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ADHD Quackery

Jillian is a neurodivergent writer (2e, Autistic & ADHD) who has worked in the child psychology field for over 20 years.

Calling out internet doctors who make false claims about the causes of ADHD in order to sell their own products and services.

ADHD Quackery

Tired of so-called “professionals” making false claims for financial benefit.

I started writing a piece about Dr. Amen’s “7 Types of ADD” and how they’re essentially a repackaging of ADHD with some made-up terms thrown in, in order to sell products.

As I worked my way toward the seven types this doctor has invented, without any evidence or peer-reviewed studies, I didn’t even get past the false claims he makes about the causes of ADHD.

This quack claims the following cause ADHD:

  • Limited physical education in school
  • Excessive use of video games
  • Diets filled with processed foods
  • Exposure to environmental toxins

I won’t link to his website, but if you absolutely must, you can look it up yourself. This so-called “doctor” states:

“…the increase in people being diagnosed with it is likely related to influences in our world today that negatively affect brain function…”

He’s either a completely incompetent doctor, or he knows he’s spouting a crock of shit in order to sell his books and “treatments”. Either way, it’s unethical and harmful and he should lose his medical license.

The two primary reasons there has been an increase in diagnoses are:

  • An increased awareness of ADHD, improved diagnostics, and greater public knowledge.
  • Our culture and lifestyle puts increasing demands on organization, regulation, and executive functioning — the exact skills with which many of us ADHDers experience difficulty.

When our lives are manageable we are much less likely to seek out support and receive a diagnosis. When we feel overwhelmed, or like we’re not living up to some arbitrary standard, that’s when we are much more likely to seek help.

I agree that the decrease in physical education and free play in school — and in society in general — increases ADHD symptoms. This does not cause ADHD, but a lack of movement and exercise will make it more difficult for anyone to concentrate, especially young children.

There is some inconclusive evidence that environmental toxins, such as pesticides and air pollution, may contribute to the risk of children being born with neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD and Autism.

The difficulty is controlling for the confounding variables, given that ADHD and Autism are such highly heritable conditions. When you study the rates in geographic areas, you’re including related family members who live in the same households or neighbourhoods.

Researchers have thus far stated that there has not been enough control over these variables to establish a causal link.

ADHD is Not New

ADHD is not a modern disorder. Not even a little bit.

ADHD is a neurobiological or neurodevelopmental disorder, meaning it impacts the way the brain grows, develops, and functions.

ADHD has been around for as long as humans have had brains (so, like, forever). ADHD just didn’t receive its current name until scientists got around to understanding more about it (and even then they did a terrible job of naming it, but that’s a story for another day).

ADHD is not new. It was first described in the medical literature all the way back in 1775. That was well over years 200 years ago, so attempts to blame ADHD and its symptoms on too much screen time or too many processed foods fall flat.

Processed Foods

Even the term “processed foods” is non-specific. There is evidence that “processing” food began nearly two million years ago (perhaps longer, depending on which scientists you ask).

Humans began other forms of processing food, such as producing cheese, beer, wine, tortillas, olive oil, pickled preserves, chocolate, and bacon (mmm bacon) between 7000-1500 b.c.

If we’re talking about those pre-packaged highly processed foods containing high levels of sodium and other preservatives, those didn’t become widely circulated until the 1920s, after the first world war. These foods became even more popular during the second world war (1939–1945), as the perfect “tent food” because they were much less likely to spoil.


Why the history lesson?

Because ADHD has been around for over 200 years (in actuality, as long as humankind has existed, there have been different types of brains), but spam wasn’t a thing until the 1930s, less than 100 years ago.

Certainly, our diet can impact our health. Perhaps a diet low in sodium, processed foods, and saturated fats helps improve concentration and reduces ADHD symptoms. That’s a far cry from potato chips and Kraft Dinner causing ADHD.

It is highly unethical for a doctor to be making these claims when there is no conclusive evidence proving this to be the case.


Video Games

Similarly, a recent study found no causal relationship between screen time and ADHD. There was a correlation between excessive screen time and externalizing behaviours, such as hyperactivity and inattention. (Excessive in this study was defined as more than 30 minutes per day for two year olds and and more than 1.5 hours per day for 4–6 year olds).

This study explicitly cautioned against conflating externalizing behaviours with an actual ADHD diagnosis. They found that there was a temporary increase in ADHD-like symptoms, such as inattention and hyperactivity, but this was notrelated to a diagnosis at follow-up between 8 and 10 years old.

The authors, as well as previous researchers, indicated there could be multiple other explanations for this association. For example, parents with children who tend to be more hyperactive, or have challenging behaviours, may be more likely to use screen time and T.V. as a way to take a break.

Anecdotally, I grew up with no video games and limited screen time, and I still have ADHD. My son did not have any screen time until age 3, and even then it was extremely limited until he began school, yet he still has ADHD.

Dr. Amen’s website and associated clinics sell an extensive number of unproven treatments and products. The website encourages people to pay for brain scans, psychiatric evaluations, supplements (aka placebos and vitamins), and ADHD Coaching.

All of this is done privately, and of course, not covered by most insurance plans. The Amen Clinics do not direct-bill insurance companies, so it’s up to individuals to determine whether their expenses would be covered, and then hope that they are.

The Almighty Dollar.

The Almighty Dollar.

It gets worse.

The Amen Clinic advertises for a healthcare credit company called “CareCredit”, which lends money to vulnerable people for their medical treatments, with interest rates between 15–18%! (I won’t link to their site, but again, this is easily verifiable).


What Does Work?

Look: There’s no cure or quick-fix for ADHD or any other neurodevelopmental disorder. What has been proven most effective to improve the quality of our lives are: caring people, accepting and inclusive environments, supports for distressing symptoms, self-knowledge, and self-acceptance.

Treat yourself or your loved one with compassion, provide or seek support, and work to understand yourself or someone you care about. Focus on practical accommodations and strategies that fit into everyday life.

Don’t waste your time and energy pursuing unproven treatments that will likely not help and could even be harmful. You may or may not learn to love your brain, but it’s the only one you’ve got, so you need to learn to work with it rather than against it.


Barkley, R. A., & Peters, H. (2012). The Earliest Reference to ADHD in the Medical Literature? Melchior Adam Weikard’s Description in 1775 of “Attention Deficit” (Mangel der Aufmerksamkeit, Attentio Volubilis). Journal of Attention Disorders, 16(8), 623–630.

Levelink, B., van der Vlegel, M., Mommers, M., Gubbels, J., Dompeling, E., Feron, F. J. M., van Zeben-van der Aa, D. M. C. B., Hurks, P., & Thijs, C. (2021). The Longitudinal Relationship Between Screen Time, Sleep and a Diagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Childhood. Journal of Attention Disorders, 25(14), 2003–2013.

Stevens, T., & Mulsow, M. (2006). There is no meaningful relationship between television exposure and symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics, 117(3), 665–672.

Tessari, L., Angriman, M., Díaz-Román, A., Zhang, J., Conca, A., & Cortese, S. (2020). Association Between Exposure to Pesticides and ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Journal of Attention Disorders.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Jillian Enright