Discussions of ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) normally revolve around children with behavioral and/or learning difficulties. But ADHD and its cousin, ADD (attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity, which is more common in grown-ups), can persist into adulthood. In fact, over half of the adults who were diagnosed as children still have the disorder — that’s about 4 percent of all adults in the U.S.
Although people with ADD look the same as everyone else, the disorder manifests itself in behavior, such as forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, and impulsiveness. If you have ever dealt with a person who has ADD, you know how frustrating it can be, as my patient Mark learned. And if you have the condition yourself, you may be all too aware of how disappointing it is to have the best intentions and not be able to fulfill them.
To make matters worse, adult ADD sufferers are rarely able to correct the situation without some sort of intervention, such as medication, nutrients, therapy, or a support group. But instead of getting treatment, they often self-medicate by shopping, drinking, using illegal drugs, or engaging in other potentially risky behavior that can spin out of control.
Recognizing the Symptoms of ADD
Individuals with ADD may become depressed and/or anxious over their seeming inability to accomplish things, setting the stage for new symptoms and complications. And many people don’t even realize they have symptoms of ADD.
Symptoms of ADHD and ADD
- Trouble concentrating, especially when reading
- Being easily distracted
- Disorganization and procrastination
- Addictive behavior (e.g., drugs, drinking, gambling, overeating, excessive shopping)
- Anxiety, depression, mood swings
- Impulsive and risky behavior, including reckless driving
- Low self-esteem
- Inability to finish projects, lacking motivation
- Forgetfulness, chronic lateness
- Being short-tempered, inability to tolerate frustration
Developed in conjunction with the World Health Association (WHO), the following link provides a quick adult ADHD screening test.
Taking Control Beyond the Prescription Pad
Oftentimes, adults with ADD know they start many more projects than they finish; and they probably realize that forgetfulness, distractions, and failure to follow through are problems for them. But they may mistakenly blame themselves for being lazy, scatterbrained, or weak-willed, since few adults have been formally diagnosed, a process that requires a psychiatrist or psychologist.
The truth is, people with ADD are often very intelligent and highly creative, but their brains just work differently, so certain things are difficult for them — difficult, but not impossible. Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Bill Cosby, Eleanor Roosevelt, and former President Dwight Eisenhower are all thought to have had ADD, and they managed to achieve great things. The question is, what is the best way to manage ADD?
The pharmaceutical industry has cashed in on ADD big time. Today, millions of children are taking medication — mostly amphetamines — to control symptoms of ADD, while the debate over the appropriateness of medicating children rages on. Medication is less likely to be used for treating adults. In part, that’s because conventional medicines, primarily amphetamines like Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall, don’t have the same effect on grown-ups. In addition, these drugs can raise blood pressure and the heart rate and create psychological dependency; and they are linked to a long list of negative side effects, so they’re just not suitable for many people.
11 Healthy Ways to Ease ADD Symptoms
If you’re considering medication for ADD, let me say this: Medication alone does not make ADD go away. It simply helps some people focus for longer than usual. A psychiatrist must prescribe most ADD medication, so the process is expensive, and the side effects can be serious, including everything from digestive disorders to insomnia and impotence as well as heart palpitations and arrhythmia. Clearly, these are not drugs to be taken lightly.
Meanwhile, you can achieve excellent results with changes to your diet as well as by taking certain nutrients and avoiding some substances, such as sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Here are my suggestions:
1. Eat real food.
I recommend at least three to five small meals daily to nourish your brain with a steady supply of nutrients. Be sure to include protein at each meal along with complex carbohydrates that break down more slowly than simple carbs, such as sugary snacks or processed food. Individuals with ADD need to maintain healthy insulin levels in the body, so the brain has access to the glucose it needs to function. Insulin plays a major role in brain function, so much so that Alzheimer’s disease is now considered type 3 diabetes or diabetes of the brain.
2. Stay hydrated.
Drink plenty of fresh, clean water to maintain healthy hydration. Your brain, which is about 70 to 80 percent water, needs hydration as much as the rest of your body.
