Monday, June 7, 2010

Bipolar children - what are they missing?

I am sure you have noticed that newspaper articles on bipolar children never mention alternative therapies. In my opinion, diet and nutrition are part of the picture, but not necessarily all of it. Psychotherapy also has an important role. makes a good case for the importance of nutrition and vitamins in treating these childhood behavior problems. You often hear people say, "oh vitamins, I've tried them and nothing happened." However, if you investigate closer, as the article below shows for niacin, the doses probably aren't high enough. Most people are scared off by "dangerously unproven" megavitamin therapy.

Bipolar Kids Need Nutrition, Not Junk Food and More Drugs
(OMNS, October 16, 2008) The NY Times Magazine's cover story, "The Bipolar Kid" (September 14, 2008), is a very bleak article. While emphasizing the miseries of living with such a child, Jennifer Egan's article offers little hope except for ever-increasing doses of lithium. Long on discussions of definitions and diagnoses, it is remarkably short on treatment alternatives. Not a word about diet. Not a word about vitamins. Indeed, in this 9,500 word feature, describing the daily life of an out-of-control, beyond-ADHD boy, the word "nutrition" is not mentioned at all. Neither are the words "sugar" or "caffeine."

What astounding omissions. Pediatrician Lendon H. Smith, M.D., nationally famous as "The Children's Doctor," was very plain in stating that sugar causes profound mood disorders. He specifically advised parents to give their children a "sugarless diet without processed foods." (1) It is not easy. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has reported that children between the ages of six and eleven drink nearly a pint of soda pop a day. 20% of toddlers drink soda pop, nearly a cup daily. (2) And, of the seven best selling soft drinks, six have caffeine in them. In sensitive persons, caffeine can cause psychotic behavior. (3)

Food colorings and benzoate preservatives increase childhood hyperactivity, according to research published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, June 2004. (4) The study, involving 277 preschool children, also demonstrated that withdrawing these chemical additives decreased hyperactivity. When additives were reintroduced, there was once again an increase in hyperactivity. "Additives do have an effect on overactive behavior independent of baseline allergic and behavioral status," said lead author Dr. J.O. Warner. So many parents, and any of us who have taught school the day after Halloween, can verify this.

It is possible that the children profiled in the NY Times story are unusual in that they do not consume any sugar, or any artificial food colorings, or any benzoate preservatives, or any caffeine-laced soft drinks. But it is much more likely that they do. The article ignored these important factors even though health professionals are increasingly aware that the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system is nutrient-dependent and additive sensitive. Ian Brighthope, M.D., says, "What is going on in the mind can be influenced by the nutrients and chemicals going into it. You can't get anywhere with a patient with psychiatric symptomatology if their brain is hungry, starved, or poisoned." (5)

Yet in the entire Times article, the words "allergy" and "junk food" are not mentioned, not even once. Children's learning and behavior problems often begin in their parents' grocery carts. Allergist Benjamin Feingold, M.D., was convinced of the negative effect of food chemicals on children's behavior and the role of good nutrition in treatment. (6) Says the Feingold Association: "Numerous studies show that certain synthetic food additives can have serious learning, behavior, and/or health effects for sensitive people." (7)

Another word totally absent from the Times article is "vitamin." Psychiatrist Abram Hoffer, M.D., has had decades of experience and considerable success treating children's behavioral disorders with vitamins. High doses of vitamin B-3 (niacin, or niacinamide) were first used by Hoffer and colleague Dr. Humphrey Osmond in the early 1950s. The trials were double-blind and placebo controlled. Over half a century later, vitamin therapy has still been largely ignored by the psychiatric profession, and, evidently, by some newspapers.

What a loss to patients and their families. I know and personally observed a preadolescent who was having serious behavioral problems in school and at home. Interestingly enough, the child had already been taking physician-prescribed little bits of niacin, though totaling less than 150 mg/day, but evidently it wasn't enough to be effective. When tried, drugs (especially Adderall) actually made him worse: far more angry and dangerously confrontational. I was present when his parents had to hold him down while he screamed death threats at them. In desperation, his mother finally tried giving him 500 mg of niacin, three times daily (1,500 mg total). There was some improvement. With about 500 mg every two hours (an astounding 6,000-8,000 mg/day), the boy was a new person. He was now a cheerful, cooperative, affectionate youngster. Adding vitamin C and B-6 to his regimen helped even more. His school performance soared, the teachers loved him, and they repeatedly said so. At age 15, his maintenance dose was about 3,000 mg/day. He has since graduated from high school and is successfully employed. This is exactly in line with what Dr. Hoffer has repeatedly demonstrated for over 50 years. (8)

People often ask, "If this treatment is so good, how come my doctor doesn't know about it? How come it is not in the newspaper?" Those are good questions.

