Health Scan: 'Ritalin overprescribed for children'

Psychologist says the "broader picture" should be focused on; Israeli foundation: Prostate cancer awareness low; MSG found to promote weight gain in home cooking.

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August 30, 2008 22:15
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While giving children with the drug Ritalin to treat attention-deficit disorder (ADD) or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is justified in many cases, too often it is prescribed without a clinical psychologist investigating underlying factors that may be responsible for the disruptive behavior. So says experienced Jerusalem clinical psychologist Hannah Landau, who specializes in family therapy. Born in London, a Bar-Ilan University psychology graduate and the mother of four sons, Landau said she is upset by the "insufferable ease with which people take the drug, which has proven to be very helpful in some cases but unnecessary in others." If a child has a problem, "you have to look in the context," she told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview. "If he has problems concentrating, maybe his older brother is constantly picking on him - or maybe he finds it easier to cope by daydreaming in class. Ritalin may help him get good marks, but his brother will probably keep picking on him. One has to focus on the broader picture." When Landau is asked to deal with such cases, she first invites the parents in and then the whole family, including the child's siblings. "Such a session is empowering, as the child's specific difficulty can be used to divert the entire journey of family life to a different direction." She complains that many school counselors who meet a "problem child" refer him to a psychiatrist for prescribing Ritalin after spending a few minutes with him. "I know of children as young as three who have been given the drug. But if you find the real problem, it can often be solved quickly. There are so many restlessness and behavioral problems connected to the family and social context. Parents should ask for a psychological evaluation via mental health centers, their health fund or privately before asking for Ritalin," Landau urges. "Psychologists with experience in the field have been able to trace most, albeit not all, problems of ADD or ADHD children, as well as parental shortcomings that contribute to them." KNOW YOUR PROSTATE Despite the publicity about prostate cancer when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced he had been stricken by a miniature tumor, a new Israeli foundation called "Living with Prostate Cancer" says awareness remains low. As September is Prostate Cancer Awareness month in most parts of the world, the foundation is observing September 16th as Israel's national day for this topic. Lectures by urologists on early detection will be held throughout the country, from Karmiel to Beersheba. More information can be obtained by chairman Lenny Hirsch at (054) 457-0595. Hirsch says the voluntary organization aims to raise awareness of prostate cancer by disseminating information and provide support and guidance to patients and their families. Founding members include performer Mike Burstyn and businessman Yaacov Peri. The foundation is in the process of recruiting members, says Hirsch. The initial funding has come from various drug companies, but it is also hoping for donations from the private sector. There are many treatments available for the cancer, but in many cases the resulting side effects can affect the quality of life, he notes. "Among the more common side effects are erectile dysfunction, lack or loss of libido, impotency, incontinence and depression. The final choice of the patient regarding which treatment to undergo is his." An estimated one in six Israeli men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and each year about 380 die of the disease. But a diagnosis is not a death sentence in most cases, as many of those treated in time will die from other causes, as the tumor is very slow growing. But if not treated, the disease can kill. Currently, the most efficient screening test is the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. It is not cancer specific, but only indicates that there could be problems with the prostate. Over the years there have been many arguments on the pros and cons of this test. In the US, since the introduction of the PSA test, a 30% reduction in deaths due from prostate cancer has been claimed. Some argue that interventions resulting from the test can cause more harm than good, but many doctors recommend testing from the age of 50, or earlier if a man has a family history of cancer. MSG AND OVERWEIGHT The taste-enhancing food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) can promote weight gain even when used in home cooking rather than in purchased "junk food." This was discovered by Dr. Ka He and other researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health, who examined 750 men and women aged from 40 to 59 who live in three rural villages in China, according to a UPI report. In rural Chinese villages, most residents prepare meals at home without commercially processed foods, but 82 percent use MSG. The researchers said they chose study participants in rural China because they use very little commercially processed food, but many regularly used MSG in food preparation. . The study, published in the journal Obesity, found that the one-third who used the most MSG were nearly three times more likely to be overweight than non-users. "We saw this risk even when we controlled for physical activity, total calorie intake and other possible explanations for the difference in body mass," the lead researcher said. FORGET SMOKING Puffing away at a cigarette or other forms of tobacco can increase the risk of poor memory in middle age. An article in a recent issue of Archives of Internal Medicine reported this apparent link, based on a meta-analysis of 1980s data from 10,308 London-based civil servants age 35 to 55 with decades of followup. The study's key findings were that smoking in middle age is associated with memory deficit and decline in reasoning abilities; long-term ex-smokers are less likely to have cognitive deficits; quitting in midlife is accompanied by improvement in other health behaviors; and the association between smoking and cognition - even in late midlife - could be underestimated because of higher risk of death and non-participation in cognitive tests among smokers. The results are important because individuals with cognitive impairment in midlife may progress to dementia at a faster rate, the authors note, and smokers at all ages should be targeted by anti-smoking ads.

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