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Bob DeMaria is a chiropractor who is featured often on alternative medicine sites. He makes frequent appearances on YouTube’s worst health information channel, iHealthTube, to peddle abject nonsense about medical conditions he isn’t qualified to treat. He calls himself “The Drugless Doctor”, which I find a bit confusing as he isn’t a physician, and he always recommends purchasing dietary supplements from his website. On iHealthTube, many of his videos relate to alternative treatments of ADHD and have nearly 750k views. The advice he gives in these videos is completely inaccurate, and arguably quite dangerous. DeMaria has far-fetched ideas about how ADHD is caused, and tries to sell parents his supplements that have been proven not to work. He also suggests restrictive diets that have been proven not to provide any benefit for the symptoms of ADHD. I’m going to look through the evidence behind DeMaria’s claims in his videos and address his shameful guilt-tripping marketing tactics.

The “Real Causes” of ADHD

Docosahexaenoic acid

According to Bob DeMaria, “docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) bathes the brain, and gives the brain information that just helps the brain function optimally”. What DHA actually does is serve as a structural component of the brain, skin, cerebral cortex, and retinas. Throughout the video, DeMaria claims that certain foods “sabotage” DHA somehow and that’s the cause of basically every mental problem. He also claims that his dieting “cures” for ADHD also cure Asperger’s syndrome and bipolar disorder in one of his videos. Every dieting recommendation he makes is based on the idea that eating certain foods “sabotage” your body’s natural ability to make DHA. He recommends DHA supplements in the form of fish oil to treat ADHD, which he sells.

Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has been theorized to help treat ADHD. Scott Gavura covered the despicable marketing tactics of one company that produces “Kids DHA”, and showed that the evidence from high-quality trials shows that DHA supplementation does not provide any benefit for the symptoms of ADHD. Despite a lack of any evidence to back such a claim, Demaria states that “a lot of science believes today that genetically we as a species can no longer make DHA from the food we eat. That’s why everybody needs to use marine oil”. Not just any marine oil however, according to him we all need to buy his special brand of anchovy-based Omega-3 supplements because “the marine oil in the world today is toxic”. I’m unable to find any complaints filed to the FDA or studies showing that any Omega-3 fish oil supplements on the market contain any serious contaminants. He just wants to make sure you buy his $30 dollar bottle of fish oil, instead of the kind you would find in your local pharmacy for far less. Even worse, he only sells it in liquid form. I have no idea how you’re supposed to get a kid to take a spoonful of fish oil every morning, it probably tastes worse than the butt of 5-day old roadkill on a hot July afternoon.

Chiropractic subluxations

In another of his videos “Causes of ADD and ADHD Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About!”, he claims that ADHD is caused by misalignment of the spine. His reasoning for this is that information goes down the spinal cord from the brain and if a bone puts pressure on a nerve it can disrupt function. I know it’s probably hard for him to understand that others use their body parts above the shoulders for more than spouting nonsense, but this claim is ridiculous. ADHD is a disorder of self-regulation and executive function, both of which are controlled by the brain. ADHD has nothing to do with the spinal cord or “subluxations”.  Taking your kids to a chiropractor will not help with their ADHD, but will empty your wallet.

It’s not lead?!

For whatever reason, Demaria denies the link between childhood lead exposure and developmental disabilities, including ADHD.

… you know some people talk about lead…

In the video he shakes his head as he says this, implying that lead exposure in childhood cannot cause ADHD. On the other hand, there are some mom-and-pop medical organizations that subscribe to the idea that lead exposure can cause ADHD such as the National Institutes of Health. The link between lead exposure in early childhood and the development of ADHD is well established, how he could believe otherwise baffles me.

Mr. Bob hates ice cream

Bob Demaria claims that dairy products, sugar, and food dyes cause or worsen the symptoms of ADHD, despite no evidence to support his claim. So basically, he hates ice cream.

Dairy

I’m not tell am not telling anyone to stop dairy, but when is the last time you saw a cow eating cottage cheese, milk, or ice cream?

