Learn the signs of ADHD and ease symptoms with effective remedies.
One year, I decided to teach yoga, homeschool my son, join a singing group and remodel the kitchen. These (and other) projects came up just after I’d finished my degree in interior design and certificate in ayurvedic medicine, published a journal and redesigned my garden.
Somehow I managed to get it all done, which is impressive considering my commitment could usually be measured in days or weeks, not months or years.
I see this same pattern repeated again and again: boundless enthusiasm for idea after idea, tempered by a restlessness that keeps me always moving on to the next thing. It’s what a behavioral neurologist would call attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In spite of intelligence and enthusiasm, someone with ADHD experiences daily life as a constant struggle. Boredom, procrastination, disorganization and a tendency to say yes to too many projects can be dizzyingly stressful, while emotional
intensity, impulsivity and a tendency to interrupt make for chaotic relationships.
But by accepting the diagnosis of ADHD, I’ve begun to understand the complexities of the
condition and the effectiveness of traditional as well as alternative treatments.
Nonlinear in a Linear World
Originally known as “minimal brain dysfunction,” then “attention deficient disorder,” the condition has had one misleading moniker after another. Those of us with ADHD
don’t suffer from a deficit of attention—if anything, we have a surfeit of it. We’re
vulnerable to distraction because we perceive too much at once.
The cause may be a lack of blood flow and electrical stimulation to the frontal cortex—
the area of the brain involved in prioritizing, focusing and choosing words thoughtfully
rather than blurting them out. Scans of people with ADHD usually show reduced activity in
this decision-making area of the brain, notes Daniel G. Amen, M.D., founder of Amen Clinics Inc., two-time board-certified psychiatrist and best-selling author of Unleash the Power of the
Female Brain (Harmony). He says there are six different types of attention deficit disorder,
Do You Have ADHD?
The principal characteristics of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Behavior can be predominantly inattentive (loses tools, makes careless mistakes, is easily distracted, leaves tasks uncompleted), predominantly hyperactive-impulsive (feels restless and fidgety, interrupts, blurts out comments, has difficulty relaxing or waiting) or both.
The following self-test questions, developed by the World Health Organization, can help
you identify behavior consistent with adult ADHD. Answer never (0 points); rarely (1
point); sometimes (2 points); often (3 points); or very often (4 points). A score of 11 points
or more indicates the potential benefit of being evaluated by a health care provider.
In the last six months:
1. How often have you been distracted by activity or noise around you?
2. How often have you had difficulty getting things in order when you had to do a task that
3. How often did you have difficulty waiting your turn in situations when taking turns was
4. When you had a task that required a lot of thought, how often did you avoid or delay
5. How often did you feel restless or fidgety?
6. How often did you leave your seat in meetings or other situations in which you were
expected to remain seated?
and knowing which type afflicts you is key to a targeted treatment plan. Some researchers suggest that “executive functioning disorder” is a better description.
“ADHD people think in a tangential, nonlinear, circular way,” says Hal Elliott, M.D., residency program director and associate professor at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine in Johnson City. “One thing reminds them of something else, which reminds them of something else. People with ADHD tend to be writers, musicians,
visionaries, inventors and people who rock the boat at work—they come up with better ways
to do things. There’s nothing wrong with being a nonlinear person except that it can make you
miserable in this linear world we live in.”
About 4 to 5 percent of American adults suffer from the condition, and they work 22 fewer days than their ADHD-free co-workers annually due to their symptoms, according
to a national screening survey conducted by Harvard Medical School. A history of childhood
ADHD is one criterion, and there is evidence that ADHD runs in families. According to the
Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior at UCLA, ADHD is generally a chronic
disorder, with 30 to 50 percent of those individuals diagnosed in childhood continuing to have symptoms into adulthood.
Adults with past or current symptoms of ADHD are also at a higher risk for other
Train Your Brain
Here are three techniques that can help you reinforce positive brain function:
1. Coaching “Many individuals with ADHD are creative, intelligent people who are frustrated with their lack of achievement,” says Pam Milazzo, founder of the SAIL Institute and former chair of the ADHD Awareness Campaign for the Attention Deficit Disorder Association. “When they learn strategies that support working memory and executive functioning, they start to see sustained success.” Coaching can help: For more information, visit the ADD Coach Academy at addca.com or ADD Consults at addconsults.com.
2. Tai Chi A tai chi practice may reintroduce the brain and nervous system to a fluid, sustained state of concentration. A University of Miami School of Medicine study found
that taking two 30-minute classes a week for five weeks reduced ADHD symptoms like anxiety and hyperactivity.
3. Neurofeedback The Journal of Clinical Psychology published findings showing that neurofeedback had an effect comparable to stimulant medication in helping ADHD adolescents and adults intentionally regulate brain activity. This technique uses monitoring equipment to display a visual representation of your brain state. Working with a specialist, you learn to differentiate between different brain wave types, and independently regulate brain wave activity for increased concentration and focus.
problems, including depression. A 2005 study in The American Journal of Psychiatry found that 59 percent of ADHD patients suffered from major depression at some point, compared with 40 percent of the non-ADHD group; the respective ratio for anxiety disorder was 21 percent versus 8 percent.
