8 months ago I wrote a blog post entitled “About ADHD – An Inside Perspective” which was an article about my own experience with ADHD. I promised a part 2, and in true ADHD fashion it’s taken me this long to write it ;)
ADHD is a complicated thing which requires a multi-faceted approach. There are numerous co-morbidities associated with ADHD and as such I must stress that if you feel you may have (or do have) ADHD and are struggling with mental and emotional health conditions such as depression, anxiety, impulsive behaviours, OCD behaviours or addictive patterns such as substance abuse(1) then it is important to seek the advice of a health professional.
As you can see from some of the associated conditions I’ve just mentioned, ADHD can impact a person’s life in a significant way. Especially for those of us who go through a big portion of our life undiagnosed.
There is still a common perception that ADHD is not a real thing, that it’s limited to young boys who can’t sit still in class, that it’s a purely hyperactive state, and that it’s a product of “bad parenting”, and that people with ADHD are unable to focus. Thankfully there is more and more research coming out about it to dispel those myths.
So what are some of the FACTS about ADHD?
1. ADHD is characterized by “a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity beyond the range of developmental norms, which may impact on personal, academic, familial and societal functioning“.(2) So while many people may experience some of the symptoms in their life, ADHD is when these things are so disruptive that they impede a person’s ability to live their life in a “normal” way.
2. ADHD actually comes in three main forms – predominantly inattentive (daydreamers, cannot focus or pay attention, can be missed because they are not disruptive), predominantly hyperactive-impulsive (the typical presentation of ADHD that many people think, disruptive, risk takers, doesn’t think things through before acting), and a combined inattentive-hyperactive-impulsive type. (3)
* I have had experiences in my life of all three – inattentive as a child but smart enough to get by in school with good grades while putting no effort in, and then the impulsive/hyperactive type as I left school and went through my 20s which resulted in the obliteration of my finances and my self worth.
3. ADHD has a genetic component – with some statistics saying that the heritability is estimated to be up to 76%. So for people diagnosed later in life, they may be able to look in the family and spot other undiagnosed family members further up the genetic line. (4)
4. There are also physiological differences in both the structure of the brain and in the levels of neurotransmitters in the brains of people with ADHD. (5)
5. People with ADHD are commonly seen as people who are unable to focus. However that’s not quite true. We just have a hard time being able to focus on things that do not interest us. So if we are at school doing a subject we don’t care about or at work doing a job we hate, we have a very hard time being able to keep our attention and focus. However when it comes to things that we are interested in, for many of us the opposite is true – we become obsessed with it, and tend to “hyperfocus” on these things for extended periods of time. Which can be a brilliant advantage, IF we are able to do things in life that interest us.
So now we know what it is and what it isn’t. So what can we do about it?
Firstly it is my (interesting) point of view that ADHD has many amazing and positive attributes. We can focus intensely on things we love. We are impulsive, which can be both a positive and negative thing – the impulsivity can be hugely creative and innovative if directed the right way. The problem we face is that we are trying to find ways to manage it when doing things we either are uninterested in or find boring (and for many kids its school, and for many adults it is work and/or mundane life responsibilities!). While I’d LOVE to go more into that side of things (maybe in another 8 months I’ll write another article??) for today I am going to focus on how you can help bring those symptoms more into balance from a Naturopathic perspective.
The thing to really remember is that for many people no single thing is the magic “fix” for ADHD. Even medication for those who require it is a small piece of a big puzzle in helping to improve function in their lives. So while these suggestions will be helpful, they are not the “quick fix” solutions many of us seek.
Diet & Nutrition
The gut-brain connection is something that is becoming more and more researched. And even more interesting (and exciting) is the research into the gut microbiota (those organisms that live in your gut and do great things) with regards to ADHD and other mental health conditions. (6, 7)
What is being discovered is that if the balance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria is disrupted enough, mental health can be compromised and symptoms of disorders like ADHD can be exacerbated. (8) Last year I wrote an article about gut microbiota and probiotics and when taken in context of ADHD the main thing to remember is that different foods feed different microorganisms. What you eat determines what kind of balance you will have in your body. It is therefore recommended that you eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (eat the rainbow!) and reduce or eliminate the amount of refined carbohydrates and sugars as consuming too much of these foods can feed the wrong kinds of bacteria. This is what can cause the imbalance within your gut.