3. Maintain high levels of essential nutrients.
Take a daily multivitamin and a separate multimineral formula containing at least 400 mg of magnesium, 100 mcg of selenium, and 7 to 10 mg of zinc. Several studies show that correcting deficiencies of minerals like magnesium, selenium, and zinc improve ADD symptoms.
4. Get a daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
Numerous studies show that these good fats, primarily found in certain types of fish, can enhance brain functions. For best results, look for a product that has roughly twice as much DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). I especially like the stable, purified omega-3s found in Calamarine oil.
5. Avoid high-fructose corn syrup and sugar.
HFCS is a cheap sugar substitute with no health benefits and plenty of downsides, including a possible connection to the obesity epidemic. Whenever you see this ingredient on a food or beverage label, consider it a warning and pass on that particular product. HFCS may contain traces of the heavy metal mercury, something that could worsen ADD or cause additional health complications for those with a HFCS intolerance. In addition, HFCS robs the body of the mineral zinc, which plays a role in removing mercury from the body — just what you don’t need!
6. Walk it off.
Although most adults outgrow the hyperactivity aspect of ADHD, not all do. If you find that you’re plagued by restlessness, turn that urge to move to your advantage and go for a walk. Even if the weather isn’t cooperating, you canwalk — or even jog or dance — in place. Activity provides the brain with more oxygen than being sedentary does, and that’s a definite bonus since oxygen is an all-important element in brain function.
7. Get sufficient shut-eye.
Too little sleep makes it difficult to think clearly — whether you have ADD or not — so do yourself a favor and follow my advice on getting a good night’s sleep.
8. Get in the habit of doing the most important — not the most interesting — thing first.
Many people with ADD find it easy to become so thoroughly engrossed in something they particularly enjoy that they miss appointments, forget to eat, stay up half the night, or worse.
Claudia, a longtime patient, told me about the day she realized how serious ADD can be. A talented artist, she had just come home from a shopping trip to buy new painting supplies. Unfortunately, Claudia took the shopping bag into the house first and became so involved in working with the new materials that she forgot her two young children were still in the car unattended. Only when the four-year-old finally made his way into the house did she realize what had happened. “Talk about a wake-up call,” she told me. “Every time I remember that day, I shudder at what might have happened. Some days, getting the kids in and out of the car is such an ordeal, but I never — and I do mean never — do anything before getting them safely in the house now.”
9. Rethink your approach to difficult tasks.
If, for example, you struggle with clutter (a common characteristic of ADD sufferers), break the job into small sections and tackle them one at a time. In other words, don’t attempt to reorganize every closet in the house on the same day. Pick one closet to straighten each week to give yourself time to make decisions about what you’ll throw away, give away, and keep. When that closet is completed, move on to the next.
10. Use the 20-minute-timer technique on complex, multistep jobs.
Set a kitchen timer for 20 minutes, and really apply yourself to the task at hand for that time period. When the timer rings, do something rewarding for a few minutes — stand up and walk in place for a couple minutes, make a fresh cup of green tea, take a few minutes to do some stretching, or meditate. Then reset the timer and get back to work. Breaking large jobs into smaller chunks makes them more manageable, and the periodic rewards relieve the stress that comes with any prolonged effort.
11. Detox, detox, detox.
Many people with ADD find that getting heavy metals out of their bodies helps improve symptoms. There are several different ways to do that, detailed in my earlier newsletter on detoxification.
Since ADD can wreak havoc on relationships and jobs, many people with the disorder have found it helpful to participate in a support group, like CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). Sometimes, simply recognizing why you’re having problems completing tasks and getting organized can be a huge relief. It’s also very helpful to have like-minded individuals to talk to and share strategies for overcoming the disorder.
Just remember, ADD is a challenge you can overcome. Start with a nutrition overhaul, make sure you’re getting the right nutrients, and work on developing new habits. It may take some time, but many people have found that making simple changes is all it takes to stay on track and win the battle with ADD.