I’ll do you one better: When’s the last time you saw a baby cow having trouble paying attention and being disruptive in school? So he went to a psycowitrist for help and was diagnosed with ADHD then given a prescription for Cowcerta. Now his grades are shooting up and now he’s on the fast track to medicow school. Do you see how ridiculous this is? Humans and cows are biologically different and have different diets, this argument is absurd.

His pseudoscientific explanation for why dairy products worsen the symptoms of ADHD is because “milk contains arachidonic acid (ARA) which sabotages DHA”. He never clarifies the mechanism by which ARA “sabotages” DHA. I’m unable to find any evidence that DHA breaks down in the presence of ARA, likely because he made all the science behind this up too. Regardless DHA supplementation has not been proven to help with ADHD anyways.

He also has this crazy story about telling a parent to limit the amount of milk their child is drinking to back up his claim:

My wife and I were traveling one point, and if someone finds out you’re Dr. Bob and what do you do and yada yada yada. This woman had a 2-3 year old boy who had trantrums because of one the little expedition we were on. She said what’s going on, so I started chit-chatting with her a little bit and found out that her son drank like a gallon and a half of milk every two to three days. So I just suggested to her, in love of course, stop the dairy products. I got home a week later, she wrote a five star review on Amazon for me, son totally changed just from getting off of dairy.

There’s no way this happened. It’s patently impossible and counter to the laws of the universe. If a 3-year old boy were to drink a half-gallon of milk per day, they would suffer from far more issues than just throwing a tantrum on vacation. The recommended milk intake for toddlers is 2 cups per day, if the boy consumed 4 times the recommended amount per day, he would undoubtedly suffer from constipation and anemia. Furthermore, a 3-year-old boy has a recommended calorie intake of around 1,000 to 1,400 calories. A half-gallon of whole milk contains around 1150 calories. I think it’s reasonable to assume that a 3-year old boy’s diet would consist of food other than just milk. Given that if what DeMaria said was true, the boy would also suffer from weight problems of such magnitude he would have his own gravitational pull. There’s no evidence that I can find linking the consumption of dairy products with the development or worsening of ADHD symptoms. The science behind his theory is just as fictional as this story.

Sugar does not make ADHD symptoms worse

In Bob Demaria’s parallel universe, sugar also sabotages the synthesis of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and therefore causes ADHD symptoms somehow. I’m not going to address the “sabotaging DHA” a 4th time now, it’s just total nonsense. Sugar causing hyperactivity in children is one of the most pervasive medical myths. It’s been well established by research that there is no link between the consumption of sugar and hyperactive symptoms in children. A meta-analysis in The Journal of the American Medical Association analyzed 16 studies investigating a link between sugar and behavior and concluded: “The meta-analytic synthesis of the studies to date found that sugar does not affect the behavior or cognitive performance of children.”

It’s not food dyes either

DeMaria also tries to sell the Feingold diet throughout these videos. Dr. Benjamin Feingold proposed that the elimination of salicylate, artificial food coloring, and artificial flavors from the diet would curb hyperactive symptoms. Feingold claimed that 32-60% of children improved by following the Feingold diet. However, the Nutrition Foundation did an expert review of seven studies and didn’t share his conclusion even remotely. Only 3 cases out of the 190 reviewed reported a serious increase in symptoms after going off of the Feingold diet, and all were reported by the mother of the child with no other objective, confirming evidence.

ADHD medication lies

Since DeMaria calls himself “The Drugless Doctor”, he naturally tries to argue that parents shouldn’t give their children ADHD medication if they have ADHD. In another video titled “ADD Medications Could Lead to These Problems Later”, he peddles the most common ADHD medication myths. He claims that clonidine suppresses and increases appetite and stunts growth. Clonidine has not been associated with any of these side effects. Stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall have been associated appetite suppression which is why doctors closely monitor their patient’s weight when they’re taking these medications. As for stimulants stunting growth, there’s conflicting evidence. Many studies have found that stimulant medication stunts growth in children, around 3 centimeters on average. However other studies don’t share the same conclusion. My question is, what’s the harm? Is being one inch shorter than you could’ve been otherwise really going to impact your life? The only real downside I can think of is your Tinder-game.