Trials and Treatments
“Since we still know so little about ADHD, treatment is very trial and error,” says Hailing
Zhang, M.D., a psychiatrist who treats many adults with ADHD. “But the gold standard
is stimulant medication.” Controlled studies show that drugs like methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and mixed amphetamines (Adderall) increase mental concentration by making the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine more available to the brain.
Drugs related to antidepressants (Wellbutrin) can be successful in treating ADHD, too.
But some of these drugs may cause side effects like insomnia, stomach pain, loss of appetite, irritability, anxiety or heart problems.
Canadian authorities banned the use of Adderall for several months in 2005 due to possible sudden deaths, heart-related fatalities, and strokes in children and adults. And while the FDA considers Strattera an “effective drug” with “low risk,” the agency is warning doctors to monitor children and adolescents taking it for suicidal thoughts.
There are alternatives that show promise.
Naturopath and acupuncturist Trina Seligman, N.D., L.Ac., a guest lecturer at Bastyr University in Seattle, recommends a “foundation” of a broad-spectrum, free-form amino acid
supplement taken daily to balance a patient’s brain chemistry. To target specific symptoms,
Seligman uses specific amino.
She often prescribes twice-daily single doses of dopamine precursor DL-phenylalanine or norepinephrine precursor L-tyrosine to improve concentration and diminish restlessness; serotonin precursor L-tryptophan to alleviate depression; or GABA or L-theanine
to reduce anxiety and irritability.
An ayurvedic herb may also help. Two Australian studies published in Neuropsychopharmacology and Psychopharmacology
found that 300 milligrams of Bacopa monniera (aka brahmi) daily improved information processing speed while slowing the rate at which newly acquired information is forgotten.
Meanwhile, a study in Progress in Neuro- Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry
determined that zinc sulfate (150 mg per day) can reduce some ADHD symptoms.
A classic natural therapy may also be beneficial: A Swiss study showed homeopathic treatment comparing favorably to the use of methylphenidate in children with ADHD.
Drain Your Brain
Feeling overwhelmed? “People with ADHD need time each day without stimulation so
they can decompress,” says Hal Elliott, M.D. Restore yourself with activities that relieve the
mental and emotional strain, such as:
Getting outside Spending time outside in “green settings” is a potentially valuable component of treatment, according to a 2004 study published in the American
Journal of Public Health.
Playing It’s sometimes easier for those with ADHD to concentrate on pleasurable activities. Having a hobby—gardening,
woodworking, knitting, any kind of hands-on endeavor—is a great outlet for ADHD energy.
Relaxing Massage and yoga give busy minds a vacation by drawing awareness back into
the body. “The Ayurvedic technique known as Shirodhara involves pouring warm oil over
the forehead in a specific pattern,” says John Douillard, D.C., National Ayurvedic Medical
Association board member. “This stills the mind and calms the nervous system.”
Because the condition is so complex, however, there is no advised standard; an experienced
homeopath can determine the best remedy for each individual.
The Holistic Approach
Medication and/or supplementation is only part of proper ADHD management. “Taking
a whole-person approach to brain health can make an enormously positive difference,” says
Amen. The following lifestyle adjustments are recommended:
FEED YOUR FOCUS. Keeping blood sugar stable is vital to leveling out symptoms. “If you have ADHD, it can be hard to function on a good day, but if your blood sugar is low or spiking, it makes it even more difficult,” says Wendy Richardson, M.A., M.F.T., author of When Too Much Isn’t Enough: Ending the Destructive Cycle of ADHD and Addictive Behavior (Pinon Press). So, eat real meals throughout the day and limit simple carbohydrates, sugar and caffeine. (Caffeine is a stimulant, but it actually decreases blood flow to the brain.) Every breakfast, lunch and dinner should provide complex carbs, quality protein and healthy
fats in the form of fresh, whole foods. Avoid preservatives and other food additives, as they
may exacerbate symptoms.
PUMP THE BLOOD. Every ADHD expert emphasizes the importance of regular, vigorous movement. “Exercise is not a choice,”
says Amen. “It boosts blood flow to the brain and helps the brain make new nerve cells.”
In addition, sustained cardiovascular activity steadies blood sugar, contributes to overall
mood and promotes sound sleep—something patients typically need more of.
“People with ADHD don’t do boring, so do what you enjoy,” says Amen. “If you’re not sure
what to do, walk briskly—don’t stroll.” Get a physician’s OK, then elevate your heart rate for
at least 30 minutes, five days a week.
SEEK SUPPORT. ADHD has nothing to do with laziness or a lack of intelligence, yet people with the condition are often pegged as underachievers. Take advantage of psychotherapy, coaching and support groups to clarify the emotional factors involved and help restore your self-esteem.
HONOR WHO YOU ARE. Personally, I’ve found that meeting my needs as a whole person— eating wisely, exercising, doing yoga, taking herbs and supplements, and getting support— has enabled me to manage the challenges of ADHD. Indeed, I’ve begun to realize that many of my ADHD qualities—like flexibility, creativity and empathy—are strengths I can rely on and even celebrate.
AllFitness ___ Finding focus __ by Niika Quistgard-DeVivo