The NY Times should know that reporting one side is not good reporting. To tell the whole story, we need nutrition. So do bipolar children.


(1) Smith L. Foods for Healthy Kids. Berkley, 1991. ISBN-10: 0425127087; ISBN-13: 978-0425127087

(2) Jacobson MF. Liquid Candy: How soft drinks are harming Americans' health. Accessed Sept 18, 2008.

(3) Whalen R. Welcome to the dance: caffeine allergy, a masked cerebral allergy and progressive toxic dementia. Trafford Publishing, 2005. ISBN-10: 1412050006; ISBN-13: 978-1412050005. Reviewed in J Orthomolecular Med, 2005. Vol 20, No 3, p 215-217 and at Synopsis at

(4) Bateman B, Warner JO, Hutchinson E et al. The effects of a double blind, placebo controlled, artificial food colourings and benzoate preservative challenge on hyperactivity in a general population sample of preschool children. Arch Dis Child. 2004. Jun;89(6):506-11.

(5) Interview, in the documentary film, Food Matters. Permacology Productions, 2008.

(6) Feingold BF. Why Your Child is Hyperactive. NY: Random House, 1985. ISBN: 0394734262. List of Dr. Feingold's publications:

(7) and Free email newsletter available.

(8) Hoffer A. Healing Children's Attention & Behavior Disorders: Complementary Nutritional and Psychological Treatments. Toronto: CCNM Press, 2004. ISBN-10: 1897025106; ISBN-13: 978-1897025109. List of Hoffer's publications: See also:

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  1. It is important to note that vitamins, including niacin, can cause side effects as well. The worse with niacin include sudden decreases in blood pressure and liver disorder.

    I would concur that vitamin therapy is an improvement over psychiatric drugs and would also advocate that proper nutrition for children is attainable without supplements and by avoiding processed foods and simple carbohydrates. Couple proper nutrition with exercise and functional parenting and these behavioural problems will disappear.

    I am not a proponent of introducing substances targeted at the developing brains of children. I am not a fan of sending children off to psychologists either. It's time parents started doing their jobs; feeding their children properly, requiring them to exercise, turning the tv and computers off, discipling them effectively, and spending quality time with them.

    The parents who do all of this will not require drugs, vitamins, or therapists to resolve problems with their children.

  2. The possible side effect of niacin that you refer to is overcome by taking equal amounts of C. Dr. Hoffer advises megadoses of niacin and megadoses of C in equal amounts, with a B complex thrown in to make the niacin work more efficiently. Based on personal experience, I have seen great improvement in Chris by being on the niacin combo. The results can be quite quick. Better niacin than medications, Dr. Hoffer gave them to children, none of whom died, had adverse reactions, etc. In fact, they improved. Everybody's personal biochemistry is different. Dr. Hoffer claims that some people need vitamin B3 in large quantities. He refers to niacin deficient families. I'm sure that's true. Niacin calms the nerves. You don't need a prescription to buy niacin, Vitamin C or B complex, which tells you something right there. On the other hand, I have seen that when Chris was determined to be psychotic, the niacin did not turn him around. Also, when a child is troubled, the parents may very well need professional help. We got excellent advice from a psychologist re our middle son, which we followed to everybody's benefit. I have a colleague who sent his ten year old son to a psychologist, only to find out that his son wanted the father to be authoritarian. He couldn't handle a father who was a "friend." (His twin sister obviously could.) My colleague was treating his son like a friend because he felt his own father was too authoritarian. A psychologist helped him sort this out very quickly. Who said parenting was easy?

  3. I think many prepackaged foods have chemicals that act like drugs that affect our feelings. The movie "supersize me" showed how mcdonalds prepackaged foods brings feelings of ups and downs.

  4. Anyone knows any treatment centers willing to allow young people to try on the Niacin Therapy (with C,B6...) first ,without forcing medications ?

  5. Yes, that's the million dollar question. I have checked into what our local Soteria offers, and while drugs are not automatic, I have no idea if they willingly help administer vitamins. There's Earth House in New Jersey, which takes an orthomolecular approach. Most of us, having to fight the doctors, just aren't up to the battle. Here is my experience when I was reduced to smuggling vitamins into the psychiatric hospital last year. (See July 24, 2009 post)

  6. I recently was informed that the "local Soteria" pretty much is "treatment as usual", just in Soteria-inspired surroundings. So, I wouldn't count on them being too enthusiastic about alternative approaches like vitamins. - IMO, this is the typical result when what originally was a true alternative is tried to be incorporated into the established system. They just can't keep their fingers off the drugs, these professionals. So, sooner or later all that's left of the original idea is the name, and maybe the buildings' outer appearance. The Quakers had good reason not to allow any physicians at their Moral Treatment facilities...


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