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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Article: White noise may be as effective as drugs for ADHD - The Globe and Mail and benefits of dog ownership


White noise may be as effective as drugs for ADHD - The Globe and Mail


White noise may be as effective as drugs for ADHD

Globe and Mail Update
Published Thursday, Sep. 30, 2010 7:40PM EDT
Last updated Friday, Oct. 01, 2010 5:41PM EDT

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, are often prescribed powerful medications to help them stay focused in school. But adding white noise to a classroom may be just as effective as drugs at aiding learning among these pupils, suggest the surprising results of a Scandinavian study.

More related to this story

The research, led by Goran Soderlund of Stockholm University was carried out on 51 students at a secondary school in Norway.

The children were first assessed for their ability to pay attention in class. They were then given a test in which they had to remember as many items as possible from a list read out loud – either in the presence or absence of white noise. The results showed that children who normally have difficulty paying attention actually performed better when the white noise was turned on.

The researchers aren't sure why white noise – which is made up of random signals – seems to benefit the inattentive. But Dr. Soderlund noted that people with ADHD lack adequate levels of dopamine – a chemical messenger in the brain. He speculates they are easily distracted because the reduced availability of dopamine means the brain is operating at a suboptimal level of activity.

"You see people with ADHD often have difficulty sitting still. They are tapping their fingers or moving their feet," he said. "I think that activity translates into a kind of neural-noise in the brain – and it's their way of increasing their arousal and attention."

In a similar fashion, random white noise may boost neural activity so the brain works more efficiently, enabling the students to focus on their studies.Writing in the journal Behavioral and Brain Functions, the researchers predict their findings "could be of particular importance for the significant population of parents that are uneasy about the use of medication" for treating ADHD.

Still, there's a lot more work to do before researchers can recommend the use of white noise in schools – especially classes that include both attentive and inattentive pupils. That's because the random sound hinders the learning abilities of the students who normally pay attention. For them, it's just too much noise and they get distracted.

"Our study shows that different brains need different levels of external noise to work properly," he said.

The white noise used in the study was blasted at 78 decibels. "That's the level of your vacuum cleaner – it is a really, really harsh sound," Dr. Soderlund acknowledged.

He is now experimenting with different sound levels to find an optimal level for everyone. But if one can't be found, he suggests ADHD students could wear earphones that provide them with white noise – without distracting the other students.

Needle-free MS therapy

There is a big change in store for the treatment of multiple sclerosis – and it has nothing to do with Paolo Zamboni's "liberation therapy" that has grabbed headlines lately.

Swiss-based drug giant Novartis has introduced a new MS medication called Gilenya (or fingolimod) that can be taken in pill form. The disorder has been traditionally treated with injectable drugs, which can be a turn off for many patients.

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the new class of medication for the American market – although it recommended patients be medically monitored for side effects (such as an increase risk of infections and slow heart rate) during the first six months of treatment.

The company's Canadian subsidiary, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc., has applied to Health Canada for market approval. Health Canada does not comment on drugs under review.

Top dog

If eczema runs in your family, you may be well advised to pick a dog rather than a cat for a pet.

A new study looked at young children who have at least one parent with eczema, a chronic and often irritating skin condition. At age 1, the kids were tested to see if they were prone to dog or cat allergies – which can be harbingers of other allergic-related conditions to come. They were then observed for several years.

The researchers found that kids who tested positive for dog allergies were less likely to develop eczema by age 4 if the family owned a dog. In fact, if they didn't have a dog, they were four times more likely to get eczema, according to the findings published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

But having a pet cat appears to be detrimental, boosting the odds of the skin disorder in some kids, said Tolly Epstein, the lead researcher at the University of Cincinnati. Children who were allergic to cats, based on a skin allergy test, were 13 times more likely to develop eczema by age 4 if they had a cat in the house.

The researchers don't know why dogs and cats provoke opposite reactions. Obviously, the allergy-triggering proteins shed by the animals are different. Exposure to dogs at an early age seems to build up a level of tolerance to certain allergens and helps head off eczema. Children of cat families aren't so lucky.

Calling the depressed

Shining bright lights in the eyes can help some people overcome the winter blues, known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. But can light therapy and other alternative treatments – such as negative ion therapy – aid those in the grips of major depression year-round?

Researchers, lead by Raymond Lam of the University of British Columbia, are launching a three-year study to put the therapies to the test. A total of 216 patients are being recruited at six medical centres across Canada. In Toronto, the contact number is 416-480-4444 (for other centres, call 604-822-7325).

Genetic clues to Parkinson's

Researchers have long known that caffeine helps guard against Parkinson's disease. So they have been trying to develop caffeine-like drugs that can slow the progression of the neurological disorder – without producing jittery nerves and other unwanted side effects of drinking java.

So far, however, the clinical trials have been somewhat disappointing. Now doctors know why the experimental drugs haven't worked as well as expected.

A study, released this week at the World Parkinson Congress in Glasgow, found that only about 25 per cent of Parkinson's patients carry a variation of a gene – called GRIN2A – that boost the protective effects of coffee. One of the researchers, Haydeh Payami of the New York State Department of Health, says a genetic test could be used to identify those patients who are most likely to benefit from these therapies.

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Personal Web site for John C Kim: KIDDOC.ORG

I am a pediatrician specializing in General Pediatrics, International Adoption Medicine, and in the diagnosis and coaching of families pursuing joy.