Israeli scientist develops natural alternative for Ritalin

Dr. Nachum Vaisman: Our substance will hopefully make a change that doesn’t depend on daily dosages like Ritalin.Parents of children with attention deficits have come to rely on Ritalin to keep their children calm and attentive in school. However, potential …

Dr. Nachum Vaisman: Our substance will hopefully make a change that doesn’t depend on daily dosages like Ritalin.Parents of children with attention deficits have come to rely on Ritalin to keep their children calm and attentive in school.

However, potential side effects and health hazards have made many parents hesitant about giving their children the drug, and has caused sleepless nights among those who have made the choice to do so. Now, research coming out of Israel suggests that in the future, parents of children diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder may have more options to consider.

Researchers at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center have successfully tested a natural oil-based alternative to the widely used Ritalin to treat ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) behavioral symptoms such as short attention span and inability to focus. If the promising results of initial testing of the substance proves successful, it will represent a natural alternative to Ritalin.

According to medical experts, ADHD and ADD have been diagnosed for hundreds of years, but more recently these conditions have become more prevalent due to the increased use of chemicals, pollutants, or heavy metal toxicity (such as lead, mercury, and cadmium). One estimate quotes over 1.3 million American children with ADD; another source quotes up to 3 million with ADHD.

Roughly 10 million Ritalin prescriptions are filled each year in the US for the treatment of children and adults with ADHD. Ritalin, a trade name for the prescription drug methylphenidate, is a central nervous system stimulant. Its effects are similar to, but more potent than, caffeine, but less potent than amphetamines. Sales of Ritalin and similar drugs increased by more than 500% in the 1990s.

As far back as 1996, the World Health Organization warned that overuse of Ritalin – the most widely prescribed drug for children with ADD and ADHD – had reached dangerous proportions. According to research, use of the drug on a long-term basis may provoke seizures and suppress growth, or may cause angina, blood pressure changes, depression or any of a very long list of serious side effects.

Dr. Nachum Vaisman, the head of clinical nutrition at Sourasky, has been working on the development of the Ritalin alternative for a year and a half at the behest of an unnamed company which commissioned the study and which hopes to develop it into a product. At their request, Vaisman could not disclose the actual components of the substance beyond its ‘oil-based’ description.

“They’re not prepared to go public with this yet,” he told ISRAEL21c. However, Vaisman agreed to discuss details of the study.

“There have been many studies done about the relationship between fatty acids and ADHD. Our goal was to come up with the right combination of oils which would effectively change the impulses going through the cell membranes.”

“We had about 90 children – ages 8-13 – enrolled in the study; it was conducted in the summer so they were off their Ritalin,” said Vaisman.

All the children had either been taking Ritalin or were diagnosed as ADHD via a computerized test called TOVA (Test of Variables Attention). The TOVA is a 22.5 minute computerized assessment (visual or auditory), which in conjunction with teacher and parent behavior rating scales, is a highly effective screening tool for ADD. It is non-language based (to differentiate ADD from learning disorders), requires no left-right discrimination, and has negligible practice effects.

After the children were all confirmed to be ADHD, Vaisman then divided them into three groups – and conducted a double blind study.

“One group was given normal Canola oil, another group given fish oil,” he recounted. Fish oil is high in omega-3 fats, which have been found to effectively address the underlying fatty acid deficiency that is present in most of these children and appears to be contributing to the ADHD. “The third group was given the mixture under study,” he said.

All of the dosages were mixed into chocolate spread in order to increase the children’s compliance over a three month period. At the end of the three months, Vaisman’s team administered the TOVA again, and compared the results.

“There was no change in the canola oil group, a slight improvement in the fish oil group, and significant improvement in the group that received the product.

“60% of the children ended up in the normal range of the TOVA,” he said.

Still, Vaisman cautioned that more testing will need to be conducted before the substance can be recognized as a beneficial and marketed as a natural alternative treatment for ADHD.

“You never build on one study, so we need to repeat the study in much larger numbers,” said Vaisman. “But our substance will hopefully make a change that doesn’t depend on daily dosages like Ritalin. And it’s completely natural.”

In his role as the head of the unit for Clinical Nutrition Diagnoses at Sourasky, Vaisman also deals with issues like gastro-intestinal problems, eating disorders, obesity.

“We’re conducting a lot research in these areas, and I also hold four clinics a week for treating patients,” he said.