DeMaria also claims that children who take ADHD medications are at a higher risk for developing a substance abuse disorder. This is a straight-up lie, and a dangerous one at that. People with ADHD are significantly more likely to develop substance abuse disorders than people without ADHD to begin with. A meta-analysis by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that using ADHD medication did not increase the risk of substance abuse, and children who used medication for their ADHD were less likely to develop a substance abuse disorder than children with ADHD who didn’t use medication.

It’s time to stop

Bob DeMaria wants to sell you snake oil and he’s not going to let science, common sense, or decency stop him. He’s more than happy to slander parents for giving their children ADHD medication. The first line in the description for “Dr. Bob’s Guide to Stop ADHD in 18 Days” asks “Is Ritalin Child Abuse?”. I think it’s shameful he would imply that parents who are doing what’s best to manage their child’s learning disability are in some way abusing their child. He even stoops to Mariana trench-level depths in a video when he says “ADHD kids become ADHD adults. ADHD adults usually have ADHD kids, and the reason is: they eat from the same trough”. He uses the word “trough” to imply that children have ADHD because their parents eat like pigs. Never mind the fact that ADHD is mostly caused by genetics and isn’t really helped much by diet, if at all. He’ll say whatever it takes to guilt you into buying his $18 book, $195 consultation, and $145 supplement kit. You’re a cash cow to be milked to him. What’s saddening about his comments directed towards parents who have kids with ADHD is that you hear comments like this all of the time. People love to get on their high horse and proclaim that ADHD is caused by bad parenting or that kids with ADHD just need to be disciplined by their parents, by which they almost always mean spanking them.

ADHD isn’t the result of bad parenting, nor is it a good idea to encourage parents to spank their children ever; we’ve discussed it before on SBM. ADHD like all psychiatric conditions can negatively affect many aspects of a person’s life indirectly. ADHD is a disorder of executive function, and people with ADHD have trouble regulating attention, staying organized, and controlling impulses; and that can lead to all kinds of negative long-term consequences. The areas where the disorder has the largest impact are in the workplace and in school. Children with ADHD on average get worse grades, are more likely to get detention, be expelled from school, score lower than non-ADHD children on standardized tests, and are more likely to held back a grade or drop out of school. Adults with ADHD on average have poorer work performance, and change jobs more often.

It gets worse, ADHD is associated with risky behaviors and poorer overall health and life outcomes as a result. As previously mentioned, people with ADHD are more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder. In a study published in The Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, young adults with ADHD responded yes to the question “Have you ever gotten someone pregnant?” 6 times more than the control group.  Driving accidents are the leading cause of death in young adults, and people with ADHD are more likely to get into car accidents, get driving citations, and have their licenses revoked. People with ADHD are more likely to commit crimes, and end up in prison [PDF]. If you haven’t caught on at this point: I can basically just start a sentence with “People with ADHD” and [insert short or long term negative outcome of impulsive, inattentive, or hyperactive behavior here] then probably find peer-reviewed research to back it up. ADHD is one of the most well studied disorders in medicine.

Consequently, ADHD is also one of the most treatable disorders in psychiatry. Stimulant medication is safe and highly effective at treating the symptoms of ADHD and is recommended as the first line treatment by basically every reputable medical organization. Stimulant medications have been found to improve academic outcomes and even reduce the risk developing comorbid psychiatric disorders later in life. Medication has also been found to reduce the risk of bad driving outcomes in young adults with ADHD. To say that parents are abusing their children by giving them Ritalin for their ADHD isn’t just wrong, it’s irresponsible and dangerous.

ADHD is a serious medical condition that will cause serious problems in every facet of an individual’s life if left untreated. That’s why it’s important that parents get their kids appropriate treatment as soon as possible when they’re diagnosed with ADHD. Medication and behavior interventions early on in life are the best things parents can possibly do to set up their children for success if they’re diagnosed with ADHD. They shouldn’t have to deal with random people on the internet telling them that their child’s learning disability is their fault because of how they eat. ADHD isn’t caused by diet and there’s no evidence to support disallowing your child from eating ice cream because it will make their ADHD symptoms worse. That would be real child abuse.

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Posted by Braden MacBeth

Braden MacBeth is a Computer Science Major at Slippery Rock University. He plans on applying to medical school this year.