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Brain Drain or Brain Gain—Do ADHD or Alzheimer’s Drugs Make You Smarter? And Are You Suffering From Nervousness or Anxiety?

November 9, 2010

New Scientist magazine recently published an article on the science of the brain. They said for mental fatigue, better concentration, and easier recall, we might turn to today’s prescription drugs.

“Psychostimulant drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall, prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Aricept, used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, have been shown to improve concentration and recall in healthy people, too,” according to the brief article, though no studies are cited. “Such drugs are not currently available without a prescription, but some researchers say they should be.” (No word on who these particular researchers are.)

“Multiply that extra brain power by the 7 billion members of the human race,” the article continues, “and the benefits to society and the pursuit of knowledge would soon start to add up. But is a race of drugged-up super-brains what we really want to be?”

Gee, New Scientist, you mean you aren’t completely sold on this idea?  Just in case those unidentified researchers are serious, let’s take a quick look at some of those brain-boosting drugs.

In a study involving 153 children, those who were given common ADHD medications including Ritalin did not grow as much as unmedicated children—and when the medication was stopped, they did not recover any of that lost growth. Ritalin has the same pharmacological profile as cocaine, but it’s more potent—the “high” experienced by addicts comes from the stimulation of neural transporters, and Ritalin, in pill form, occupies those neural transporters more effectively than even crack cocaine.

Ritalin may also cause cancer. A small University of Texas study showed damage to the chromosomes of twelve children who had taken Ritalin for just three months. It also may cause long-lasting changes in brain cell structure and function, actually destroying the brain and increasing aggression. And Adderall can lead to liver problems, allergic reactions, and drug addiction.

As for the Alzheimer’s drug Aricept, two clinical drug trials have left volunteers dead or hospitalized. Side effects reported during trials included dizziness, insomnia, nausea, diarrhea, and generalized pain. Well, did it work for Alzheimer’s? Not much.

The good news is that ADHD is easily controlled with natural treatments—and these are also applicable to anyone wanting a little extra sharpness in the brain department.

An additive-free diet (no preservatives, and no artificial colors or flavors) can calm hyperactivity in children with food sensitivities. An elimination diet to check for food allergies or sensitivities could be useful as a start. Reducing sugars (especially refined sugars) in the diet also controls hyperactivity. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress and also burns off excess energy. Anyone with any common sense knows that young males are not allowed to move around enough in school and this hurts their ability to learn.

Ritalin and Adderall work by raising dopamine levels and creating a stimulant effect. You can get those benefits—without the nasty side effects—in phenylethylamine (PEA), which is found in raw cacao/chocolate or in supplement form. Patients with ADHD often have low concentrations of endogenous PEA. PEA is a natural chemical compound that is also created within the brain and released when we are in love. It acts as a mild mood elevator and an antidepressant, and it helps increase focus and alertness.

You might also try theanine, one of the ingredients of green tea. This amino acid is known to have calming properties. Research has shown theanine to calm the brain by producing alpha waves. Theanine is also thought to increase GABA, the brain chemical that naturally controls anxiety. GABA can also be taken as a supplement but is poorly absorbed. Thorne Research has a form of GABA called Pharma Gaba Pro that seems to be much better absorbed and can be a life saver for someone suffering from anxiety.

As we noted a few weeks ago, there are a number of excellent natural treatments for Alzheimer’s: coconut oil, fish oil (which controls inflammation), nattokinase enzyme (which removes amyloid plaque, a group of abnormal proteins that cause disorders in the brain), and some of the B vitamins (which can reduce the rate of brain atrophy in patients with mild cognitive impairment). These same treatments may also keep healthy brains functioning at peak performance.