources are neurotoxins. That is, they are TOXIC to your brain. When you consider the rapid and profound changes that the developing brain goes through during the course of a child's life, is it any wonder that there is an ever increasing incidence of Childhood Bipolar Disorder and other neurological disorders in our kids?
Anyone dealing with the challenges of Childhood Bipolar Disorder should consider the same alternative treatments and integrative approaches, as an adult with Bipolar Disorder.