The other reason it is important to eat a wide variety of nutrient dense whole foods is because many people with ADHD seem to be deficient in nutrients such as omega 3s, iron and zinc. (9) So by eating a wide variety of fresh foods you’re more likely to get the nutrients you require. Including foods high in omega 3s such as cold water oily fish, flax seed oil and various nuts can also help to reduce inflammation in the body and brain. Other beneficial nutrients and their food sources include:
Zinc: nuts, oysters, eggs, seeds, garlic, mushrooms, green leafy vegetables.
Iron: red meats, seeds, eggs, leafy greens, tomato, tofu.
Magnesium: nuts, seeds, red meats, dark chocolate, berries, leafy greens.
Bioflavonoids: fresh fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens and berries, citrus fruits, dark chocolate, green tea and barassicas.
As a general guide, following a diet such as the Mediterranean diet is a good way to ensure you get that balance of nutrients while also reducing processed and inflammatory foods that can exacerbate symptoms. To download a free information sheet on the Mediterranean Diet please click here.
For some, supplementation is required – and this is where it is important to be under the care of a health professional who understands the conditions and can prescribe appropriate nutrients. Another option that may be beneficial is Bio-Compatibility testing to identify foods that may be incompatible with your body. By eliminating these foods and repairing the gut, you can reduce inflammation and improve your body’s ability to properly absorb the nutrients required for optimal function.
Exercise is very important for people with ADHD. It has been shown that there are consistent beneficial effects on both cognitive and behavioural symptoms when exercise is combined with conventional therapies.(9) When you consider that for many people with ADHD sitting still for extended periods of time can be problematic, it makes sense that movement is beneficial. The amount of exercise required by an individual varies, so find what works well and stick with it. The beneficial effects of exercise on mood and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are also well documented, as well as the impact it has on sleep problems. Considering the prevalence of these conditions in people with ADHD, the benefits are compounded. If you’d like some ideas on how to get started, have a look at this article I wrote on the subject a little while ago.
There are a number of other therapies that may be beneficial in balancing ADHD symptoms. Chiropractic care, yoga, meditation and massage (9) have all been shown to help improve symptoms in children & adults with ADHD.
Meditation and yoga are beneficial because they teach mindfulness and how to be present. A big issue with ADHD is the “racing mind” and jumping from one task to the next. While this can be a benefit when you’re wanting to multitask, sometimes it can get too out of hand and result in nothing getting done at all. With mindfulness and awareness techniques there is more focus on being aware of what is important and what can wait, which results in a “lessening of symptoms” or rather more focus and ability to concentrate on specific tasks.
On a personal level I have found that Access Bars and the various tools that are offered by Access Consciousness has been incredibly helpful in changing my points of view around who I am and who I BE, in acknowledging what's great about me and how I can use these amazing qualities to my advantage, instead of feeling like they're causing me to be at a disadvantage.
Hopefully this has given you a brief introduction into what you can start changing to help manage your (or your children’s) ADHD symptoms. If you feel you could benefit from some one on one support then please don’t hesitate to book in a Naturopathic consultation. I also offer free 15 minute discovery calls where we can have a chat about what I offer and how I work to see if we will be a good match with one another. If you have any questions or would like more articles written on the subject, please get in touch and let me know!
1. Institute A. Comorbidities2017 31 Jan 18. Available from: http://adhd-institute.com/burden-of-adhd/epidemiology/comorbidities/.
2. Institute A. Burden of ADHD2017 31 Jan 18. Available from: http://adhd-institute.com/burden-of-adhd/.
3. Institute A. Presentations of ADHD2017 31 Jan 2018. Available from: http://adhd-institute.com/burden-of-adhd/epidemiology/presentations-of-adhd/.
4. Institute A. Heritability2017 31 Jan 18. Available from: http://adhd-institute.com/burden-of-adhd/aetiology/heritability/.
5. Institute A. Neurobiology2017 31 Jan 18. Available from: http://adhd-institute.com/burden-of-adhd/aetiology/neurobiology/.
6. Aarts E, Ederveen TH, Naaijen J, Zwiers MP, Boekhorst J, Timmerman HM, et al. Gut microbiome in ADHD and its relation to neural reward anticipation. PloS one. 2017;12(9):e0183509.
7. Evrensel A, Ceylan ME. The gut-brain axis: the missing link in depression. Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience. 2015;13(3):239.
8. Reynolds JL. Is There a Connection Between Gut Health and ADHD?2017 31 Jan 18. Available from: https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/2017-09-08/is-there-a-connection-between-gut-health-and-adhd.
9. Sarris J, Wardle J. Clinical Naturopathy: An evidence-based guide to practice: Elsevier Health Sciences; 2014.